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!
Friday, October 20, 2017
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!