Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jack Kytle (1906-1971)

Journalist, Editor, Photographer, and Author
Born October 22, 1906, Wilsonville, Alabama
Died March 5, 1971, Birmingham, Alabama

In its March 1940 issue, the last under the editorship of Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales began a new feature called "It Happened To Me." According to T.G.L. Cockcroft's Index to the Weird Fiction Magazines (1962), there were eleven installments in the series, each written by a different author and each an ostensibly true account of a psychic or supernatural experience. Dorothy McIlwraith's detractors point to "It Happened To Me" as evidence of "The Unique Magazine's" decline following Wright's departure. After all, the new series could be considered not much more than a confessional, the hallmark of the "true" magazines. Whatever the case, "It Happened To Me" lasted just a year and a half and its eleven installments appeared in just seven issues of Weird Tales (March 1940 to November 1941). As a "true" feature, it was overlapped and succeeded by Irwin J. Weill's "Superstitions and Taboos" (November 1940 to May 1947).

Jack Kytle wrote one installment in the series "It Happened To Me." Entitled "They Lynched Him, and Then--" it appeared in the September 1940 issue of the magazine as the eighth in the series. Whereas the previous two issues had carried three installments each, Kytle's story stood alone. Kytle may have known something about lynching. As a journalist covering events in his native Alabama, he may even have witnessed or reported on the crime. "They Lynched Him, and Then--" was published at a time when lynching in America was still commonplace and just one year after Billie Holiday's version of "Strange Fruit" reached its highest point on the pop music charts.

Elvyn Jackson Kytle was born on October 22, 1906, in Wilsonville, Alabama. As a child, he lived with his family in Talladega, Alabama, and Tallapoosa, Georgia. He was a sportswriter in Atlanta and a writer and copy editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, Birmingham Post, and Birmingham Post-Herald. Kytle also wrote a column, "Byways of Birmingham," for five years for the Post. In fact, he was a jack-of-all-trades as a writer. His work appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Message Magazine, and several western pulp titles, including Texas Rangers, Giant Western, Ranch Romances, and Triple Western between 1953 and 1960.

During the 1930s, Kytle was on the editorial staff of the Alabama Writers' Project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Kytle and his co-editor, Luther Clark, were responsible for Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South (1941), part of the renowned American Guide Series. Kytle also wrote Fish Are Fighters in Alabama, illustrated by William H. Bunce and published by the Alabama Department of Conservation in 1941.

In the course of his work for the WPA, Kytle interviewed workmen, river men, convicts, former slaves, and other denizens of the pre-war South. His work has been published most recently in Up Before Daylight: Life Histories from the Alabama Writers' Project, 1938-1939 by James Seay Brown (1997) and The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky (2009). Kurlansky's book is available on Google Books.

Kytle served in the U.S. Army in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II. For more than twenty years, he worked for Alabama newspapers, and he was a freelance writer. His last residence was in Homewood, Alabama, adjacent to Birmingham. Jack Kytle died on March 5, 1971. He was just 64 years old.

Jack Kytle's Story in Weird Tales
"They Lynched Him, and Then--"

Further Reading
Books by James Seay Brown and Mark Kurlansky, mentioned above, include some of Kytle's work.

"Lucindy Jurdon, former slave from Georgia," with her mother's spinning wheel. Photograph possibly by Preston Klein and Jack Kytle, ca. 1938, from the website of George Washington University. Jack Kytle worked for the WPA during the Great Depression, traveling in the South and interviewing former slaves, laborers, and others.
One result of his work for the WPA was the book Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South, co-edited by Luther Clark.
Thanks to Jiemin Fan at the Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham, Alabama, for finding Jack Kytle's obituary. Thanks also to Randal Everts for providing Kytle's full middle name.

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Wonderful blog you have here. As an admirer of Weird Tales since the early 1970's I can really appreciate what you have done.

  2. Thanks, Barry. It's a lot of work, but it's fun, too.