This Day In Literary History
On September 29th, 1547, the legendary Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet Miguel de Cervantes was born in Madrid, Spain. His father, Rodrigo de Cervantes, was a surgeon. Not much is known about his mother, Leonor de Cortinas.
Born into a noble family, Miguel de Cervantes was well-educated. In 1569, at the age of 22, he moved to Rome, where he immersed himself in the city's literature, art, and architecture. He found work as valet to a wealthy Catholic priest, Father Giulio Acquaviva, who would be ordained Cardinal the following year.
By then, Cervantes had enlisted in the Spanish naval elite corps, the Infanteria de Marina, stationed in Naples, which at the time was Spanish territory. In October of 1571, he served on a ship in the Holy League fleet.
The Holy League was a coalition of allies that included the Vatican, Spain, the Republics of Venice and Genoa, and others under the command of John of Austria, King Philip II's illegitimate half brother. Cervantes saw action in the Battle of Lepanto.
The Battle of Lepanto was a brutal five-hour battle between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. When his ship came under fire, Cervantes was below deck, stricken with fever.
He couldn't bear to stay hidden with other sick men while his comrades were fighting and dying, so he begged his commanding officer for permission to fight. Permission was granted.
Cervantes fought bravely against the Ottomans and was shot three times. One of the bullets rendered his left arm useless. The other two struck him in the chest. Ultimately, the Holy League won the battle.
After the battle was over, he would spend six months in hospital recovering from his injuries. He left before his wounds completely healed and returned to active duty as a solider. He would serve for a few more years.
In September of 1575, he set sail from Naples to Barcelona, carrying letters of commendation to the King from the Duke de Sessa. As his ship approached the Catalan coast, it was attacked by Algerian pirates.
Although the captain and crew mounted a fierce resistance, most of the men were killed. The rest, including Cervantes, were taken prisoner and brought to Algiers. He spent five years as a slave.
Cervantes' parents and the Trinitarians (a Catholic religious order) were ultimately able to buy his freedom. During his captivity, he began to write, and he already had a lifetime of experiences to inspire him.
In December of 1584, Cervantes married his much younger girlfriend Catalina de Salazar y Palacios. Her uncle, Alonso de Quesada y Salazar, would serve as the inspiration for Cervantes' most famous literary character, Don Quixote.
The following year, Miguel de Cervantes' first major work was published. It was a novel called La Galatea. On the surface, La Galatea seems like a typical pastoral romance, as it tells the story of two shepherds, best friends, who are in love with the same woman.
However, Cervantes' dazzling debut novel is much more than that. Combining prose with poetry in a variety of forms and styles, La Galatea is a deep and poetic examination of the nature of love.
Although literary critics of the time and even Cervantes himself would claim that he couldn't write poetry, he proved his poetic talent in his first novel.
Now recognized as a major work, La Galatea was only modestly successful when it was first published. His early plays also enjoyed just modest success. So, Cervantes spent the next twenty years living a nomadic existence.
He traveled and worked at various jobs, including that of a tax collector and a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada. Financial and legal troubles would plague him, as he went bankrupt and was imprisoned twice on suspicion of embezzlement.
By 1606, Cervantes returned to Madrid, where he would live for the rest of his life. A year earlier, he published the first part of his greatest work, which established him as a brilliant, modern novelist far, far ahead of his time.
It's also rightfully considered to be one of the greatest novels in the history of Western literature. El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha, (The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha), later shortened to just Don Quixote, was a masterpiece of satirical comic adventure.
Alonso Quixano is a recently retired gentleman nearing his 50th birthday. He now lives a quiet life in the Spanish countryside, in the town of La Mancha, along with his niece and their housekeeper.
Quixano spends practically all of his time reading books about knights and chivalry. He becomes so obsessed with these stories - which he believes are real and not works of fiction - that he rarely sleeps or eats. All he does is read, and people begin to believe that he's lost his mind.
One day, Quixano decides to become a knight himself. He dons a suit of armor, renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets off in search of adventure - and to defend the honor of his mistress, the beautiful noblewoman Lady Dulcinea del Toboso.
She is really Aldonza Lorenzo, a neighboring farm girl. Quixote performs his first act of chivalry when he saves a boy who'd been tied to a tree by his master for daring to ask for the wages he'd earned but was never paid. Unfortunately, after Quixote leaves, the boy is beaten by his master.
Later, Quixote has a run-in with some traders whom he believes have insulted his imaginary mistress, Lady Dulcinea. Quixote demands satisfaction and is severely beaten by one of the traders and left on the side of the road.
He is later found by one of his neighbors, Pablo Crespo, who brings him home. Quixote plans another quest. His niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber try to dissuade him from his quest for adventure.
They burn his books about knights and chivalry, then seal up the rest of his library and pretend that it was taken by a traveling magician. Undeterred, Quixote turns to another neighbor, Sancho Panza, and persuades him to become his squire.
Panza is a short, fat, vulgar man who is proud of his illiteracy. Though he seems dimwitted at first, Sancho proves to be far wiser and far more sensible than his master, Don Quixote.
Together, they set off for adventure and during their travels, they meet prostitutes, priests, soldiers, goatherds, escaped convicts, scorned lovers, and other characters. Don Quixote's overactive imagination leads him to embark on chivalrous quests.
His tendency to violently intervene in matters that are none of his business - and his habit of never paying his debts - often results in humiliation and injury, with poor Sancho Panza getting the worst of it.
In his most famous adventure, Quixote attacks a group of ferocious giants, which Sancho knows are just windmills. Eventually, Don Quixote is at last persuaded to go home, but the first part hints at yet another quest, stating that the records of it were lost.
Don Quixote didn't make a rich man of Miguel de Cervantes, but it did rescue him from poverty and bring him international fame. He continued to write. Mostly he wrote plays, but he also published a classic short story collection, Novelas Ejemplares (1613) and a dazzling epic poem, Viaje del Parnaso (1614).
In 1614, an unknown writer using the pseudonym Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published his own sequel to Don Quixote. Avellaneda's work was held in low regard by critics and readers - then and now.
The book was infamous for its poor quality and numerous errors, including misnamed characters. Cervantes would pepper his own sequel with in-jokes and other potshots at Avellaneda's work.
Angered by Avellaneda's phony sequel to his novel, Cervantes was prodded to deliver what he had promised but never completed - a sequel to Don Quixote. He immediately began work on Don Quixote, Part Two which would be published in late 1615.
Both novels would later be published in one epic volume, which first appeared in 1617. From then on, Don Quixote would be published as one long volume.
Where the first part of Don Quixote was pure farce, the second part is more serious - a philosophical treatise on deception. Quixote's imaginary quests are the result of incredibly cruel practical jokes.
These jokes, played on Quixote by wealthy patrons, take a great emotional toll on him. He eventually regains his sanity and renounces chivalry. He dies a sane but sad and broken man.
Don Quixote would be adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television. Its most famous stage adaptation, a play called Man of La Mancha, would itself be adapted as an award winning Broadway musical.
The musical's original lyrics, written by British poet W.H. Auden, were replaced due to their scathingly anti-establishment themes. Miguel de Cervantes died in April of 1616 at the age of 68.
His last great novel, Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda would be published posthumously in 1617.
Quote Of The Day
"The pen is the tongue of the mind." - Miguel de Cervantes
Today's video features a complete reading of Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel, Don Quixote. Enjoy!
Friday, September 29, 2017
Thursday, September 28, 2017
It's Banned Books Week!
This week is Banned Books Week. The annual event, which takes place during the last week of September, was first established in 1982 by the American Library Association. (ALA) It was the brainchild of the late, great librarian and activist Judith Krug.
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by encouraging people to read books that have been banned or challenged - targeted for banning. The event also promotes the freedom of libraries, schools, and bookstores to provide such materials.
To celebrate Banned Books Week, the ALA offers kits, posters, buttons, bookmarks, and guidelines for schools and public libraries who participate in the event by erecting special displays of banned or challenged books to raise awareness of these issues.
Booksellers also create displays. Some go even further and invite authors of banned or challenged books to speak at their stores. They also sponsor annual essay contests dealing with freedom of expression.
Every year, the ALA compiles a list of the top 100 (or so) books that have been banned or challenged in the United States. What sort of publications make the list? Most of them are children's books that have been challenged or banned outright from schools and libraries across the country.
The challenges and bans are largely the work of disgruntled parents or conservative and / or religious activist groups complaining about allegedly inappropriate content in the literary works.
A good example of this can be found the case of And Tango Makes Three, (2005) a charming picture book for young readers, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.
This book has earned the distinction of being the #1 most banned or challenged book in recent years. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two captive male penguins living at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.
Zookeepers noticed that for six years, Roy and Silo lived together as mates - as though one of them were female - and engaged in mating rituals. When the penguins were observed trying to hatch an egg-shaped rock, the zookeepers gave them a real penguin egg to see if they could hatch it.
Roy and Silo cared for the egg and successfully hatched it. The healthy female chick, named Tango by the zookeepers, was then adopted by Roy and Silo, who raised her as their own. All three penguins lived together as a family.
And Tango Makes Three caused a furor with conservative and religious groups. Across the country, efforts were made to remove the book from schools and public libraries. Some of these challenges reached the courts, where they all failed.
In one case, a Federal Court rejected as unconstitutional a local resolution passed in Wichita Falls, Texas, that ordered the public library to remove And Tango Makes Three, along with another similarly themed controversial book (Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman) from the children's section and place them in the restricted adult section of the library.
Here's my own list of the top five books, both modern classics and those from the past, which have been banned or challenged over the years, and still face attempts at censorship:
1. Bridge To Terabithia (1977) by Katherine Paterson. This beloved and acclaimed children's novel, a favorite of both young and old readers alike, (and one of my all time favorites) is still popular over thirty years since it was first published. It still appears on teachers' assigned reading lists.
The most banned or challenged children's book of all time, Bridge To Terabithia is set in rural Virginia. It tells the heart wrenching tale of Jess Aarons, a poor, introverted, artistically gifted young farm boy who finds a soul mate in Leslie Burke, the intelligent, imaginative, tomboyish city girl who moves in next door.
Neglected by his ignorant, emotionally distant father, yelled at by his mother, mistreated by his older sisters, saddled with a nasty teacher and picked on by bullies at school, Jess desperately needs a friend. He finds it in Leslie Burke, who is also in desperate need of a friend.
Together, Jess and Leslie create Terabithia - a magical, imaginary world of their own where they rule as king and queen. When tragedy suddenly strikes and separates them forever, Jess must use all the strength and courage Leslie gave him as he tries to cope with his loss.
This beautiful novel has been attacked for various reasons, including its themes of death and grief, its bleakness and stark realism, the author's dialectic use of mild profanity, and the alleged ridiculing of authority figures and negative depictions of Christians and Christianity.
2. The Catcher In The Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger. Salinger's brilliant, celebrated coming-of-age novel about rebellious, angst-ridden troubled teen Holden Caulfield and his journey of self-discovery has been attacked since it was first published.
A staple of study for high school English classes, this novel has been attacked for its frank language, sexual content, alleged promotion of smoking, drinking, lying, and sexual promiscuity, and for other reasons.
When teachers assign their students to read The Catcher In The Rye, they are often challenged by disgruntled parents and conservative groups who try to get the novel removed from school libraries.
3. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain. This classic novel, a sequel to Twain's classic The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, features Tom's friend Huckleberry Finn on an adventure of his own.
Originally attacked for its condemnation of slavery and negative depiction of white Southerners, this book has been attacked since the 1950s by African-American activists for its frequent use of the racial epithet nigger and for its allegedly racist stereotyping of blacks.
Twain scholars point out that when Huckleberry Finn meets runaway slave Jim, Huck is initially opposed to the idea of Jim becoming a free man, but changes his mind after befriending the slave and traveling with him.
Huck sees Jim as a good man who deserves to be free and helps him escape, even though doing so is illegal - it's considered a form of theft. Twain himself despised slavery and used his book to assail it, along with the Southern view that blacks were sub-human. Twain also assailed the Southern practice of lynching.
In using the word nigger, Twain criticizes his fellow Southerners' racism by letting them speak their own ugly language. Modern critics of Huckleberry Finn simply fail to place the novel in its proper historical context.
4. The Harry Potter Series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling. Scottish author J.K. Rowling created a pop culture phenomenon with her series of seven fantasy novels about a young English orphan boy named Harry Potter who learns that he is a wizard.
Rescued from his nasty muggle (non-magical) relatives by the giant Hagrid, Harry is whisked away into the hidden world of wizards and witches and enrolled at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry will learn to master his magic (with the guidance of his mentor, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore) and meet his ultimate destiny - to face and destroy Lord Voldemort, the evil dark wizard who murdered his parents - as the forces of good and evil in the magical world prepare for war.
Rowling's epic novels have inspired millions of children to put down their video game controllers and discover the joy of reading. She has also earned millions of adult fans as well - and the wrath of religious conservatives.
These people claim that the Harry Potter novels encourage children to dabble in witchcraft and Satanism - despite the fact that magic is depicted as a gift one is born with and not related to a religion.
Nevertheless, the books have been challenged frequently, especially in the conservative Southern states, where attempts have been made to remove the books from teachers' assigned reading lists and school libraries.
5. The His Dark Materials Trilogy (1995-2000) by Philip Pullman. English author Philip Pullman's brilliant epic fantasy trilogy is set in an alternate universe, on a world similar to Earth, in a country similar to England.
In this world, everyone has a daemon - an externalization of the soul that takes the form of a shape-shifting creature (and dear friend) that always remains by their side.
The heroine is a bright, brash, imaginative, and mischievous 12-year-old girl named Lyra Belacqua whose daemon is called Pantalaimon. Lyra is an orphan who lives with her uncle, Lord Asriel, at Oxford University.
When Lord Asriel makes an important discovery - the true nature of Dust, the fabric of the universe - that threatens to invalidate the cruel, repressive, Catholic-esque monotheistic religion whose clerical body (the Magisterium) rules the world, his life is endangered.
Lyra finds herself at the center of a prophecy. She is the chosen one who will not only bring down the Magisterium on her world, but bring about a revolution in Heaven as well.
The being worshiped as God is actually not a benevolent god but an evil, dictatorial angel called Metatron who seized power over Heaven and the universe from The Authority - the first angel to emerge from the Dust.
In The Subtle Knife, the second book in the trilogy, Lyra meets Will Parry, a boy her age from another universe and world (ours) who becomes her first love and partner in the prophecy, which is a reversal of John Milton's Paradise Lost, from which the trilogy got its name.
Lyra and Will become the new Adam and Eve, but instead of causing the fall of Man with their sin of fornication, they cause the fall of Metatron (God) and save Man. Where the Harry Potter novels invoked the wrath of religious conservatives over witchcraft, the His Dark Materials trilogy made them go ballistic.
They accused author Philip Pullman of blasphemy, anti-Catholicism, and promoting atheism to children. Others complained about the books' violence, gore, sexual content, and the promotion of a heroine who is disobedient by nature and an accomplished liar.
The most (allegedly) objectionable elements of the story occur near the end. Lyra and Will free the aged, dying Authority from confinement so he can die peacefully and become part of the Dust. Although an act of mercy, conservative critics see this as the symbolic killing of God.
In order to fulfill the prophecy, Will and Lyra make love. The sex scene is tastefully handled, as is the first awakening of sexual feelings within Lyra.
Though Pullman's American publisher, Scholastic, Inc., censored some passages in the U.S. version of the third book, The Amber Spyglass, the entire trilogy of novels still faces challenges and bans in the United States.
Thanks to the ALA's Banned Books Week, more and more people have become aware of these attempts at censoring books in the United States and around the world, and the threat they pose to the individual's freedom to read what he wants and the freedom of libraries and bookstores to provide him with the material.
The human rights organization Amnesty International joins the ALA in celebrating Banned Books Week by bringing attention to the plight of those around the world who are persecuted for what they write, publish, distribute, and read.
Exercise your freedom to read by celebrating Banned Books Week. For more information, visit the American Library Association's web site.
Quote Of The Day
"Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." - Heinrich Heine
Today's video features a presentation on this year's Banned Books Week. with students and faculty reading from their favorite banned books at Lake-Sumter State College Libraries. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 27th, 1929, A Farewell To Arms, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway, was published. The autobiographical novel was based on the author's own experiences during the first world war.
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. Unfortunately, he failed his physical due to his poor eyesight.
Rejected for military service, he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead and served as an ambulance driver. 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 firsthand the horrors of war when an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, and he was tasked with picking up the human remains.
He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead. Having never witnessed such horrors before, it left him badly shaken.
In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly injured while delivering supplies to soldiers. He was shot in the knee and caught shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell in both legs.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with the nurse who tended him - an American woman named Agnes von Kurowski. She was six years his senior. They planned to return to America together.
However, when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer. The end of their relationship would deeply affect both Hemingway the writer and Hemingway the man.
In her Dear John letter, Agnes addressed him as "Ernie, dear boy." At first, she scolded him for his immaturity and blamed the breakup on their age difference, but then she dropped the real bombshell:
"Believe me when I say this is sudden for me, too - I expect to be married soon. And I hope & pray that after you have thought things out, you'll be able to forgive me & start a wonderful career & show what a man you really are."
A Farewell To Arms tells the story of Hemingway's protagonist and alter ego, Frederic Henry, an American soldier serving during World War I.
Henry is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital. There, he falls in love with Catherine Barkley, the British nurse who tends to him.
By the time Henry has recovered, Catherine is three months pregnant with his child. 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.
A Farewell To Arms was originally published by Scribner's Magazine in a serialized format. Hemingway revised the manuscript before the novel was published in book form.
When his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald asked to read it, he sent him a draft copy of the manuscript. Later, Fitzgerald wrote him back with nine pages of suggested revisions. At the bottom of the last page, Hemingway wrote "Kiss my ass."
Rightfully considered a classic work of American literature, A Farewell To Arms demonstrates Ernest Hemingway's power as a storyteller and the style that would mark him as one of the all time great writers.
He never got to say goodbye to Agnes von Kurowski, a fate that befalls Frederic Henry in the novel, which ends with this poignant passage:
"You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.
"Yes I can," I said.
"You can't come in yet."
"You get out," I said. "The other one too."
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Quote Of The Day
"All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a complete reading of Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 26th, 1957, West Side Story, an acclaimed musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic play Romeo and Juliet, opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Eight years earlier in 1949, the legendary Broadway producer Jerome Robbins met with legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and playwright Arthur Laurents to discuss his idea for a new musical that they would collaborate on.
The musical Robbins had in mind was an adaptation and modernization of William Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York City, the musical would address the disturbing postwar rise of anti-Semitism in America.
Laurents, eager to write his first musical, penned a first draft of the proposed play. Set in New York's East Side, it was called East Side Story and dealt specifically with Irish Catholic prejudice against Jews.
It told the story of two feuding families, one Irish-Catholic, the other Jewish. The daughter of the Jewish family, a Holocaust survivor, falls in love with the son of the Irish Catholic family - a forbidden romance that provokes mutual hate and results in tragedy.
When the group met to discuss Laurents' first draft, they ultimately decided not to do a story about Irish Catholic anti-Semitism, as it had been done before on the Broadway stage and done well in plays like Anne Nichols' Abie's Irish Rose.
Laurents then dropped out to work on other projects and the musical was shelved for nearly five years. In 1955, at the opening of a new Ugo Betti play, Laurents ran into Stephen Sondheim, a young composer and lyricist whom he had worked with on another shelved musical, Seranade.
Sondheim told Laurents that the East Side Story project was back on. Leonard Bernstein had asked Sondheim to write the lyrics, as he wanted to concentrate exclusively on writing the music.
The new musical had been retitled West Side Story and would focus on a different form of racism - white prejudice against New York City's burgeoning Puerto Rican population.
The musical also dealt with juvenile delinquency, then a recent phenomenon that was reaching epic proportions and making headlines nationwide. Instead of feuding families, the conflict is between feuding teenage street gangs, one white, the other Puerto Rican.
Arthur Laurents wrote a new script and served as a creative consultant for Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, offering suggestions during the development of the score.
In writing the new script, Laurents was faced with the problem of the language used by the two gangs. While strong profanity could be heard in more daring off-Broadway plays, at that time, it was unheard of on the Broadway stage.
Laurents didn't want to use clean current slang, either, for fear of dating the play. So, he invented a new slang dialect for the gang members that sounded profane but wasn't. The new slang would also avoid dating with play with obsolete slang.
Producer Jerome Robbins wanted to maintain an atmosphere of gritty realism, so the harrowing fight scenes were not choreographed like the musical numbers. Stage blood was used effectively to enhance the realism of the fight scenes and the tragedy of the story.
The play opens with the Jets, a white street gang, involved in a turf war with the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. Riff, the leader of the Jets, plans to challenge Sharks leader Bernardo to a rumble (gang fight) to settle their differences once and for all.
At the neighborhood dance, Tony, the ex-leader of the Jets, shows up. Tony has gone straight and wants nothing more to do with gang life, but is still loyal to his old friend Riff, who now leads the Jets. The gang questions that loyalty.
Meanwhile, Bernardo's sister Maria also goes to the dance. Ignoring the brewing tensions between the Jets and Sharks members in attendance, Maria ends up dancing with Tony, and it's love at first sight for both of them.
When both gangs meet on neutral ground to discuss a rumble, Tony convinces both Riff and Bernardo to engage in a "fair fight" - to use only their fists during the rumble. Overruling the protests of their respective gang members, the two leaders agree.
The next day, Tony meets Maria and they dream about their wedding - despite the fact that Maria's family has decided that she will marry her brother's best friend, Chino. Maria begs Tony to stop the rumble, fearful for Bernardo's safety.
Tony tries to stop the rumble, but fails. During the fight, he tries to stop Riff from stabbing Bernardo, but Riff shakes him off and gets back in the fight. When Bernardo accidentally kills Riff, Tony, blaming himself for Riff's death, kills Bernardo in a rage.
A shocked Tony returns to Maria and confesses to killing her brother. She attacks him at first, but recognizing his remorse and realizing that she still loves him, she decides to run away with him.
Later, Bernardo's girlfriend Anita, after being nearly raped by the Jets, tells them that a jealous Chino has killed Maria. It's a lie, but it gets back to Tony, who vows to kill Chino. When Tony and Chino finally meet, Chino pulls out a gun and shoots Tony. He dies in Maria's arms.
The Jets and Sharks members gather around Tony's body, and a distraught Maria grabs Chino's gun and points it at them, blaming their hatred for Tony and Bernardo's deaths. She says she's now filled with hate and can kill, but instead, she breaks down and cries.
Moved by Maria's grief for Tony, the Jets and Sharks end their feud and form a funeral procession. They carry Tony's body away, with Maria in tow.
West Side Story opened in September of 1957 to excellent reviews. Featuring classic songs such as Jet Song, Maria, America, and Tonight, the musical became a huge hit. It ran at the Winter Garden Theatre for nearly 1,000 performances.
Most critics praised the musical for its grittiness and stark violence, which enhanced the tragic story. Some accused writer Arthur Laurents of glamorizing gang violence and juvenile delinquency.
In 1961, West Side Story was adapted as a classic musical feature film directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Though the film took liberties with the play and Leonard Bernstein hated its orchestration, it would become a hit and win big at the Academy Awards.
Legendary rock singer Elvis Presley was the original choice to play Tony, but his manager Col. Tom Parker made him decline the role. He didn't want Elvis to be associated with gang warfare and juvenile delinquency.
Richard Beymer was cast as Tony, Natalie Wood as Maria. During production, it was discovered that neither Wood nor Beymer could sing well enough for the film, so their vocals were dubbed by singers Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant.
The film's only weakness is the toned-down violence, required by the stifling Production Code that was still in effect at the time. To tone down the violence, the gang warfare is depicted via dance numbers, which the stage play deliberately avoided.
Nevertheless, the musical film adaptation of West Side Story is rightfully considered an all-time classic.
Quote Of The Day
"Psychoanalysts and elephants, they never forget." - Arthur Laurents
Today's video features a documentary on the making of West Side Story. Enjoy!
Monday, September 25, 2017
You may see my latest publication here. There is also an interview. The story, Milk, was subbed on Nfiction and I thank all who helped with their remarks and suggestions. Since this is the featured story, all you have to do is click the image to bring it up.
I was informed by telephone call that my short story 'Baby-girl' has been longlisted for a national prize in my country, the Quramo Prize.
I'm surprised and thankful the story even made the long list because a friend told me about the contest and I just managed to squeeze in my story before the deadline.
I didn't think my story was ready yet but I didn't have much of a choice. (I've since revised it a number of times.) A big thanks to all who offered me a crit.
Judith Kelly Quaempts
Happy to report that the Paragon Journal has accepted two poems for an upcoming issue. Will send link when poems appear.
My review of The Devil Orders Takeout, a novel by Bill A. Brier, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Friday, September 22, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 22nd, 1598, the legendary English playwright, poet, and actor Ben Jonson was arrested and charged with manslaughter. It would not be Jonson's first brush with the law.
He and fellow playwright Thomas Nashe had been previously jailed for obscenity following a performance of their play The Isle of Dogs, which, sadly, has been lost, as all existing copies of the script were destroyed by the authorities.
Jonson's arrest for manslaughter came about as the result of his duel with Gabriel Spenser, an actor who belonged to the same company, that of Philip Henslowe, who managed the Rose Theatre.
Jonson was known for his foul temper and frequent quarrels with other actors - especially those performing in his plays. However, the exact reason for his duel with Spenser is not known.
Swords were the chosen weapons for this particular duel. Although the blade of his sword was ten inches shorter than that of his opponent, Jonson killed Spenser (who, ironically, had previously killed another man in an earlier duel.) to win the duel.
He was immediately arrested, charged with manslaughter, and incarcerated at Newgate Prison. Jonson pled guilty, but avoided the hangman's rope by converting to Catholicism.
He then invoked the Benefit of Clergy, which allowed a defendant to request that he be tried under canon law by a bishop instead of under secular law by a judge.
At his trial, Jonson was able to avoid the death penalty and receive a light sentence by reciting a bible verse (Psalm 51) in Latin and reading a passage from the Bible to prove his literacy.
He was sentenced to be branded on his left thumb and to forfeit his property to the Church, after which, he was released from prison and returned to writing plays and acting.
Earlier that year, Jonson had enjoyed his first big success as a playwright when he staged a production of his classic play, Every Man in His Humour. The play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, at the Curtain Theatre.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was England's most famous acting company. One of the first actors to be cast in the play was the legendary actor, playwright, and poet William Shakespeare.
Although Jonson would also become famous for his criticisms of Shakespeare's plays - he once quipped that Shakespeare never revised his plays when they should have been revised heavily - he actually admired Shakespeare.
He said of the Bard, "there was ever more in him to be praised than pardoned." When Jonson learned of Shakespeare's death, he said, "he was not of an age, but for all time."
Quote Of The Day
"Art hath an enemy called Ignorance." - Ben Jonson
Today's video features a reading of Ben Jonson's classic poem, To Celia. Enjoy!
Thursday, September 21, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 21st, 1947, the legendary American writer Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the house, claiming that he was going to buy cigarettes. Instead, he walked out on the family.
King's mother, Ruth, was left to raise him and his older brother David alone. She moved the family around several times, to several different states, before returning to live in Durham, Maine, where Ruth also cared for her ailing parents until they died.
As a young boy, Stephen King apparently witnessed the death of one of his friends, who had been struck and killed by a train. King has no memory of the incident, but that day, after he went out to play with his friend, he came home seemingly in shock and unable to speak.
The King family then learned of his friend's death. Some have speculated that the roots of the dark and disturbing images in King's horror novels may lie within his repressed memory of witnessing the gruesome death of his childhood friend. King has rejected this theory.
King's interest in writing was awakened when he was a boy. While exploring the attic with his brother, he found a collection of paperback books that had belonged to his father.
The books included an anthology of stories published by Weird Tales magazine and a collection of short stories by horror master H.P. Lovecraft, whom King has credited as a major influence.
By the time he started high school, King had become enamored with EC's popular line of horror comics, including Tales From The Crypt, which King later would pay tribute to in his original screenplay for the horror film Creepshow (1982).
As a high school student, King began writing stories and articles for Dave's Rag, a newspaper his brother published and printed with a mimeograph machine. He also sold copies of his stories to his classmates.
King's first commercially published story, I Was A Teenage Grave Robber, was published in 1965, in a serialized format, by a fanzine called Comics Review. A revised version of the story would be published in 1966 by another fanzine, Stories Of Suspense, as In A Half-World Of Terror.
In 1966, Stephen King attended the University of Maine, where he studied English. He wrote a column for the student newspaper called Steve King's Garbage Truck and took part in a writing workshop.
To pay his tuition, King took odd jobs, including one at an industrial laundry that would inspire him to write his classic short story, The Mangler. His first published story as a professional writer, The Glass Floor, was published in 1967 by Startling Mystery Stories.
After he graduated college in 1970, Stephen King obtained a teaching certificate, but was unable to find work as a teacher, so he continued doing odd jobs and supplemented his income by selling short stories to men's magazines such as Cavalier and Swank.
(At the time, it was common for men's magazines, from high-paying markets like Playboy and Penthouse to smaller ones like Cavalier and Swank, to publish short stories as well as articles and pictorials.)
Many of these early stories would appear in King's 1978 short story collection, Night Shift. In 1971, King married his college sweetheart, writer Tabitha Spruce, who would bear him three children - Naomi, Joe, and Owen.
Joe Hillstrom King would become a best selling and award winning novelist, writing under the pseudonym Joe Hill - the name of the famous labor leader for whom he was named. Owen King would become a writer as well, and Naomi would become an ordained minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church.
While teaching at the Hampden Academy, Stephen King began working on his first novel while battling a drinking problem that would last a decade. But after accruing numerous rejection slips for other writings, he began to doubt his writing talent.
King was so discouraged that he threw an early draft of his novel in the trash, convinced that it would never sell. His wife rescued the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. So he did.
To King's surprise, Carrie was published in 1974. It told the story of Carrie White, a lonely, awkward, and unattractive teenage girl who is tormented by both her cruel classmates and her fanatically religious mother.
Carrie discovers that she possesses telekinetic powers - the ability to move objects with her mind. When her classmates play a cruel joke and humiliate her at the prom, Carrie uses her powers to unleash horrific vengeance. Then she takes equally horrific revenge on her mother - and the entire town.
King received a $2,500 advance on the first edition hardcover publication of Carrie, which wasn't much, even back then. Later, when King's agent called to tell him that the paperback rights to Carrie had been sold for $400,000 he couldn't believe it.
Stunned and in shock, King later said that "The only thing I could think to do was go out and buy my wife a hair dryer." King moved his family to Southern Maine so he could be near his ailing mother, who was dying of uterine cancer.
He began writing his second novel, Salem's Lot. Still in the grip of a severe drinking problem, King was drunk the day before he gave the eulogy at his mother's funeral. Still, he managed to write a second novel that proved to be even better than his first.
Salem's Lot was published in 1975. Inspired by one of King's all time favorite novels, the Bram Stoker classic Dracula (1897), it told the story of a small and quaint New England town infested with vampires.
Salem's Lot would be adapted as an acclaimed TV miniseries in 1979 and remade in 2004. In 1976, the first feature film adaptation of Stephen King's works was released. Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma, starred Sissy Spacek as the telekinetic teen.
Piper Laurie was cast as her demented mother, and, in early roles, William Katt appeared as Carrie's prom date and John Travolta as the boyfriend of Carrie's archenemy. Amy Irving played Sue Snell, the remorseful classmate who befriends Carrie.
The acclaim and success of the Carrie movie would make King's early career. A sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, would be released in 1999. It had nothing to do with King's novel.
The sequel in name only told the story of another troubled teenage girl with telekinetic powers who had been sired by Carrie White's philandering father. King's novel would be adapted as a Broadway musical in 1988 and a TV movie in 2002.
Another feature film adaptation of Carrie was released in 2013. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Carrie's demented mother, this version, though modernized, was more faithful to King's novel than the De Palma version. It received good reviews.
In 1977, Stephen King would publish his third novel. This novel, and the 1980 feature film adaptation of it (which he hated) would make King a household name and establish him as the master of horror.
The Shining was set in Colorado and inspired by the King family's visit to the Stanley Hotel, a resort hotel located near Estes Park, Colorado. The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who takes a job as winter caretaker of the world famous Overlook Hotel in Colorado.
Torrance was a prep school teacher, but his alcoholism cost him his job and nearly ended his marriage. In the same year, while in drunken rages, he accidentally broke his son's arm and deliberately assaulted an obnoxious student.
Jack sees his caretaker's job as a means of providing for his family and rebuilding his life. Now sober, he plans to write during his downtime. Excited to begin his new life, Jack packs up his wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny and moves them to the Overlook.
The fact that the hotel's previous winter caretaker went insane and murdered his family before killing himself doesn't dissuade Jack from the taking the job. Little Danny, however, is terrified. He possesses formidable psychic powers and senses that something bad is going to happen at the Overlook.
When they arrive at the hotel, Danny meets head chef Dick Hallorann. Dick possesses the same psychic powers as Danny, which he calls "shining." He tells Danny that the horrifying images he sees can't hurt him, but warns him to stay out of room 217. (Room 217 was the room that the Kings stayed in at the Stanley Hotel.)
Jack Torrance uncovers disturbing information about the Overlook's past. Many murders and suicides took place in the hotel, which seems to have been haunted from the day it was built - on an Indian burial ground.
Nevertheless, Jack intends to stay and do his job. As Danny struggles to deal with his horrific psychic visions, an evil presence begins to erode Jack's sanity until it possesses him completely.
In 1980, the legendary British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick directed a feature film adaptation of The Shining. The movie starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as Wendy, Danny Lloyd as Danny, and Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann.
The combination of Kubrick's tight direction, the claustrophobic cinematography, the foreboding soundtrack, and Jack Nicholson's bravura performance made it a cult classic horror film that remains hugely popular to this day.
However, Stephen King hated the movie, as Kubrick's screenplay took great liberties with the novel and features a completely different ending. Though the film runs nearly two and a half hours long, the story of Jack Torrance's eroding sanity feels rushed.
In 1997, The Shining was adapted as an ABC TV miniseries. It featured a teleplay written by Stephen King himself, and solid performances by Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay as Jack and Wendy Torrance, Courtland Mead as Danny, and the great Melvin Van Peebles as Dick Hallorann.
The miniseries had a great technical hook; it was actually filmed on location at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado - the very hotel where King and his family stayed, which inspired him to write the novel.
While competently directed by Mick Garris, King's teleplay is sunk by its low budget, blah cinematography, and the stifling censorship restrictions of the commercial TV medium. Although faithful to the novel, the miniseries lacks the atmosphere and intensity of Kubrick's movie, which is far more frightening.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Stephen King continued to write prolifically, authoring dozens of horror novels, most of which were adapted for the screen. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, King published a series of novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
He did this as an experiment to answer a question that had been nagging him: was his success an accident of fate? The Bachman novels included Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982), which were early, unpublished novels that had been written before Carrie and later revised.
After the last Bachman novel, Thinner, was published in 1984, Steve Brown, a bookstore clerk from Washington D.C., noticed many similarities between Bachman's writing style and Stephen King's.
Determined to uncover the truth, Brown looked up the publisher's records in the Library of Congress and confirmed that Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King. After his pseudonym was exposed, King issued a press release announcing the death of Richard Bachman from "cancer of the pseudonym."
He would later resurrect Bachman in 1996, publishing The Regulators under Bachman's name. The novel was a companion piece to King's novel, Desperation, which was released at the same time.
In 2006, King published Blaze, a rewrite of an unpublished Bachman novel that had been written in 1973. He had found the original manuscript in a trunk and tweaked it.
After King's pseudonym was outed, the first four Richard Bachman novels were republished in one large volume, The Bachman Books. They were also republished separately.
When three school shooting incidents (in 1989, 1996, and 1997) occurred, where the shooters were later found to have copies of Rage in their lockers, Stephen King pulled his first Bachman novel out of circulation.
Rage, which had been first published in 1977, told the story of Charlie Decker, a mentally disturbed high school student who finally snaps. After returning to school following a suspension for assaulting a teacher with a wrench, Charlie brings a gun to class.
He kills two teachers and holds his classmates hostage, forcing them to play a version of "truth or dare" where they must expose their deepest secrets, feelings, and fears. The hostage situation turns into a kind of group therapy session.
The session proves beneficial for all but one of the hostages, a pathetic bully who is psychologically destroyed when his deepest secrets are revealed. As the police surround the school, they find that they're dealing with an intelligent, cunning, and dangerous psychotic. And they're about to make a bad situation even worse.
King pulled Rage out of print because he feared that it might inspire more troubled teens to try and recreate his main character's rampage. In a 1983 interview for Playboy magazine, he said the following regarding other violent incidents that were linked to his novels:
But, on the other hand, [the victims] would all be dead even if I'd never written a word. The murderers would still have murdered. So I think we should resist the tendency to kill the messenger for the message. Evil is basically stupid and unimaginative and doesn't need creative inspiration from me or anyone else. But despite knowing all that rationally, I have to admit that it's unsettling to feel that I could be linked in any way, however tenuous, to somebody else's murder.
In 2007, after troubled Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui went on a shooting rampage, it was revealed that Cho's professors, as well as the university's administrators and mental health staff, were aware of Cho's disturbing writings, but did nothing about them.
In an article about the shooting, written for Entertainment Weekly magazine, King said that "Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing - including a short story called Cain Rose Up and the novel Rage - would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them..."
Although he is affectionately known as the "master of horror," King has occasionally ventured into other genres. In 1982, he published an anthology of novellas called Different Seasons which featured a coming of age story called The Body, later adapted as a popular movie called Stand By Me.
It also featured a moving prison drama, Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed as the acclaimed movie, The Shawshank Redemption.
Another novella, Apt Pupil, a psychological thriller, would also be filmed, but the movie omits the novella's shocking ending. King's most popular non-horror venture would prove to be his magnum opus.
The Dark Tower series of novels, which began with The Gunslinger (1982), was an epic dark fantasy set in an alternate reality, on a parallel world similar to Earth, that is slowly dying.
The Gunslinger opens with gunfighter and knight errant Roland of Gilead chasing "the man in black," an evil sorcerer, across a desert. The land is a nightmarish, surreal wasteland reminiscent of the 19th century American Old West.
Through the series of novels, Roland pursues his quarry while on a quest to reach the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower series is Stephen King at his best, displaying his formidable skill as a storyteller.
Meticulously detailed and masterfully plotted, the Dark Tower novels are immensely popular with King fans, many of whom claim the series as their favorites of King's novels.
Last month, a feature film adaptation of The Dark Tower was released and received extremely negative reviews, scoring only 16% on the Tomatometer. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, the film suffers from a horrible script (penned by four writers) and bizarre casting.
The dreadful film combines elements from different Dark Tower epic novels into one watered down, 95-minute, PG-13 rated mess infamous for the fact that the main character Roland Deschain, a young white man, is played by a middle aged black actor.
In 1986, King published another of his most popular and most ambitious horror novels, the nearly 1,200 page epic, It. Set in the small New England town of Derry, Maine, the novel opens in 1957, with the horrific murder of a little boy committed by an evil being that lives under the town.
An ancient, shape-shifting evil being almost as old as the universe, the creature has lived under Derry for the past few million years. It prefers to assume the form of a circus clown called Pennywise in order to hunt and kill its favorite prey - children.
Bill, the older brother of the murdered boy, strikes up friendships with four other boys (Ben, Richie, Stan, and Eddie) and a girl named Beverly. Calling themselves the Losers Club, the outcast preteens are joined by another member, Mike - a black boy whom they rescued from a sadistic, racist bully named Henry.
The Losers each encounter Pennywise the Dancing Clown, which takes the form of what they fear the most. They discover that when the creature isn't killing and eating children, it's clouding the minds of the adults in town and inspiring them to be apathetic to evil - if not downright evil themselves.
Realizing that they each have power that when combined can defeat Pennywise, the kids perform a magic ritual to summon that power and confront the evil face to face. After a horrific battle, the Losers think they've destroyed the creature, but it only went into hibernation. When Pennywise returns 27 years later to feed on children again, the Losers reunite to destroy the evil being once and for all...
It was adapted as a TV miniseries in 1990. Featuring a memorable performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise and a cast including Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, and Annette O'Toole, the miniseries received acclaim despite being handicapped by a low budget and network TV censorship.
On September 8th, an It feature film was finally released after years of production delays. Starring Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise and a cast of talented child actors as the Losers, the film, directed by Andy Muschietti, received excellent reviews and became a huge hit, grossing over $110 million (more than three times its budget) during its opening weekend.
The movie is actually an adaptation of only half the novel, focusing exclusively on the Losers as kids and changing the time from 1957 to 1989. A sequel, scheduled to be completed and released next year at the same time, will feature the Losers as adults, reuniting to face Pennywise once again.
On June 19th, 1999, Stephen King's incredible and prolific literary career - and his life - nearly came to a sudden end. While out for his daily walk in Center Lovell, Maine, King was struck from behind by a minivan. The force of impact threw King's body some 14 feet off the road.
When a Deputy Sheriff arrived on the scene, King was barely conscious, but able to give out his emergency contact information - though he had suffered a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, a lacerated scalp, and a broken hip.
After enduring five operations in five days, and beginning the agonies of physical therapy, King started to write again. He needed to write, if only to distract himself from the pain. He resumed work on a nonfiction book, On Writing.
Also during his recovery, he wrote Dreamcatcher, (2001) which would prove to be one of his most viscerally graphic horror novels. At first, he was in too much pain and discomfort to write with a computer, so he wrote longhand, with a fountain pen and paper.
Bryan Smith, the driver who had struck Stephen King, claimed to have been distracted by his dog, but he had nearly a dozen drunk driving offenses on his record. King was outraged when the local prosecutor allowed Smith to cop a plea.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Smith's driver's license was suspended for a year and he received a six-month jail sentence - which was also suspended. In an eerie coincidence, on September 21st, 2000 - Stephen King's 53rd birthday - Bryan Smith was found dead in his trailer at the age of 42.
Although the official cause of death was listed as an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller fentanyl, rumors began to fly that either King had Smith killed or one of the horror master's fans took revenge and made Smith's murder look like an accident.
After Smith died, King's lawyer and two others bought his minivan for $1,500 to prevent it from being auctioned off on eBay. King smashed up the minivan with a baseball bat, then had it crushed in a junkyard.
In 2002, frustrated by his injuries, which made sitting for long periods of time uncomfortable, King announced that he was retiring from writing. His retirement would prove to be short-lived, as he continued to recover.
Though he no longer writes at the same pace that made him so prolific in the past, he still produces great novels - and a few not so great ones. In 2009, he published Under The Dome, a 1,088 page horror epic - his longest novel since It.
(King's 1978 classic, The Stand, originally published in an edited 823-page version, would be republished in 1990 in its original uncut version at 1,168 pages.)
Under The Dome, an antifascist allegory, was about a New England town that finds itself trapped inside a force-field like invisible dome, which brings out the best and the worst in the townspeople. Despite its mostly negative reviews, the novel was adapted as a TV series.
King has acknowledged a huge flaw in the plot - the people never thought to tunnel out from underneath the dome - and denied accusations that he stole the plot from The Simpsons Movie, a feature film based on the popular TV series that bombed at the box office.
In September of 2013, King published Doctor Sleep, a first rate sequel to The Shining that finds Danny Torrance now middle aged and living in New Hampshire. After beating a severe drinking problem, he finds that his psychic powers have returned in full force.
Danny forms a telepathic bond with Abra Stone, a young girl with similar psychic powers, and determines to protect her from the True Knot, a vampire like nomadic tribe of immortals that tool around the country in RVs, sucking the life force out of psychic children.
King's next novel, Sleeping Beauties, is scheduled for release on September 26th. It's a sci-fi / fantasy novel he co-wrote with his son, Owen King. No stranger to collaboration, Stephen has also co-written novels with his other son, who writes under the name Joe Hill, and most famously, with horror master Peter Straub.
While literary critics haven't always been kind to the now 70-year-old Stephen King, he has proven himself as one of our greatest modern novelists, and he remains a huge and powerful influence for aspiring writers everywhere.
Quote Of The Day
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page." - Stephen King
Today's video features a very rare, 99-minute live appearance by Stephen King, taped in 1982. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 20th, 1878, the legendary American writer Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism haunted his son's childhood. When Upton was ten, the Sinclairs moved to New York City.
He would often stay with his wealthy grandparents, and his observations of the differences between the rich and the poor in late 19th century America would influence both his writings and his political convictions. He became a staunch socialist.
When he was thirteen, Upton enrolled at a prep school in the Bronx now known as the City College of New York. To help pay for his tuition, the intellectually gifted young writer sold magazine articles and wrote dime novels. After he graduated, he studied briefly at Columbia University.
In 1904, Upton planned to write his first novel, the subject of which would be the corruption of the American meatpacking industry and the hardships faced by poor immigrants who come to America hoping to better their lot in life.
Instead, the poor people find the American Dream to be a nightmare of cruelty, corruption, and despair. To research the conditions he would write about, Upton went undercover, working in Chicago's meatpacking plants for seven weeks.
His classic debut novel, The Jungle, was published two years later, in 1906. It told the story of Jurgis Rudkus, a young Lithuanian immigrant who decides to emigrate to America after hearing about all the freedom and opportunity the country allegedly offered.
He moves himself and his extended family to America. Although Rudkus is strong, hardworking, and honest, he's also naive and illiterate. The family falls deep into debt, then falls victim to predatory moneylenders who end up taking their home and meager savings.
When Rudkus and his family find jobs at a meatpacking plant, they're paid slave wages and find that government inspectors, policemen, and judges must all be paid off in order for them to keep their jobs and their freedom.
The family witnesses deaths occur on the job that could have been prevented if it weren't for the horrific working conditions. Rudkus loses all his hope for achieving the American Dream. When his pregnant wife dies because the family cannot afford a doctor, then his son drowns, Rudkus flees Chicago in despair.
Later, he returns and works at various jobs to support himself and his family - some of which require him to sacrifice his integrity. He is haunted by the prospect of turning to crime to support his family.
One night, while looking for a warm and dry place to stay, Rudkus walks in on a lecture being given by a socialist orator. Among the socialists, he finds a sense of community and purpose.
He realizes that socialism and strong labor unions are the keys to overcoming the evils that he, his family, and other workers have suffered. A fellow socialist employs Rudkus, and he is able to support his family, but some of his loved ones are damaged beyond repair.
Although Upton Sinclair had intended to expose the exploitation of workers with his novel, the greatest uproar over The Jungle had nothing to do with working conditions.
The real furor the novel caused was over its exposure of the incredibly unsanitary practices employed by the meatpacking industry to maximize profit. Food safety became more of a concern than worker safety.
Then President Theodore Roosevelt, a fiercely conservative Republican, publicly dismissed the concerns raised by Sinclair's novel and derided the author, calling him "a crackpot." Roosevelt also said:
"I have an utter contempt for [Upton Sinclair.] He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."
Privately, however, Roosevelt feared there was far more truth to Sinclair's novel than just "a basis." So, he sent two trusted men to investigate, Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds.
The two men were ordered to make surprise visits to Chicago's meatpacking plants and determine whether or not the conditions described in Sinclair's novel were true. They were revolted by both the working and sanitary conditions they witnessed.
Neill and Reynolds wrote a comprehensive report of all their findings and submitted it to President Roosevelt, who, loath to regulate American business, suppressed it. He was, however, disturbed enough to do something about the issues raised by the report.
Roosevelt dropped hints about the terrible conditions in the meatpacking plants and the inadequacy of government inspections. These hints, Neill's testimony before Congress, and public pressure resulted in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Upton Sinclair used the money he made from The Jungle to found the Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. It was an experimental commune for "authors, artists, and musicians, editors and teachers and professional men." It was also a farming commune which would produce its own fruits, vegetables, meats, and milk.
While the commune was not intended to be a socialist project per se, those who wished to live there "would have to be in sympathy with the spirit of socialism." The Helicon Home Colony would last for about a year before it burned down in a fire that was ruled suspicious.
Another one of Sinclair's classic novels, Oil! (1927), was also based on a true story of corruption - the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1922-23, where the notoriously corrupt administration of then President Warren G. Harding was exposed.
The Republican President and his administration had been bribed by oil companies to allow them to acquire valuable government owned oil fields (used to supply the Navy in case of emergency) for peanuts, bypassing the competitive bidding process required by law.
Oil! told the story of James Arnold Ross, a self-made millionaire oilman who becomes a conspirator in the Teapot Dome Scandal. The wealthier and more powerful Ross becomes, the more immoral he becomes.
His son, Bunny, ultimately breaks ties with him and becomes a socialist. Oil! would be adapted as an acclaimed 2007 feature film, There Must Be Blood, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Unfortunately, the film took liberties with the story.
In the 1920s, Upton Sinclair moved his family to California, where he founded that state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He got involved in politics and twice ran for office on the Socialist ticket - once for Congress, once for the Senate. He lost both elections.
When he spoke at a rally in San Pedro to support the Industrial Workers of the World union, whose right to free speech was under attack, he read from the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. He was immediately arrested, along with hundreds of others. Sinclair's arresting officer proclaimed, "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff."
In 1934, Sinclair became the Democratic candidate for Governor of California. He was a popular candidate, but he ultimately lost the election by only 200,000 votes, thanks in part to slanderous propaganda shorts produced by Hollywood studios - fake newsreels featuring actors pretending to be real people being interviewed on the street.
One of them said, "Upton Sinclair is the author of the Russian government, and [communism] worked out well there, and I think it would do so here." Sinclair was not a communist and both the Soviet Union and the American Communist Party had publicly denounced him.
The worst of the fake newsreels featured a cast of actors playing transients who have come to California hoping for a handout should Sinclair be elected governor. The propaganda campaign was conceived by Will Hays, head of Hollywood's infamous film censorship office, the Production Code Administration.
Hays was a former U.S. Postmaster General and a former member of ex President Warren G. Harding's corrupt administration, which Sinclair had written about in Oil!. Hays was more than happy to help his fellow Republican, Sinclair's opponent Frank Merriam.
The studios Hays worked for were determined to destroy Sinclair because part of his plan for economic recovery in California called for increased taxes on Hollywood studios and the creation of independent public studios where struggling filmmakers could make movies free of Hollywood's influence.
The Hollywood film studios' propaganda smear campaign worked. Sinclair lost the election and Hays and the studios got away with mounting one of the dirtiest political campaigns in American history.
Ironically, years before his failed campaign for governor of California, which he would write about in his memoir I, Candidate for Governor - and How I Got Licked (1935), Sinclair worked as a screenwriter and movie producer after being recruited by the legendary actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin.
Throughout his amazing career, Upton Sinclair wrote nearly a hundred books, most of which were novels. He also wrote plays and non-fiction books on various subjects including politics, a scathing criticism of organized religion and an autobiography.
Sinclair also wrote books on psychic phenomena, which interested him greatly because his wife was a psychic. He died in 1968 at the age of 90.
Quote Of The Day
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair
Today's video features a complete reading of Upton Sinclair's classic debut novel, The Jungle. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 19th, 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the famous American writer Michael Chabon, was published.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay opens in 1939. Josef "Joe" Kavalier, a 19-year-old Jewish Czech refugee, arrives in New York City to live with his seventeen year old cousin, Sammy Klayman.
Joe is a talented artist, Sammy an aspiring writer. Both have an interest in magic and connections to the legendary magician Harry Houdini, whose real name was Ehrich Weiss. Sammy's father used to be a vaudeville strongman called the Mighty Molecule.
When Joe gets a job as an illustrator for a novelty company, the job takes him in a different direction: the company wants to get into the comic book business after the huge success of Superman ushered in the golden age of comics.
Joe and Sammy, who has taken the pen name Sammy Clay, form a team where Sammy writes adventure stories and Joe illustrates them. The pair creates an antifascist superhero called The Escapist, and the company they work for reluctantly agrees to publish their comics.
The Escapist becomes a hit, but the cousins' contract only pays them a minimal royalty. They are slow to realize that they're being screwed because they're both caught up in personal problems.
While Joe is desperate to get his family out of Nazi-occupied Prague, Sammy grapples with his sexual identity, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he might be gay. Meanwhile, Joe falls in love with a bohemian artist named Rosa Saks.
Distraught over his failure to save his family from the Nazis, Joe runs off to join the Navy. Instead of fighting the Nazis, he is stationed at a remote naval base in Antarctica. He doesn't know that he left Rosa pregnant with his child.
After the war ends, Joe is discharged from the Navy and returns to New York, but is unable to face Rosa and Sammy, so he hides out in the Empire State Building. Meanwhile, Sammy married Rosa to save her from scandal.
When Sammy's not helping Rosa raise their son Tommy, he's involved in a gay affair with actor Tracy Bacon, who plays his superhero, The Escapist, on the radio. The two men go to a dinner party with their gay friends and other couples, and the party is raided.
Local police and two off-duty FBI agents round up everyone except for Sammy and another man who managed to hide under the table. The FBI agents ultimately catch them and offer them their freedom in exchange for sexual favors.
After that close call, Sammy concentrates on helping Rosa raise Tommy and trying to appear as a traditional family, but they can't hide their secrets from the precocious boy who loves them both.
Tommy is reunited with his long lost father Joe at the Empire State Building and takes magic lessons from him. The boy determines to reunite the legendary team of Kavalier & Clay, and he does.
Happy to see each other again, the cousins decide to make their comeback in comics. Joe moves in with Sammy, Rosa, and Tommy, and just when it seems like their lives are finally getting back on track, Sammy is publicly outed - on television.
That's just a threadbare outline of this epic novel, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel was supposed to be adapted as a feature film, but the project keeps slipping through the Hollywood cracks.
A screenplay was completed in 2002 and an excerpt from it was published in Entertainment Weekly, but the film never got past the pre-production stage. Two years later, Michael Chabon pronounced the project dead.
Then, in 2005, director Stephen Daldry announced that he was going to make the film. With Tobey Maguire and Jamie Bell cast as Sammy and Joe, and Natalie Portman as Rosa, it seemed a done deal.
This time, the film didn't even get to pre-production. In April of 2007, Chabon said that the project "just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that I'm not privy to... right now, as far as I know, there's not a lot going on."
In an interview conducted in December of 2011, Stephen Daldry stated that he hadn't given up on adapting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and was looking to adapt the novel as a TV miniseries, preferably for HBO.
Quote Of The Day
"You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two." - Michael Chabon
Today's video features Michael Chabon discussing his classic novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at the Dominican University of California in 2010. Enjoy!
Monday, September 18, 2017
My novel, Fear, a Tony Petrocelli mystery, is finally published and available at my local library, and at Amazon. Doing a mini-book launch today. This wouldn't have been possible without the great crits I received from the group at IWW-Novels.
My story, "A Soft Place to Land," is up at Everyday Fiction. My poem, "A Bad Father," has been accepted at Leaves of Ink for a December issue.
Thanks to one of our fine members, my book, Waiting For Messiah has been published on Smashwords. I want to thank each and all of you for your words of support during the past several months, especially during the last month.
Friday, September 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 15th, 1890, the legendary English writer Agatha Christie was born. She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, England. Her mother was the daughter of a British Army captain, her father an American stockbroker.
During World War I, Agatha worked as a hospital nurse. She liked nursing, calling it "one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow." After the war, she worked as a pharmacist - a position that would prove helpful to her future writing career, as many murders in her books are committed by poisoning.
Although their courtship was rocky, on Christmas Eve, 1914, Agatha married her boyfriend, Archibald Christie, a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, which, along with the Royal Air Naval Service, would later be merged and renamed the Royal Air Force.
Agatha bore him one child, a daughter, Rosalind, who would found the Agatha Christie Society and serve as its president until her death.
In 1920, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Set in World War I England in a country manor called Styles Court, the novel introduced one of Christie's most famous characters - the brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Narrated by Poirot's lieutenant, Arthur Hastings, the story tells of a case where Poirot is called to investigate the mysterious poisoning of wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. The book is filled with a half-dozen suspects, red herrings, and surprise plot twists.
Christie's debut novel introduced her distinctive style of detective fiction to the world. It was a big hit with critics and readers alike. Christie would write 33 novels and 51 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
The public loved Poirot, though Christie described him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep." Yet, she refused to kill him off. She believed it was her duty to write what her readers liked, and what they liked was Poirot.
In her 1927 short story, The Tuesday Night Club, Agatha Christie introduced another detective character, one that would become just as beloved as Hercule Poirot. Her name was Jane Marple, and she was an elderly British spinster and amateur detective.
When she wasn't knitting or weeding her garden, Miss Marple was using her brilliant mind and keen understanding of human nature to solve crimes. Christie's first full-length Miss Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage, was published in 1930.
In the village of St. Mary Mead, Colonel Protheroe is so hated that even the local vicar once said that killing him would be a public service. He's soon found murdered in the vicar's study.
Two different people confess to killing Protheroe, so Miss Marple sets out to solve the crime and uncover the real killer. The Murder At The Vicarage would be the first of twelve Miss Marple crime novels.
In late 1926, Agatha Christie's life would imitate her fiction. Her husband, Archie, told her that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. After a nasty fight on December 3rd, Archie took off to spend the weekend with his mistress in Surrey.
Agatha also took off, leaving a note for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Instead, she mysteriously vanished. Her disappearance led to a public outcry; a massive manhunt took place and her husband was suspected of killing her.
Eleven days after she vanished, Agatha Christie was found at a hotel in Yorkshire, where she had checked in as Mrs. Teresa Neele. She gave no account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her with amnesia.
Some believe that she suffered a nervous breakdown, but at the time, most of the British public believed that Christie's disappearance was a staged publicity stunt. Others suspected she'd hatched an elaborate plot of revenge on her husband for the affair.
The couple was later divorced. In 1930, Christie married her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met at a dig. It was a happy marriage that lasted until Christie's death in 1976 at the age of 85.
In her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote over 80 detective novels, as well as several romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She was also a playwright, and wrote over a dozen plays.
Her play The Mousetrap (1952), an adaptation of her classic 1948 short story Three Blind Mice, which opened in London on November 25th, 1952, is still running after more than 24,000 performances - a record for the longest initial run of a play.
Of course, Agatha Christie will always be known as the grand dame of crime fiction. Her novels and short stories, which have been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television, have sold approximately four billion copies combined - the only book to outsell hers is the Bible.
Quote Of The Day
"Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it." - Agatha Christie
Today's video features a complete reading of Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, The Clocks. Enjoy!