Friday, December 15, 2017

Notes For December 15th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 15th, 1936, the legendary English writer George Orwell (the pseudonym of Eric Blair) delivered the completed manuscript for his classic nonfiction book, The Road To Wigan Pier (1937), before leaving for Spain to help fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

The Road To Wigan Pier was Orwell's account of life in Wigan, a poor coal mining town in Northern England. To research his book, Orwell lived like one of the locals, in a dirty rented room above a tripe shop.

He met many Wiganers, took extensive notes on the living conditions and wages, explored the mine, and spent days in the library researching public health records, working conditions in mines, and other subjects.

The resulting book is divided into two parts; the first part is a straightforward documentary on life in Wigan. The second part is a philosophical treatise that asks and attempts to answer a question: if socialism can improve the appalling conditions in Wigan and towns like it around the world, then why aren't we all socialists?

George Orwell was a lifelong socialist, and he believed that socialism could improve the condition of towns like Wigan. Why then was socialism not universally accepted? Orwell blamed the ferocious prejudice of the white Christian working class against the people they associated with socialism.

Among these "undesirables" were the lower class poor, blacks and Jews, intellectuals, atheists and agnostics, libertines, hippies (or sandal-wearers, as Orwell called them), pacifists, feminists, and others.

Orwell concluded that "The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."

Orwell would later become famous for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), both of which were brilliant allegorical satires of Stalinism. Animal Farm was a modern fable, Nineteen Eighty-Four a work of dystopic science fiction.

In the years since their publication, right wingers in the United States and around the world embraced these novels as the bibles of anti-communism. George Orwell became their hero, even though he was actually a staunch socialist.

Why then did Orwell write his famous novels? During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell fought alongside the POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista - the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) which was allied with Britain's Labour Party, of which he was a member.

The POUM was one of several leftist factions which had formed a loose coalition to fight General Franco's fascist army. Another member of this coalition was the Spanish Communist Party, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.

At the Soviets' insistence, the Spanish Communist Party denounced the POUM as a Trotskyist organization and falsely claimed that its members were in cahoots with the fascists. Near the end of the war, the POUM was outlawed, and the Spanish Communist Party began attacking its members.

Tragically, this infighting would break apart the coalition and give the fascists the opportunity to win the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was wounded in action, shot in the throat by a sniper. While he recovered in a POUM hospital, he had a lot of time to think, and he came to hate Soviet communism.

The lesson Orwell teaches us in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four is that even an ideal as noble as socialism can become corrupted and twisted into something far worse than the ills it seeks to cure.

And yet, he remained a lifelong socialist and always hoped for a better world than the one of poverty, despair, and apathy that he experienced while researching and writing The Road To Wigan Pier.

George Orwell died of tuberculosis in January of 1950. He was 46 years old.


Quote Of The Day

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a BBC documentary on the writing of George Orwell's classic nonfiction book, The Road To Wigan Pier. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Notes For December 14th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 14th, 1916, the famous American writer Shirley Jackson was born. She was born in San Francisco, California, to an upper-middle class family. When she was a young girl, the family moved across the country to Rochester, New York, where she later graduated from Brighton High School.

After high school, Shirley Jackson attended first the University of Rochester, then Syracuse University. While a student at Syracuse, her first published short story, Janice (1938), appeared.

Through her work with the university's literary magazine, she met Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would become both a famous literary critic and her husband.

Shirley and Stanley settled down in rural Vermont and had four children - two sons and two daughters - who would become somewhat famous themselves when their mother included fictionalized versions of them in her humorous memoirs, Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957).

Although Shirley's literary career - and sadly, her life - would be short lived, she wrote six novels, several children's books, and numerous short stories. She would famously quip, "Fifty percent of my life was spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, washing dishes and clothes, and mending."

Shirley Jackson's first novel, The Road Through the Wall, published in 1948, was inspired by the upper-middle class California suburb she had spent her early childhood in.

The novel tells the dark stories of the people who live in a seemingly ideal community that is tearing itself apart on the inside. Meanwhile, a new road being built threatens to expose the isolated community to the outside world.

Jackson's first novel introduced her trademark prose style and fascination with the dark side of human nature. In her later novels, such as The Bird's Nest (1954) and The Sundial (1958), Jackson ventured into all out horror.

These stories combined supernatural and psychological horror. This was nothing new to her. Jackson's most famous short story, The Lottery, dealt with similar themes.

The Lottery, first published in The New Yorker in 1948, told the story of a small, rural American town with a horrific secret. The story begins with the town's 300 residents acting strange and nervous, as June 27th approaches.

On that date, they will partake in their annual ritual, called "the lottery." In preparation for the ritual, children collect stones while the adults assemble for the event.

The reader soon learns that "the lottery" is an ancient ritual held to choose a human sacrifice to ensure a good harvest. In the first round, the head of each family chooses a slip of paper. Bill Hutchinson receives the paper with the black dot on it, so the sacrifice will come from his family.

In the second round, each Hutchinson family member chooses a slip of paper. Bill's wife Tessie receives the paper with the black dot. The townspeople stone her to death while she denounces the lottery to her dying breath.

The Lottery was quite a shocker for readers in 1948, and hundreds of letters poured in to the New Yorker. Shirley described reactions as "bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse." Some charged her with a calculated, subversive attack on American values and religious faith.

The story would be republished in book form as the title story of the collection, The Lottery and Other Stories (1949). It would be adapted as an acclaimed short film in 1969, a made-for-TV feature film in 1996, and as a short film again in 2007.

Shirley Jackson's most famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, was published in 1959. The brilliant supernatural horror story told the tale of Dr. John Montague, a parapsychologist who rents the famous and supposedly haunted Hill House for a summer.

Montague intends to prove that the house is in fact possessed by supernatural forces. Accompanying him are two people who have already experienced supernatural phenomena. They are Theodora, a psychic, and Eleanor, a shy, troubled recluse who as a girl witnessed poltergeist activity in and around her family's home.

The haunting soon begins, and as the novel progresses, it becomes obvious that the evil forces in Hill House are intent on possessing the vulnerable Eleanor, as frightening incidents begin to erode her sanity.

Dr. Montague's bossy, arrogant, and tactless wife later arrives to help her husband with his investigation, along with boys' school headmaster Arthur Parker, who is also interested in the supernatural. Will any of these people survive Hill House?

The Haunting of Hill House was adapted first as an acclaimed feature film called The Haunting in 1963, starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson, and again in a mediocre 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In his classic 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, an analysis of horror in literature, comics, film, radio, and TV, legendary horror novelist Stephen King proclaimed The Haunting of Hill House to be one of the greatest horror novels of the late 20th century.

The novel's masterful prose and power to scare can be seen in the famous opening paragraph:


No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

As Shirley Jackson's reputation grew as a horror novelist, her husband Stanley started a myth that she practiced witchcraft. This was done as a publicity stunt to sell books, but many people took it seriously.

Shirley found their reaction funny. Later, the myth gave her the idea to write The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), a children's book based on the Salem witch trials.

Throughout her life, Shirley suffered from mental and psychosomatic illnesses. These illnesses, and the effects of the various prescription drugs she took to treat them caused her health to decline early in life. She was also overweight and a heavy smoker.

Shirley Jackson died in her sleep of heart failure in August of 1965 at the age of 48. In 1996, a crate of her unpublished short stories was found in the barn behind her home. The best of these stories were published later that year as the short story collection, Just An Ordinary Day.

In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Award was established, with permission from her estate, to honor her literary legacy and recognize outstanding achievement in psychological suspense, horror, and dark fantasy literature.


Quote Of The Day

"I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there." - Shirley Jackson


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Shirley Jackson's classic short story, The Lottery. Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Notes For December 13th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 13th, 1915, the famous Canadian-American writer Kenneth Millar, best known by his pseudonym Ross Macdonald, was born in Los Gatos, California, to Canadian parents who then moved back to their hometown of Kitchener, Ontario.

When Millar was a boy, his father suddenly walked out on the family. Millar found himself moving frequently, shuffled between his mother and various relatives. Years later, the themes of broken homes and domestic discord would feature prominently in his fiction.

In 1938, while living in Canada, the 23-year-old Kenneth Millar met and married his wife, Margaret Sturm, who would become a successful mystery writer under her married name, Margaret Millar. She bore him a daughter, Linda. Kenneth Millar began his literary career writing short stories for pulp magazines.

To avoid being confused with his wife, Kenneth Millar took the pen name John Macdonald. Then he learned that there was a famous writer called John D. Macdonald. To avoid confusion again, Millar changed his pseudonym to John Ross Macadonald before settling on Ross Macdonald as his permanent pen name.

For his college education, Kenneth Millar attended the University of Michigan in the United States, where he earned a degree in literature. In 1944, while doing his graduate work, his first novel was published.

The Dark Tunnel, aka I Die Slowly, published under his first pseudonym John Macdonald, was a spy thriller. In it, college professor Robert Branch ridicules his best friend for suspecting that a Nazi spy may be lurking in their sleepy Midwestern town.

Branch is more interested in the fact that his German ex-girlfriend has accepted a position at the university where he teaches. Trouble lands a one-two punch when first Branch's ex is suddenly engaged to marry the son of the university's German professor.

Then, Branch witnesses his suspicious best friend fall to his death from his office window. Branch is the only one who doesn't believe that his friend's death was a suicide. When the professor tries to solve the crime, he finds himself marked for death.

The same year that Kenneth Millar's first novel was published, he joined the Navy, as World War II was still raging. He served for two years as a communications officer. After his discharge in 1946, he returned to Michigan, earned his Ph.D., and continued with his literary career.

Millar's third novel, Blue City (1947), marked his transition to hard-boiled detective fiction. It told the story of Johnny Weather, a young soldier who returns from the war to find that his estranged father is dead.

His father, a nightclub owner, was a prominent figure involved in the corruption of the town, and the police are more than happy to let his murder remain unsolved.

As Johnny Weather tries to solve the crime, he finds that more people than just the cops prefer that his father's murder remains unsolved, even the man's ex-wife, who attempts to seduce Johnny. The novel would be adapted as a feature film in 1986.

In 1949, Kenneth Millar published The Moving Target, his first novel featuring a detective character who had been the subject of a short story series.

Lew Archer, named after writer Lew Wallace and Philip Marlowe's partner Miles Archer, was not your typical detective. We learn a lot about him in his first novel.

Big (6'2") and tough, yet intelligent and compassionate, Lew Archer possessed far greater depth and humanity than the average hard-boiled detective.

A troubled child (he claimed that he once "took the strap away from my old man") turned petty thief, Archer was befriended and reformed by a kindhearted older policeman.

Archer became a cop himself, training with the Long Beach (California) Police Department. When he finds that the department is a cesspool of corruption, he won't go along with it, and is kicked off the force.

With the war on, Archer joins the Army and serves in military intelligence. After the war ends, he returns home and becomes a private detective. While he solves crimes, Archer pines for his ex-wife Sue and drinks too much.

In his first novel, he's hired by the dispassionate wife of an eccentric oil tycoon who has mysteriously vanished. His attempts to solve the crime lead him to a strange cast of characters and numerous other crimes that must be solved before he can solve the one that he was hired to investigate.

What makes the Lew Archer novels so memorable is that they're more than just detective novels. Using incredibly complex plots and adding a great deal of psychological depth and insights to his characters' motivations, Millar's detective novels were essentially part whodunit and part psychological thriller.

A huge hit with genre fans and literary critics alike, Lew Archer's adventures would be adapted for the screen and television. The most famous film adaptations were Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975), which starred Paul Newman as the iconic detective.

In these films, Lew Archer's last name was changed to Harper. Some say it was because Paul Newman believed that the letter H was lucky for him, having previously starred in the classic films The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963).

However, others, including Harper screenwriter William Goldman, claimed that the producers changed the name to save money, as they hadn't bought the rights to the entire Lew Archer series, only a couple of novels.

Kenneth Millar, aka Ross Macdonald, wrote eighteen Lew Archer novels. His last, The Blue Hammer, was published in 1976. He died of Alzheimer's disease in 1983 at the age of 67.


Quote Of The Day

"There's nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure." - Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading from Ross Macdonald's classic Lew Archer novel, The Ivory Grin (1952). Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Notes For December 12th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 12th, 1821, the legendary French writer Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen, France. His father, Achille-Cléophas, was a surgeon. According to some sources, the young Gustave began writing stories at the age of eight.

After being educated at Lycée Pierre-Corneille, Flaubert went to Paris to study law. He didn't care much for law and preferred his hometown in Normandy to the City of Lights. He did make some friends in Paris, including fellow writer Victor Hugo.

In 1846, at the age of 25, Flaubert suffered an epileptic attack and left Paris. He settled in Croisset, near Rouen, where he would live with his mother for the rest of his life.

Flaubert was openly bisexual, but preferred women. His one and only great love was the poet Louise Colet. When their passionate affair came to an end, he lost interest in romance and never married.

He wasn't lonely. He caroused with prostitutes of both sexes, (often suffering from venereal disease as a result) he was close to his niece Caroline, and enjoyed the company of other writers, including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, George Sand, and Ivan Turgenev.

Gustave Flaubert's first published work of fiction was a semi-autobiographical novella called November (1842). The narrator is a schoolboy who meditates on his life, including his determination to become a man both physically and sexually.

The narrator ultimately loses his virginity to Marie, a worldly-wise courtesan who enthralls him with stories of her erotic experiences. Later, the narrator decides to see her again, only to find that she and her brothel have vanished.

Flaubert's first full length novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, written in 1849 but not published in its final version until 1874, was based on St. Anthony the Great's alleged temptation by supernatural forces in the Libyan Desert.

After completing his first draft, Flaubert read the novel aloud to his friends, writers Louis Bouilhet and Maxime Du Camp, over a period of four days, after which, he asked for their opinions on it. They encouraged him to burn the manuscript.

In 1857, Flaubert published what is considered his masterpiece, the classic, controversial novel Madame Bovary. It first appeared in a serialized form in the French literary magazine Le Revue de Paris, published from October 1st through December 15th, 1856.

The novel was considered scandalous and attacked for its alleged obscenity and immorality; Flaubert was accused of glorifying adultery. In January of 1857, the novel went on trial for obscenity. On February 7th, it was acquitted - found not legally obscene.

Flaubert's novel told the unforgettable story of Emma Rouault, a young woman who falls in love with a country doctor, Charles Bovary. Although a decent man, he turns out to be awkward, weak, and an insufferable bore. Emma becomes disillusioned and despondent.

When wealthy libertine landowner Rodolphe Boulanger seduces her, Emma finds the passionate romance she'd been craving. She risks exposing her affair with her indiscreet love letters and visits to her lover.

Emma plans to elope with Rodolphe, but he has no intention of marrying her. He dumps her, ending the relationship with a dear john letter enclosed in a basket of apricots. Her romantic fantasy world suddenly shattered, Emma falls severely ill.

After recovering her health, Emma seeks happiness in material possessions. The crafty merchant Monsieur Lheureux manipulates Emma into buying lots of luxury items from him on credit, and she quickly accrues a crushing amount of debt.

Lheureux arranges for Emma to get power of attorney over her husband's estate, then calls in her debt. Desperate for money, she tries prostituting herself to Rodolphe Boulanger. When that fails, she swallows arsenic. The romance of suicide even fails her; she dies an agonizing death.

As a writer, Flaubert's prose combined romanticism with realism. A perfectionist, he strictly avoided cliches and determined to find le mot juste - the right word. He worked in solitude and could spend a whole week writing and rewriting a single page.

With the publication of Madame Bovary, scandal would follow Flaubert for most of his life, but he continued to write great novels. Salammbô (1862) was a historical novel set in 3rd century Carthage amid the Mercenary Revolt, which took place shortly after the First Punic War broke out.

At the time Flaubert wrote his novel, this was a rarely studied period in history. The author went to Carthage to do his research; his primary source was book one of The Histories by the legendary ancient Greek historian Polybius.

Salammbô proved to be a masterpiece that restored the reputation of Flaubert as one of France's greatest writers. He had been denounced by the conservative establishment and the Church as a mere pornographer.

Gustave Flaubert's last great novel, Sentimental Education (1869) was set amid the French revolution of 1848 and the founding of the Second French Empire - the regime of Napoleon III, which would rule from 1852 to 1870 - as seen through the eyes of a young man named Frederic Moreau.

Flaubert died of a stroke in 1880 at the age of 58.


Quote Of The Day

"Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living." - Gustave Flaubert


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Gustave Flaubert's classic short story, A Simple Heart. Enjoy!

Monday, December 11, 2017

IWW Members' Publishing Successes



Wayne Scheer

My poem, "Not a Good Day," is up at New Verse News, a site for current events poetry.

My somewhat autobiographical flash, "Doc," is up at Everyday Fiction.

Rasmenia Massoud

My story, 'Hummingbird's Monster' has been published at Viewfinder Literary Magazine and is now online.

Thanks to my merry band of fiction critiquers for helping me to make this one submission-worthy.

Joanna M. Weston

My poem, 'Sewing lessons', is up at Friday's Poems, top of the morning too!

Eric Petersen

My review of Blockbuster Science - The Real Science in Science Fiction By David Siegel Bernstein, has been published by the Internet Review of Books.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Notes For December 8th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 8th, 1894, the famous American writer James Thurber was born. He was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a clerk and minor politician with dreams of becoming a lawyer or an actor.

His mother was a fun-loving practical joker whom he described as "a born comedienne... one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known." He had two brothers. When he was a boy, his brother William accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell.

Medical technology was primitive at the time, so James lost his eye. Since the injury prevented him from participating in sports and other recreational activities, Thurber channeled his energy into creative endeavors, taking up writing and drawing.

Thurber attended Ohio State University, but never graduated because his poor eyesight disqualified him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. He would be awarded a degree posthumously, in 1995.

After leaving university in 1918, near the close of World War I, James worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., then in Paris, a position he would hold until 1920.

After leaving his job as code clerk, Thurber moved back home to Columbus, where he began his writing career, first as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. In addition to reporting, he wrote book, film, and play reviews in a weekly column called Credos and Curios.

He moved back to Paris for a time and wrote for several major newspapers as a freelancer. Then, in 1925, he moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, taking a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

Two years later, James Thurber became an editor for the New Yorker magazine, with help from his friend, the famous writer E.B. White. In 1930, White found some of Thurber's drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication.

As a result, Thurber became both a writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker for the next thirty years. In 1935, he married his second wife, Helen, just one month after his divorce from his first wife was finalized.

His marriage to Helen would be a happy one and the couple would remain together until Thurber's death. They had no children, but Thurber's first wife, Althea, had bore him a daughter, Rosemary.

Although James Thurber's first published book, co-written with E.B. White, was a parody of sexual psychology manuals titled Is Sex Necessary, or Why You Feel The Way You Do, Thurber was best known for his short story collections, wherein he established himself as one of the masters of the form.

While dark tales such as The Whip-Poor-Will, The Dog Who Bit People, and The Night The Bed Fell are among his most famous works, his best known and most popular story was a poignant comic gem titled The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (modeled after Thurber's father) is a mild-mannered nebbish en route to do his weekly shopping with his wife, who has an appointment at the beauty parlor. During this trip, Mitty escapes from his extremely mundane world (and his overbearing wife) through a series of fantastic daydreams.

In these daydreams, he becomes the pilot of a Navy seaplane caught in a storm, a brilliant surgeon performing a revolutionary medical procedure, a cool assassin on trial, and a daring RAF pilot on a secret suicide mission during World War I.

The theme of the story is summed up in the sentence "Success is a journey, not a destination." In 1947, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was adapted as a feature film starring Danny Kaye in the title role.

Though he served as script consultant, all of Thurber's suggestions were ignored by producer Samuel Goldwyn. The movie bore little resemblance to Thurber's story, and in a letter written to Life magazine, Thurber expressed his deep hatred of the film. Despite this, Goldwyn insisted that Thurber approved of the project.

Throughout his prolific literary career, James Thurber wrote numerous short stories which were published in dozens of collections. Among these were over 75 fables, the most famous being The Unicorn In The Garden.

In this humorous modern fable, a mild mannered husband sees a unicorn in his garden. When he tells his wife about it, she ridicules him and reminds him that "the unicorn is a mythical beast."

He persists, maintaining that the animal is real, so she threatens to have him committed. He doesn't believe her, but she makes good on her threat. The authorities arrive and the wife tells them that her husband saw a unicorn in the garden.

They ask her husband if he saw the unicorn and he says no, because "the unicorn is a mythical beast." So they take the wife away in a straight-jacket and "the husband lived happily ever after!"

Thurber's other writings include numerous nonfiction articles and essays, including humorous essays on the English language and a five-part 1947-48 series for the New Yorker on the popularity of radio soap operas.

In the late 1930s, he co-wrote the hit Broadway play The Male Animal with his college friend, actor-director-writer Elliot Nugent. It would be adapted as a feature film in 1942 that starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

As a cartoonist, Thurber was known for his surreal, satirical drawings. With his eyesight failing, the last cartoon he drew was a self-portrait in yellow crayon on black paper, which appeared on the cover of the July 9th, 1951 issue of Time magazine.

Although he worked in other genres and mediums, James Thurber was best known as a master of the short story. He died on November 2nd, 1961, of complications from pneumonia, following a stroke. He was 66 years old.


Quote Of The Day

"Don't get it right, just get it written." - James Thurber


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of James Thurber's most famous short story, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Enjoy!


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Notes For December 7th, 2017


This Day In Literary History

On December 7th, 1873, the famous American writer Willa Cather was born. The oldest of seven children, she was born Wilella Sibert Cather in Gore, Virginia.

When Willa was nine years old, her father moved the family to Nebraska, where he tried his hand first at farming, then at the real estate and insurance business.

The young Willa fell in love with the landscape and weather of the frontier. She also became interested in the cultures of the immigrant and Native American families who lived in the area. All of this would inspire her as a writer.

When Willa enrolled at the University of Nebraska, she chose science for her major, as she had initially planned to become a doctor. Then, during her freshman year, her first published work appeared.

An essay she'd written about Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle was published by the Nebraska State Journal. Willa became a regular contributor to the Journal and changed her major to English, determined to become a writer.

After graduating with a degree in English, Willa Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take a job writing for the Home Monthly, a women's magazine.

From there, she became a drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh Leader. She also taught high school English, Latin, and algebra. At the Allegheny High School, she became the head of the English department.

In 1906, at the age of 33, Willa moved to New York City to work as an editor for McClure's Magazine, a hugely popular liberal magazine that was famous for its muckraking exposes of corporate crimes and abuses.

In addition to her editing duties, her fiction was published alongside that of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Willa also co-authored the biography Mary Baker Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science which was published in a serialized format by McClure's in fourteen installments over an eighteen month period. It would later be republished in book form.

After several years working at her hectic editing position, Willa found her own writing output slowing to a crawl. So she bounced back and wrote her first novel.

Alexander's Bridge 1912, first published in a serialized format by McClure's, received great reviews from The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly.

Alexander's Bridge was way ahead of its time in its depiction of a man suffering from mid-life crisis. The middle-aged, married Bartley Alexander, a construction engineer famous for the bridges he's built, finds himself drawn into an affair with an old flame, Hilda Burgoyne.

Torn between two loves and tormented, Alexander's life literally comes crashing down around him when he is summoned to Canada to inspect his newest bridge, which is in danger of collapsing.

Willa Cather followed her memorable debut novel with her classic Prairie Trilogy - O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918).

O Pioneers! told the story of a Swedish immigrant farm family in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. In The Song of the Lark, the young heroine Thea Kronborg leaves her Colorado hometown, determined to become an opera star.

My Antonia, the third and most famous novel in the trilogy, chronicles the life of Antonia "Tony" Shimerda, a young Bohemian girl living in the small town of Black Hawk, Nebraska.

The novel, which incorporates several previously written short stories, is divided into five "books" and narrated by Jim Burden, a successful lawyer.

Antonia was his childhood sweetheart and remains his lifelong friend, though she marries another man and Jim has an affair with another childhood friend, Lena Lingard.

In 1922, Willa published the novel that would win her a Pulitzer Prize. One of Ours is a tale of existential angst set in Nebraska around the time of the first World War.

Claude Wheeler, the son of a successful farmer, is attending a Christian college, which he absolutely hates. He pleads with his parents to let him enroll at the state university in order to get a better education. They refuse.

Struggling to find meaning in his life, Claude strikes up a friendship with the Erlichs, a family who introduces him to classical music and progressive free thinking.

Unfortunately, Claude has the rug pulled out from under him when his father expands the family farm and orders him home to help work it. Pinned to the farm like a mounted butterfly, Claude grows bored and listless.

Finding no fulfillment in farm work, he marries Enid Royce, a childhood friend, but soon realizes that she cares more about her activism and Christian missionary work than him.

Enid ultimately leaves him and goes to China to care for her sister, a fellow missionary who has fallen ill. Devastated and disillusioned, the only thing that Claude has to take his mind off his miserable life is news of the war.

A world war has broken out in Europe, and Claude's entire family is obsessed with the conflict. When the United States enters the war in 1917, he volunteers for military service.

Ironically, despite the hardships and horrors of war, Claude finally finds meaning in his new life as a soldier. Despite all his new responsibilities and all the orders he must follow, he has never felt so free.

The idealist without an ideal to cling to now has something to fight for in the hellish trenches of France, as his regiment engages an overwhelming German force in a ferocious battle.

Willa Cather established herself as one of the best American writers of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, her work fell out of favor as the American landscape made a dramatic shift from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression.

Discouraged by criticism that her work had become irrelevant, her later writing output slowed to a crawl and she became a recluse. She died of a stroke in 1947 at the age of 73.


Quote Of The Day

"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." - Willa Cather


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Willa Cather's classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, One of Ours. Enjoy!

The Craft of Writing in the Blogosphere

Loading...

News from the World of Writing

Loading...