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 and his 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
“Suspicion is a heavy armor and with its weight it impedes more than it protects.” - Robert Burns
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for Braveheart, the classic 1995 feature film about Sir William Wallace. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
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 wealthy 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!
Monday, August 21, 2017
So I've published what I hope is my first short story collection on Amazon. It's called "Razor-Sharp: 13 Short Stories" and is available as an ebook on Amazon India and Amazon USA.
It's on Goodreads too. If anyone else is considering publication on Amazon, I'd be happy to walk you through it! It's really very easy once you've got your manuscript ready.
A huge shout out to everyone who has taken the trouble to read, critique or even congratulate on a past success - it really, really makes a difference. Thanks to each and every one of you.
Steven K. Smith
A piece I subbed to the fiction list a couple of years ago has made it to the Short Humour site. Thanks to Wayne Scheer particularly for this. He's the one that suggested the venue.
Originally, the piece was over 800 words, and Short-Humour's limit was 500, so I didn't think I'd be able to cut it down that far at the time. I kept working at it, though, and finally made it under 500 words for a version that I thought still hung together.
I submitted it Wednesday evening and Thursday had an email saying they'd taken it. I appreciate everyone's crits on this. You all helped me improve this.
A short story of mine, "Distant Cousin," has been accepted for publication in the Autumn Equinox issue of Mused.
Theresa A. Cancro
My haibun, "crackin' jack," has been published today on The Other Bunny.
Friday, August 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 18th, 1958, Lolita, the classic novel by the legendary Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, was published for the first time in the United States. It proved to be one of the most celebrated and controversial novels of all time.
It told the tale of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged European man who becomes obsessed with Lolita, a sexually precocious 12-year-old American girl, leading him down a path of degradation, depravity, despair, paranoia, and ultimately, murder.
Lolita is also a not so subtle, scathing satire of America as seen through the eyes of Europeans, with Humbert serving as a metaphor for intelligent, cultured, old world Europe's strange attraction to young, vulgar, vapid, nasty, and not very bright America, personified by Lolita.
Nabokov had completed the novel in 1953, but was unable to find an American publisher. One publisher told Nabokov that he should burn every copy of the manuscript. Another suggested that the story wouldn't be so objectionable if Lolita were a boy.
Nabokov tried to get Lolita published in Europe, but one British publisher was so shocked by the novel that he tore up his copy of the manuscript. Finally, in 1955, Nabokov found a publisher - Olympia Press.
Based in Paris, Olympia was known as a publisher of both controversial, challenging works of literature (such as William Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer) and pornographic novels.
Olympia's first 5,000 copy press run of Lolita sold out across Europe. There were no real reviews of the book, but in late 1955, in an interview with the London Times, the famous English writer Graham Greene called Lolita one of the best novels of the year.
Greene's comments provoked the outraged editor of the conservative London Sunday Express to publicly condemn Lolita, calling it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography."
The newspaper kept stoking the flames of outrage, and Britain's Home Office panicked, ordering Customs officers to seize all copies of Lolita that came into the United Kingdom.
France followed suit; the French Minister of the Interior instituted a ban on the novel that would last for two years. In 1958, United States officials were nervous about Lolita, but the novel was published without incident by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
It became a bestseller - the first book since Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind to sell 100,000 copies in the first three weeks of publication. Today, it's rightfully considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
It was later named the fourth greatest English language novel of the 20th century by Modern Library. Vladimir Nabokov originally wrote it in English and later translated it himself into Russian.
Written in a dazzling, lyrical prose style, Lolita is a novel-within-a-novel. It begins with a lengthy forward explaining that the book you're about to read was written by Humbert Humbert while in his jail cell awaiting trial for murder.
Humbert, who died of coronary thrombosis upon completing the manuscript, begins his autobiography by relating the tale of his 1920s childhood romance with an angelic girl named Annabel Leigh, which was tragically cut short when she died of typhus.
Their love for each other and his loss of her would affect Humbert for the rest of his life. Later, just before the outbreak of World War II, Humbert leaves Paris for New York after his first relationship with a woman goes sour.
After the war, he moves to New England to begin a writing career. He rents a room from grotesque widow Charlotte Haze after meeting and becoming smitten with her precocious 12-year-old daughter Dolores, known by her nickname, Lolita.
The tragically deluded Humbert sees in her his beloved Annabel Leigh, despite the fact that the corrupt, nasty Lolita is really the polar opposite of Annabel. The obsessed Humbert will do anything to be near Lolita.
He even marries her mother, Charlotte, though he can't stand her. The marriage ends in dramatic fashion when Charlotte reads Humbert's secret diary, freaks out, flees the house in shock, and is struck and killed by a car.
Later, when Humbert tries to have his way with Lolita, she ends up seducing him and reveals that she lost her virginity to a boy she met at summer camp. Then they hit the road in Charlotte's car.
Humbert and Lolita drive across the country, going from state to state and motel to motel, where the older man bribes the young girl for sexual favors. He's frustrated by the fact that Lolita doesn't return his affection or share his interests.
The deluded Humbert is blind to the fact that his beloved Lolita is really a manipulative sociopath who is exploiting him even more than he's exploiting her. Then she falls ill and is hospitalized.
After she recovers, while Humbert is away, Lolita checks out with a man claiming to be her uncle, who pays her hospital bill. Humbert begins a frantic (and funny) search for her, trying to make sense of humorous clues left behind by Lolita and her "uncle."
He finally gives up the search and has a chaotic, two-year affair with Rita, an alcoholic 30-year-old woman who reminds him of Lolita. Years later, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita, who is now married, pregnant, and in need of money.
Armed with a loaded gun, he tracks her down, intending to kill her husband. Lolita reveals that her husband is not the man she ran off with. That man was Clare Quilty, a demented playwright, pervert, and amateur pornographer.
She had acted in Quilty's play The Hunted Enchanters while a member of her school's drama club. He seduced her, and she became his lover for a time. Humbert gives Lolita the money she asked for, along with her rightful inheritance. Then he leaves to track down Clare Quilty and take his revenge.
Lolita was adapted an acclaimed feature film in 1962, directed by the legendary English filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and starring James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty, and 14-year-old newcomer Sue Lyon as Lolita.
The screenplay was written by Vladimir Nabokov himself. Although the novel had to be sanitized as per Production Code requirements, the movie remains a naughty delight that wonderfully captures both the comedy and tragedy of Nabokov's novel.
In 1997, director Adrian Lyne filmed Lolita. Despite the sincere performance of Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert, the movie is a boring, plodding, depressing mess, with dreadful performances by 17-year-old Dominique Swain as Lolita and a horribly miscast Melanie Griffith as Charlotte Haze.
Frank Langella, also horribly miscast, plays Clare Quilty as a bestial psychopath instead of the delightfully perverse playwright portrayed with comic malice and verve by the great Peter Sellers in the 1962 original. The remake fails because it robs the novel of its comedy.
Vladimir Nabokov would later name Lolita as his favorite novel. It still remains a classic work of literature.
Quote Of The Day
"Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name." - Vladimir Nabokov
Today's video features a documentary on Vladimir Nabokov and the writing of his classic novel, Lolita. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 17, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On August 17th, 1926, the famous French playwright and actor Jean Poiret was born. He was born Jean Poiré in Paris, France.
Poiret first became famous in 1951, when he starred in the radio series Malheir aux Barbus, created by Pierre Dac and Francis Blanche.
A year later, while working in a stage show at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, Poiret met legendary French actor Michel Serrault. They co-starred in a sketch called Jerry Scott, Vedette International. They would later co-star in a production of Poiret's most famous play.
By 1961, Poiret had become a member of the French cinematic society Pathé and wrote and recorded La Vache à Mille Francs, a parody of the song La Valse à Mille Temps by Jacques Brel.
Twelve years later, in 1973, Poiret married actress Caroline Cellier. She bore him one child. That same year, Jean Poiret wrote the play that made him world famous - a comedy called La Cages Aux Folles. (The Birdcage)
In the stage production, Poiret played the lead role of Renato Baldi, a middle-aged gay man who manages the Saint-Tropez nightclub where his partner, Albin Mougeotte, (Michel Serrault) performs in drag as Zaza Napoli.
Renato has a son, Laurent, from an early heterosexual relationship. He and Albin raised him. When Laurent returns from college, he announces his wedding plans and brings his fiancée's arch conservative, homophobic parents home to meet his father.
He never told them that Dad was gay, and now he fears that they won't let him marry their daughter when they find out. So, Renato and Albin redecorate their garish apartment and try to pass themselves off as husband and wife, with Albin in drag as Laurent's mother!
La Cage Aux Folles became a huge hit. In 1978, a feature film adaptation was made. In the role of Renato, Jean Poiret was replaced by Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi, but Michel Serrault resumed his co-lead role as Albin.
For its U.S. release, the movie was retitled Birds Of A Feather and dubbed into English by the original cast - a rarity for foreign films released in the United States.
The highly acclaimed feature film was followed by two mediocre sequels, La Cage Aux Folles II (1980), and La Cage Aux Folles 3: The Wedding (1985).
The original La Cage Aux Folles would later be adapted as a Tony Award winning Broadway musical and remade as a film in 1996 - The Birdcage - which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in the lead roles.
In his amazing career, Jean Poiret acted in dozens of movies over a 40-year period. In 1992, he directed his first film - Le Zèbre (The Zebra).
Le Zèbre was an adaptation of a novel by Alexandre Jardin that starred Poiret's wife, Caroline Cellier. Unfortunately, three months before the film's premiere, Poiret died of a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
Quote Of The Day
“To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.” - Jean Genet
Today's video features a complete 2003 live performance of La Cage Aux Folles. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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 a rare recording of Charles Bukowski performing a live reading at San Francisco's City Lights Poets Theater in 1973. Enjoy!
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
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 short story, The Woman Who Tried To Be Good. Enjoy!