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General News

The Latest Rediscovery of Belle Kanaris Maniates

August 28, 2022

Belle Kanaris Maniates is, once again, back in the public eye. Sometime, around 2017, news accounts began reporting on the latest research of Patricia Oman. By complete chance, Dr. Oman happened upon a copy of Maniates’ 1917 novel, Our Next-Door Neighbors, in a used bookstore in Omaha, Nebraska (Lansing City Pulse May 31, 2017). Intrigued, Dr. Oman, who is a professor of English at Hastings College, soon learned that Maniates was not only the author of eight extremely popular novels and hundreds of short stories but had lived to see three of her books turned into movies and even a wide array of staged productions. Yet for all of that, Maniates remains essentially a forgotten figure in standard American literary studies. Recently, Dr. Oman began serious work on a book-length study meant to showcase the writings and impact of Maniates.

From the point of view of Greek-American Studies Belle K. Maniates is an especially noteworthy figure since she is the first self-identified Greek-American author – whether male or female – widely understood by the American public as of Greek descent to have her novels, short stories, and opinion pieces regularly printed in the national press. As if that were not enough, Maniates is also the first Greek-American to have her writings made into Hollywood movies with major stars of the era. No other Greek-American author would even approach Maniates’ array of achievements for nearly another hundred years.

We will limit our attention here to Belle K. Maniates’ life with only the briefest of details about her family. We must begin with Nicholas Constantine Kanaris Maniates (1815-1861) who was recovering from wounds he had received in battle against Ottoman forces during the 1821-1829 War of Independence. Young Maniates was the nephew of fabled Constantine Kanaris (c. 1790-1877) admiral, hero of the Greek War of Independence, and ultimately a prime Minister of Greece.

Somehow during his recovery young Maniates met and was befriended by the philhellene Rev. George Jones of Annapolis, Maryland. Unexpectedly, Rev. Jones “made a proposal to him (e.g. Maniates) to take him to the United States and educate and provide for him as he would a son of his own” (Democrat  Expounder June 27, 1861). And this came to be.

While in America Nicholas Maniates studied becoming a druggist and it is said, in time, a medical doctor. Around 1851-1852, Nicholas Maniates married Martha Arabelle Beeker (1828-1889) of a distinguished New York State family. The couple was destined to have four children Zoe (1853-1951), Mariam Smith (1856-?), Nicholas (1858-1879), and finally Belle (September 1861-November 13, 1931). With the death of Dr. Maniates his wife first worked at the local post office and later as a local school teacher (Marshall Statesman July 7, 1869; October 11, 1889).

Jumping all too quickly into Belle K. Maniates’ life we know that for a time she was “employed by the federal government in Detroit, but came to Lansing 30 years ago to become secretary to Colonel Cox, head of the Michigan military department” (Lansing State Journal November 14, 1931). So, sometime in 1901, at the age of 40, Belle Maniates is cited as a stenographer earning a solid 40 cents an hour.

Maniates’ first published book was A souvenir of the Thirty-fifth Michigan volunteer infantry (Lansing: Robert Smith Pub. 1898).’ And given what we know of Maniates’ work history this volume must have been compiled and written while she lived and worked in Detroit. Be aware that while this volume is cited as a ‘souvenir’ of those Michigan volunteers for the Spanish-American War considerable confusion between the Spanish-American War and Civil War citations exists in a wide array of subsequent citations on this volume.

The earliest of Maniates’ short stories, that I have – so far, found in the national press, dates at only 1902. The prodigious outflow of Maniates’ newspaper accounts both in short fiction and opinion pieces continued with ever growing frequency until just before her death.

It could well be the case that Maniates’ newspaper writings began much earlier. As we shall see, such was Maniates’ prodigious writing output and her ever growing popularity across various entertainment venues that it continues to challenge solid detailed documentation with absolute certainty.

We know without question that David Dunne: A Romance of the Midwest was Maniates’ first published book (Rand McNally, 1912). Here other novels include: Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1915), Mildew Manse (1916), Amarilly in Love (1917), Little Boy Bear (1917), Our Next-Door Neighbors (1917), Penny of Top Hill Trail (1919) and Sand Holler (1920).

Initially Maniates’ published work saw further audiences [sf1] via the 1917 stage productions of Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley, dramatized and produced by widely respected theatrical figure Oliver Morosco (1875-1945) for venues in New York City and Los Angeles (Lansing State Journal May 18, 1917). Maniates later sold the dramatic rights to her third book, Mildew Manse, with various stage productions appearing in 1922 (Lansing State Journal July 31, 1918).

Maniates was clearly a highly cautious individual. It was not until 1923 that Maniates resigned her position with the state’s “military department to devote all her time to literary pursuits” which was at a time when she had already published “eight complete novels…and many short stories” (Lansing State Journal, November 14, 1931).

This reluctance to quit her day job for a full-time career as a writer is especially odd since all three of the Hollywood silent movies based on her novels appeared to great acclaim well before 1923. Amarilly of Clothes Line Alley was released in 1918 with Mary Pickford in the leading role. Not only was it a smash hit at the time of its release but this silent film is still available on DVD. Next, came Mirandy Smiles also released in 1918 with Vivian Martin another especially noted film star of the era. Then, Penny of Top Hill Trail (1921) with Bessie Love, yet another prominent star of the era appearing as Penny.

Now, in point of fact, Belle Kanaris Maniates is anything but a forgotten figure in the overall history of American literature. Not only are all of Maniates books still in print by any number of book-seller venues but they are also in on-line free-to-read versions with Russian, Japanese, Spanish, and other translations of her novels available quite literarily around the world.

Belle Kanaris Maniates remains a singular figure in Greek-American history for quite a number of reasons. Let me repeat the specifics, Maniates is the first self-identified Greek-American female author recognized nationwide during her lifetime as a Hellene. All of her novels not only remain in print in the United States but around the world in various languages. Her array of published work, during her lifetime, served as the basis for stage productions while three of her novels were made into major Hollywood motion pictures. Maniates never stopped writing her shorter newspaper tales and commentaries. Maniates has never been out of print.

So, while it is true that Belle Kanaris Maniates has never been forgotten by Greek-American intellectuals, the global Hellenic community knows far too little of this singularly accomplished individual.  Since, Maniates’ publications have never disappeared in a very real sense, neither has their creator.

 

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