I'd like to wish all of you who celebrate it a happy and safe Halloween. As part of the celebration, I recommend reading the classic horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Washington Irving, and Guy de Maupassant!
This Day In Writing History
On October 31st, 1892, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the classic short story collection by the legendary English writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was published. The twelve stories in it had been previously published in The Strand literary magazine from July of 1891 through June of 1892.
These short stories introduced the world to Conan Doyle's most famous character, a detective called Sherlock Holmes. The brilliant, analytical, and laid-back Holmes was assisted by his friend, Dr. John Watson, who also served as narrator for the duo's adventures.
When he wasn't solving crimes, Holmes' passions included playing the violin and enjoying a good game of chess. He was also quite fond of cocaine. As a detective, he wasn't above deceiving the police or concealing evidence if necessary to solve the crime.
Sherlock Holmes' greatest nemesis was the evil Professor Moriarty, who possessed an equally formidable intellect. But, in his very first adventure, Holmes is outwitted by a woman.
In the first short story, A Scandal in Bohemia, the detective is called upon by the King of Bohemia, whose engagement to a Scandinavian princess is being threatened by a blackmailer.
The King's blackmailer is his jealous old flame, American opera singer Irene Adler, who possesses an incriminating photograph of them together. She threatens to release it to the press.
Believing that the photograph is somewhere inside Adler's house, Sherlock Holmes executes a brilliant ruse to get inside the house, but Adler counters with a brilliant ruse of her own, leaving him with a picture of herself alone and escaping with the incriminating photo.
Adler also leaves Holmes a letter praising his detective skills and promising not to release the incriminating photo, as long as the King takes no action against her. The King agrees and Holmes keeps Adler's picture as a souvenir of the woman who outwitted him.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes also features classic stories such as The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Man With the Twisted Lip, and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
Sherlock Holmes would become one of the most popular, iconic literary characters of all time. His adventures would appear not only in print, but also on the stage, screen, radio, and television.
Quote Of The Day
"The love of books is among the choicest gifts of the gods." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Today's video features a complete reading of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic short story collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Monday, October 30, 2017
Cezarija E. Abartis
"The Fortune Teller" is up at Corium Magazine. I'm pleased.
My review of Desert Remains, a Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel by Steven Cooper, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Friday, October 27, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 27th, 1932, the legendary American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Her father, Otto Plath, a German immigrant, was a professor of biology and German at Boston University.
Her mother, Aurelia, was the daughter of Austrian immigrants. She was 21 years younger than Sylvia's father when she married him. When Sylvia Plath was four years old, the family moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, where she spent most of her childhood.
Otto Plath died of complications from diabetes when she was eight years old. The loss devastated his daughter and would affect Sylvia the rest of her life.
Her most famous poem, Daddy, reflects her grief over her father's death and her anger at him for leaving her. Plath's readers still visit her father's gravestone at Winthrop Cemetery.
The same year that she lost her father, the eight-year-old Sylvia Plath had her first poem published in the children's section of the Boston Herald. In addition to her writing talent, she also displayed artistic talent.
When she was 15 years old, her paintings won an award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and kept journaling up until her death.
Sylvia Plath attended Smith College in Massachusetts. During her junior year, she was awarded a position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She spent a month in New York City working for the magazine.
She hoped it would be a great experience, but instead, it marked the beginning of a downward spiral in her life and resulted in her first documented suicide attempt - she crawled under her house and took an overdose of sleeping pills.
She was briefly committed to a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy. All of these experiences would be used as the basis for her only novel, The Bell Jar.
After recovering from her first bout with mental illness, Sylvia graduated with honors from Smith College. She won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge. There, she continued writing poetry, and her work was occasionally published in the student newspaper, Varsity.
At a party at Cambridge, Sylvia met English poet and children's book writer Ted Hughes. After a brief courtship, they were married on June 16th, 1956. They spent the next couple of years living and working in the U.S., where Sylvia taught at her alma mater, Smith College.
When Sylvia found herself pregnant with their first child, Frieda, she and Ted returned to London. There, in 1960, her first poetry collection, The Colossus and Other Poems, was published.
Some of the poems contained in it had been previously submitted to magazines and rejected because the editors found them to be too strange and disturbing.
The year after her first poetry book was published, Sylvia, then pregnant with her second child, suffered a miscarriage. In 1962, she became pregnant again and gave birth to a son, Nicholas.
The birth of their second child did nothing to help Sylvia and Ted's already troubled marriage. News of her husband's affair devastated Sylvia, and Plath scholars believe that Ted was also physically abusive to her throughout their marriage, though Hughes' admirers dispute that. The couple separated in late 1962.
In 1963, Sylvia's first and only novel, The Bell Jar, was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The semi-autobiographical novel, based in part on Sylvia Plath's first struggle with mental illness, is considered a masterpiece.
The novel, which I read as a teenager and loved, was adapted as a feature film in 1979. A month after The Bell Jar was published, Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of 30.
She sealed herself in her kitchen, plunged her head into the oven, and turned on the gas. Family, friends, and scholars believe that Sylvia's suicide was the result of a combination of factors.
She suffered from mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder), she was devastated by her father's death and her own miscarriage, and she suffered at the hands of an unfaithful and physically abusive husband whom she still loved.
Six years after Sylvia's death, her husband's mistress, Assia Wevill, committed suicide herself - the same way that Sylvia did - after murdering her daughter.
Sylvia's son Nicholas Hughes, a biologist, would commit suicide later at the age of 47 after suffering from depression. Her daughter Frieda Hughes would go on to become a poet, painter, and children's book writer.
As the result of Sylvia Plath's untimely suicide in 1963, her second poetry collection, Ariel, which featured her most famous poems, (Daddy, Lady Lazarus, and Tulips) was published posthumously in 1965.
More poetry collections, prose works, and four children's books would also be published posthumously.
In 1981, a complete collection of Sylvia Plath's poetry, The Collected Poems, would be published. It won her a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Sylvia became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.
Sylvia's husband, Ted Hughes, spent the last years of his life preparing an unabridged version of her journals for publication. They were first published in an abridged version in 1980.
Hughes faced criticism for the way he handled Sylvia's journals; he claimed to have destroyed her last journal "because I did not want her children to have read it."
He was also accused of trying to cash in on his wife's death, though the proceeds from all of her posthumous publications were placed in a trust fund for her children.
In 2000, Anchor Books published The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, which writer Joyce Carol Oates called a "genuine literary event." To this day, Sylvia Plath remains a major influence on American poetical voice.
Quote Of The Day
"Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." - Sylvia Plath
Today's video features Sylvia Plath reading her classic poem, Daddy! Enjoy!
Thursday, October 26, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 26th, 1945, the famous American writer Pat Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia. The eldest of seven children, he was born Donald Patrick Conroy, Jr., the son of a Marine Corps colonel.
Conroy's father was a domineering, emotionally and physically abusive monster who terrorized his children. He would later inspire the main character in his son's first novel.
Pat Conroy's mother, on the other hand, was loving to her children and tried to protect them from their father, who abused her as well. Conroy credits her for his early interest in reading and writing.
When Pat was five years old, she read him Margaret Mitchell's classic novel, Gone With The Wind, (1936) which became his favorite book.
In addition to the abuse Pat and his siblings suffered at the hands of their father, they also had few friends because Colonel Conroy's position required the family to move frequently. He claimed that by the time he turned 18, his father had moved the family 23 times.
While living in Orlando, Florida, Pat Conroy channeled his anger at his father into a constructive outlet: he became a star basketball player. His fifth grade basketball team defeated the sixth grade team that year.
As a college student, Pat Conroy attended the Citadel, a famous military college in South Carolina. He would later base two of his most popular novels on his experiences at the Citadel.
After graduation, he became an English teacher and met and married Barbara Jones, a young widow who lost her husband to the Vietnam War, and adopted her children.
Conroy changed teaching positions, accepting an offer to teach in a one-room-schoolhouse in a remote location - Dafuskie Island, South Carolina.
At the end of his first year as a teacher on the island, Conroy was fired for refusing to administer corporal punishment to his students and disrespecting the school's administrators.
Pat Conroy's first book, The Boo was published in 1970. It was a nonfiction work - a collection of letters, stories, and anecdotes about Lt. Colonel Thomas "The Boo" Courvoise, who had been Conroy's Commandant of Cadets at the Citadel. Courvoise was a close friend and father figure to his cadets, including Conroy.
In 1974, Conroy would publish his second nonfiction book, The Water is Wide, a memoir of his year as a teacher on Dafuskie Island, which is renamed Yamacraw Island. The book made Conroy's name as a writer.
In the year of its publication, it won him a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was adapted as an acclaimed feature film called Conrack (Most of Conroy's students called him Conrack) starring Jon Voight in the title role. It would be remade as a TV movie in 2006.
Though he had started out writing nonfiction, Pat Conroy soon began work on his first novel, which would be published in 1976. It would establish him as one of America's best and most popular novelists.
The Great Santini was based on Conroy's horrific childhood. It told the story of Ben Meecham, a boy coming of age as he and his siblings struggle to deal with their monstrously abusive father, tyrannical Marine Corps fighter pilot Lt. Colonel Wilbur "Bull" Meecham, who calls himself The Great Santini.
The novel would become a bestseller, earning Conroy rave reviews and the wrath of his family, who accused him of betraying them by writing about his father.
Some of Conroy's mother's relatives actually picketed his book signings and encouraged people not to buy his novel. The familial stress contributed to the failure of Conroy's marriage.
Ironically, the novel helped Pat Conroy finally reconcile with his father, who was so troubled by his depiction in The Great Santini that he was moved to change his ways.
After reconciling with his son, Conroy's father would often sign copies of The Great Santini as "Donald Conroy - The Great Santini. I hope you enjoy my son's work of fiction!" The book would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1979, starring Robert Duvall in the title role.
Pat Conroy's next novel, published in 1980, was based on his years as a student at the Citadel in the 1960s. The Lords of Discipline told the story of Will McLean, a young Irish-Catholic cadet at the Citadel military college, renamed the South Carolina Military Institute.
Will runs afoul of a ruthless secret society of cadet upperclassmen called The Ten. They are the ones who really determine if a cadet will graduate from the Institute, and they put new cadets through a horrific hazing designed to run undesirables out of the college.
These undesirables include the Irish-Catholic Will and the college's first black cadet, whom the Commandant of Cadets, Colonel "Bear" Berrineau, has asked Will to mentor. When Will discovers the existence of The Ten and who they are, his and his roommates' lives are endangered.
The Lords of Discipline was adapted in 1983 as an acclaimed feature film starring David Keith as Will McLean. When the novel was published, it started a twenty-year rift between Pat Conroy and his former classmates at the Citadel, who were angered by Conroy's less than flattering depiction of campus life.
In 2000, Conroy was awarded an honorary degree by the Citadel and asked to give the commencement address. When he gave the address, he defended his novel, saying that as a proud graduate of the Citadel, he had every right to depict the negative aspects of life as a Citadel cadet in the 1960s.
In 1986, Pat Conroy published what many consider to be his greatest and most popular novel, The Prince of Tides. Once again using his experience as abused child from a dysfunctional family, Conroy tells another gut wrenching, emotional story.
Former star football player Tom Wingo goes to New York City to help his sister, Savannah, a published poet who has once again attempted suicide and suffers from severe depression in addition to the schizophrenia that has plagued her since early childhood.
Tom meets with Dr. Susan Lowenstein, Savannah's psychiatrist, who hopes to gain insight into Savannah's childhood from her brother. Tom tells Dr. Lowenstein stories of his and Savannah's childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family.
They and their brother Luke were the children of a savagely abusive ex-soldier father and a cold, unloving mother. As Tom tells his tales, Lowenstein suspects that there is something he's hiding, a huge childhood trauma that he is suppressing.
As Lowenstein tries to get him to open up to her, the married Tom finds himself falling in love with her. He finally reveals the secret he's been burdened with since he was a young boy - the brutal sexual attack on Savannah, himself, and their mother by a trio of escaped convicts.
They were saved by Luke, who unleashed the family's pet tiger on two of the men, while Tom killed the third. The family buried the bodies and the children's mother made them promise never to tell a soul what happened.
Alas, Luke grew up to become a disturbed Vietnam veteran (an ex-Navy SEAL) who waged guerrilla warfare against the local authorities when his land was seized to build a nuclear power plant.
Tom and Savannah had tracked Luke down and talked him into surrendering. Unfortunately, on his way to turn himself in, he was shot and killed. The death of Luke - Savannah's brother and hero - is what pushed her over the edge.
The Prince of Tides would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1991, starring Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo, Melinda Dillon as Savannah, Kate Nelligan as their mother, and Barbra Streisand (who also directed) as Dr. Lowenstein.
Pat Conroy followed The Prince of Tides with more great books, including novels and memoirs. He died of pancreatic cancer in March of 2016 at the age of 70. His final book, The Death of Santini>, a nonfiction (memoir) sequel to his classic novel The Great Santini, was published in 2013.
Quote Of The Day
"My mother, Southern to the bone, once told me all Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to sister." - Pat Conroy
Today's video features An Evening With Pat Conroy, a live appearance recorded at the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College in 2014. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 25th, 1854, the Battle of Balaclava broke out during the Crimean War, which pitted British forces and their allies against the Russian Army.
It was during this battle that an ill-fated charge by regiments of the British cavalry took place, an event that would be immortalized in a classic poem by one of England's greatest poets.
The allies' goal at the Battle of Balaclava was to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which served as the Russians' primary naval base on the Black Sea. It was during this battle that the Light Brigade made its ill-fated charge.
The Light Brigade was comprised of several cavalry regiments, including the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, all under the command of Major General Earl of Cardigan.
Their sister brigade, the Heavy Brigade, was commanded by Major General James Yorke Scarlett. The entire British cavalry was under the command of Lieutenant General Earl of Lucan.
What happened was this; the Lieutenant General Earl of Lucan received an order from Army Commander Lord Raglan, which was drafted by Brigadier General Richard Airey and delivered by another officer, Captain Louis Edward Nolan.
Raglan's objective was to have the cavalry advance quickly to the front, follow the enemy, and prevent the Russians from taking the naval guns from the redoubts they'd captured on the other side of the Causeway Heights.
When Captain Nolan delivered Lucan's order, the Lieutenant General asked what guns the cavalry was supposed to protect. Nolan supposedly indicated, using a gesture of his arm, the wrong location.
He allegedly indicated the Russian redoubt at the end of the valley instead of the Causeway Heights redoubts. So, Lucan had the Earl of Cardigan lead over 600 cavalrymen into the valley between the Causeway Heights and Fedyukhin Heights.
The cavalrymen were supposed to take the Russians from behind in a surprise attack. Instead, they found themselves surprised, surrounded on three sides by 20 Russian infantry battalions and 50 pieces of artillery.
Nevertheless, the Earl of Cardigan bravely led the charge of the Light Brigade into battle. Captain Nolan was seen racing across the front, supposedly to rectify his error and stop the charge, but he was killed by an artillery shell before he could reach the brigade.
The Light Brigade fought bravely, but were no match for the Russians. Two thirds of the cavalrymen who participated in the charge were wiped out; over a hundred of the survivors were wounded and around sixty were taken prisoner. The Earl of Cardigan survived and was forced to retreat to prevent his entire brigade from being destroyed.
Cardigan had been counting on reinforcements from the Heavy Brigade, but they never came. The Earl of Lucan would not order James Yorke Scarlett to send them in, as he believed there was no point in getting a second brigade mowed down by the Russians.
While the battle was tragically lost, the brave cavalrymen who died fighting it would become heroes in the eyes of the British public, whose anger was directed at the commanding officers.
A furious Earl of Cardigan blamed Captain Nolan's error for the costly loss of his men. The Earl of Lucan blamed Lord Raglan's vague orders which included the erroneous oral instructions given by Captain Nolan.
Lord Raglan blamed Lucan for the disaster, saying that "from some misconception of the order to advance, the Lieutenant-General [Lucan] considered that he was bound to attack at all hazards, and he accordingly ordered Major-General the Earl of Cardigan to move forward with the Light Brigade."
Furious at being made the scapegoat, Lucan attempted to rebut Raglan's claims in a scathing letter to the London Gazette. At the time, publicly criticizing one's superior officer wasn't tolerated, so Lucan was relieved of command and recalled to England.
He later defended himself in a speech before the House of Lords. Ultimately, he would escape blame for the tragically botched battle and be promoted twice, ending his military career with the rank of Field Marshal.
Some historians have speculated that Captain Nolan made no error and the Earl of Lucan deliberately set up the Earl of Cardigan to lead his Light Brigade into a massacre. The two men, who were brothers-in-law, had always despised each other.
This theory cannot be proven, nor can Captain Nolan's error be conclusively proven as his death prevented him from telling his side of the story. So it remains one of history's great unsolved mysteries.
The legendary English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson would pay tribute to the bravery of the cavalrymen in his classic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, published just two months after the Battle of Balaclava. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom at the time.
With its vivid invocation of the battle scene, The Charge of the Light Brigade is rightfully considered one of Alfred Lord Tennyson's greatest poems. Many years later, Tennyson would record himself reading the poem on a wax cylinder - Thomas Edison's precursor to the phonograph record.
Quote Of The Day
"Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within." - Alfred Lord Tennyson
Today's video features a reading of Alfred Lord Tennyson's classic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 24th, 1958, the legendary American mystery writer Raymond Chandler began work on his last novel, Poodle Springs, which would remain unfinished by him. It would feature the iconic character for which Chandler became famous.
That character was Philip Marlowe, a hard boiled private detective based in Los Angeles. Marlowe was different than the typical detective: intelligent (college educated) and complex, tough as nails yet sentimental at times, and semi-fluent in Spanish.
Marlowe had few friends and a passion for both classical music and the game of chess. If he suspected that a prospective client's job was unethical, he would refuse to take the case.
Chandler's writing style was hard-edged, fast moving, and peppered with clever and lyrical metaphors: "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips." This distinctive style would be referred to as Chandleresque.
Philip Marlowe made his debut in Chandler's early short stories and became the star of his classic first novel, The Big Sleep (1939). Chandler's last novel, Poodle Springs, was begun in 1958, near the end of his life.
Four years earlier, Chandler lost his beloved wife, Pearl "Cissy" Pascal, to a long illness. Devastated, he plunged into a quagmire of heavy drinking and severe depression. He never got around to interring Cissy's ashes and they sat in a storage locker for over fifty years.
Left alone at the age of 66 after nearly thirty years of marriage, Chandler attempted suicide in 1955. Thankfully, he had called the police to warn them of his intentions. He went to England for a time to recover from his mental breakdown.
Back home in the United States, he continued to drink. By 1958, he decided to take up writing again and pen another Philip Marlowe novel. Poodle Springs was Chandler's nickname for Palm Springs, where "every third elegant creature you see has at least one poodle."
There, Marlowe settles down with his new wife, wealthy socialite Linda Loring. Marlowe and Loring began their affair in the classic novel, The Long Goodbye (1953). Chandler envisioned their married life as "a running fight interspersed with amorous interludes."
In The Long Goodbye, Philip Marlowe described Linda Loring this way:
...There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.
There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them...
After writing the first four chapters of Poodle Springs, Chandler lost interest in it, filed the manuscript away, and returned to his heavy drinking. He died several months later of alcoholism and kidney failure at the age of 70.
The first four chapters of Chandler's unfinished novel would be published as The Poodle Springs Story, included in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962), a collection of letter excerpts and unpublished writings.
In 1988, to honor the author's 100th birthday, the Raymond Chandler estate hired crime writer Robert B. Parker to complete Chandler's unfinished novel. It was published as Poodle Springs in 1989.
Quote Of The Day
"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say." - Raymond Chandler
Today's video features the 1998 HBO film adaptation of Poodle Springs. Enjoy!
Monday, October 23, 2017
Theresa A. Cancro
Two haiku (pg. 13) and one haibun (page 83) have been published in Chrysanthemum, Issue 22, along with German translations.
I just got an email that I won a first place in a poetry contest so I'm pretty happy over that news. I'll post again when I find out which poem won. (And when I know where/ when the winner will be available for reading. I'll have this info about mid-November.)
Joanna M. Weston
Two poems up at 7Beats Here and Now, scroll way on down and you'll find me, plus photo.
Reviews up on Gumshoe Review:
Before It's Too Late (FBI K-9) by Sara Driscoll
Hell Bay (Barker & Llewelyn) by Will Thomas
The Naturalist (The Naturalist Series Book 1) by Andrew Mayne
On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service (Royal Spyness) by Rhys Bowen
My ebook Ghosts of Past Loves is now available on
99 cents until Oct 24 and 1.99 from then on
My second book, The Killer Who Hated Soup, came out today. Luckily, just yesterday the book received a nice, positive review from John Valeri, writing for Criminalelement.com
Thanks to everyone at Novels-L who helped me make it happen!
Friday, October 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 20th, 1854, the legendary French poet Arthur Rimbaud was born. He was born Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud in Charleville, France. When he was six years old, his father abandoned the family.
Captain Frederic Rimbaud, a Legion D'Honneur award winning soldier, left to rejoin his regiment and never returned, having tired of domestic life. Arthur and his siblings were raised alone by their mother, a domineering, controlling, fanatically devout Catholic.
In 1862, believing that her children were spending too much time with the local poor kids and being influenced by them, Madame Rimbaud moved the family to the Cours D'Orleans, where the living conditions were better.
Instead of being taught at home by their mother, Arthur Rimbaud and his brother attended school for the first time at the Pension Rossatr. To push them to get good grades, Madame Rimbaud would force them to learn a hundred lines of Latin verse, then withhold their meals if they recited the verse incorrectly.
As a boy, Arthur Rimbaud hated school and his mother's constant control and supervision - he and his brother were not allowed to leave her sight until their late teens. At the age of nine, Arthur wrote a 700-word essay voicing his objections to having to learn Latin in school.
When he was eleven years old, he had his first communion. Despite his intellect and his fiercely individualistic nature, he became as fanatically devout a Catholic as his mother, which led his schoolmates to call him un sale petit cagot - a dirty little hypocrite.
Though most of his reading as a child was confined to the Bible, the young Arthur Rimbaud also enjoyed fairy tales and adventure stories. Though he disliked school, he became an outstanding student and was at the head of the class in all of his subjects except science and mathematics.
His schoolmasters noted with awe Arthur's ability to absorb large quantities of material. In 1869, at the age of fifteen, he won eight prizes in school. The following year, he won seven.
Around the same time, while studying at the College de Charleville, Arthur's mother hired a private tutor for him, Father Ariste Lheritier, who was the first person to encourage Arthur to write.
The teenage Rimbaud's first published poem, Les Etrennes des Orphelines, (The Orphans' New Year's Gift) appeared in the January 2nd, 1870 issue of the Revue pour Tous magazine. Two weeks later, a new teacher, Georges Izambard, arrived at Rimbaud's school and became his literary mentor.
When the Franco-Prussian War broke out, Izambard left to enlist, and Rimbaud was devastated. He ran away to Paris and was arrested and imprisoned for a week. After returning home, he ran away again to escape his mother. He became a different person; he drank, wrote vulgar poems, and stole books from bookshops.
He abandoned his penchant for neatness and wore his hair long. Later, he wrote to his old teacher Izambard about his method of achieving poetic enlightenment through "a long, intimidating, immense, and rational derangement of the senses."
Rimbaud claimed that "the sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet." A friend encouraged him to write to Paul Verlaine, a prominent Symbolist poet, after Rimbaud's letters to other poets went unanswered.
So, he sent Verlaine two letters, which contained several of his poems, including the dazzling, hypnotic, and shocking Le Dormeur du Val - The Sleeper of the Vale. Impressed, Verlaine wrote back.
He sent Rimbaud a one-way ticket to Paris and told him to "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you." Rimbaud arrived in September of 1871 and stayed briefly at Verlaine's home.
Although Paul Verlaine had a pregnant wife, he and Arthur Rimbaud engaged in a brief but torrid gay affair. While Verlaine had previously engaged in homosexual relationships, there is no evidence that Rimbaud had gay affairs before he met Verlaine. He would later become involved with women.
While he and Verlaine were together, they led a wild, vagabond life that was enhanced by their frequent use of absinthe and hashish. Rimbaud's outrageous behavior brought scandal to the Parisian literati. He became the archetypal enfant terrible, yet at the same time, he wrote striking, visionary works of verse.
In September of 1872, Rimbaud and Verlaine arrived in London. They lived in poverty in Bloomsbury and Camden Town, scraping together a meager living, mostly through teaching. Their relationship grew increasingly bitter.
By June of 1873, a frustrated Verlaine returned to Paris. The following month, he wrote to Rimbaud, telling him to meet him at the Hotel Liege in Brussels. The reunion was a disaster.
They argued incessantly and Verlaine drank heavily. He bought a revolver and ammunition, and shot at Rimbaud twice in a drunken rage. The first shot missed him, but the second grazed his wrist.
Rimbaud dismissed his injury as superficial and declined to press charges. But after the shooting, when Verlaine accompanied Rimbaud to the train station in Brussels, his bizarre behavior made Rimbaud fear that he was going insane.
Rimbaud begged a policeman to arrest Verlaine for his own good - and for Rimbaud's safety. Verlaine was charged with attempted murder. In the resulting investigation, his intimate correspondences with Rimbaud were uncovered and used against him.
Rimbaud withdrew his criminal complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to two years imprisonment anyway, because of his wife's accusations of homosexuality. After the trial, Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his famous epic work Une Saison en Enfer (A Season In Hell), a masterpiece of Symbolist prose poetry.
In 1874, he returned to London with his friend, poet Germain Noveau. There, Rimbaud wrote and assembled his groundbreaking prose poetry collection, Les Illuminations (Illuminations). The following year, after Paul Verlaine was released from prison, Rimbaud met him for the last time.
Arthur Rimbaud later gave up writing and settled into a quiet, steady working life. Some say that he had become fed up with the wild life; others speculate that he intended to save up enough money so he could afford to live independently as a carefree poet.
He continued to travel extensively throughout Europe, mostly on foot. In May of 1876, he became a soldier for the Dutch Colonial Army in order to travel to Indonesia for free, after which, he promptly deserted and sailed back to France.
In December of 1878, Rimbaud went to Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as the foreman of a stone quarry. Five months later, he had to leave after contracting typhoid fever.
In 1880, Rimbaud settled in Aden, Yemen as an employee for the Bardey agency. Four years later, he left Bardey's and became an independent merchant in Harar, Ethiopia, dealing mostly in coffee and weapons.
He took native women as lovers and lived with an Ethiopian mistress for a time. He became close friends with Ras Makkonen, the governor of Harar and father of future Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
The following year, in February 1881, Rimbaud developed a pain in his right knee that he thought was arthritis. A British doctor in Aden mistakenly diagnosed Rimbaud's knee pain as tubercular synovitis.
When the pain grew agonizing, he returned to France for treatment. He was admitted to a hospital in Marseilles, where he was diagnosed with cancer. His right leg was amputated.
After a brief stay at the family home in Charleville, Rimbaud tried to return to Africa, but on the way, his health deteriorated and he found himself back at the same hospital in Marseilles in great pain.
Arthur Rimbaud was cared for by his younger sister, Isabelle, until he died in Marseilles on November 10th, 1891, at the age of 37.
Quote Of The Day
"Genius is the recovery of childhood at will." - Arthur Rimbaud
Today's video features a reading of Arthur Rimbaud's poem Le Chercheuses de Poux (The Seekers of Lice) in English. Enjoy!
Thursday, October 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 19th, 1946, the famous English writer Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England. His father, Alfred Pullman, was a Royal Air Force pilot. His job allowed the family to travel frequently.
Philip once attended school in Southern Rhodesia. When he was seven years old, his father was killed in a plane crash. His mother later remarried and the family moved again, first to Australia, then Wales, then back to England.
Around this time, Philip Pullman became interested in comic books, a medium he continues to express his admiration for, from the old style comics to the modern graphic novels of today.
As a middle school student, he read John Milton's classic epic poem, Paradise Lost, which would prove to be a major influence on his most famous series of novels, a trilogy whose title comes from a line in Milton's poem.
Pullman received his college education at Exeter College, Oxford, but "did not really enjoy the English course." He graduated in 1968 and embarked on a career as a teacher.
While he taught middle school children, he also wrote school plays and began work on his first book, The Haunted Storm, a fantasy novel geared toward young adult readers, which would be published in 1972.
Although it won him the New English Library's Young Writer's Award that year, Pullman considers The Haunted Storm his worst book and refuses to discuss it.
Pullman's second book, Galatea, a fantasy novel geared toward adults, was published six years later, in 1978. He did not publish another novel until 1982, when Count Karlstein was released.
Originally written as a school play for his students, it made Pullman's name as a young adult novelist. Count Karlstein is set in Karlstein, a Swiss village, circa 1816.
The evil nobleman Count Karlstein obtained his wealth and position by making a deal with Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman. The Count's part of the bargain requires him to present Zamiel with a human sacrifice within ten years, on Halloween night.
The time has now come, so the Count plans on sacrificing his young nieces, Lucy and Charlotte, to the Demon Huntsman. His maidservant, Hildi Kelmar, overhears his plan and determines to save the girls.
Pullman would continue to write great young adult novels. Spring-Heeled Jack (1989), was a comic adventure inspired by the real life monster that supposedly haunted Victorian England.
In Pullman's novel, Spring-Heeled Jack is not a monster at all but a superhero mistaken for a monster. He tries to save three orphaned children from evil orphanage director Mr. Killjoy and his horrid assistant, Miss Gasket, in a delightfully demented parody of Dickens.
In addition to his fantasy novels, Pullman has also written some great non-fantasy novels. In The Broken Bridge, (1990) 16-year-old Ginny, a half-English, half-Haitian girl, lives with her father in a coastal Welsh village. A social worker arrives with some shocking news: Ginny's father had a child with another woman.
The woman is dying, and her son needs a home. The revelation that she has a white half-brother she never knew about turns Ginny's world upside-down and inspires her to investigate the mystery of her own life, and that of her long-dead Haitian mother.
Five years later, in 1995, Philip Pullman published the first volume of his most famous work - a series of novels called the His Dark Materials trilogy. This brilliant, dazzling series is set in an alternate universe, on a world similar to Earth, in a country similar to Victorian 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. Her daemon is called Pantalaimon. Lyra is an orphan who lives with her uncle, Lord Asriel, at Oxford University.
In the first book, Northern Lights, (retitled The Golden Compass for its U.S. release) Lord Asriel makes an important discovery - the true nature of Dust, the fabric of the universe.
This discovery threatens to invalidate the Catholic-esque monotheistic religion whose cruel and repressive clerical body, the Magisterium, rules the world. Lord Asriel's life is now endangered.
Meanwhile, 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 will also bring about a revolution in Heaven.
The being known and worshiped as God is actually not a benevolent creator 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 - who is now aged and dying.
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.
The prophecy is a reversal of Milton's classic epic poem Paradise Lost. 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 the issue of witchcraft, the His Dark Materials trilogy made them go ballistic.
Philip Pullman was accused of blasphemy, anti-Catholicism, and promoting atheism to children. Others complained about the books' violence, gore, sexual content, and the heroine who is disobedient by nature and an accomplished liar.
The most (allegedly) objectionable elements of the story occur in the third book, The Amber Spyglass. Lyra and Will free the Authority from confinement so he can die peacefully and return to the Dust. Although an act of mercy, 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 a previous awakening of sexual feelings within Lyra. The books still faced the specter of censorship.
Even though Pullman's American publisher, Scholastic, Inc, censored some passages in the U.S. version of The Amber Spyglass that they deemed inappropriate, the entire trilogy of novels still faces challenges and bans in the United States.
Conservative British columnist Peter Hitchens denounced the His Dark Materials novels as an atheist rebuttal of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, a series of novels that Pullman always hated.
Surprisingly, the novels and Pullman's outspoken criticisms of religion were defended by, of all people, Rowan Williams, England's Archbishop of Canterbury, who also said that the author's criticisms of organized religion were valid.
In December of 2007, Hollywood movie studio New Line Cinema released a feature film adaptation of the first book of the His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass.
Unfortunately, squeamish studio bosses demanded a film that would not offend religious groups in any way, so the screenplay obliterated most of the storyline. That didn't stop religious groups from mounting protests against the film.
The movie proved to be a huge critical and commercial failure for New Line Cinema. It cost around $200 million dollars to make, and only earned the studio a total of $70 million at the box office.
However, the movie performed surprisingly well internationally, earning nearly $300 million more, but New Line Cinema didn't see a dime of it. Those profits went to overseas distributors, as New Line had sold them the rights to finance the expensive project.
Ultimately, it wasn't the protests but New Line's decision to radically change the story to appease religious groups that sank The Golden Compass at home. The studio announced that it would not adapt the rest of the His Dark Materials series for the screen.
Philip Pullman continues to expand the His Dark Materials series. He has already published two companion novellas, Lyra's Oxford, (2003) and Once Upon A Time In The North (2008).
Pullman's most recent novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, published in the spring of 2010, is a fictionalized biography of Jesus. In it, the Virgin Mary gives birth to identical twin sons - Jesus and his brother, Christ.
While the outgoing and sickly Jesus becomes the popular one, his devoted brother Christ observes his ministry and records his every word and deed, making ordinary acts seem like miracles through his embellishments.
Although he means well at first, Christ allows himself to be swept up in the politics and plots of corrupt, power-hungry men, which ultimately results in the formation of the institutional Church.
In 2012, Pullman published a new English retelling of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. The 448 page book featured fifty stories, including classics such as Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel, along with footnotes and commentary.
Philip Pullman's newest entry in the His Dark Materials, titled The Book of Dust, is scheduled for publication on this very date - October 19th, 2017.
Quote Of The Day
"We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts. We need books, time, and silence. Thou Shalt Not is soon forgotten, but Once Upon a Time lasts forever." - Philip Pullman
Today's video features a lecture given by Philip Pullman at Open University in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 18th, 1773, the legendary African-American poet Phillis Wheatley was emancipated from slavery. She was born in Gambia, Senegal sometime in 1753. At the young age of seven, she was captured by slave traders.
Phillis was shipped to Boston, Massachusetts. Not long after she arrived in America, (which was still under British rule at the time) she was sold on the auction block to John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant and tailor.
He bought the little girl so his wife, Susanna, could have her own personal servant. Since she had come on a slave ship called The Phillis, she was given the name Phillis Wheatley.
The Wheatley family was known for their liberalism and progressive ideas, one of which was that slaves should be taught how to read and write. That was a very controversial idea, especially in the Southern states.
In the South, it was actually illegal to teach a slave to read and write. And the idea of any female receiving an education was highly unusual and considered radical in 18th century America.
Nevertheless, little Phillis began her education, tutored by the Wheatleys' teenage daughter, Mary. As the lessons continued, Mary was amazed by the little slave girl's intellectual gifts and hunger for learning.
John Wheatley was so impressed he decided that Phillis' education should take precedence over her work as a slave. Most of her household chores were done by other slaves.
By the time she was twelve, Phillis Wheatley had become fluent in Greek and Latin, translating difficult Biblical passages from those languages into English.
She began studying the works of Alexander Pope, John Milton, Virgil, Homer, and Horace, which would kindle her passion for poetry and influence her own writing.
In 1773, the Wheatleys sent an ailing Phillis, accompanied by their son Nathaniel, to London to recover her health. There, she would meet the Lord Mayor of London and other prominent members of British society. She dazzled them with her poetry.
Phillis' admirers couldn't believe that a Boston publisher had refused to publish her work simply because she was a black slave. She made some powerful new friends, including the Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth.
With their help, her classic poetry collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was finally published - not in Boston, but in London. It became a huge hit in England.
Later that year, in October of 1773, Phillis Wheatley was emancipated from slavery - freed by the family that owned her. Unfortunately, under Massachusetts law, she would not gain her full rights as a free woman until her former master died.
Phillis' poetry went practically unnoticed in America until 1775, when her poem To His Excellency George Washington was published. Washington read the poem and was moved by her words.
Washington was so moved, in fact, that he invited Phillis to his home so he could thank her personally. The legendary writer and philosopher Thomas Paine republished her poem in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Another of her admirers was the legendary Scottish-American naval hero John Paul Jones, who had an officer deliver some of his own writings to "Phillis the African favorite of the Nine [muses] and Apollo."
Phillis supported the American Revolution. Unfortunately, during the revolution, Americans lost interest in poetry, devoting most of their reading time to newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and other publications related to the war.
In 1778, John Wheatley died, and Phillis became a legally free woman with full rights guaranteed and protected by Massachusetts state law. Sadly, for her, freedom wasn't much of a blessing.
She married John Peters, a free man and grocer, but the marriage was rocky as John's financial mismanagement plunged them into poverty. After John was sent to debtor's prison, Phillis took a job as a scullery maid to support herself and their sickly infant son.
The backbreaking work took a toll on her already frail health. Phillis Wheatley died of illness on December 5th, 1784, at the age of 31. Her infant son died a few hours later.
Phillis is rightfully considered the founding mother of African-American literature. As a black writer and intellectual, she disproved the racist theories used to justify slavery.
She summed up her views on slavery and race in these lines from her classic poem, On being brought from Africa to America:
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
Quote of the Day
"The world is a severe schoolmaster, for its frowns are less dangerous than its smiles and flatteries, and it is a difficult task to keep in the path of wisdom." - Phillis Wheatley
Today's video features a complete reading of Phillis Wheatley's classic poetry collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 17th, 1903, the famous American writer Nathanael West was born. He was born Nathan Weinstein in New York City. His parents were German-speaking Russian Jews who had emigrated from Lithuania.
Although his lifelong passions for reading and writing began in childhood, West had little interest in school. He dropped out of high school, then gained admission into Tufts College by forging his high school transcripts.
Expelled by Tufts, West got himself into Brown University by submitting the transcripts of another Tufts College student with the same name. He spent more time at the library than in the classroom, and read extensively.
Uninterested in contemporary American fiction, West became enamored with the French surrealists and English and Irish writers. The legendary Irish playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was a huge influence.
West determined to become a writer himself, and began working on his first novel while studying at Brown. After barely graduating and obtaining his degree, he went to Paris and stayed there for a few months.
Disturbed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe (and America) in the mid 1920s, he changed his name to Nathanael West. After returning home to New York City, West completed the first draft of his novel.
The Dream Life of Balso Snell was published in 1931. An experimental, surrealist allegorical novel, it told the story of the title character, who happens upon the fabled Trojan Horse sitting in the grass around the city of Troy.
After he finds a way to get inside the giant wooden horse, Balso Snell enters the structure. Inside, he encounters a series of strange characters whom he realizes are "writers in search of an audience."
The characters also represent various religious, political, and artistic ideals. Snell listens to each of their stories and rejects them one by one in a nihilistic fashion. The novel is filled with juvenile and often scatological humor.
The Dream Life of Balso Snell received mostly negative reviews at the time of its publication and was commercially unsuccessful. Today, it's recognized as an important first work by a major talent. The best, however, was yet to come.
Unfazed by the reaction to his first novel, West began work on his second. He had taken a job as night manager of the Hotel Kenmore Hall in Manhattan, which provided him lots of downtime he could use for writing.
West's second novel would make his name as a writer. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) is a surreal, expressionist black comedy. The main character is an unnamed male newspaper columnist known only as Miss Lonelyhearts because he writes the paper's advice column under that name.
Miss Lonelyhearts loathes his job. His co-workers consider him and his column a joke. Though he writes the column because he needs the money, he can't help feeling for his fellow New Yorkers who besiege him with their desperate and often disturbing letters.
Driven to drink and despair, Miss Lonelyhearts tries various means to cope with his miserable life. He takes up religion, takes his fiancee Betty out on trips to the countryside, and engages in affairs with unhappily married women. Nothing helps.
After Miss Lonelyhearts has an affair with Mrs. Doyle, he meets her poor, crippled husband. The Doyles invite him to dinner, where Mrs. Doyle grotesquely tries to seduce him again. He snaps and beats her, and she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her.
The novel ends with Mr. Doyle going to Miss Lonelyhearts' apartment to take revenge on him. He hides a gun inside a newspaper. After spending three days in bed sick, Miss Lonelyhearts recovers and awakens to have a religious epiphany.
When he sees Mr. Doyle, he runs over to embrace him. Doyle's gun goes off and both men tumble down a flight of stairs. Miss Lonelyhearts would be adapted as a feature film, a TV movie, a Broadway play, and an opera.
Nathanael West published his third novel, A Cool Million, in 1934. He bought a farm in Pennsylvania, then gave it up and moved to California when he got a job as a contract screenwriter for Columbia Pictures.
West would write or co-write over a dozen screenplays. The pay was good and he needed the money, as he had been barely scraping by on his novel royalties. By the time his fourth and final novel was published, he had been writing B movies for RKO Radio Pictures.
The Day of the Locust (1939) is considered by many to be West's masterpiece. This surreal black comedy about the dark side of 1930s Hollywood was inspired by the author's time spent working as a Hollywood screenwriter.
The characters include Tod Hackett, a talented young artist who has come to Hollywood to work as a set painter. He does this to support himself until he becomes a famous artist. Faye Greener is a beautiful young aspiring actress.
Faye's father, Harry Greener, is an aging, failed actor and former vaudeville comic who earns a meager living as a door to door salesman. Despite all the doors slammed in his face, Harry, the ultimate huckster, pushes on, oblivious to the effects of his job on his frail health.
Homer Simpson (yes, that's really his name) is a good natured oaf who's not very bright. Also a neurotic depressive, he has come to California for reasons of health. The poor, pathetic Simpson will become the most tragic character in this dark and grotesque story.
Other memorable characters include Abe Kusich, a conceited midget actor with a huge chip on his little shoulder, and Adore Loomis, an obnoxious aspiring child star with a talent for blues singing and a stage mother so ambitious (and demented) that she passes him off as a girl, hoping he'll become the next Shirley Temple.
The price of stardom - the depths one would sink to in Hollywood in order to reach the height of success - is one of the main themes of the novel. Another theme is the garishness of excess.
One film producer keeps a lifelike, life sized dead horse made of rubber at the bottom of his swimming pool. Mrs. Jenning, a retired silent film star, runs a brothel, where she also screens pornographic films for her guests.
Faye Greener is the catalyst for the tragic undercurrent of the story that drives it to a shocking and brutal conclusion. She's a thoroughly amoral young woman, a manipulative sociopath willing to do anything and use anyone to get what she wants.
Of course, Tod ends up falling in love with her, but grudgingly settles for friendship, recognizing her amoral nature. He fantasizes about raping Faye or physically harming her in other ways as both a subconscious attack on her immorality and an attempt to suppress his secret desire to be just like her.
Homer Simpson also falls in love with Faye, but unlike the more realistic Tod, the poor, deluded Homer actually dreams of marrying Faye, settling down, and starting a family with her. When he accidentally discovers Faye having casual sex with a would-be actor called Miguel the Mexican, his delusion is suddenly shattered.
Homer decides to return to his Iowa hometown, but in the novel's violent, surreal ending, he wanders the streets in a state of shock and happens upon a crowd gathering outside a theater for a major movie premiere. While he stares blankly at the crowd, Adore Loomis appears and teases him yet again.
Homer's mind finally snaps, and in the novel's most shocking scene, he literally stomps the child to death. When the crowd sees Homer attack Adore, they riot and descend on him like a plague of locusts, killing him. Tod tries to save Homer, but gets lost in the milling throng.
The Day of the Locust was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1975. Directed by John Schlesinger from a screenplay by Waldo Salt, the film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.
In 1940, Nathanael West married Eileen McKenney, sister of writer Ruth McKenney and the inspiration for Ruth's classic short story collection My Sister Eileen, which would be adapted as a Broadway play and a TV series.
Sadly, in December of 1940, while West and Eileen were driving home to Los Angeles from a hunting trip in Mexico, they ran a stop sign and collided with another car. They were both killed. West was 37 years old, his wife Eileen only 26.
Never a huge critical or commercial success as a writer during his short life, after his death Nathanael West would be rightfully recognized as one of the best American writers of the 1930s.
Quote Of The Day
"I have spent my life in books; literature has deeply dyed my brain its own color. This literary coloring is a protective one - like the brown of the rabbit or the checks of the quail - making it impossible for me to tell where literature ends and I begin.” - Nathanael West
Today's video features a photo essay on Nathanael West. Enjoy!
Monday, October 16, 2017
Hi, I have a story out in The Rumpus today, "The Whole World Is Desert."
My review of Androcide - Intel 1 Series, Book 5 by Erec Stebbins, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
Joanna M. Weston
A prose piece up at Lost Paper; the theme is 'red'. Scroll down as they are alphabetical by first name.
Theresa A. Cancro
A flash piece of mine appears on the Lost Paper blog this month, "flash: RED short-shorts on a theme." Joanna Weston is also there. It's arranged alphabetically by writers' first names.
Friday, October 13, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 13th, 1943, the famous American poet Robert Lowell was sentenced to a year in prison for evading the draft. A conscientious objector, he refused to be drafted.
He opposed saturation bombings and other tactics used by the Allies that targeted civilians in enemy countries, which he saw as crimes against humanity. He served his time at New York's West Street jail.
Robert Lowell was born into a prominent Boston family whose ancestors included William Samuel Johnson, (a signer of the United States Constitution) Calvinist theologian Anne Hutchinson, the second governor of Massachusetts, and two passengers on the Mayflower.
Lowell sought to separate himself from his family's history and rejected their Episcopalian religious tradition, converting to Catholicism.
Although his new faith would influence the writing of his first two books, Lowell left the Catholic Church not long after his second book was published in 1946.
Lord Weary's Castle (1946), a poetry collection, won Robert Lowell a Pulitzer Prize at the age of 30. It featured one of his classic poems, The Quaker Graveyard In Nantucket.
Like the other poems in the book, it featured Lowell's trademarks: rigorous formality, violent imagery, and powerful use of meter and rhyme. A good example can be found in these lines:
The bones cry for the blood of the white whale,
the fat flukes arch and whack about its ears,
the death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears
the gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
and hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags
and rips the sperm-whale's midriff into rags,
gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather.
Lowell returned to Boston in 1954 after living abroad for several years. He became involved with the Beat Generation of writers and artists, watching other Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg perform readings.
He incorporated their open, confessional narrative voices into his own more formal style of poetry. In his 1959 poetry collection Life Studies, Lowell wrote of his breakdown, his struggle with mental illness, and the breakup of his marriages.
In the 1960s, Lowell became a champion of the civil rights movement and a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. He was among a group of writers who led a march to the Pentagon in 1967.
Robert Lowell published many books and divided his time between Boston and London. He died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 60.
Quote Of The Day
"If youth is a defect, it is one we outgrow too soon." - Robert Lowell
Today's video features a recording of Robert Lowell reading his poem, Old Flame. Enjoy!
Thursday, October 12, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 12th, 1920, the famous African American novelist, playwright, and actress Alice Childress was born in Charleston, South Carolina. When Alice was nine years old, her parents separated.
She moved to New York to live with her grandmother in Harlem. Her grandmother, who was uneducated, encouraged her to develop her passion for reading and talent for writing.
After she graduated high school, Alice took up drama and studied acting at the American Negro Theatre. She won acclaim as an actress on the black and off-Broadway stages and appeared in numerous productions.
A social activist, she also formed the first union for off-Broadway actors. She continued her acting career, but writing was her main passion, so she switched to play writing.
When Alice's first play Florence (1949) was produced in 1950, she became the first black woman to have a play produced off-Broadway. Set in the waiting room of a segregated railway station in the Jim Crow South, the play's main character is Miss Whitney, an elderly black woman.
Her daughter, Florence, ran away to Harlem hoping to become a successful actress. Worried about her, Miss Whitney, accompanied by her other daughter Marge, hopes to persuade Florence to come home.
Alice Childress' 1955 play, Trouble In Mind, made her the first black woman to win an Obie award. The play, a masterpiece of scathing satire, is actually a play-within-a-play. A multiracial cast of actors is rehearsing a play called Chaos in Belleville.
The play was written by a white playwright and is filled with derogatory, stereotyped black characters. The black actors must deal not only with having to play stereotypical black characters, but also with a condescending, racist white director.
Childress followed Trouble In Mind with her most controversial play, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White), better known by its shortened title, Wedding Band. First published in 1966, the play was so controversial that no one dared produce it until 1972, when it opened in New York.
Set in 1918 South Carolina, the play featured Childress' most potent attack on racism. Herman, a white man, and Julia, a black woman, are very much in love and want to marry. Unfortunately, it's illegal for them do so, as interracial marriage is against the law in South Carolina.
The play opens with Herman and Julia celebrating their tenth anniversary as a couple. They want to leave the South and move North where they can legally marry, but Herman must stay until he repays his mother the money she loaned him to buy his bakery.
Meanwhile, the couple faces racist harassment from whites and blacks alike, who both disapprove of their relationship. When Wedding Band was produced for television and aired on the ABC TV network in 1973, several of the network's affiliate stations refused to broadcast it.
In addition to her plays, Alice Childress wrote several novels. Her second and most famous novel, A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, was published in 1973. Aimed at young adult readers, the novel told the brutally honest tale of Benjie Johnson, a 13-year-old heroin addict.
It was the first young adult novel to deal with the subject of heroin addiction. Benjie Johnson lives in a tough inner city neighborhood with his mother, her boyfriend, and his grandmother.
Seeking a release from his stressful life, Benjie starts cutting class and hanging out with a group of older boys who are into drugs. He smokes marijuana with them and succumbs to peer pressure to try heroin.
Benjie quickly turns from casual user to full fledged heroin addict, first denying that he's an addict, then doing anything to support his habit, including stealing.
The novel uses alternating first person narratives to look at Benjie's addiction from different people's perspectives, including his family members, his teachers, his pusher, and of course, Benjie himself.
Controversial and often appearing on banned and challenged book lists, A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich would be adapted as an acclaimed independent feature film in 1978.
All together, Alice Childress wrote ten plays and five novels, establishing herself as one of the best 20th century African American writers. She died in 1994 at the age of 73.
Quote Of The Day
“I continue to create because writing is a labor of love and also an act of defiance, a way to light a candle in a gale wind: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” - Alice Childress
Today's video features a clip from the acclaimed 1978 feature film adaptation of Alice Childress' controversial and classic young adult novel, A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 11th, 1925, the famous American writer Elmore Leonard was born. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but due to his father's position as a site locator for General Motors, the family moved frequently. In 1934, the Leonards finally took up permanent residence, settling in Detroit, Michigan.
Growing up during the Great Depression, Elmore Leonard became fascinated with gangsters - the folk heroes of the time. He read sensational accounts of the exploits of famous gangsters such as Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the newspaper. He was most interested in their guns.
Leonard's writings would become famous for their incredibly accurate depictions of the mechanics of all sorts of firearms, yet throughout his entire life, he never had any interest in owning a gun.
With his father rarely home, he found father figures in the heroes of the big screen. Movies were his passion, and fortunately for him, they were an affordable pastime, even during the Depression.
It was in the movie theater that his pitch perfect ear for dialogue and his knack for creating memorable characters began to develop. He would entertain his friends by telling them stories – vivid accounts of the movies he'd seen, including actual dialogue.
For his fifth grade class project, he wrote and directed the class play, recreating a grim scene from Lewis Milestone's classic 1930 film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic antiwar novel All Quiet On the Western Front (1929).
Leonard also became an avid baseball fan, his favorite team being, of course, the Detroit Tigers, who won their first World Series championship in 1935. His friends gave him the nickname Dutch, after the famous pitcher Dutch Leonard, (no relation) a right-handed knuckleballer.
After graduating high school in 1943, Elmore Leonard joined the Navy and served with the Seabees in the Pacific. In 1946, he enrolled at the University of Detroit. He determined to make his dream of becoming a writer a reality.
He supported himself by working as an advertising copywriter - a position he took while a senior at university, where he would graduate with a degree in English and philosophy.
Though he originally wanted to write crime fiction, Leonard began his literary career writing pulp Westerns, which were the most popular and biggest selling stories at the time. In 1951, he sold his first short story, a Western called Trail of the Apaches, to the famous pulp fiction magazine Argosy.
He would publish some 30 pulp Western short stories, two of which, The Tall T and 3:10 to Yuma, would be adapted as feature films. His first published novel, The Bounty Hunters (1953) was a Western, and he would write four more Western novels.
By the 1960s, the popularity of Western novels had begun to decline rapidly, so Elmore Leonard switched genres and started writing the kind of novels he would become famous for - quirky crime thrillers. His first, The Big Bounce, was published in 1969.
The Big Bounce told the story of Jack Ryan, an aspiring baseball player turned petty crook who gets a chance to go straight when he's hired by Walter Majestyk, (no relation to the title character of Leonard's 1974 novel) a justice of the peace, to work at his beach resort.
Jack falls for Nancy, a psychotic young siren who gets her kicks by seducing married men, taking them for what she can get, then breaking their hearts - and their windows. When Nancy learns of Jack's shady past, she manipulates him into stealing $50,000 from her current patsy, a married millionaire.
The Big Bounce would introduce Elmore Leonard's trademark literary style - gritty realism and razor sharp dialogue. He is rightfully considered one of best writers of dialogue there is.
His skill with dialogue would bring him success as a Hollywood screenwriter. He adapted his own novels for the screen and wrote original screenplays. His best known original screenplay was for the acclaimed 1973 Western feature film, Joe Kidd.
Joe Kidd starred Clint Eastwood as the title character, a gunfighter and ex-bounty hunter hired by wealthy landowner Frank Harlan to be part of his posse, who are hunting Luis Chama, a fugitive Mexican revolutionary-bandito.
As he partakes in the mission, Joe Kidd begins to understand who the real bad guys are. Chama's major crime turns out to be organizing a peasant revolt against the wealthy landowners, who are evicting the poor people from land that is rightfully theirs.
Elmore Leonard's most popular feature film screenplay adaptations of his own novels include Mr. Majestyk and 52 Pick-Up, both of which were published in 1974. Mr. Majestyk is Vince Majestyk, a Vietnam veteran now living a quiet life in Arizona.
Majestyk owns and operates a melon farm. When a two-bit hood tries to coerce him into paying protection money, Majestyk drives the punk off his land with a punch in the face and a shotgun.
The hood files assault charges and Majestyk is taken to a local jail. He later finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - aboard a prison transfer bus with Frank Renda, a notorious mafia hit man.
The mobsters attack the bus to break Renda out, but Majestyk drives off in the bus, with Renda still in handcuffs. He plans on trading Renda to the police in exchange for his freedom.
Renda vows revenge and orders his men to destroy Majestyk. What Renda and his mafia cohorts don't know is that Mr. Majestyk is a highly trained soldier - a former Army Ranger - and is about to take them to war.
In 52 Pick-Up, Harry Mitchell is a wealthy businessman whose wife, Barbara, is running for office. He becomes the target of blackmailers who claim to possess evidence of him cheating on Barbara.
Knowing that he can't go to the police, Harry decides to handle the situation his own way - by trying to turn the blackmailers against each other. But these psychopathic criminals are smarter than he thinks. And much more dangerous...
More of Leonard's novels would be adapted as memorable feature films, including Rum Punch, (as Jackie Brown) and Get Shorty, and its sequel, Be Cool, both of which feature one of his most popular characters, Chili Palmer - an affable gangster who wants out of the loan sharking business.
In Get Shorty, Chili has his heart set on becoming a movie producer. In Be Cool, having tired of the movie business, Chili decides to return to loansharking, only to get mixed up with the music industry.
Leonard's final novel, Raylan, was published in January of 2012. It features U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the iconic character and star of the TV series Justified, in a new adventure.
This time, Raylan is on the trail of drug trafficking brothers Dickie and Coover Crowe. What the marshal doesn't know is that the Crowe brothers are trafficking a new cash crop - human organs for transplant operations harvested from unwilling donors.
Elmore Leonard died in August of 2013 at the age of 87.
Quote Of The Day
"My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip." - Elmore Leonard
Today's video features a 2006 interview with Elmore Leonard, where he discusses the craft of writing. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 10th, 1930, the legendary English playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter was born in Hackney, East London, England. At the age of ten, Pinter found himself caught up in the terror and chaos of the Blitz. It would have a lasting effect on him as both a human being and as a writer.
When he wasn't caught up in the war, Pinter attended Hackney Downs School, a grammar school in London, where he discovered his talents for writing and acting. He wrote for the school magazine and played Macbeth and Romeo in school productions of the Shakespeare plays.
Pinter excelled in athletics as well. He was an avid cricket player and runner. As a runner, he broke his school's sprinting record, but his passion was cricket. He would serve as chairman of the Gaieties Cricket Club.
In 1948, at the age of eighteen, Pinter began studying drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A year later, he was drafted for military service but declared himself a conscientious objector.
He did this not because he was a pacifist, but because he loathed the Cold War and believed that the governments of England and the United States were just as corrupt and immoral as the Soviet Union. After being tried twice as a draft evader, he was given a fine.
Disliking the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Pinter transferred to the Central School of Speech and Drama. By 1951, he had joined the Anew McMaster repertory company and begun his career as an actor.
For the next five years, taking the stage name David Baron, Pinter played over twenty roles in the company's productions. To supplement his income, he worked at various jobs including that of a waiter, a postman, and a pub bouncer.
Though he was making a name for himself as an actor, Harold Pinter's real ambition was to be a writer. The actor Henry Woolf, a close childhood friend, encouraged Pinter to write his first play and then starred in it - as part of his postgraduate work.
The play, The Room (1957), caught the attention of a young producer named Michael Codron, who would stage a production of Pinter's next play, a breakout work that made Pinter's name as a playwright.
In The Birthday Party (1958), a surreal dark comedy, Stanley Webber, a disheveled piano player in his late thirties, lives in a seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey, a couple in their sixties.
Meg exhibits strange affection for Stanley; sometimes she flirts with him, sometimes she acts like his mother. One morning, Meg wishes Stanley a happy birthday and gives him a present - a toy drum.
Stanley tries to convince her that it's not his birthday, but she won't listen. She has planned a party which includes some unusual guests - McCann and Goldberg, two strangers to Stanley who may be dangerously psychotic - or maybe it's Stanley who's mad...
Although it's now considered Pinter's first masterwork, The Birthday Party was trashed by most critics when it debuted in 1958. The famous drama critic Irving Wardle gave it a glowing review in which he called it a "comedy of menace." Unfortunately, the review was published just after the play closed.
Undaunted, Harold Pinter kept writing. His next play, The Dumb Waiter (1959), opened in Germany before it hit the London stage. It was a two character play. The characters are Ben and Gus, two hit men waiting in a basement room to receive their orders for their next hit.
While they wait, Ben and Gus make tea and engage in conversations where they argue semantics and discuss the stories in the newspaper that Ben is reading. Meanwhile, in the background, the dumb waiter in the room occasionally - and strangely - opens to deliver food orders.
Ben tries to explain via the dumb waiter's speaking tube that the orders were sent to the wrong room. At the play's climax, the speaking tube whistles and Ben answers it while Gus is getting a drink of water in the bathroom. It's their orders for their next hit. The play ends with Ben drawing his gun on the target - Gus.
Harold Pinter would write nearly thirty plays and fifteen sketches. Between 1968 and 1982, he wrote a series of "memory plays" that explored the nature of memory - its vagaries, ambiguities, and mysteries.
Pinter also wrote 27 screenplays, adapting his plays and the works of others for the screen. He won an Academy Award for his 1981 screenplay adaptation of John Fowles' novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman.
In October of 2005, Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The award came as quite a shock to right wingers around the world. A prominent liberal political activist, Pinter railed against the Cold War arms race, nuclear weapons, the blockade of Cuba, the South African apartheid regime, the Gulf War, and the later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He believed that the George W. Bush administration "was charging towards world domination while the American public and Britain's mass-murdering prime minister sat back and watched." Pinter described the war in Iraq as "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the conception of international law."
The most controversial aspect of Pinter's political activism was his strong rebuke of the Israeli government for its persecution of the Palestinian people. Although Jewish himself, he expressed his contempt for the Israeli regime, signing the mission statement of the activist group Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Harold Pinter was also awarded the French Légion d'honneur. He died of liver cancer in 2008 at the age of 78.
Quote Of The Day
"Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living." - Harold Pinter
Today's video features Harold Pinter giving his Nobel lecture. Enjoy!
Monday, October 9, 2017
I am indebted and thankful to Elma’s Almanac for review of my anthology, Waiting For Messiah, and to those of you who sent personal notes of congratulations and support.
My dream is this anthology may have a life of its own and live for a few years in reader's spaces. I believe it to be that kind of volume. Thank you!
My review of The Killer Who Hated Soup - The Killer Who Series, Book 1 by Bill A. Brier, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.
My novel, The Killer Who Hated Soup, reviewed by Eric Petersen, is at the Internet Review of Books.
Joanna M. Weston
An haiku of mine up at Shamrock; scroll down to "wisps of fog."
Friday, October 6, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On October 6th, 1847, Jane Eyre, the classic novel by the legendary English writer Charlotte Bronte, was published in London. Since female writers were looked down on during the Victorian era, Bronte published Jane Eyre under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell.
Narrated by its title character, the novel opens with Jane, a ten-year-old orphan girl, living with her uncle's family. Jane's uncle died shortly after adopting her, leaving her to be raised by her nasty, abusive aunt and equally odious cousins.
After her aunt once again locks Jane up in the room where her uncle died as punishment, she has a fit and a fainting spell. An apothecary treats her and recommends that she go to boarding school.
So, Jane is enrolled at Lockwood School, which is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a hypocritical Christian clergyman who is both self-righteous and dishonest.
Brocklehurst is also incredibly neglectful of his young charges. While he comes from a wealthy family and lives in comfort, he preaches to his students the Christian doctrine of growing closer to God through poverty and suffering.
Life at Lockwood School is grim for Jane Eyre. Thanks to the self-righteous Brocklehurst, she and the other students must make do with cold rooms, thin clothing, and lousy food.
While Miss Temple is kind and fair, another teacher, Miss Satcherd, is a cruel tyrant. She singles out Jane's quiet classmate Helen Burns for abuse. Though Helen is a few years older than Jane, they become close friends.
Jane admires Helen's courage in accepting Miss Satcherd's abuse with quiet dignity, turning the other cheek as Jesus said to do in the Bible. But Jane just can't bring herself to do the same.
A typhus epidemic sweeps through the school, and thanks to Brocklehurst's neglect, most of the students fall ill with the disease. Helen contracts tuberculosis and dies in Jane's arms. The health crisis exposes Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty.
Though he still remains in charge due to his family's wealth and position, new people are brought in to share his duties as inspector and treasurer. As a result, the conditions at Lockwood School improve considerably.
The novel then jumps ahead eight years, and we find Jane Eyre, having taught at Lockwood for a couple of years, taking a better job as governess to Adele, the spoiled little daughter of Edward Rochester, owner of Thornfield Manor.
Though Jane is twenty years younger, Rochester finds himself taken with her. Happy at first with her new job, Jane is soon troubled by mysterious occurrences, including strange laughter echoing through the hallways, a fire, and an attack on a guest.
When Jane, who had been keeping her feelings a secret for months, finally proclaims her love for Rochester, he proposes to her. Later, after a month of courtship, a strange and savage-looking woman sneaks into Jane's room and rips her wedding veil apart.
Rochester blames the incident on one of his servants, Grace Poole, who is a drunkard. But at their wedding ceremony, Jane learns the truth. A man named Mason and a lawyer interrupt the ceremony and reveal that Edward Rochester is already married.
Rochester's wife, Bertha, is a violently insane madwoman whom he keeps confined in the attic. The servant Grace Poole is her keeper, but Bertha takes advantage of Grace's frequent inebriation to escape from the attic and wreak havoc. Rochester hadn't known that madness ran rampant in Bertha's family when he married her.
The wedding is canceled and Jane is heartbroken. Rochester asks her to move with him to the South of France where they will live as husband and wife, but she cannot bring herself to live with him in sin. So she leaves him, fleeing Thornfield Manor in the middle of the night.
When her money runs out, Jane sleeps outdoors and reluctantly turns to begging. One night, freezing and starving, she goes to a house to beg for help from the clergyman who lives there, St. John Eyre Rivers.
Rivers, a fanatical Calvinist clergyman, turns out to be a cousin of Jane's. While he is charitable, honest, and forgiving, he's also proud, cold, and controlling.
After Jane is nursed back to health, Rivers asks her to marry him and go with him to India, where he plans to do missionary work. Jane refuses to marry him because she knows that they really don't love each other.
Rivers continues to pressure her and she finally agrees to marry him, but then she thinks she hears the voice of Edward Rochester calling her name. The next morning, she decides to go to Thornfield Manor to check on Rochester before she leaves for India with Rivers.
On her way to Thornfield, Jane learns from an innkeeper that Rochester's mad wife Bertha set the whole manor on fire, then committed suicide. Rochester saved his servants' lives, but in doing so, he lost a hand and was blinded.
When Jane is reunited with him, he fears that she won't want a blind cripple. She fears that he won't want to marry again. But after they reveal their feelings to each other, Rochester proposes. Jane accepts. After she gives birth to their first child, Rochester regains sight in one eye and is able to see his son.
Jane Eyre is rightfully considered a masterpiece of 19th century English literature. Still popular today, the novel has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, and television.
Quote Of The Day
"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it." - Charlotte Bronte
Today's video features a complete reading of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, Jane Eyre. Enjoy!