This Day In Literary History
On July 22nd, 1936, the famous American writer Tom Robbins was born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Both his grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. The family moved to Virginia in 1947.
At the age of 16, Robbins studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, but he dropped out of college when his fraternity expelled him for disciplinary problems.
In 1954, Robbins was drafted into the military. He enlisted in the Air Force and served a two year tour of duty in Korea as a meteorologist. After his discharge, he returned to civilian life, settling in Richmond, Virginia. He became part of the local art scene and hung out with his fellow painters.
In 1957, Robbins enrolled in art school at Richmond Professional Institute, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, he became the editor of the campus newspaper and worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper.
After art school, Tom Robbins spent a year hitchhiking his way around the country. He settled in New York City and became a poet. In 1961, he moved to San Francisco, then a year later, he moved to Seattle to get a Master's degree at the University Of Washington's School of Far Eastern Studies.
Over the next five years, Robbins worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first as a sports reporter, then as an arts reviewer. In 1966, he wrote a column for Seattle Magazine and hosted a radio show on KRAB-FM, a non-commercial station in Seattle.
The following year, Robbins went to a concert by the legendary rock band The Doors, which was a life changing experience for him and a major factor in his decision to move to La Conner, Washington, and write his first book.
Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, was published in 1971. It introduced his trademark writing style - a non-linear narrative filled with offbeat humor and scathing satire.
It told the story of John Paul Ziller and his wife Amanda - a hippie guru - who open a combination hot dog stand and zoo called Captain Kendrick's Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve.
Other weird characters in the novel are a baboon named Mon Cul, a well educated fellow called Marx Marvelous, and L. Westminster "Plucky" Purcell, a football great and part time drug dealer.
Plucky accidentally uncovers a secret order of monks who work as assassins for the Vatican. He also uncovers a shocking secret dating back to the beginning of Christianity.
Robbins' next novel, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1976) featured a main character, Sissy Henshaw, who was born with an unusual birth defect - enormously large thumbs, which she uses to hitchhike around the country. In her travels, Sissy meets and becomes a model for the Countess, a lesbian feminine hygiene product tycoon.
The Countess introduces Sissy to her future husband, a Mohawk Indian named Julian Gitche. Sissy also meets sexually open cowgirl Bonanza Jellybean, and an escapee from a U.S. government Japanese internment camp with the erroneous nickname "The Chink."
In 1993, director Gus Van Sant - a friend of Tom Robbins - adapted Even Cowgirls Get The Blues as a feature film starring Uma Thurman as Sissy Henshaw, John Hurt as the Countess, Rain Phoenix as Bonanza Jellybean, Keanu Reeves as Julian Gitche, and Pat Morita as The Chink.
Tom Robbins has written ten novels so far, including memorable works such as Still Life with Woodpecker (1980) and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994). His latest novel, B is for Beer, was published in April of 2009.
B is for Beer is classic Robbins. Dubbed "a children's book for grown-ups" and "a grown-up book for children," it's presented in the form of a children's novel. It tells the story of six-year-old Gracie Perkel, who is fascinated by beer, her dad's favorite beverage, which she describes as "the stuff that's yellow and looks like pee-pee."
Gracie turns to her favorite uncle, beer-guzzling hippie Uncle Moe, for help. He leads her on a quest to find out all there is to know about beer, then leaves her in the lurch, running off with a woman - a podiatrist he's fallen in love with.
Undaunted, Gracie drinks her first beer, throws up, passes out, and is visited by the Beer Fairy, who teaches her all about the history and production of beer. In a recent interview, Tom Robbins claimed that he wrote B is for Beer as a satirical ode to the brewed beverage:
Kids are constantly exposed to beer. It's everywhere, yet, aside from wagging a warning finger and growling - true enough as it goes - "beer is for grownups," how many parents actually engage their youngsters on the subject? As a topic for detailed family discussion, it's generally as taboo as sex.
As for his next novel, Robbins says, "I've decided to take advantage of outsourcing. My next novel will be written by a couple of guys in Bangalore."
Quote Of The Day
"There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act." - Tom Robbins
Today's video features Tom Robbins reading from and discussing his most recent novel, B is for Beer. Enjoy!
Friday, July 22, 2016
Thursday, July 21, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 21st, 1899, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago. His father, Clarence Edmonds "Doc Ed" Hemingway, was a country doctor. His mother Grace was an aspiring opera singer.
Grace, who earned money giving voice and music lessons, was a domineering and fiercely religious woman who shared the beliefs of the strict, fundamentalist Protestant population of Oak Park, which Ernest Hemingway described as having "wide lawns and narrow minds."
As a boy, Hemingway adopted his father's hobbies of hunting, fishing, and camping in the woods and lakes of Northern Michigan, where his family owned a summer home. They often vacationed there, and the young Hemingway's experiences instilled in him a passion for both outdoor adventure and living in remote areas.
In high school, Hemingway excelled in both sports (he boxed and played football) and academics, displaying exceptional talent in his English classes. His first literary experience was writing for both the school newspaper and yearbook.
In his senior year, he became the editor of the newspaper. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Ring Lardner, Jr. as a tribute to his literary hero, Ring Lardner.
After graduating high school, Hemingway decided not to go to college. Instead, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Six months later, against his father's wishes, he left the job to join the Army and fight in World War I.
He failed his physical due to vision problems, so he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead. On his way to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, which was being bombarded by German artillery. He tried to get as close to the combat zone as possible.
When he arrived in Italy, Hemingway witnessed first hand the horrors of war. After an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, he had to pick up the human remains. He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead.
It left him badly shaken. In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly wounded while delivering supplies to soldiers. Shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell lodged in his legs, and machine gun fire badly injured his knee.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowski, an American nurse six years his senior. They planned to return to America together, but when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer.
This painful betrayal left a mark on his psyche, and was reflected in his classic novel A Farewell To Arms (1929). After the war, he returned briefly to Oak Park before leaving for Toronto, Ontario.
There, he lived in an apartment on Bathurst Street, now known as The Hemingway. He resumed his journalism career, landing a job as a reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper. He met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
She hated their cramped apartment, so they moved to Paris, where Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish War for the Toronto Star. In this obscure yet important war, he witnessed the horrific burning of Smyrna, which he mentioned in a few of his short stories.
While living in Paris, he met Gertrude Stein, who became his mentor and introduced him to the American expatriate community of writers and artists who lived around the Montparnasse Quarter. This community came to be known as the Lost Generation, a term Stein coined from a comment made by her mechanic.
In 1923, after enjoying great success as a foreign correspondent, Hemingway returned to Toronto, where he began writing fiction under the pseudonym Peter Jackson. His first child was born - a son named John but known as Jack. Hemingway asked Gertrude Stein to be his son's godmother.
Around this time, Hemingway had a falling out with his editor, who believed he had been spoiled by his overseas assignments. He deliberately gave Hemingway mundane assignments.
A bitter Hemingway angrily resigned from the Toronto Star in December of 1923. His resignation must have been either ignored or rescinded, as Hemingway continued to write for the newspaper - albeit sporadically.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway's first book was published. It was a short story collection called In Our Time. It featured four Nick Adams stories.
The book's title, which came from the English Book of Common Prayer, was suggested to Hemingway by Ezra Pound. The 1930 reprint of the book included the piece On The Quai At Smyrna as an introduction.
It was based on Hemingway's experiences covering the Greco-Turkish War. The same year his book was published, Hemingway met writer F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar in Paris. Just two weeks before, Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published.
Hemingway and Fiztgerald became close friends. They spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and exchanging manuscripts. Impressed with Hemingway's writing talent, Fitzgerald did a lot to advance his career.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's wife Zelda took an immediate dislike to Hemingway. The feeling was mutual. Zelda and her husband were having marital problems at the time, and she blamed the decline of their sex life on Hemingway, whom she called a "fairy."
She accused him of having a homosexual affair with Fitzgerald, but there's no evidence that the two men had an affair or that they were gay or bisexual. Zelda was both a heavy drinker and a schizophrenic, and would later be institutionalized.
To get back at her for attacking his masculinity, Fitzgerald slept with a female prostitute and flaunted the affair. The conflict between Hemingway and Zelda ended his friendship with Fitzgerald and created lifelong animosity between the two writers.
Hemingway and his wife Hadley divorced in 1927. He later married Pauline Pfeiffer, a devout Catholic from Arkansas who was an occasional fashion reporter, writing for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Hemingway converted to Catholicism and continued to write.
Tragedy struck the following year when his father, in poor health and with financial troubles, committed suicide by shooting himself with an old Civil War pistol. Hemingway returned to Oak Park to arrange the funeral.
He angered the Protestant community by voicing the Catholic view that all suicides go to Hell. Not long afterward, Harry Crosby - an old friend of Hemingway's from his Paris days and the founder of Black Sun Press - also committed suicide.
A year later in 1929, Hemingway published his classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. It was an autobiographical novel based on Hemingway's experiences in World War I. In it, Frederic Henry, an American soldier, is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital.
There, he meets a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and falls in love with her. By the time he has recovered, she is three months pregnant. They are separated by the war, then reunited later.
They flee to Switzerland by rowboat where, after a long and painful labor, Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then bleeds to death. The novel would later be adapted for the stage and screen.
Ernest Hemingway wrote ten novels, most of them all-time classics. He also wrote ten short story collections, several non-fiction books, and two plays. His famous 1952 novella The Old Man And The Sea -written while Hemingway was living in Cuba - was his favorite, and with good reason.
His previous novel, Across The River And Into The Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics. They said that Hemingway was washed up as writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man And The Sea proved his brilliance.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise from the critics, who compared his novella with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man And The Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, my eighth grade English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing novella. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
In July of 1961, just three weeks before his 62nd birthday, after suffering from health problems and mental illness, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that the disease haemochromatosis ran in Hemingway's father's family.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood - which not only results in damage to the pancreas, but also causes instability in the cerebrum, resulting in depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar, and all great writers have had it." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a full length documentary on Ernest Hemingway called Ernest Hemingway: Wrestling With Life. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 20th, 1304, the legendary Italian poet, philosopher, and scholar Petrarch was born. He was born Francesco Petrarca in Arezzo, Italy. Petrarch's father was in the legal profession, so he demanded that his sons study law as well.
Petrarch spent seven years in law school, but he considered it a waste of time - his main interests were writing and Latin literature and he hated the practice of law, which he considered to be the art of selling justice.
After the death of their parents, Petrarch and his brother Gherardo went back to Avignon, where they spent most of their early years. To support himself, Petrarch worked in clerical offices. This gave him time to write.
He became friends with the legendary writer Boccaccio and corresponded with him frequently. Petrarch also completed his first major work, Africa - an epic poem written in Latin that told the story of the great Roman general, Scipio Africanus.
Petrarch's epic poem made him a celebrity throughout Europe. He became a priest and continued his work as a scholar and writer. He wrote mostly in Latin, but his most famous collection of poems, Il Canzoniere, (The Songbook) was written in Italian.
This work contained over 300 sonnets, a form his name would always be associated with. Though he is sometimes mistakenly credited as being the inventor of the sonnet, he was not. He did, however, invent the particular rhyme scheme for the form that came to be known as the Petrarchan sonnet.
The sonnets in Petrarch's book were inspired by a mysterious young woman known only as Laura. When Petrarch was 24 years old, after he had left the priesthood, he first saw Laura in church on Good Friday.
It was love at first sight for Petrarch, but alas, Laura was a married noblewoman who could not return his affection. Although an aristocrat, Laura was also a sweet-natured and humble girl, which endeared her to Petrarch.
Unable to realize his love for Laura, Petrarch wrote over 300 sonnets secretly professing his unrequited love for her. They are among the greatest love poems ever written. Not much is known to history about Laura.
Some scholars believe that she may have been Laura de Noves, wife of Count Hugues de Sade - an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade. When she died in 1348, Petrarch was wracked with grief.
The legendary composer Franz Liszt would set three of Petrarch's sonnets to music for voice in his work Tre Sonnetti Di Petrarca, and later transcribe them for solo piano in his suite Annees De Pelerinage.
In 1341, Petrarch was crowned the first poet laureate of Rome since antiquity. He traveled all over Europe as an ambassador. During his travels, he collected old, crumbling Latin manuscripts and became a leader in the movement to recover and restore the manuscripts of ancient Roman and Greek writers.
He advised Leontius Pilatus in his translation of a Homer manuscript acquired from Boccaccio, but was greatly displeased with the result. In 1345, Petrarch himself discovered a previously unknown collection of Cicero's letters, the Ad Atticum.
During the Italian Renaissance, Petrarch became a respected and influential philosopher. He is credited with founding the Humanist movement and describing the ignorant times that preceded the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages." But he will always be known as one of the greatest writers and poets of all time.
Throughout his remarkable life, he wrote poetry collections, essays, numerous scholarly works, and a large volume of correspondence. He brought the sonnet to prominence long before the birth of Shakespeare, and his love poems were magnificent. One of his most beloved sonnets is Sonnet #140:
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
Petrarch died in July of 1374, just before his 70th birthday.
Quote Of The Day
"There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound, us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away- sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety." - Petrarch
Today's video features a documentary on Petrarch and his contribution to the sonnet. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 19th, 1898, the legendary French writer Emile Zola was forced to flee France to escape imprisonment after being convicted of libel.
Zola's conviction resulted from the publication of his most famous nonfiction work, J'Accuse, an open letter to France's president, Felix Faure. The letter would expose one of history's most famous and shameful political scandals - the Dreyfus Affair.
Emile Zola was born in Paris in 1840. He rose from humble working class roots to become one of France's greatest writers. Though he became wealthy, he never forgot his roots. A lifelong socialist, he was also a leading figure in the intellectual movement of his time.
As a young man, before he made his name as a writer, he openly denounced Napoleon III, the nephew of ex-emperor Napoleon I. In 1848, three years after he was elected President of the French Second Republic, Napoleon III staged a coup and overthrew the republic, establishing himself as the new emperor.
After Napoleon III was deposed in 1870 following France's disastrous defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the French Third Republic was established. It would remain in power for 70 years, until the Nazis invaded in 1940.
In its early days, the French Third Republic was a right wing fascist republic, heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and the French Army. It gave new meaning to Oscar Wilde's definition of patriotism as a virtue of the vicious.
Of course, not everyone in France agreed with their government. A great split was brewing. Intellectuals such as Emile Zola were concerned by not only the political atmosphere, but also by the plague of anti-Semitism that was spreading like wildfire throughout the country.
The plague was being spread by the Church, the army, and the right wing press. It was this climate of right wing nationalism and anti-Semitism that led to the Dreyfus Affair.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an artillery officer in the French Army who had been accused of turning military secrets over to a contact at the German Embassy. Although there was no evidence to prove his guilt, he was nonetheless convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island, the notorious prison in French Guiana.
Some people believed that Dreyfus had been railroaded because he was Jewish. Later, one Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart discovered evidence proving that another officer, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, had committed the crime for which Dreyfus had been convicted and imprisoned.
Rather than release Dreyfus, Picquart's superior, Hubert-Joseph Henry, forged documents to make it look like Dreyfus was guilty. Then he reassigned Picquart to a remote post in Africa.
Before he left for his new post, Picquart told Dreyfus' supporters what he knew about the case. For this, he would be court-martialed and sentenced to 60 days in jail. The right wing government refused to allow new evidence to be introduced.
Emile Zola could stand it no more. He wrote an open letter to President Felix Faure, which would be published in the January 13th, 1898 issue of L'Aurore, then France's most prominent and respected liberal newspaper.
J'Accuse (I Accuse) described the plot to frame Alfred Dreyfus for espionage, accusing by name the Army officers responsible. This cabal of officers was led by one Lt. Colonel Du Paty de Clam.
All of the conspirators were devout Catholics and ferocious anti-Semites. They framed Dreyfus for two reasons: to protect the real culprit and to rid the French Army of one more "dirty Jew."
Why would soldiers protect a comrade whom they knew had committed treason? Because they also knew that he was a double agent. Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy had been working for the French Secret Service, pretending to spy for Germany.
The "secrets" he was passing to the Germans were actually carefully crafted pieces of disinformation. To prevent Esterhazy's cover from being blown, the conspiring officers were more than happy to sacrifice the life of an innocent Jew. They got away with it in the name of national security.
Since Emile Zola was one of the most prominent intellectuals in France, the publication of J'Accuse resulted in a huge uproar - an outrage that sharply divided the French people and shocked other countries.
The Catholic Church backed the government and the Army. La Croix, France's most prominent Catholic newspaper, ran daily anti-Semitic editorials and blasted Zola.
As Zola expected, he was stripped of the Legion of Honor and quickly arrested. Charged with libel, he was convicted just over two weeks later and sentenced to a year in jail. He fled to England, where he stayed for over ten years.
Zola returned to France in June of 1899, just in time to see the right wing government fall. The new liberal government added to the republic's constitution a separation of Church and state.
The case of Alfred Dreyfus was taken up again. The government would not exonerate him, because that would have involved introducing classified Secret Service documents into the public record. So, they offered him a pardon instead, which he accepted.
But the truth was on the march, as Zola once said, and in 1906, the French Supreme Court finally exonerated Alfred Dreyfus. He was readmitted to the Army and given a promotion.
He would later serve in World War 1 and retire from the military with the rank of Lt. Colonel and the Legion of Honor award.
Emile Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902 at the age of 62. Many years later, a Parisian roofer confessed on his deathbed to killing Zola by closing his chimney. He claimed it was a political assassination.
The complete text of Zola's classic letter, J'Accuse, translated into English, can be found here.
In 1998, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of J'Accuse, the still prominent Catholic newspaper La Croix finally issued a public apology for its long history of anti-Semitism and the role it played in the Dreyfus Affair.
Quote Of The Day
"I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul." - Emile Zola
Today's video features a documentary on the Dreyfus Affair, the notorious political scandal exposed by Emile Zola in his classic nonfiction work, J'Accuse. Enjoy!
Monday, July 18, 2016
My poem, "A Fantasy for an Idle Mind," is up at Literary Orphans. I hope you enjoy it. I think it captures me as a writer more than anything else I've written.
My article on India's disappearing history got published finally as most Indian publications tended to side step it because it is a politically incorrect piece. Do check it out when you find the time.
My story "Under the Bridge," subbed on fiction a while back, is now in print at the Little Patuxent Review.
Friday, July 15, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 15th, 1779, the famous American poet Clement Moore was born in New York City. His father, Benjamin Moore, was an Episcopal bishop and also served as the president of Columbia College.
Clement Moore later graduated from Columbia College, earning his Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. In 1821, he was made a professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City - a position he would hold for almost 30 years.
For ten years, he served as a board member of the New York Institute for the Blind, now known as the New York Institute for Special Education. He was also a prominent abolitionist.
Moore's writing career was modest. He only published two books during his lifetime. One of them was a nonfiction work - a Hebrew and English lexicon published in 1809. The other was a poetry collection, published in 1844.
One of Moore's poems would become a cherished holiday classic that continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. Its original title was A Visit From St. Nicholas, but it's best known as Twas The Night Before Christmas, which is also the first line of the poem.
Twas The Night Before Christmas was first published anonymously in the Sentinel, a newspaper based in Troy, New York, on December 23rd, 1823. Moore originally took no credit for writing the poem because he wanted to be known for his serious and scholarly works, not for authoring a whimsical Christmas poem.
The poem tells the story of a man awakened by strange noises late one Christmas Eve. While his wife and children sleep, he investigates the noises and witnesses the arrival of St. Nicholas - Santa Claus - who has come to deliver presents, riding a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer.
The poem defined the character of Santa Claus as we know him today - his physical description, the names of his reindeer, his tradition of delivering presents on Christmas Eve, and other characteristics.
One thing I always found interesting was Moore's description of Santa Claus as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with a long white beard. This may have come from ancient Egyptian mythology, as the ancient Egyptian god Bes was a Santa-like character.
It was believed that on December 25th, the mother goddess Isis gave birth to Horus, the savior of Egypt. Bes, the Elf King, depicted as a jolly, fat, naked little elf with a long white beard, was a favorite of Isis, and much loved by the goddess.
He was the guardian of children and women in childbirth. Every year on December 25th, Bes would honor the birth of Horus by bringing toys and trinkets to all good children.
Twas The Night Before Christmas continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. The poem has become a cultural icon, influencing music, movies, and television, where it has been both parodied and paid tribute.
In 1974, the legendary animators Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, producers of classic, beloved animated TV Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, produced an animated Christmas special loosely based on Clement Moore's classic poem.
Featuring the voices of Joel Grey, Tammy Grimes, and George Gobel, Twas The Night Before Christmas is still shown on TV at Christmastime and is available on DVD.
Clement Moore died in 1863 at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
"True poetry is itself a magic spell which is a key to the ineffable." - Aleister Crowley
Today's video features a rare performance of Twas The Night Before Christmas, read by Perry Como. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 14, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On July 14th, 1902, the famous Polish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland. His older brother, Israel Joshua Singer, and his older sister, Esther Kreitman, also became writers. Their father was a Hasidic rabbi, and their mother's father and brothers were also rabbis.
When Isaac Bashevis Singer was ten years old, his brother Israel gave him a copy of Dostoevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment, despite the fact that their strict, orthodox father forbade them from reading non-religious books.
Isaac loved the novel. Later, as a teenager in Bilgoraj, he would study Yiddish translations of works by Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, and other authors. He read all sorts of novels, plays, and poetry collections.
Singer later entered a rabbinical seminary, but came to hate the school and the prospect of becoming a rabbi. He returned to his parents for a time, then went back to Bilgoraj and tried to earn some money as a Hebrew tutor.
In 1923, his brother Israel arranged for him to move to Warsaw and become a proofreader for the Literarische Bleter, for whom he would later become an editor. In his twenties, taking a cue from his brother who had done the same, Isaac Bashevis Singer rejected his religion and broke ties with his parents.
He became part of Warsaw's Bohemian scene, spending time with many of his fellow non-religious writers and artists. Singer's first published short story won a literary contest and established him as an up-and-coming talent.
Singer's primary language was Yiddish. He wrote in Yiddish, and Yiddish folktales were a major influence on his writing. His first novel, Satan In Goray, was published in a serialized format in Globus, a literary magazine co-founded in 1935 by Singer and his lifelong friend, Yiddish poet Aaron Zeitlin.
Singer's historical novel was set in 17th century Poland, in the village of Goraj. It was based on the true story of how one third of Poland's Jews were exterminated in a Cossack uprising. It also told of the effect of Shabbatai Zvi, a rabbi turned false prophet and cult leader, on the Jewish population.
A prominent vegetarian, Singer's dietary philosophy would be reflected in his writings. His short story The Slaughterer dealt with the anguish of a man trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job as a slaughterer.
Singer often said that he became a vegetarian for reasons of health - the health of animals. "In relation to [animals]," he wrote in The Letter Writer, "all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."
Although he had rejected his religion as a young man, Isaac Bashevis Singer's writing is often steeped deep in Judaism. His novels and short stories often depicted Jewish characters struggling with their religion. Their struggles sometimes become quite violent, resulting in death or insanity.
Singer's most popular novel, Yentl The Yeshiva Boy, was adapted in 1975 as an equally popular movie (which Singer absolutely hated) starring Barbra Streisand in the lead role. Yentl is a young girl constantly at odds with her rabbi father over the traditions of their religion, always debating theology with him - something females aren't supposed to do.
After her father dies, Yentl cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy named Anshel so she can enter a yeshiva and study the Talmud. Her true identity is discovered by her study partner, Avigdor. In his novel, Singer modeled the character of Yentl after his older sister, Esther.
Though she was an intellectually gifted child, due to the misogynistic beliefs and traditions of her father's orthodox religion, as a young girl, Esther was confined to a life of drudgery, doing menial household chores while her brothers received an education.
Esther had dreamed of becoming a writer, but her status as a woman in a strict Hasidic Jewish family crushed that dream. She was even forced into an arranged marriage, a fate she accepted grudgingly. The marriage ended in divorce. Later in life, she finally did educate herself and make her dream come true, publishing one novel and a collection of short stories.
Her brother, Isaac Bashevis Singer, wrote over 18 novels and numerous short story collections. In 1978, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Singer died in 1991 at the age of 88, after suffering a series of strokes.
Quote Of The Day
"We must believe in free will - we have no choice." - Isaac Bashevis Singer
Today's video features the complete 1987 PBS TV documentary, Isaac In America: A Journey With Isaac Bashevis Singer. Enjoy!