This Day In Literary History
On August 23rd, 1305, the legendary Scottish knight Sir William Wallace was executed by order of England's King Edward I. This important historical event would inspire the writing of two classic poems and the making of an acclaimed feature film.
The story of Sir William Wallace's execution actually begins nearly twenty years earlier in 1286, with the death of Scotland's monarch, King Alexander III. For years, he had ruled over a peaceful and prosperous Scotland.
Then, in 1286, Alexander was killed when his horse threw him off. His successor to the throne was his little granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway. Sadly, the young girl died on her voyage home, leaving Scotland without a ruler.
The Scottish lords set up an interim government of Guardians to rule until a new king could be crowned. This new government was sharply divided; some of the Guardians wanted independence from England, while others remained loyal to the British crown.
The conflict threatened to plunge Scotland into civil war. England's King Edward I intervened to prevent that, acting as an arbiter to settle disputes between the feuding Guardians.
As the search for a new King of Scotland continued, King Edward demanded that all contenders to the throne recognize him as Lord Paramount of Scotland. This left a bad taste in many Scots' mouths.
In 1292, a great feudal court in Berwick-upon-Tweed chose John Balliol to be the new King of Scotland, as he was a descendant of the former king, David I.
Meanwhile, King Edward continued to antagonize the Guardians of Scotland by continually reversing the rulings of their court.
The new King John Balliol was then summoned to appear at the English court as a common plaintiff, which most Scots considered the height of disrespect. Balliol was a weakling whose own people referred to him as Toom Tabard - Empty Coat.
He pledged his loyalty to King Edward, sparking off a revolution. King Edward had his armies storm Berwick-upon-Tweed. They sacked the town, leaving a path of wanton destruction in their wake.
In July of 1296, three months after the Scots were defeated in the Battle of Dunbar, temporarily squelching the flames of revolution, King John Balliol was forced to abdicate, even though he had pledged loyalty to the British crown.
Nearly a year later, Sir William Wallace, a Scottish nobleman, assassinated William De Heselrig, England's brutal High Sheriff of Lanark.
Legend has it that De Heselrig sought to arrest Wallace at his home, but finding only Wallace's wife there, he arrested her and had her put to death.
After killing De Heselrig, Sir William Wallace teamed up with fellow Scottish noble William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas. Together, they led many armed insurrections against British soldiers on Scottish soil.
In September of 1297, along with fellow revolutionary Andrew Moray, Wallace led their army to victory in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where they routed a much larger British force.
After the battle, Wallace and Moray were made Guardians of Scotland. Two months later, Wallace led a successful large scale raid on Northern England. For this, he was knighted.
On April 1st, 1298, a horde of English soldiers invaded Edinburgh, looting and pillaging the land as they searched for William Wallace and his men. Wallace found them and attacked, and the Battle of Falkirk was on.
Unfortunately for Wallace, this battle proved to be a disaster - an embarrassing, catastrophic defeat that cost the Scots a lot of men.
Wallace escaped from the battlefield, but his reputation as a military leader would be irreparably tarnished. By September, he resigned as a Guardian of Scotland.
William Wallace continued to do his part for Scottish independence, mostly in a non-military capacity. He visited France's King Philip IV to ask for assistance in fighting the British.
For several years, Wallace avoided capture by the English, but then in August of 1305, he was caught by John De Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to the British crown.
Wallace was turned over to a regiment of English soldiers near Glasgow, then transported to London, where he would stand trial for treason at Westminster Hall.
Sir William Wallace, defiant to the last, defended his actions by saying, "I could not be a traitor to [King] Edward, for I was never his subject." Nevertheless, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
It was a gruesome execution. After Wallace's conviction, he was taken away, stripped naked, dragged through London by a horse, and hanged to the point of near death. Then, still alive, he was castrated, disemboweled, and beheaded.
Finally, his body was quartered - ripped apart into four pieces. In a final act of humiliation, his severed head was dipped in tar and mounted on a pike atop London Bridge.
Wallace's horrific fate and his earlier heroics made him one of Scotland's greatest folk heroes. The story of his life would inspire two classic poems written by two legendary Scottish poets.
In 1477, the poet Blind Harry, aka Henry the Minstrel, wrote The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace - The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace.
In this classic nine volume epic poem in tribute to the Scottish hero, Blind Harry tells of Wallace's assassination of William De Heselrig in retribution for the alleged murder of his wife:
"And thought'st thou, traitor," fierce the hero cried,
"When by thy murd'ring steel she cruel died;
When thy fell hand her precious blood did spill,
Wallace though absent, would be absent still?"
Furious he spoke, and rising on the foe,
Full on his head discharg'd the pond'rous blow;
Down sinks the felon headlong to the ground,
The guilty soul flew trembling through the wound...
In 1793, Robert Burns, considered Scotland's greatest poet, wrote Scots Wha Hae, (Scots, Who Have) his classic patriotic ode to his country's heroes:
Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!
Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o battle lour, [look menacingly],
See approach proud Edward's power --
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave? --
Let him turn, and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa',
Let him follow me!
By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow! --
Let us do or die!
Burns originally published the poem anonymously, as publicly advocating for Scottish independence was an imprisonable offense at the time.
In 1995, the highly acclaimed feature film Braveheart was released, starring Mel Gibson (who also directed) as Sir William Wallace. The screenplay was based on Blind Harry's classic epic poem, and the movie won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (Gibson).
Quote Of The Day
“Any society which suppresses the heritage of its conquered minorities, prevents their history or denies them their symbols, has sown the seeds of their own destruction..” - Sir William Wallace
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for Braveheart, the classic 1995 feature film about Sir William Wallace. Enjoy!
Friday, August 23, 2019
Thursday, August 22, 2019
This Day In Literary History
On August 22nd, 1893, the legendary American writer Dorothy Parker was born. She was born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey. Her mother, Eliza Marston, was Scottish; her German Jewish father, Jacob Henry Rothschild, was not related to the famous Rothschild banking family.
Dorothy would famously quip, "My God, no, dear! We'd never even heard of those Rothschilds." Born two months premature, she would quip that her birth was the first time she was early for anything.
A month before Dorothy's fifth birthday, her mother died. She hated her father because he was physically abusive, and when he later married a woman named Eleanor Lewis, Dorothy referred to her as "the housekeeper."
As a little girl, Dorothy attended the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic elementary school along with her sister Helen - despite the fact that both girls were the daughters of a Jewish father and Protestant mother.
Dorothy would be expelled from the school for referring to the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion." She later attended a finishing school for young ladies in Morristown, New Jersey.
In 1913, when Dorothy was twenty years old, her father died. She supported herself by playing piano at a dancing school and took up writing poetry in her spare time.
Best known as a poet, Dorothy began her career as a magazine writer in 1914 when Vogue hired her as an editorial assistant after one of her poems appeared in its sister magazine, Vanity Fair.
In 1917, Dorothy married her first husband, Edwin Pond Parker, and she would use her first married name, Dorothy Parker, as her professional name. She divorced Edwin in 1928.
After working at Vogue for two years, Dorothy was transferred to Vanity Fair to work as a staff writer. By 1918, she had become the magazine's guest drama critic, filling in for the vacationing P.G. Wodehouse.
It was in this capacity that Dorothy Parker began developing the rapacious wit that would make her famous. Her reviews were often brutal. She offered this advice to potential audiences of one particular musical comedy: "If you don't knit, bring a book."
She reviewed a production of Leo Tolstoy's Redemption by saying, "I went into the Plymouth Theater a comparatively young woman, and I staggered out of it three hours later, twenty years older."
Infuriated by Dorothy's scathing reviews of their plays, the wealthy, powerful producers flexed their considerable muscle to get her fired. Her friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, resigned in protest.
Together, they formed the Algonquin Round Table, a famous group of New York City writers, actors, critics, and wits. Another founding member of the group was Harold Ross, who would found the New Yorker magazine in 1925.
Ross named Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley as members of the magazine's board of editors, which made his investors happy. Over the next fifteen years, Dorothy would reach her peak of productivity and success.
Her first poetry collection, Enough Rope, was published in 1926. It sold nearly 50,000 copies and received great reviews. The Nation newsmagazine described her poetry as "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity."
Within the next four years, she would publish over 300 poems in the New Yorker and many other national magazines. In addition to her poetry, she also wrote humorous pieces, essays, columns, and book reviews for the New Yorker. She also served as the magazine's drama critic for over five years.
Then she tired of drama - and of the drama her reviews created - and resigned as drama critic. She continued writing book reviews - under the byline Constant Reader - until 1933.
Dorothy Parker's writing talent and sparkling wit was noticed by Hollywood, and she became a screenwriter. Her husband at the time, Alan Campbell, was an actor and aspiring screenwriter.
In 1937, she co-wrote the hit film, A Star Is Born and earned an Academy Award nomination. Her political activism would eventually derail her Hollywood career.
She served as a correspondent for the communist magazine New Masses, reporting on the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, before her success with A Star Is Born, she founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.
During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Dorothy protested the government's relentless and mostly illegal persecution of suspected communists and communist sympathizers.
She never joined the Communist Party, but she did declare herself a sympathizer. The FBI deemed her a subversive and compiled a dossier on her that would reach 1,000 pages in length.
Dorothy Parker was never charged with a crime, but her former Hollywood studio bosses blacklisted her for years. In 1957, she moved back to New York City and served as a book reviewer for Esquire magazine for the next five years.
Dorothy died of a heart attack in June of 1967 at the age of 73. She left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination, it was passed on to the NAACP.
In 1988, the NAACP interred Dorothy's ashes in a memorial garden outside its Baltimore headquarters. The plaque in the garden reads as follows:
Here lies the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, 'Excuse my dust'. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988
Four years later, to celebrate Dorothy's 99th birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat." - Dorothy Parker
Today's video features Dorothy Parker reading her classic poem, Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
This Day In Literary History
On August 21st, 1920, Christopher Robin Milne was born in London, England. His father was the famous English writer A.A. Milne, who began his career as a playwright, writing over 25 plays. When his son was a year old, he received a teddy bear as a present.
Christopher Robin would name his teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh, after two real-life animals he encountered: Winnie, a Canadian black bear he saw at the London Zoo, and Pooh, a swan he saw while on vacation.
Christopher Robin's growing collection of stuffed animals, which included a piglet, a tiger, a donkey, and a kangaroo, inspired his father to try his hand at writing children's stories.
His son's teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, would be the main character, and the animals' human friend, a young boy, would be named after Christopher Robin.
In 1925, A.A. Milne bought a country estate, Cotchford Farm in Hartfield, East Sussex, which would serve as the inspiration for Pooh's home, the Hundred Acre Wood.
Winnie-the-Pooh would first appear in a series of short stories published in magazines and newspapers, including Vanity Fair and the London Times.
In 1926, A.A. Milne published a short story collection in book form, called Winnie-the-Pooh, portions of which were adapted from the earlier stories.
It would be followed by a second story collection, The House At Pooh Corner (1928). Both books were illustrated by Ernest Shepard, who used the real Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals as models for the illustrations.
In 1966, Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends made their film debut in an animated Disney featurette, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.
The short proved to be so popular that Disney made two more featurettes, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! (1974).
Three years later, Disney cast Pooh in his first feature-length animated film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), which would become an all-time classic.
More movies followed, and the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise would include a TV series, animated TV specials, numerous toys, and even video games.
The enduring, beloved character and his forest friends continue to win new generations of fans, both young and old alike. And it all began over ninety years ago, with a little boy named Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals.
As for the real Christopher Robin, though he loved his father's writings, his fictional namesake caused him a great deal of hardship when he started boarding school, making him the target of bullies. He would have a lifelong love-hate relationship with the character.
Though boarding school was a dreadful experience for him, (causing him to drop the name Robin) Christopher Robin Milne was an excellent student with a particular talent for mathematics and would earn a math scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge.
During World War II, Milne abandoned his studies to enlist in the British Army, but failed the medical examination. With some help from his father, he was able to serve his country as a sapper (military engineer) in the Royal Engineers.
After his father died in 1956, Christopher Robin Milne would not accept any of the royalties for Winnie the Pooh. He wrote several autobiographical books. The first, The Enchanted Places, was published in 1974 and dedicated to his beloved nanny, Olive Brockwell.
Miine died in 1996 at the age of 75. For some time, he had been suffering from a degenerative disease called myasthenia gravis. Years later, two feature films were made about him, Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017) and Christopher Robin (2018).
Goodbye, Christopher Robin is a British made biographical drama about Christopher Robin's relationship with his father. Christopher Robin is a Disney fantasy film that blends computer animation and live action.
In this children's movie, Christopher Robin has grown up and lost his imagination, only to be reunited with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and his other friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Quote Of The Day
"The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course." - A.A. Milne
Today's video features a reading of A.A. Milne's first Winnie the Pooh short story collection. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
This Day In Literary History
On August 20th, 1890, the legendary American writer H.P. Lovecraft was born. He was born Howard Phillips Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the only child of a traveling salesman, Winfield Scott Lovecraft.
When H.P. was three, his father suffered a severe psychotic episode while on a business trip in Chicago. He had to be committed to an asylum, as his mental illness was diagnosed as a result of syphilis. He died five years later.
After his father's death, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, her two sisters, and their father, all of whom lived in the same house. Lovecraft was a child prodigy; at the age of three, he could read poetry and recite it verbatim. By the age of six, he was writing his own poems.
His grandfather encouraged his voracious passion for reading, supplying him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bullfinch's Age Of Fable, and children's versions of Homer's classic epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Lovecraft's grandfather encouraged his passion for the weird by telling him his own original Gothic horror stories. His mother worried that the stories would upset him, but he loved them and couldn't get enough.
He was a sickly child, though at least some of his illnesses were psychosomatic. He also suffered from night terrors, a rare sleep disorder. There was speculation that he'd inherited his father's syphilis, but that was ruled out.
Because of his poor health, lack of discipline, and argumentative nature, he rarely attended school until he was eight years old. Even then, he only lasted a year before he was pulled out of school.
A voracious reader, Lovecraft educated himself. He developed a particular interest in chemistry and astronomy. When he was nine years old, Lovecraft printed his own hectographed publications, the first of which was called The Scientific Gazette. Age the age of 13, Lovecraft returned to high school.
In 1908, just before his high school graduation, Lovecraft suffered what he called a nervous breakdown. Lovecraft biographer J.T. Joshi suggested that the breakdown was caused by Lovecraft's difficulty in learning advanced mathematics.
Without learning advanced mathematics, he would never be able to become a professional astronomer. Lovecraft's failure to complete his education was a lifelong source of disappointment and shame for him.
Though he had written some fiction before, most of H.P. Lovecraft's early work was poetry, which he wrote prolifically. In 1914, he wrote a letter complaining about the insipidness of a series of popular love stories that had been published in a pulp magazine called The Argosy.
The resulting debate in the magazine's Letters section caught the attention of Edward F. Daas, president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join the organization, which encouraged him to submit more poems and essays for publication.
Three years later, Lovecraft, an avid letter writer, returned to writing fiction after being prodded to do so by some of his correspondents. His first new horror story, Dagon, was published in W. Paul Cook's The Vagrant in 1919, then reprinted in Weird Tales in 1923.
The story is told by a tormented, suicidal morphine addict who recalls a horrific experience he had while in the Merchant Marines during World War I. After his cargo ship is captured by the Germans, he escapes in a lifeboat.
Drifting across the Pacific, he eventually lands on an island where he encounters a monster that was once worshiped as a sea god by an ancient race of fish-men. All that remains of them is the shrine that they built for their god.
In 1919, after suffering from mental illness for years, H.P. Lovecraft's mother was placed in the same institution as her husband. Lovecraft corresponded with her frequently, and remained close to her until her death in 1921 - the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated.
A few weeks later, he attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston, where he met Sonia Greene, a Ukrainian-Jewish shopkeeper (she owned a hat store) whom he married in 1924. Lovecraft's aunts were not happy that he married a woman of the merchant class; the fact that she was Jewish probably didn't thrill them, either.
The Lovecrafts moved to the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. At first, Lovecraft was thrilled to be living in New York, but he quickly came to hate the city. The couple faced financial difficulties, including the loss of Sonia's hat shop.
H.P. was unable to find work, as the city teemed with a large immigrant population willing to work for low wages. Lovecraft's frustration fueled the racism that would later be reflected in his writings, which sometimes contained bestial black and scheming Jewish characters.
Lovecraft's racism was atypical; he tended to regard people more in terms of class than race. For example, in his story Cool Air, Lovecraft's narrator makes disparaging remarks about the poor Hispanics in his neighborhood while admiring and praising the wealthy, cultured Dr. Munoz, who is also Hispanic.
These and other contradictory aspects of Lovecraft's racism have led scholars to believe that in both his writings and in life, Lovecraft was questioning the veracity of his racial views. Sonia Greene, Lovecraft's wife, had to remind him that she was Jewish when he made anti-Semitic remarks.
It made an impact on him; near the end of his life, when he learned of Hitler's persecution of Jews in Germany, he was horrified. He denounced Nazi ideology as irrational. A few years after they were married, Lovecraft and Sonia separated. They later divorced amicably. Sonia moved to Cleveland and H.P. returned to Providence to live with his aunts.
Lovecraft continued to write and publish short stories and essays. He wrote over sixty short stories, most of them horror, establishing himself as a master of the form. His stories reflected his personal beliefs. He considered himself an agnostic in theory and an atheist in practical terms.
His stories presented gods not as loving creators, but as ancient, monstrous alien beings who have influenced the development of the human race over the ages. Often malicious, these gods inspire the formation of cults and demand sacrifice, as seen in Lovecraft's "Cthulu Mythos" of loosely connected stories.
In some of these stories, Lovecraft mentions a book called the Necronomicon - an ancient book of black magic whose rituals can summon evil deities, demons, and spirits. The book was supposedly written by the "Mad Arab," Abdul Alhazred, in 8th century Persia.
In the early 1970s, a book appeared that claimed to be the real Necronomicon, translated by someone known only as Simon. The book has no connection to Lovecraft and appears to be based on Sumerian mythology.
The book, which included a forward warning the reader not to attempt to perform the rituals contained in its pages, would become a cult favorite. Still in print, it has sold over 800,000 copies.
Another theme in Lovecraft's writing is the dangers of modern science and technology, which inspire humans to investigate things that should be left alone and tamper with the order of the universe. Such was the subject of his classic 1919 short story, Beyond The Wall Of Sleep.
In this story, an intern at a hospital for the criminally insane uses one of the inmates - a homicidal maniac - as his guinea pig to test a device he invented to facilitate telepathic communication. The experiment goes awry as the intern and his test subject channel an alien being made of light.
Although Lovecraft published dozens of short stories in Weird Tales and many other pulp magazines - and was sometimes paid very large sums of money for them - his finances soon dwindled and he was forced to move to smaller quarters with his surviving aunt.
In 1936, H.P. Lovecraft was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He died a year later at the age of 46. His stories have been adapted as feature films and for TV series such as Showtime's Masters Of Horror.
Heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Mercyful Fate have based songs on Lovecraft's works. King Diamond paid tribute to Lovecraft with his classic song, The Lake, which appears as the B-side of the single Halloween:
On a Sunday morning
well just before dawn
a little girl is dancing
on the mansion lawn
She calls out a name:
"Dagon of the sea!
Appear from the darkest deep
and hear my need!"
Down by the lake
there's a shadow of grief
dancing hand in hand
with the devil...
H.P. Lovecraft continues to inspire generations of writers, including horror master Stephen King, who considers him a major influence, declaring him to be "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."
Quote Of The Day
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." - H.P. Lovecraft
Today's video features a complete reading of H.P. Lovecraft's classic short story, Dagon. Enjoy!
Monday, August 19, 2019
Jeannette de Beauvoir
Book Four of the Sydney Riley Provincetown mystery series is out! It’s A Killer Carnival and — more than the others in the series, I think — picks up on some of the events of our times here in the United States.
Cezarija E. Abartis
My piece "Stories for Second-Grade Teachers" is up on Baltimore Review. I'm happy to thank Wayne Scheer, Mark Budman, and Elizabeth Grace Wright for their critiques. This is a great place!
I haven't been submitting work lately--laziness more than anything--but "Trees," a love poem I like, is up at Front Page Review.
Joanna M. Weston
I have a poem called 'Friday' up at Leaves of Ink.
Friday, August 16, 2019
This Day In Literary History
On August 16th, 1920, the legendary American writer Charles Bukowski was born. He was born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany. His father was an American serviceman, his mother a German woman. They married a month before he was born.
In 1923, just before little Heinrich's third birthday, the economic collapse in Germany compelled his family to emigrate to America. They settled in Los Angeles, where his mother changed his name to Henry Charles Bukowski.
As a young boy, Charles Bukowski grew up with an abusive father who would beat him savagely for the smallest offense. Due to the Great Depression, the elder Bukowski was frequently unemployed, a source of great shame that fueled his psychotic rage.
Charles' mother, who was not only beaten by her husband but cheated on as well, did nothing to stop her husband's abuse of their son - or herself. So it continued.
When he was a young teenager, Charles' shy and introverted nature grew worse, thanks to a case of severe acne that left his face covered with boils. Around this time, his two greatest passions were awakened - his passion for literature and his passion for alcohol.
Bukowski preferred to be alone. He read avidly. He also began writing short stories. His best friend, William "Baldy" Mullinax, introduced him to booze. Of his first experience with intoxication, he wrote, "This [alcohol] is going to help me for a long time."
After high school, Bukowski enrolled in Los Angeles City College, where he studied art, journalism and literature. He dropped out two years later, deciding to move to New York City and become a writer.
In July of 1944, the nearly 24-year-old Bukowski, who had been living in Philadelphia, found himself arrested by FBI agents and charged with suspicion of draft evasion.
Held for over two weeks in Moyamensing Prison, he was then released and taken to be inducted into the military. He failed the psychological exam, was classified 4F, (unfit for military service) and let go.
That same year, Bukowski's first published short story, Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip, appeared in Story magazine. Soon, more of his stories appeared in other literary magazines.
Unfortunately, he racked up far more rejection slips than sales. Discouraged, he quit writing for nearly a decade. He would refer to this period of time as his "ten year drunk."
He took up the life of a drifter and moved from place to place, doing odd jobs and staying at cheap rooming houses. He drank and brawled from bar to bar. He loved to go to the track and play the ponies.
In the early 1950s, Bukowski took a job as a letter carrier for the Postal Service, which would last almost three years. By 1955, he found himself hospitalized, suffering from a severe, nearly fatal bleeding ulcer.
After he was released, while he recovered at home, he decided to give writing another try. He began writing poetry, and within his verse, he found the muse. He continued to write poetry prolifically, and throughout his career, he would author over 1,000 poems.
As he made his rounds drinking from bar to bar, Bukowski would read his poetry to his fellow patrons, dazzling both barflies and bartenders who couldn't believe that a disheveled, boisterous drunk could write such incredible verse.
He became the poet laureate of the lower class, "the Bard of Booze and Broads" who found sublimity on skid row. Soon, his poems began appearing in literary magazines. This time, his rejection slips were few and far between.
By 1960, Bukowski's first poetry collection, Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, was published. At the time, he had taken another position with the Postal Service, working as a letter filing clerk. The job would last for nine years.
In 1962, he found out that Jane Cooney Baker, (a widowed alcoholic eleven years his senior) the first woman he ever loved - perhaps the greatest love of his life - had died. So, he immortalized her in a series of poems and short stories. He met poet Frances Smith, who became his live-in girlfriend. In 1964, they had a daughter, Marina.
Three years later, in 1967, Charles Bukowski began writing a column for Open City, an underground newspaper based in Los Angeles. Titled Notes of a Dirty Old Man, the column was so popular that it got picked up by the Los Angeles Free Press and the NOLA Express (an underground newspaper based on New Orleans) after Open City folded in 1969.
That year, publisher John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press, now known as Black Sparrow Books, impressed with his poetry collections, offered to provide the financial support for Bukowski to write full time, in exchange for which he would become the author's exclusive publisher.
A lifelong supporter of the independent small press, Bukowski accepted the offer, quit his job at the Postal Service,, and began work on his first novel. Post Office (1971), an autobiographical novel based on his later years, was the first to feature his alter ego, alcoholic writer Henry Chinaski.
Although Bukowski's publisher, John Martin, worried that he wouldn't be able to make the transition from poetry to prose, the novel proved to be a breakout work that made its author's name as a writer.
Bukowski would write more memorable novels, including Factotum (1975), which found Henry Chinaski drifting through the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, circa 1944. His most famous novel, Ham on Rye (1982), told the story of Henry Chinaski's unhappy childhood and adolescence as he grows up to become a misanthropic antihero.
Some scholars believe the title is a parody of The Catcher in the Rye, the title of J.D. Salinger's classic novel. Others believe that Ham on Rye refers to some literary critics' negative appraisal of Bukowski, whom they derided as the literary equivalent of a ham actor. Thus, the title refers to a ham writer fueled by rye whiskey.
Bukowski earned extra money by performing live readings of his poetry and prose. His first was a poetry reading performed in 1962 on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles.
When he performed at coffee houses and clubs, he always engaged in banter with his audience, which could be quite combative at times, as he usually performed in various states of intoxication.
In 1970, Bukowski gave a reading at Bellevue Community College in Washington State, which was taped by two students using the college's primitive black and white video cameras. Eighteen years later, the recording, thought long lost, was found.
It would be released on video as Bukowski at Bellevue in 1995, and later on DVD. The rough, grainy, stark black and white video perfectly captured the writer in all his gritty glory.
A 1979 reading given by Bukowski in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, would be released on DVD in 2010 as There's Gonna be a God Damn Riot in Here!
Bukowski's last public reading was given in 1980 at the Sweetwater, a punk rock club in Redondo Beach, California. It would be released on audio CD as Hostage and on DVD as The Last Straw.
In 1987, Charles Bukowski wrote the screenplay for a feature film based on his Henry Chinaski novels. Directed by the great French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder, Barfly starred Mickey Rourke as writer and skid row alcoholic Henry Chinaski.
Chinaski spends his days writing poetry and prose and his nights drinking and brawling at the local bar. He loathes the bartender, Eddie (Frank Stallone), especially after he finds out that Eddie slept with his girlfriend, Wanda (Faye Dunaway).
When Henry's writings begin appearing in literary magazines, they catch the eye of publisher Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige) who seeks Henry out, hoping to become his exclusive publisher.
She pays him a $500 advance and takes him to her home, where they have an affair. He rejoices in his literary success, but ultimately grows disenchanted with Tully's high society lifestyle.
Henry returns to his sleazy neighborhood, his blue collar bar, his bar buddies, and his ex-girlfriend, Wanda. Tully won't give him up without a fight, and actually gets into a fight with Wanda.
The film ends with Tully recognizing that Henry needs to be who he really is and wishing him luck. In the last scene, Henry, who has earned Eddie's respect, fights the bartender in the parking lot one last time, to win Wanda from him once and for all.
Bukowski would base his 1989 novel Hollywood on his experiences making the movie Barfly. He was also the subject of several acclaimed documentaries, including The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1983), directed by Barbet Schroeder, and Bukowski: Born Into This (2003), directed by John Dullaghan.
Charles Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994 at the age of 73. He left behind an impressive body of work that included over 30 poetry collections, six novels, nearly a dozen short story collections including his classic Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983), and several works of nonfiction.
Quote Of The Day
"My beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees of the world." - Charles Bukowski
Today's video features Charles Bukowski's classic 1970 poetry reading, Bukowski at Bellevue. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 15, 2019
This Day In Literary History
On August 15th, 1885, the famous American writer Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Wisconsin. When she was twelve years old, her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin. She graduated from high school there, then briefly attended Lawrence University.
After leaving university, Edna began a career in journalism, working as a reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal. In 1911, her first novel, Dawn O'Hara, was published.
Edna's novels featured strong female protagonists. One of her most popular characters, who appeared in several novels, was Emma McChesney, an intelligent, stylish divorced single mother who becomes a hugely successful businesswoman.
She was quite a controversial character for the time - the early 1900s. Her author's novels also dealt with racial or sexual discrimination, which were very controversial issues back then.
In 1924, Edna Ferber published the novel that won her a Pulitzer Prize for Literature. So Big told the story of Selina Peake De Jong, a schoolteacher in farm country, and her son Dirk, nicknamed So Big.
While teaching school, Selina lives on the Pool family farm. She forms a bond with the family's young son, Roelf, who wants to be an artist, not a farmer. She encourages him to pursue his dream, and he runs off to France.
Meanwhile, Selina marries a Dutch farmer named Purvus, and they have a son, Dirk. After Purvus dies of illness, Selina takes over their farm and makes it successful to provide for Dirk's future.
Dirk grows up to become a talented architect, but finds that he's more interested in making money than in his artistic talent. So, he switches gears and becomes a stockbroker. He makes a lot of money.
Dirk's fiancee, a famous artist named Dallas O'Mara, tries in vain to convince him that there are more important things in life than money. Meanwhile, Roelf Pool, now a famous sculptor, returns to town and visits Selina, who had encouraged him to pursue his dream.
Dallas falls in love with Roelf, who, like her, values art more than money. When Dirk finds out, he decides not to stand in the way of Dallas' happiness. She and Roelf run off together, and a heartbroken Dirk is left alone in his luxury apartment to contemplate all that his pursuit of money has brought him.
So Big was adapted as a feature film in 1932 and again in 1953. The 1953 version featured a different ending, as the original ending, with Dirk allowing his fiancee to run off with another man, was considered immoral under the stifling Production Code.
In 1926, Edna Furber published another classic novel, Show Boat. The story takes place on a "show boat" - one of many floating live theaters that traveled the Mississippi River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The novel opens in the Reconstruction era South, moves on to New York City in the Roaring Twenties, and comes full circle, returning to the mighty Mississippi River. Show Boat would be adapted as a popular Broadway musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.
Edna's 1941 novel Saratoga Trunk and her 1958 novel Giant would also be adapted as Broadway musicals and feature films. Other novels would be adapted as acclaimed feature films.
Giant (1952) was a controversial epic novel set around the oil boom of the 1920s. It told the story a Texas cattleman who marries a wise and fiercely independent society woman. It was controversial because it accurately depicted the racist persecution and exploitation of Mexicans by white Texans.
Edna's 1958 novel Ice Palace would be adapted as a feature film in 1960. The film adaptation of Edna's tale of the fish cannery business in postwar Alaska featured Japanese American actor George Takei in a small role several years before he became famous as Lieutenant Sulu on the classic 1966-69 American TV series Star Trek.
Throughout her remarkable literary career, Edna Ferber wrote over two dozen novels. She died in 1968 at the age of 82.
Quote Of The Day
"Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death." - Edna Ferber
Today's video features a complete reading of Edna Ferber's classic novel, Fanny Herself. Enjoy!