This Day In Literary History
On May 24th, 1951, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, the classic short story collection by the famous American writer Carson McCullers, was published. It included the title novella and five other stories.
Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, exploded onto the literary scene in 1940, with the publication of her classic debut novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Critics were floored by her sad and surreal tale of an intelligent, compassionate deaf-mute man who touches the lives of several unhappy people at the expense of his own happiness. McCullers was only 23 years old when she wrote the profound and moving novel.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, her classic short story collection, was most famous for its title novella. Set in a small Southern town, it told the story of Miss Amelia, a shopkeeper whom the townspeople believe to be a cold and calculating woman who never acts without reason.
Miss Amelia is also known for being masculine, bullying, confrontational, and greedy, and for wanting nothing to do with love, thanks to a rotten marriage that lasted only ten days.
One day, a hunchbacked man called Lymon arrives in town, carrying all of his belongings in one suitcase. He claims to be Miss Amelia's cousin, and has an old photograph that he says proves his claim. When Miss Amelia takes him in, the townspeople are shocked.
Assuming that she has ulterior motives, after not seeing Lymon in town for a while, they suspect that Miss Amelia murdered him for his meager belongings. Then they find him safe and sound in her store.
What the townspeople don't realize is that the lonely Miss Amelia's relationship with her long lost cousin has changed her for the better. Caring for him has opened her heart. She becomes more hospitable to her customers and even serves them food and liquor, turning her store into a cafe.
Lymon the hunchback is kind and grateful for the hospitality shown by Miss Amelia, but he also has faults. He has a dependent personality, he craves attention, he's a gossip, and he enjoys baiting people against each other and then watching them fight.
When Miss Amelia's ex-husband Marvin Macy suddenly shows up, Lymon comes to admire him greatly, not realizing that the handsome, charismatic Marvin is a cruel sociopath out for revenge against Miss Amelia, whom he blames for breaking his heart and unleashing the rage inside him that led to his crime spree and subsequent incarceration.
Marvin manipulates Lymon into helping him carry out his revenge against Miss Amelia, which culminates in the sacking of her store and the theft of her curios and money. Then in a final, crushing blow, Marvin invites Lymon to leave town with him, taking away the only one who ever really loved Miss Amelia.
Carson McCullers got the idea to write The Ballad of the Sad Cafe while out drinking with her friends George Davis (editor of Harper's Bazaar magazine) and British poet W.H. Auden. They were at a bar one night when Carson noticed two particular customers walk in - a very tall, masculine woman accompanied by a small, hunchbacked man.
Around this time, McCullers had been living in a famous boarding house in Brooklyn run by George Davis. In addition to McCullers and Auden, the boarding house had been home to some of the era's greatest bohemian writers, artists, and actors.
Some of Davis' other tenants included Paul and Jane Bowles, Richard Wright, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee. When McCullers lived there, they held evening gatherings where George Davis played piano - in the nude - while a gallon jug of wine was passed around. W.H. Auden loved to play housemother to what he called "our menagerie."
With the publication of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Works, Carson McCullers once again established herself as one of the greatest writers of her generation. The title novella would be adapted as a stage play by the legendary playwright, Edward Albee.
Albee had intended for Carson to play the role of the narrator, but by the time the play opened in the fall of 1963, her chronically poor health had deteriorated severely. She did attend the play's opening night, but had to do so in a wheelchair. She died four years later at the age of 50.
In 1991, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film by producer Ismail Merchant of the Merchant-Ivory film production company. It starred Vanessa Redgrave as Miss Amelia, Cork Hubbert as Lymon, and Keith Carradine as Marvin Macy.
Quote Of The Day
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." - Carson McCullers
Today's video features a clip from the acclaimed 1991 feature film adaptation of Carson McCullers' classic novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Enjoy!
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 23rd, 1910, the famous American children's book writer Margaret Wise Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York. The second of three children, she and her siblings suffered from their parents' rotten marriage. When Margaret had the opportunity to go to boarding school, she readily accepted.
Margaret graduated from Hollins College in 1932 with an English degree. She became a teacher, and in her spare time, an art student. But her true passion was writing, and she decided to write children's books. Her first, When the Wind Blew, was published in 1937.
Margaret Wise Brown would author dozens of children's books and work with different illustrators. Her most famous illustrator was Clement Hurd, who drew the pictures for her most famous book, a classic first published in 1947.
Goodnight Moon featured a story in the form of a rhyming poem which told of a bunny's unusual bedtime ritual: saying goodnight to various objects in his room. The story takes place entirely in the bedroom, and the incredibly detailed illustrations change slightly from page to page.
The subtle but noticeable changes in the same basic images were deliberately included so that the attentive child (or adult) reading the book would catch them.
The changes included socks that disappear, different numbers of books on the bookshelf, different stripes on the bunny's nightshirt, and the hands on the two clocks moving.
The gentle story and unforgettable pictures would make Goodnight Moon an all-time favorite. Parents still read it to their young children at bedtime. The book would be adapted for cable TV in 1999 as part of the animated HBO special, Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepytime Tales.
Over the years, new editions of Goodnight Moon would be published with different illustrations, but the original edition, with Clement Hurd's memorable illustrations, is still in print. The most recent edition was digitally altered for being politically incorrect.
Unlike other classic children's books where the text or illustrations were cut or altered, it was the photograph of Hurd that was digitally altered to remove the cigarette he held, leaving his fingers extended, but holding nothing.
Other classic children's books by Margaret Wise Brown include The Little Island (1946), which won a Caldecott Honor recognition, and Little Lost Lamb (1947), which won the Caldecott Medal. She also wrote several books for the famous Little Golden Books line.
The extremely prolific Brown would write dozens of children's books. She once claimed that every morning, she would wake up with a "head full of stories" that she had to put on paper. She fought hard for royalties at a time when most publishers would only pay writers a flat fee for their manuscripts.
As a writer, she employed a pioneering "here and now" philosophy, believing that children would rather read stories based on their own lives than read fairy tales and fables.
Brown enjoyed a flamboyant personal life. An early feminist and openly bisexual, she once dated Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. Later, she began a relationship with poet, playwright, and actress Blanche Oelrichs.
Oelrichs was best known by her pen name, Michael Strange, and most famous for being the ex-wife of legendary actor John Barrymore, who had starred in her play, Clair de Lune.
In 1952, after her relationship with Oelrichs had ended, Margaret met John Stillman "Pebbles" Rockefeller Jr. at a party and it was love at first sight.
They became engaged, but sadly, while on a book promotional tour in France, she died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism - a complication from emergency surgery for an ovarian cyst. She was 42 years old.
After Brown's death, her will revealed that she had bequeathed the royalties for many of her books to Albert Clarke, a neighbor boy who was nine years old when she died. Clarke was a troubled boy who grew up to be a troubled adult. He squandered the millions he made from Brown's royalties.
Clarke once claimed that he was Brown's illegitimate son, a claim that was widely dismissed. However, since Brown was cremated and her ashes scattered in the sea near her home in Maine, the claim couldn't be disproved by a blood test.
Brown's sister, Roberta Brown Rauch, later discovered a cache of over 70 unpublished manuscripts that Margaret had written. Unable to get them published, Roberta kept them in a cedar trunk for decades. They were rediscovered by Amy Gary of the publishing firm WaterMark, Inc. in 1991.
Quote Of The Day
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child's need for quietness is the same today as it has always been - it may even be greater - for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” - Margaret Wise Brown
Today's video features the animated adaptation of Margaret Wise Brown's classic children's book, Goodnight Moon - narrated by Susan Sarandon. Enjoy!
Monday, May 22, 2017
Theresa A. Cancro
I just found out that a poem of mine that was included in Three Line Poetry, Issue #33, is being featured on the journal's Facebook page. Scroll down to see the entry.
One haiku has been published in the May 2017 issue of Stardust Haiku Journal. Scroll to page 6.
Two poems, "Stick Woman" and "Spellbound," have been accepted by These Fragile Lilacs for their print anthology, The Women's' Voices, to be published this spring.
Friday, May 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 19th, 1930, the famous African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Carl Hansberry, was a prominent real estate broker.
In 1938, when Lorraine was eight years old, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood where a majority of homeowners had formed a covenant that banned blacks from buying homes in the neighborhood. So, he had a white friend buy the house for him.
After the Hansberrys moved into their new home, they were attacked by an angry mob. A brick was thrown through Lorraine's bedroom window, and she just barely avoided being struck by it.
Her father later sued the white homeowners for discrimination, and in the case of Hansberry v. Lee, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision banning homeowners' associations from discriminating against home buyers and renters on the basis of their race.
Although Lorraine's father had prevailed in court, the family was still subjected to harassment from their racist white neighbors. She later quipped that she had lived in a typical "warm and cuddly white neighborhood."
Ironically, after her death, her family home would be designated by the city of Chicago as a historical landmark. The climate of racism she grew up with would inspire her to write her first and most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).
The title comes from a line in the poem Harlem by legendary African-American poet Langston Hughes. Set in the 1940s, A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Youngers, a poor black family living in a small apartment in Chicago's South Side.
The family patriarch has died, and his survivors will soon receive an insurance check for ten thousand dollars. His widow, Mama, wants to fulfill the dream she shared with her husband and buy a house.
Her grown son, Walter, wants to use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends - an investment he believes will provide the whole family with long term financial security. Beneatha, Walter's sister, wants to use the money to pay for her medical school tuition.
Walter's wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, believing that a new house would provide more living space for themselves and their son, Travis. As the play progresses, the Youngers fight over their conflicting dreams.
When Ruth becomes pregnant, she considers having an abortion, as she and Walter really can't afford another child. Walter doesn't object, which drives Mama to put a down payment on a nice house in a white neighborhood.
Beneatha is not happy about her family mixing with whites. She's not the only one. When the Youngers' soon-to-be new neighbors find out that the black family is moving in, they send Mr. Lindner from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association to bribe them to stay out of the neighborhood.
They refuse the deal, even after Walter loses the rest of the insurance money when his friend Willy runs off with it instead of investing it in the liquor store. In the play's third act, Beneatha's Nigerian boyfriend wants her to move to Africa with him after she graduates.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family prepares to move out of their apartment and into their new house, fulfilling their dream but also exposing them to a dangerously racist environment. When A Raisin in the Sun opened in 1959, it became the first play written by an African-American to be produced for the Broadway stage.
The original cast featured Sidney Poitier as Walter, Ruby Dee as Ruth, and Claudia McNeil as Mama. It would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1961, with the entire original Broadway cast reprising their roles - including a young Louis Gossett, Jr. as George Murchison.
The play would also be adapted as a hit Broadway musical called Raisin in 1973. The musical would be nominated for nine Tony awards and run for 847 performances. Original cast members included Joe Morton as Walter, Debbie Allen as Beneatha, Ernestine Jackson as Ruth, Ralph Carter as Travis, and Virginia Capers as Mama.
Lorraine Hansberry wrote several other plays, including her second most famous play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. After 110 performances, the play closed on the day she died, January 12th, 1965. She was 34 years old and had lost a long battle with cancer.
Despite her illness, she continued to work as an activist for civil rights, women's rights, and other causes. Her other writings were turned into an acclaimed play called To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. It would be the longest running off Broadway play of the 1968-69 season.
Quote Of The Day
"Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be — if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking — but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Use it." - Lorraine Hansberry
Today's video features a rare recording of Lorraine Hansberry speaking in New York City, circa 1964. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 18, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 18th, 1593, a warrant was issued by the Queen's Privy Council for the arrest of the legendary English playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe. The warrant accused Marlowe of spreading "blasphemous and damnable opinions."
Five days earlier, Marlowe's friend, roommate, and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd had been arrested and charged with the same crime. During an interrogation in which Kyd was horribly tortured, he claimed that offending documents found in his possession really belonged to Marlowe.
Marlowe was subsequently arrested. He was released on bail while the prosecutors prepared their case. The day before Marlowe was scheduled to appear in court, he was killed in a drunken brawl when a dagger was driven through his eye. He was 29 years old.
Although in life, he had been a controversial personality - he was known to be a hot-tempered alcoholic frequently in trouble with the law - he proved to be far more controversial in death.
The same Privy Council that had charged Marlowe with blasphemy had intervened on his behalf six years earlier to explain to Cambridge University why Marlowe frequently cut classes.
Pleading that he not be expelled, they claimed that Marlowe wasn't a miscreant student - he had cut classes to be of service to the Queen in "matters touching the benefit of his country."
That was actually true. Christopher Marlowe had been recruited as a secret agent while at university, and it now appears that he died not at a pub, but at a government safe house, while in the company of other spies and their associates.
With Marlowe's volatile personality and controversial libertine philosophy, his housemates undoubtedly had motive to kill him, especially if he'd flown into one of his drunken rages.
Conspiracy theories continue to follow the death of Christopher Marlowe. Some believe that Marlowe's death was faked to protect him from enemy agents.
What became of him afterward? Well, some believe that while the rest of Britain thought that he was dead, Marlowe continued to write plays.
One conspiracy theory claims that Marlowe hired an actor named William Shakespeare to be the front for his plays. Another theory claims that William Shakespeare was Marlowe's pseudonym and that an actor with the same name decided to take credit for his work.
According to this theory, the fake Shakespeare either knew or hoped that the real author wouldn't (or couldn't) reveal himself and dispute the false claim. Both theories, while intriguing, have yet to be proven. Most scholars regard them as nonsense.
One thing is definitely true: as a playwright, Christopher Marlowe's talent was on a par with Shakespeare. For centuries, scholars have agreed that Marlowe's plays, such as Tamburlaine the Great, Edward II, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus were in the same league as Shakespeare's classic tragedies.
Quote Of The Day
"I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance." - Christopher Marlowe
Today's video features a complete reading of Christopher Marlowe's classic play, Tamburlaine the Great. Enjoy!
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 17th, 1873, the legendary English writer Dorothy Richardson was born in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. When she was seventeen, her father's financial problems threatened to plunge the family into poverty, so she left school to work.
A few years later, Dorothy's father went bankrupt, and her mother fell into a deep depression. Dorothy quit her job as a governess to take care of her mother, but the distraught woman committed suicide later that year.
After her mother's death, Dorothy moved to Bloomsbury, London, and took a job as receptionist, secretary, and assistant to a dental surgeon. When she wasn't working, she earned extra money writing essays and reviews and hung out with the Bloomsbury Set.
The Bloomsbury Set was a famous circle of libertine writers, artists, critics, and intellectuals who lived and / or worked in Bloomsbury. The group included such legendary writers as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, and H.G. Wells.
Dorothy struck up a close friendship with H.G. Wells, which culminated in a brief and torrid affair with the married writer. She became pregnant with his baby. He offered to help her raise the child.
Dorothy, a determined feminist, broke ties with Wells and decided to raise the baby herself - a daring, controversial act for an unmarried woman in Edwardian England. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage.
After losing her baby, Dorothy moved to Sussex, where she continued with her writing career, earning her living as a freelance writer and journalist. She began work on a novel - a huge epic autobiographical novel that would be published in a series of thirteen volumes.
She also found a new love, marrying Alan Odle, a surrealist painter fifteen years her junior best known for his illustrations for Voltaire's classic novel Candide and Mark Twain's notorious, raunchy comic tale, 1601.
The first volume of Dorothy Richardson's classic novel Pilgrimage, titled Pointed Roofs, was published in 1915. It was a breakthrough novel that bent the established rules of grammar, punctuation, and sentence length to the breaking point.
In a review of Painted Roofs published in 1918, the English writer and critic May Sinclair coined a new term to describe Dorothy Richardson's innovative writing style: stream of consciousness.
Dorothy didn't care for that term. The term she used to describe her writing style was interior monologue. Although her Pilgrimage wouldn't make her famous during her lifetime, it has since been recognized as one of the all time great works of early 20th century English literature.
Pilgrimage would not only inspire her contemporaries such as James Joyce and Marcel Proust, but future generations of writers as well. Her pioneering stream of consciousness writing style is still employed today.
Dorothy Richardson continued working as a freelance writer, as her novel wasn't a huge commercial success. She also wrote short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. Her marriage would be a happy one; she remained with Alan Odle until he died in 1947. She died in 1957 at the age of 84.
She may have been the least famous writer in the Bloomsbury Set, but her contribution to modern literature was legendary.
Quote Of The Day
"You think Christianity is favorable to women? On the contrary. It is the Christian countries that have produced the prostitute and the most vile estimations of women in the world." - Dorothy Richardson
Today's video features a complete reading of Pointed Roofs, the first volume of Dorothy Richardson's epic multi volume novel, Pilgrimage. Enjoy!
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On May 16th, 1939, The Day of the Locust, the classic final novel by the famous American writer Nathanael West was published.
Although he never achieved significant commercial success as a novelist during his short life, today he is recognized as one of the greatest American novelists of the 1930s, and rightfully so.
West, born Nathan Weinstein in New York City, like many fiction writers of the 1930s, worked as a Hollywood screenwriter. He had made a name for himself as a novelist with his dark, surreal tales of Depression-era America, such as Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and A Cool Million (1934).
In 1939, the year that The Day of the Locust was published, the stifling Production Code was in effect in Hollywood, and movies were considered clean, wholesome entertainment. In West's classic novel, he explores the dark side of the Dream Factory.
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 eight-year-old aspiring child star with a talent for blues singing.
Adore's mother - the ultimate stage mother - is so ruthlessly ambitious (and demented) that she passes him off as a girl, hoping that 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 on 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 never does.
In the novel's violent, surreal ending, Homer 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 attacking 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 received mixed reviews when it was published. It is now recognized as Nathanael West's greatest novel. Sadly, it would be his last. The year after it was published, West and his wife Eileen were killed in a car accident. He was 37 years old.
The Day of the Locust was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1975. Directed by John Schlesinger with a screenplay by Waldo Salt, the film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.
Burgess Meredith co-starred as Harry Greener, Billy Barty as Abe Kusich, and in a memorable supporting performance, Jackie Earle Haley as Adore Loomis.
Quote Of The Day
"Man spends a great deal of time making order out of chaos, yet insists that the emotions be disordered. I order my emotions. I am insane." - Nathanael West
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the acclaimed feature film adaptation of Nathanael West's classic novel, The Day of the Locust. Enjoy!