TORONTO, June 17 /CNW/ - He waged a public war against fascism and
anti-Semitism, published critically acclaimed poetry, dined with movie stars
and was watched by the FBI.
Though barely remembered today, Kenneth Leslie was one of the most
remarkable Canadians of the 20th century. An award-winning poet and an
influential political activist in the U.S. during the 1930s and 40s, he lived
with a rare, furious passion that found expression in everything from his
writings to his turbulent personal life.
God's Red Poet: The Life of Kenneth Leslie tells his story. The hour-long
documentary, produced and directed by Halifax filmmaker Chuck Lapp makes its
world television premiere on VisionTV, airing Wednesday, July 2 at 10 p.m. ET
/ 7 p.m. PT.
Born in 1892 in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Kenneth Leslie was a child prodigy,
attending Dalhousie University in Halifax at age 14. At the city's First
Baptist Church, he embraced the principles of the Christian social gospel.
Leslie would go on to study theology and philosophy in the U.S. and served for
a time as assistant preacher at a church in Rhode Island.
But it was the writer's life that truly fired his imagination. Leslie
published the first of several acclaimed volumes of poetry in 1934, earning
the Governor General's Award for his work just four years later.
Deeds, though, mattered as much to Leslie as words. Troubled by American
isolationism and the rising tide of pro-fascist and anti-Semitic sentiment in
the U.S. during the late 1930s, he chose to take a public stand, launching the
Protestant Digest (later The Protestant), a progressive journal of religion
and politics. With contributions from the leading public intellectuals of the
day, the magazine called for a declaration of war against the Axis powers, and
stood firmly against the oppression of Jews.
By the early 1940s, Leslie's organization had produced numerous
offshoots, including a national organization of anti-fascist Protestant clergy
and an initiative to eliminate anti-Semitic references from American
educational texts. Leslie himself was in constant demand as a speaker, and
earned endorsements from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt.
But his leftist politics earned him enemies as well. Leslie attracted the
scrutiny of the FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade. He
made Life Magazine's list of the top 50 Communist "fellow travelers and
innocent dupes," in such illustrious company as Albert Einstein, Norman
Mailer, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller and Langston Hughes. In 1949, he left
the U.S. and returned to his native Nova Scotia for good.
Though Leslie continued to write poetry and publish periodicals for the
next two decades, he had drifted to the margins of history; few noted his
passing in 1974. Chuck Lapp's film, however, takes the full measure of the
man. Drawing on exhaustive research and previously unreleased sources
(including Leslie's FBI file), God's Red Poet makes a convincing case for
Kenneth Leslie as one of Canada's unsung heroes.
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