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Peoria sci-fi author recalled in ‘Naked Came the Farmer’

Farmer signing a copy of the "Riverworld" series at his home in Peoria (1980).
Contributed photo
Farmer signing a copy of the "Riverworld" series at his home in Peoria (1980).

Describing it as “a wild, collaborative effort,” journalist Bill Knight recently recalled the publication of “Naked Came the Farmer” 25 years ago.

Philip Jose Farmer, the renown science-fiction author who lived in Peoria until his death in 2009, provided the first chapter of the novel while subsequent chapters were written by Dorothy Cannell, Jerry Klein, Terry Bibo, Garry Moore, Knight and brother Tracy Knight along with a number of others, recalled Knight in an interview with Steve Tarter for WCBU’s Postmark Peoria series.

“The idea came from ‘Naked Came the Stranger,’ a semi-pornographic round-robin by members of the Newsday publication in the 1980s,” said Knight. “In the 1990s, there was another effort, the hilarious ‘Naked Comes the Manatee’ with humorist Dave Barry leading the way,” he said.

Knight said Farmer was initially reluctant but agreed to take part in the project for a story that used central Illinois as a backdrop. Sales of the book went to the Peoria Public Library, he said.

In the course of looking for possible story material, Knight said he and Farmer visited a “pumpkin chucker” in Morton where a pumpkin was hurled “a half-mile or so.” In “Naked,” it’s not a pumpkin that crashes through a window but a human head, related Knight.

Knight recalled Farmer as not only a great writer but a great reader with a dry sense of humor who loved being in Peoria, the town where he grew up, left and returned, spending the last 40 years of his life here.

“Farmer wrote about 70 novels—25 of them here in Peoria,” said Knight, who found it hard to pick a favorite among the author’s many novels. “I liked his detective story, ‘Nothing Burns in Hell,’ that was set right here in Peoria,” he said.

Knight also recommended “Riders of the Purple Wage,” a short story that Farmer penned in the 1960s, as a great place to start if readers are unfamiliar with the author’s work.

“The Riverworld series, that started as a trilogy and swelled to five or six books, is another great introduction to Farmer,” he said.

In Riverworld and in a number of other books, Farmer exhibits his fascination with airships. Tarter told Knight he once asked the author about his first exposure to the subject.

“Farmer recalled being a five-year-old in Peoria when the great Navy blimp, the Shenandoah, went overhead. He ran and got his mother to see this amazing sight.” Farmer recalled his mom might not have been impressed but he was—for the rest of his life, said Tarter.

Knight said copies of “Naked Came the Farmer” are still available on Amazon.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.