This Day In Literary History
On June 22nd, 1964, the famous American writer Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Brown's father was a teacher, and he grew up on the campus of Philips Exeter Academy, where his father taught.
Brown was an avid reader, but didn't care for most modern fiction, preferring to read the classics or nonfiction. After graduating college, Brown went to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make it as a singer and songwriter.
In Los Angeles, Brown joined the National Academy of Songwriters and met Blythe Newlon, the Academy's Director of Artist Development. They fell in love. Later, when they moved back to New Hampshire, they married.
Brown worked as a teacher while he pursued his singing career. He released his first album, Dan Brown, in 1993. It was followed by Angels & Demons in 1994. He would later use that title as the title for his second novel.
His musical career floundering, Dan decided to try his hand at becoming a novelist after reading Sidney Sheldon's suspense thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy while on vacation in Tahiti. He thought he could write a better novel.
He began work on his first novel and co-wrote a humor book with his wife - 187 Men To Avoid: A Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman - under the pseudonym Danielle Brown.
Dan Brown's first novel, a techno thriller called Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. With Digital Fortress, Brown began exploring his fascination with cryptography.
In the novel, NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographer Susan Fletcher is called upon to stop Digital Fortress - encryption code software that the NSA's code-breaking supercomputer TRANSLTR is incapable of cracking.
If Digital Fortress spreads through the Internet, it could cripple the NSA. The novel addresses civil rights issues in the Internet age, such as government agencies hacking into citizens' private data (i.e. messages in e-mail accounts) and reading it.
In Dan Brown's second novel, Angels & Demons (2000), he introduced his most popular character, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon, who is called upon to help in the investigation of a bizarre murder.
A respected nuclear physicist has been found murdered, with one eye removed and an ambigram of the word Illuminati branded on his chest. Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati - a secret brotherhood of scientists founded during the Renaissance dedicated to advancing science and challenging the authority of the Church.
At the time of the murder, the Pope has died and a papal enclave has convened at the Vatican to elect the new pontiff. The Preferiti - the cardinals who are candidates to become the new Pope - turn up missing. They are being murdered, one by one, in the same way as the nuclear physicist.
Langdon discovers that the fabled Illuminati still exists and is planning to blow up Vatican City with an antimatter bomb in retribution for the massacre of their predecessors, which was carried out by the Church centuries ago.
Angels & Demons was a bestseller - a huge critical and commercial success for Dan Brown. He followed it with the sci-fi suspense thriller Deception Point (2001).
It told the story of Rachel Sexton, an NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) intelligence analyst and part of a team of experts whose mission is to authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Arctic's Milne Ice Shelf.
The findings are fossils of insects contained within a meteor, which NASA claims may constitute proof of extraterrestrial life. What the team doesn't know is that their activities are being secretly monitored by a Delta Force unit.
Rachel suspects that the meteor may be a fraud. But who would want to discredit NASA? Could it be her own father, ruthless conservative Senator Sedgewick Sexton, a presidential candidate running on a platform of reducing government spending?
He wants to scrap NASA and turn space exploration over to the private sector. His opponent, the incumbent President, is a huge supporter of NASA. Is the Delta Force unit in on the hoax or have they been ordered to assassinate the team of experts to hide the truth?
In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code - a prequel to Angels & Demons - that proved to be a runaway bestseller, selling over sixty million copies and causing a huge controversy.
In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to assist in the investigation of another bizarre and brutal murder - one that took place in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Jacques Sauniere, the museum's curator, was found murdered, with a strange cipher near his body. Teaming up with Sauniere's granddaughter Sophie, Langdon follows a bizarre trail of anagrams, ciphers, number puzzles, and other brainteasers as he tries to solve the murder.
The trail eventually leads the pair to mysterious clues hidden within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, a cryptex invented by Da Vinci, and the Holy Grail - proof that the foundation of Christianity was a fairy tale conceived by the Church.
Jesus Christ actually escaped crucifixion and fled to France with his pregnant wife Mary Magadelene, where she bore the child - a daughter whose descendants became royalty.
Mary Magdalene was the real rock upon which Jesus built his church, not Peter, which infuriated the fiercely misogynistic disciple. Years later, the Church tried to exterminate all of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's descendants to hide the truth.
But some of them survived, and a secret brotherhood (whose membership included Leonardo Da Vinci) pledged to protect them and the proof of the "con of Man."
Blending thrilling, intriguing suspense fiction with historical facts and theories, The Da Vinci Code proved to be hugely popular and hugely controversial.
The Vatican denounced the novel as anti-Catholic. The Christian Right called it blasphemous, and both factions published numerous nonfiction books dedicated to debunking the historical facts and theories Brown based his novel on.
After a movie adaptation was released in 2006 (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon) and became hugely successful itself, some disgruntled writers filed suit to get a piece of the pie.
First, Lewis Purdue sued Dan Brown, claiming that Brown plagiarized his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter Of God (2000).
Then, writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh filed suit, claiming that Brown based The Da Vinci Code on theories put forth in their famous 1982 nonfiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown won both lawsuits, as the plagiarism claims were ruled to be baseless.
A feature film version of Angels & Demons was released in May of 2009. A few months later, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's third novel in his Robert Langdon series, was released.
In it, Langdon agrees to give a lecture in Washington, DC, at the request of his mentor, Peter Solomon. When he arrives in Washington, Langdon finds Solomon's severed hand mounted on a wooden base, the fingers pointing up at a fresco on the ceiling that depicts George Washington dressed in celestial robes and ascending to heaven.
As he investigates his friend's murder, Langdon uncovers clues that lead him toward a fabled source of wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries - and toward Mal'akh, a tattooed, musclebound madman who believes that the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries will enable him to rule the world...
Dan Brown's fourth Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, was published in 2013. It opens with Langdon waking up in a hospital emergency room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of how he got there or what happened in the past few days.
Sienna Brooks, the doctor caring for him, tells him that he stumbled into the hospital after a bullet grazed his head. The female assassin who tried to kill him then invades the hospital to finish the job. Robert and Sienna are forced to flee.
When Robert finds a curious object - a medieval bone cylinder containing a hi-tech projector that displays a modified version of Botticelli's Map of Hell and the words "The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death" - he plunges into yet another deadly mystery.
As he and Sienna are hunted by everyone from assassins to soldiers, Robert Langdon follows a trail of clues that lead him to a brilliant and demented billionaire and Dante fanatic who's come up with a solution to the world's overpopulation problem - sterilizing one-third of humanity with a virus...
Dan Brown's most recent novel, Origin, the fifth in the Robert Langdon series, was published in October of 2017. In it, Langdon is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Edmond Kirsch, a billionaire computer scientist and futurist.
Kirsch, also known for his ferocious contempt for organized religion, meets with three members of the Parliament of the World's Religions to inform them of a revolutionary scientific discovery he made, which he'll reveal publicly in a month.
During his public presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Kirsch claims that his discovery will end religion forever and usher in a new age of science and enlightenment, but before he can reveal it, he's shot and killed by a member of the controversial Palmarian Catholic Church.
More people are assassinated, and Robert Langdon, (Kirsch's former teacher) along with museum curator Ambra Vidal, investigates the murders. Following a series of clever clues left behind by Kirsch, they learn what he discovered - proof of the real origin of mankind...
Quote Of The Day
"Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees, boil vats and vats of raw sap, evaporate the water, and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. " - Dan Brown
Today's video features Dan Brown discussing his most recent novel, Origin. Enjoy!
Friday, June 22, 2018
Thursday, June 21, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On June 21st, 1956, the legendary American playwright Arthur Miller defied the United States Congress, refusing to inform on his friends and colleagues whom a Congressional committee had suspected of being communists.
At the time of his Congressional hearing, Miller, born in Harlem, New York, in 1915, had established himself as one of America's greatest playwrights. An outspoken liberal who openly supported leftist causes, he was long suspected of being a communist.
No evidence exists to prove that he belonged to the American Communist Party; some biographers have speculated that he may have joined under a pseudonym, but that's pure conjecture.
A Red Scare had swept through the American landscape of the 1950s - the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union - infesting the country with fear and paranoia.
The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), founded by Congress in 1938, was tasked with weeding out suspected communists and communist sympathizers. The committee became notorious for its dubious methods.
To extract confessions from suspected communists, the HUAC, under the direction of Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican senator from Wisconsin, would resort to coercion, deception, and false testimony by so-called witnesses.
Another tool in the committee's arsenal was guilt by association - if a defendant's relatives and / or friends were communists, then the defendant must be as well, or he wouldn't associate with them.
Worst of all, when no evidence existed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the HUAC's mostly false and slanderous accusations of communism, the committee manufactured it, creating doctored photographs, film footage, tape recordings, and documents.
In those days, being convicted of communism meant not only jail time, but also the blacklisting of the defendant from his trade, the loss of his civil rights, and public ostracism.
During the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, actors, directors, writers, and producers convicted of being communists or communist sympathizers could not find work after their release from jail.
The Hollywood studios refused to hire convicted or even suspected communists or communist sympathizers, for fear of governmental interference in the movie business.
Blacklisted actors and directors would have to work in small independent productions or make movies in foreign countries. Blacklisted writers would have to use fronts - impostors pretending to be the authors of their scripts - in order to sell their work in Hollywood.
Three years before he found himself brought before the HUAC, Arthur Miller had written a play inspired by what happened to his close friend, legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan.
Brought before the HUAC and accused of being a communist, Kazan, wishing to avoid the Hollywood Blacklist, gladly informed on several of his friends, including legendary playwright Lillian Hellman and actor John Garfield.
Kazan avoided the Blacklist, but his reputation would take a huge hit. He was rightfully considered a loathsome rat willing to ruin the lives of others for the sake of his own self interest. Miller didn't speak to him for ten years.
In his classic play The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller presented a scathing satirical indictment of the HUAC, likening its hearings to the infamous 17th century Salem witch hunts.
In those trials, innocent lives were also destroyed by false accusations, (of witchcraft) national hysteria, and pompous, self-righteous judges more interested in obtaining confessions than in uncovering the truth and delivering justice.
The Crucible became a huge hit on the Broadway stage and would go on to become Miller's most frequently produced play. It infuriated the HUAC to no end.
So, in 1956, when Miller applied for a renewal of his passport, the HUAC took advantage of the routine request to haul him in for questioning, as it was against the law to issue passports to known or suspected communists.
Having nothing to hide, Miller told the committee that he would gladly provide testimony about his own political beliefs and activities, so long as he was not asked to inform on others.
The chairman agreed and promised that he would not have to inform on others. Miller kept his end of the deal and gave the HUAC a detailed account of his own political activities.
The committee then reneged on the chairman's promise and ordered Miller to give them the names of all of his friends and colleagues who shared in his political beliefs and activities.
He refused to comply, so he was charged with contempt of Congress. His case later came to trial, and in May of 1957, a judge found him guilty.
Miller was fined $500, sentenced to thirty days in jail, blacklisted, and of course, denied a renewal of his passport. Fortunately, his conviction was overturned on appeal.
The Court of Appeals found that he had been deliberately deceived by the HUAC chairman and tricked into incriminating himself, which was a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.
Arthur Miller's experience with the House Unamerican Activities Committee would haunt him for the rest of his life. Which is why, in the 1970s, he took a personal interest in the famous Barbara Gibbons murder case.
The victim's son, Peter Reilly, was convicted of her murder based on what most people believed was a coerced confession. There was little, if any, actual evidence to prove his guilt.
Miller, believing that Reilly was innocent and had been railroaded by the Connecticut State Police and the state Attorney General who had prosecuted the case, used his celebrity to draw attention to Reilly's plight.
The case reminded Miller of his own railroading by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which would become the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and finally be abolished in 1975.
In December of 1954, by a vote of 67-22, Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate for his unethical and illegal conduct. Though he would continue to perform his general duties as a Senator for the next two and a half years, his political career was over.
Shunned by almost all his fellow Senators, whenever McCarthy gave a speech on the Senate floor, the other Senators would immediately leave the floor rather than listen to him speak.
A broken man haunted by his fate, McCarthy became a pale shadow of his domineering former self. He drank himself to death, dying in May of 1957 at the age of 48.
Quote Of The Day
"I know that my works are a credit to this nation and I dare say they will endure longer than the McCarran Act." - Arthur Miller
Today's video features a three-part interview with Arthur Miller, where he discusses his classic play The Crucible and his ordeal at the hands of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Enjoy!
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On June 20th, 1905, the legendary American playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was born to a wealthy Jewish family, and spent her childhood partly in New Orleans and partly in New York City.
Lillian studied at New York University and Columbia University. Then, at the age of 24, she traveled around Europe, settling in Bonn, Germany, where she continued her education.
It was 1925, and Lillian became interested in a student group dedicated to what she thought was the cause of socialism. Instead, it turned out to be a national socialist (Nazi) group that rejected her because she was Jewish.
Shaken, Lillian returned to the United States. There, she found work as a reader for the MGM film studio in Hollywood. It was her job to read novels, short stories, plays, and newspaper articles to determine if they would make good movies.
While in Hollywood, she met the legendary mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and fell in love with him. After divorcing her husband, she began a love affair with Hammett that would last nearly thirty years, until his death in 1961.
Hammett would base his famous characters Nick and Nora Charles, from his classic novel The Thin Man, on himself and Lillian Hellman.
In 1932, Lillian returned to New York City, where she wrote her classic, controversial play The Children's Hour. It premiered on Broadway in November of 1934 and ran for nearly 700 performances.
The Children's Hour was inspired by a real incident that took place in Scotland, circa 1810. The play is set at an all-girls boarding school run by close friends Karen Wright and Martha Dobie.
Mary Tilford, a student at the school, is spoiled, petulant, vindictive, and a pathological liar. Her cousin, Joe Cardin, is a handsome young doctor who plans to marry Karen.
Seething with jealousy, Mary falsely accuses Karen and Martha of having a lesbian affair and blackmails another student, Rosalie Wells, into corroborating her false testimony.
Karen and Martha sue for libel, but Mary's lies are believed. The women lose the case and their school. Joe still believes in Karen and won't leave her, even though his life has been ruined by the scandal.
Karen decides they must break up for Joe's sake, but he persuades her to think things over. When Martha learns that Karen wanted Joe to leave her, she becomes consumed with guilt.
Martha is forced to come to terms with the fact that she really is a lesbian. When she finally admits her feelings to Karen, Karen coldly dismisses her, telling her that they never really felt that way about each other.
Martha tries to declare her love for Karen, but Karen won't have it and tells Martha she's going to bed. While sitting in her bedroom, Karen hears a gunshot. To her horror, she discovers that Martha has killed herself.
The Children's Hour became a huge hit and was considered shocking by early 1930s audiences. Even though it was illegal to mention homosexuality on the Broadway stage at that time, the play was not closed by censors - because it was so good.
Lillian's success with The Children's Hour earned her a screenwriting job in Hollywood. When MGM picked up the film rights to her play, Lillian wrote the screenplay herself. Unfortunately, she was forced to change the story considerably.
The stifling Hollywood Production Code was in effect, and it forbade any mention of homosexuality on screen. Thus, in These Three (1936), Martha is secretly in love with Joe and falsely accused of having an illicit affair with him. Despite the change, the film received good reviews from critics.
As a screenwriter, Lillian was also known for her adaptation of Sidney Kingsley's hit Broadway play, Dead End. The bleak film, released in 1937, was the first to feature the Dead End Kids.
The Dead End Kids were a street gang whose members were poor youths from the slums of New York City's East Side desperate to escape their lives of poverty and despair. Some have no problem turning to crime, while others seek a better way out.
Another of Lillian's accomplishments as a screenwriter was her work for the Screen Writers Guild, a then fledgling union for screenwriters. Lillian fought hard to get her fellow screenwriters onscreen credit for their work and decent pay.
In 1936, with the Spanish Civil War capturing the attention of the world, Lillian sought to warn people of the growing threat of fascism. She joined other literary figures such as Dorothy Parker and Archibald MacLeish to fund an anti-fascist documentary, The Spanish Earth (1937).
The film famously miscredited Orson Welles as its narrator. It was in fact narrated by the legendary writer Ernest Hemingway.
Lillian went to Spain to offer her support to the International Brigades - the foreign soldiers from around the world who had volunteered to fight General Franco's fascist army. She did a broadcast to the United States on Radio Madrid while bombs were falling on the city.
Back in the United States, Lillian joined the Communist Party, but left after a couple years. She found her chapter of the party to be boring and ineffective. "[I] saw and heard nothing more than people sitting around a room talking of current events or discussing the books they had read."
After World War II broke out in 1939, Lillian, who was enjoying the success of her play The Little Foxes, grew frustrated by her country's isolationism. So, she wrote another play hoping to awaken Americans to the threat of Hitler.
Watch on the Rhine opened on Broadway in April 1941 - just eight months before Pearl Harbor. The play, which told of a German Resistance operative with an American wife who returns to Germany to rescue his comrades from the Gestapo, won Lillian the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
In 1943 and 44, Lillian applied for a passport so she could visit England but was denied twice because she was deemed an active communist, though she'd left the party a few years before and never rejoined. Her politics would come back to haunt her in the next decade.
Years later, in 1952, while enjoying the success of her classic play The Autumn Garden, Lillian found herself subpoenaed by HUAC (the House Unamerican Activities Committee) for interrogation.
Lillian refused to apologize for her past membership in the Communist Party or denounce the party. She was willing to testify about her own political beliefs and associations, but adamantly refused to name names and denounce others.
The HUAC desperately wanted Lillian to denounce her former lover John F. Melby, who worked for the State Department, as a communist, but she refused. She wasn't charged with a crime by the HUAC after concluding her testimony, but the FBI increased its surveillance of her and began monitoring her mail.
The 1960s found Lillian enjoying the success of her last great play, Toys in the Attic (1960). Another film adaptation of The Children's Hour was released in 1961.
Although Karen and Martha are falsely accused of having a lesbian affair in this version, the Production Code, albeit loosened somewhat, was still in effect, so the lesbian aspect of the story is incredibly watered down.
Despite a stellar cast that featured Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner in his film debut, The Children's Hour was mostly panned by critics and a flop at the box office.
Lillian had nothing to do with the production. She had just lost her longtime lover, Dashiell Hammett. She would later edit a collection of his short stories, The Big Knockover. The book featured an introduction by Lillian.
In the 1970s, Lillian wrote and published a series of memoirs. Part of the second book, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973), would be adapted as the 1977 Oscar winning feature film, Julia.
In 1979, Lillian's longtime enemy, writer and critic Mary McCarthy, was being interviewed on PBS' The Dick Cavett Show when she accused Lillian of fabricating her Pentimento memoir, saying "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"
Lillian Hellman filed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against McCarthy, Dick Cavett, and PBS. The suit hadn't been settled when Lillian died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 79. Her executors decided to drop it.
Quote Of The Day
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped." - Lillian Hellman
Today's video features a 1944 radio play adaptation of Lillian Hellman's classic play, Watch on the Rhine - starring Bette Davis! Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On June 19th, 1947, the legendary Indian writer Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India. His father was a lawyer turned businessman, his mother a teacher.
Rushdie graduated King's College, Cambridge with a degree in history. He worked in advertising - for two different agencies - before trying his hand at writing.
In 1975, Rushdie published his first book, Grimus, a science fiction / fantasy novel that told the story of Flapping Eagle, a young Indian who receives the gift of immortality after drinking a magic potion.
He then wanders the Earth for 777 years, searching for his sister, who is also immortal. He ends up falling through a hole in the Mediterranean Sea, where he crosses over into a parallel dimension.
There, he arrives at a place called Calf Island, where fellow immortals, tired of the mortal world, live in their own community and sacrifice their freedom to maintain their immortality.
Grimus was pretty much ignored by critics and readers alike, but Rushdie's second novel, Midnight's Children, published in 1981, was a huge success and made him world famous.
The novel won him the Booker Prize that year, as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Midnight's Children introduced the magic realism style of writing that Rushdie's future works would become famous for.
The main character, Saleem Sinai, is born on August 15th, 1947, at the exact time that India becomes independent. He later discovers that all children born on that date, between 12 and 1AM, are gifted with telepathic powers.
Saleem embarks on a quest to gather together all his fellow telepaths and discover the meaning of their gifts. He then becomes swept up in the famous state of emergency declared by Indira Ghandhi in June of 1975, which would last for almost two years.
During this time, Ghandi suspended elections and civil liberties and granted herself the power to rule by decree. It was one of the most controversial periods in Indian history, where many innocent people were arrested and held without charge.
These political prisoners were subjected to abuse and torture. The government used public and private media outlets for the purposes of propaganda. A notorious family planning initiative forced thousands of men to have vasectomies against their will.
During this period, Saleem Sinai becomes a political prisoner for a time, and Salman Rushdie uses Saleem's ordeal to level scathing criticisms of Indira Ghandhi.
Rushdie's next novel, Shame (1983), dealt with political turmoil in Pakistan. It was followed by The Jaguar Smile (1987). The non-fiction book chronicled Rushdie's experiences with the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the seventh anniversary of their rise to power.
The Sandinistas were supported by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, but his successor, Ronald Reagan, secretly and illegally financed right-wing Contra guerillas in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government.
Nicaragua later won a historic case against the United States at the International Court of Justice, where the U.S. was ordered to pay twelve billion dollars in reparations for undermining Nicaragua's sovereignty.
In 1988, Rushdie published his most famous and most controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. In the dazzling, surreal narrative, two actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are trapped on a hijacked plane during a flight from India to Britain.
The plane explodes over the English Channel, but the two actors are magically saved. Farishta is transformed into the Archangel Gabriel and Chamcha is changed into a devil, both men possibly suffering from multiple personality disorder as the result of their ordeal.
The novel features numerous dream vision narratives. One of these tells the story of how the prophet Muhammad - the founder of Islam - had originally included in the Quran verses of prayer to three Persian pagan goddesses - Allat, Uzza, and Manat.
Muhammad later renounces these verses as the work of Satan and removes them, hence the title The Satanic Verses. Later, one of Muhammad's companions doubts the prophet's divinity and claims to have altered parts of the Quran as Muhammad dictated them to him.
Another narrative tells the story of a fanatical imam who returns from exile to incite the people of his country to revolt, without any regard to their safety.
These narratives provoked great outrage in the Muslim world. The Satanic Verses was banned in most Muslim countries. In the West, Muslim extremists firebombed bookshops selling the novel and held rallies where copies of the book were burned.
Some people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked and seriously injured or killed; in February 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - the spiritual leader of Iran - issued a fatwa condemning The Satanic Verses as "blasphemous against Islam."
The fatwa also called for Salman Rushdie's execution. A bounty was placed on the writer's head, and he was forced to live in hiding for years, under police protection. There were two failed attempts on Rushdie's life, one of them carried out by Hezbollah.
The UK government broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in protest of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. In 1998, nearly ten years later, Iran, in an attempt to restore diplomatic relations, made a public statement claiming that it would neither support nor hinder assassination attempts on Rushdie.
In 2005, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the fatwa and the death sentence of Salman Rushdie. Two years later, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Rushdie for services in literature, angering Muslims around the world. In Pakistan and Malaysia, mass demonstrations took place in protest of Rushdie's knighthood.
In the 20+ years that have passed, Salman Rushdie has written many more great novels. His latest, The Enchantress Of Florence, was published in 2008.
In 2006, in response to the outrage of Muslim extremists over the publication of a series of editorial cartoons satirizing Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, Rushdie signed the manifesto Together Facing The New Totalitarianism, which was published in the French leftist newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
Death threats continue to be made against Rushdie. In January of 2012, he was scheduled to appear at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, but had to cancel that appearance and the rest of his Indian tour.
Jaipur police warned Rushdie that hired assassins were planning to kill him either there or at another one of his appearances in India. He later investigated the police reports and concluded that the Jaipur police had deliberately lied to him.
Never one to back down, Salman Rushdie often appears as a discussion panelist on the HBO TV series Real Time With Bill Maher. He is without a doubt one of the world's great writers, as well as a crusader for freedom of expression.
His most recent novel, The Golden House, was published in September of 2017.
Quote Of The Day
"The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas — uncertainty, progress, change — into crimes." - Salman Rushdie
Today's video features Salman Rushdie discussing his most recent novel, The Golden House, and other topics on the UK's Channel 4 News. Enjoy!
Monday, June 18, 2018
My review of ALL THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY SING: Women Write the World – Essays On Equality, Justice, and Freedom, Edited by Deborah Santana, is now up on the Internet Review of Books. Yipee!
Friday, June 15, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On June 15th, 1763, the legendary Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa was born. He was born Nobuyuki Yataro in Kashiwabara, Japan.
When Issa was three years old, his mother died, and he was cared for by his doting grandmother. He began studying haiku with Shinpo, a local poet.
Five years later, Issa's father remarried. His stepmother turned out to be a hard and cruel woman, and after she gave birth to a son of her own, she mistreated Issa terribly. He complained to his father that she beat him a hundred times a day.
When he was fourteen, Issa's beloved grandmother died. Lonely, moody, withdrawn, and estranged from his family, Issa preferred to stay away from them, wandering the fields and forests and communing with nature, which further infuriated his cruel stepmother.
Sensing Issa's unhappiness, his father sent him to Edo, (now known as Tokyo) where he lived in poverty, did odd jobs, and continued his haiku studies, this time at the Kastushika Haiku School with poets Mizoguchi Sogan and Norokuan Chikua.
After Chikua's death, Issa was elected to succeed him as a teacher at the school. He later resigned and took to wandering again, until his father's death in 1801.
In his father's will, Issa was named as sole beneficiary, but his stepmother and half-brother conspired to steal his inheritance from him. After thirteen years of legal wrangling, Issa finally received his rightful inheritance.
In the meantime, he had traveled around Japan, visiting and living in many places, including Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Matsuyama, and other cities. He worked hard to support himself and made a name for himself as a haiku poet.
Taking the pseudonym Kobayashi Issa, he wrote prolifically, both poetry and prose. At the age of 51, after finally receiving his inheritance, Issa returned to his hometown, Kashiwabari, and married a young village woman named Kiku.
Sadly, the four children Issa's wife bore him died in infancy, and his wife died in childbirth. Later, his house burned down. A devout Buddhist for many years, Issa's spirit could not be crushed by tragedy.
He married again, and his second wife bore him his only surviving child, a baby girl. She was born in 1827 - shortly after Issa's death at the age of 65.
Throughout his prolific literary career, Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku poems and over 250 prose works, including memoirs, his most famous being The Year Of My Life, published in 1820.
As a haiku poet, Issa wrote the simple, unadorned poetry of the common man, using local dialects and the words of daily conversation.
And yet, in their simplicity, Issa's poems were extremely profound. Sometimes they were humorous, sometimes sarcastic, and sometimes quiet and thoughtful.
Issa's haiku are best known for their remarkably poignant and compassionate insight. And of course, they are steeped deep in Buddhism - but without the slightest hint of religious dogmatism.
After the death of one of his children, Issa wrote the following poem. It's a perfect example of his simplicity, his profoundness, and his compassion:
This world of dew
is a world of dew -
and yet, and yet...
Here are some other memorable Issa haiku:
Flitting butterfly -
thus is Buddha's law
in this world
A light snow
over fields, over woods...
The beggar child prays
with trembling voice...
for a doll
dewdrops are tumbling
Issa's haiku inspired me to become a poet when I was eight years old. I came across Issa: Haiku Poet - a short biography and a selection of his poems - in my school reading textbook.
Moved and impressed by how much he packed into his little three-line, seventeen-syllable poems, I immediately started writing my own haiku. Issa is rightfully considered one of Japan's greatest haiku masters.
Quote Of The Day
"Where there are humans, you'll find flies and Buddhas." - Kobayashi Issa
Today's video features a 90-minute lecture on haiku. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 14, 2018
This Day In Literary History
On June 14th, 1811, the legendary American writer and activist Harriet Beecher Stowe was born. She was born Harriet Elisabeth Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother died when she was five years old.
Harriet and her nine siblings were left to be raised by their father, Hyman Beecher, a Presbyterian minister known for his evangelical fervor. He co-founded the American Temperance Society and preached about the evils of drink.
Beecher was an abolitionist - and a hypocrite. He preached against slavery from the pulpit, but he was also a racist. He was opposed to the forced emancipation of slaves by the federal government, believing that the institution of slavery would eventually die out.
When that time came, he believed that blacks should be repatriated to their African homeland rather than be allowed to live freely in America and integrate with whites. As president of the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, he refused to admit black students. Fifty white students left the seminary in protest.
Reverend Beecher's virulent intolerance was not limited to blacks. In 1834, he delivered a fiery anti-Catholic sermon in Boston that was believed to have inspired the burning of a nearby convent.
He also authored a notoriously racist Nativist tract, A Plea for the West, where he urged the federal government to strictly limit immigration or restrict it entirely to protect white Christian (Protestant) Americans from racial and religious undesirables. Sound familiar?
Harriet Beecher determined to become a writer at the age of seven, when she won a school essay contest. After completing her primary education, she enrolled in a progressive school for girls run by her older sister Catharine.
As an educator, Catharine was known for her feminist educational philosophy and her early advocacy for adopting the German kindergarten class for little children into the American public education system.
When she was 21, Harriet moved to Cincinnati to attend her father's seminary. There, she became a member of a writer's group called the Semi-Colon Club, whose membership also included her two sisters.
Another member was one of the seminary's professors, Calvin Stowe, with whom she fell in love. They were married, and she bore him seven children, including twin daughters. Unlike Harriet's father, Calvin was a ferocious abolitionist who called for immediate emancipation - freedom for all slaves.
She shared her husband's convictions, and their home soon became part of the Underground Railroad - the famous secret network of safe houses for fugitive slaves. The escaped slaves would move from house to house as they traveled en route to free states, where slavery was illegal.
In 1850, Congress, bowing to pressure from the South, tried to tighten the screws on the Underground Railroad by passing the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal for people - even those living in free states - to assist fugitive slaves.
The law also compelled local law enforcement to arrest fugitive slaves and provide assistance to the vicious bounty hunters privately hired to track runaway slaves. The free states reacted with outrage to the Fugitive Slave Act, which resulted in gross abuses.
Many free states openly defied it. Several of them passed laws granting personal liberties, including the right to a fair trial, to fugitive slaves. Wisconsin's state Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.
The law failed to disrupt the Underground Railroad; by the time it was passed, the network had become far more efficient. After the Act was passed, the Underground Railroad grew as the unjust law inspired scores of moderate abolitionists to become passionate activists.
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to do more than just dedicate her home to the Underground Railroad. She wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the abolitionist magazine The National Era, to tell him that she planned to write a story that would expose average white Americans to the true horrors of slavery.
A year later, the first installment of her novel was published in a serialized format in The National Era. Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) told the unforgettable story of a kind and noble slave whose faith cannot be broken by the evils of slavery.
The novel opens on a Kentucky farm owned by Arthur and Emily Shelby, who like to think that they're kind to their slaves. But, when he needs money, Arthur has no problem selling two of his slaves without regard to where they might end up.
The slaves in question are Uncle Tom, a wise and compassionate middle-aged man, and Harry, the son of Emily's maid, Eliza. The Shelbys' son George, who looked upon Uncle Tom as a friend and mentor, hates to see him go.
Uncle Tom and Harry are sold to a slave trader and shipped by riverboat down the Mississippi. While on the boat, Uncle Tom strikes up a friendship with Eva, a little white girl. When she falls into the river, he saves her life.
Eva's grateful father, Augustine St. Clare, buys Uncle Tom from the slave trader and takes him to his home in New Orleans. There, the friendship between Uncle Tom and Eva deepens. Sadly, Eva becomes severely ill and dies - but not before sharing her vision of heaven.
Moved by how much Uncle Tom meant to Eva, her father vows to help him become a free man. His racist cousin Ophelia is moved to reject her prejudice against blacks. Unfortunately, Augustine is killed at a tavern, and his wife reneges on his promise to help Uncle Tom. She sells him at auction to Simon Legree, who owns a plantation in Louisiana.
Simon Legree is an evil, perverse, sadistic racist who tortures his male slaves and sexually abuses the women. When Uncle Tom refuses to follow Legree's order to whip another slave, Legree beats him savagely.
The beating fails to break Uncle Tom's spirit or his faith in God. The sight of Uncle Tom reading his bible and comforting other slaves makes Legree's blood boil. Legree determines to break Uncle Tom and nearly succeeds, as the daily horrors of life on the plantation erode the slave's faith and hope.
Just when it appears that Uncle Tom will succumb to hopelessness, he has two visions - one of little Eva and one of Jesus himself. Moved by these visions, Uncle Tom vows to remain a faithful Christian until the day he dies.
He encourages two fellow slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, to run away. Later, when Simon Legree demands that Uncle Tom reveal their whereabouts, he refuses. A furious Legree orders his overseers to beat Uncle Tom to death.
As he lay dying, Uncle Tom forgives the overseers, which inspires them to repent. George Shelby arrives with money to buy Uncle Tom's freedom. Sadly, he is too late. Uncle Tom dies before he can become a free man.
George returns to his parents' farm in Kentucky and frees their slaves, telling them to always remember Uncle Tom's sacrifice and unshakable faith.
That's actually just a bare outline of this classic epic novel. The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin caused a national uproar. In the North, it was regarded as the bible of abolitionism.
The novel inspired many closet abolitionists to come out and join in the fight against slavery. In the South, the book was regarded as an outrage. It was called utterly false and slanderous - a criminal defamation of the South.
Many Southern writers who supported slavery took to writing literature dedicated to debunking Harriet Beecher Stowe's expose of the horrors of slavery. Their writings were called "Anti-Tom" literature.
This pro-Southern propaganda depicted white Southerners as benevolent supervisors of blacks, who were a helpless, child-like people unable to live without the direct supervision of their white masters.
To defend herself against the South's accusations of slander and defamation, Stowe wrote and published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), a nonfiction book documenting the horrors of slavery that she both witnessed herself and researched.
The book included surprisingly graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse of female slaves, who, in addition to being molested or raped by their white masters and overseers, were also prostituted and forced to "mate" with male slaves to produce offspring that would fetch a good price on the auction block.
When Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared in book form in 1852, it was published in an initial press run of 5,000 copies. That year, it sold 300,000 copies. Its London edition sold 200,000 copies throughout the United Kingdom. It became a hit throughout Europe as well.
Ironically, by the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, the book was out of print in the United States, as Stowe's original publisher had gone out of business. She found another publisher, and when the book was republished in 1862, the demand for copies became huge.
That same year, Harriet Beecher Stowe was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said to her, "so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."
The novel would be adapted many times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
In the 20th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin courted a new controversy that continues to this day. African-American activists have accused the abolitionist novel of being racist itself, with its racial stereotypes and epithets.
This, like the accusations of racism leveled against Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) comes from a failure to place the novel in its proper historical perspective and consider its overall message.
Although Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote many books, both fiction and nonfiction, none of her other works came close to eclipsing the power and fame of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
During the last 23 years of her life, she lived in Hartford, Connecticut - next door to her friend and fellow writer, Mark Twain. She died in 1896 at the age of 85.
There are two historical landmarks dedicated to her; the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine, where she wrote her classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Quote Of The Day
"The power of fictitious writing, for good as well as for evil, is a thing which ought most seriously to be reflected upon." - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Today's video features a 2-part lecture on the history and legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Professor Cyrus Patell of New York University. Enjoy!