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Archive for May, 2002

A Week in Literary History

May 31st, 2002

American ur-poet Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass, 1855-92) is born in West Hills, Long Island, in 1819.

Walt Whitman, b. May 31, 1819, d. 1892

whitman18601.jpgWhitman is quite simply a giant of literature, the creator of modern poetry. He published nine versions of Leaves of Grass during his life, each different in content from the others, and declared the 1881 edition the definitive one, with the following editions only adding material. When he died he was one of the most famous poets in America and England, but a good deal of his reputation rested on the refusal of a publisher to print some of Whitman’s more explicitly sexual poems. In his candor and grandeur, he has influenced almost every poet who has followed him.

Sugggested Reading Poetry Leaves of Grass, 1855-1892. Drum-Taps, 1865. Passage to India, 1871. Prose Democratic Vistas, 1871. Memoranda During the War, 1875-1876. Specimen Days and Collect, 1882-1883. Complete Prose Works, 1892.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 29th, 2002

Prolific English author G.K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesteron (The Innocence of Father Brown, 1911) in born in Kensington, 1874.

chesterton.jpgG.K. Chesterton, b. May 29, 1874, d. 1936

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, one of the most famous and beloved men in England for the last three decades of his life, called himself a journalist because he published most of his work in newspapers, among them his own creation, G.K.’s Weekly, which he started in 1918. His taste for paradox and symbol combined naturally with his devout Roman Catholicism in all his works, however secular the subject. He was almost absurdly prolific, but his fertile mind and humor gave value to everything he wrote. His novels are charming and ingenious, his infrequent verse excellent, and his biographical studies constantly illuminating. For his voluminous other writings, he is most rewardingly approached through anthologies.

Suggested Reading Novels The Napoleon of Notting Hill, 1904. The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908. Manalive, 1912. The Flying Inn, 1914. Father Brown Stories The Innocence of Father Brown, 1911. The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1914. The Incredulity of Father Brown, 1926. The Secret of Father Brown, 1927. The Scandal of Father Brown, 1935. Essays & Studies Heretics, 1905. All Things Considered, 1908. Orthodoxy, 1908. What’s Wrong with the World, 1910. The Superstitions of the Skeptic, 1925. Generally Speaking, 1928. Come to Think of It, 1930. Avowals and Denials, 1934. Critical Biography Robert Browning, 1903. Charles Dickens, 1906. George Bernard Shaw, 1909. William Blake, 1910. Saint Francis of Assisi, 1923. Robert Louis Stevenson, 1927. Chaucer, 1932. St. Thomas Aquinas, 1933.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 27th, 2002

In 1894, American noir novelist Dashiell Hammett (The Thin Man, 1933) is born in St. Mary’s County, Md.

hammettca1950*Dashiell Hammett, b. May 27, 1894, d. 1961

Hammett denied having ambitions to write “literary” fiction, but in a few of his detective novels his clear, spare style reaches a level that other authors aspired to. His output is not large, because he was unfortunately a world-class alcoholic and hypochondriac, and perhaps because he spent time in Hollywood. He wrote some of the best parts of Lillian Hellman’s plays.

Suggested Reading Novels Red Harvest, 1929. The Thin Man, 1934.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 27th, 2002

American experimental novelist John Barth (Giles Goat-Boy, 1966) is born in Cambridge, Md., 1930.

barth.jpgJohn Barth, b. May 27, 1930

Barth emerged in the late Fifties and early Sixties both as a rare novelist of ideas and as an experimental fictioneer, celebrating what he and others deemed the death of the traditional novel with exuberant forays into new types of fiction. The early works still reveal many attractions, not least among them an abiding sense of humor, and Giles Goat-Boy is the most inventive and amusing novel of academia ever written. In the later books, though, the novelty wears off, although Barth’s energy doesn’t.

Suggested Reading Novels The Floating Opera, 1956. The End of the Road, 1958. The Sot-Weed Factor, 1960. Giles Goat-Boy, 1966. Chimera, 1972. Letters, 1979. Novella Chimera, 1972. Short stories Lost in the Funhouse, 1968. On with the Story! 1996.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 27th, 2002

In 1912, American novelist and short story writer John Cheever (The Enormous Radio and Other Stories, 1953) is born in Quincy, Mass.

John Cheever, b. May 27, 1912, d. 1982

The short story writer’s short story writer, Cheever was acknowledged as a master of the telling insight, the inheritor of Joyce’s powerful epiphanic vision. His novels stand up well, too, especially The Wapshot Chronicle. Cheever’s vision was a dark one; his posthumously published Journals reveal a life of deep sadness, often despair. His pleasures, like those of the characters in his stories, came in short bursts and then were gone.

Suggested Reading Short stories The Way Some People Live: A Book of Short Stories, 1943. The Enormous Radio and Other Stories, 1953. Stories, 1956. The Housebreaker at Shady Hill and Other Stories, 1958. The World of Apples, 1973. The Stories of John Cheever, 1978. Novels The Wapshot Chronicle, 1957. The Wapshot Scandal, 1964. Bullet Park, 1969. Falconer, 1977. Other The Journals of John Cheever, 1991.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 25th, 2002

American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance, 1841) is born in Boston in 1803.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, b. May 25, 1803, d. 1882

emersonphotoEmerson’s essays set the tone for much of the mid-nineteenth century’s philosophical thinking in America. His pantheistic version of Transcendentalism, which saw nature and God as inseparable, informed religious thought as well, and his hopefulness and belief that humans and humankind could improve reflected a new nation’s aspirations.

Suggested Reading Essays Nature, 1836. The American Scholar, 1837.
Self-Reliance, 1841. The Over-Soul, 1841. The Poet, 1844. Experience, 1844.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 25th, 2002

Poet Theodore Roethke (Open House, 1941) is born in 1908 in Saginaw, Mich.

roethke2.jpgTheodore Roethke, b. May 25, 1908, d. 1963

A gifted, original, and lyric poet, Roethke has often been consigned to the second tier because his mental illness shortened his career (and life) and limited his output. But he is an essential poet, one of the twentieth century’s most moving and most consistently excellent.

Suggested Reading Poetry Open House, 1941. The Lost Son, 1948. Praise to the End!, 1951. The Waking: Poems 1933-1953, 1953. Words for the Wind: The Collected Verse, 1958. I Am! Says the Lamb, 1961. Party at the Zoo, 1963. The Far Field, 1964. Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical, 1964. Collected Poems, 1966. Prose On the Poet and His Craft: Selected Prose, 1966. Selected Letters, 1968. Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1953-1964, 1972.

Posted by: The Editors
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A Week in Literary History

May 25th, 2002

American short story writer Raymond Carver (Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, 1975) is born in Clatskanie, Ore., in 1938.

carverblueRaymond Carver, b. May 25, 1938, d. 1988

Before his death at fifty of lung cancer, Carver had become the most famous and talked about writer of short stories in America. His earliest stories, florid and full of people talking about “feelings,” were distilled by editor Gordon Lish, and the style that Carver eventually developed — laconic, flat, and menacing — was all the rage in the Seventies and Eighties. But a little Carver goes a long way. The admirable simplicity of the writing can’t make up for the emptiness of the characters, a collection of deadbeats, minor criminals, alcoholics, and losers whose lives are not really worth thinking about. The Carver imitators made American writing a pretty sad affair for twenty years, and his baleful influence is with us still.

Suggested Reading Short stories Put Yourself in My Shoes, 1974. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, 1976. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, 1981.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

A Week in Literary History

May 25th, 2002

American poet Theodore Roethke (Open House, 1941) is born in 1908 in Saginaw, Mich.

Theodore Roethke, b. May 25, 1908, d. 1963

roethke.jpgA gifted, original and lyric poet, Roethke has often been consigned to the second tier because mental illness shortened his career (and life) and limited his output. But he is an essential poet, one of the twentieth-century’s most moving and most consistently excellent.

Suggested Reading Poetry Open House, 1941. The Lost Son, 1948. Praise to the End!, 1951. The Waking: Poems 1933-1953, 1953. Words for the Wind: The Collected Verse, 1958. I Am! Says the Lamb, 1961. Party at the Zoo, 1963. The Far Field, 1964. Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical, 1964. Collected Poems, 1966. Prose On the Poet and His Craft: Selected Prose, 1966. Selected Letters, 1968. Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1953-1964, 1972.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

A Week in Literary History

May 22nd, 2002

Mystery writer Ed Goldberg (Served Cold, 1994) is born in the Bronx.

Ed Goldberg, b. May 22, 1943

goldbergphoto.jpgEd Goldberg’s shamus Lenny Schneider is the hero of his first two books, in which humor and Jewish shtick enliven two dandy mysteries. Goldberg, a prolific journalist and a deejay in both jazz and classical music formats in his adopted hometown of Portland, Ore., also writes under the name Alan Gold. For more than seven years he has been contributing a thoughtful and entertaining monthly column, called The Bronx Zoo, to Black Lamb.

Suggested Reading Novels Served Cold, 1994. Dear Air, 1998. As Alan Gold True Crime, 2005. True Faith, 2007.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

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