Archives for posts with tag: Southern authors

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June 27, 2013 marks the 141st anniversary of the birth of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), a poet, novelist, and playwright—and the first African American writer to gain national prominence. Born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of ex-slaves, Dunbar lived only to age thirty-three, but in his short life created a large body of work—writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs, essays, and poetry. Maya Angelou took the title of her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings after a line from Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.”

The just-released Silver Birch Press SUMMER ANTHOLOGY features three summer-themed poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Find the book at Amazon.com.

IN SUMMER
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies’ soft blue,
And a belt where the rivers run.
And now for the kiss of the wind,
And the touch of the air’s soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
With the freedom of lakes and lands.
I envy the farmer’s boy
Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shining green of the young blades lean
To the breezes that cool his brow.
He sings to the dewy morn,
No thought of another’s ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
And the whole wide world to hear.
He sings of the joys of life,
Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o’erfull heart, without aim or art;
’Tis a song of the merriest.
O ye who toil in the town,
And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
Shall renew your joy of heart.
Oh, poor were the worth of the world
If never a song were heard —
If the sting of grief had no relief,
And never a heart were stirred.
So, long as the streams run down,
And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
And sing in the face of ill.

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“I have a one-volume Shakespeare that I have just about worn out carrying around with me.” WILLIAM FAULKNER

William Faulkner stated many times that William Shakespeare served as his single greatest influence. An article entitled A Casebook on Mankind: Faulkner’s Use of Shakespeare” by Robert W. Hamblin explores the connection between the two authors. An excerpt is included below.

Throughout his career William Faulkner acknowledged the influence of many writers upon his work — Twain, Dreiser, Anderson, Keats, Dickens, Conrad, Balzac, Bergson, and Cervantes, to name only a few — but the one writer that he consistently mentioned as a constant and continuing influence was William Shakespeare...In one of his last interviews shortly before his death in 1962, Faulkner said of all writers, ‘We yearn to be as good as Shakespeare.’ 

The parallels in the lives and careers of the two writers are remarkably striking.  Both were born in provincial small towns but found their eventual success in metropolitan cities, Shakespeare in London and Faulkner in New York and Hollywood…Neither received a great deal of formal education.  Both started out as poets but shortly turned to other narrative forms, Faulkner to fiction and Shakespeare to drama…

Each wrote both tragedies and comedies..A number of dominant themes and emphases are common to both writers, including the imaginative use of historical materials, the incorporation of both tragic and comic views of life, and the paradoxical tension between fate (in Faulkner’s case, determinism) and free will.”

Moreover, both writers exhibit a fascination for experimental form and language, flouting conventional rules to create new narrative structures and delighting in neologisms, puns, and other forms of word play.  Finally, both writers were acutely interested in the paradoxical relationship of life and art.”

Read the entire article at this link.

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In 1956, THE PARIS REVIEW, published a rare interview with William Faulker, where the great author discusses his craft and the books he loves. Below is an excerpt from the interview conducted by Jean Stein.

INTERVIEWER

Do you read your contemporaries?

FAULKNER

No, the books I read are the ones I knew and loved when I was a young man and to which I return as you do to old friends: the Old Testament, Dickens, Conrad, Cervantes, Don QuixoteI read that every year, as some do the Bible. Flaubert, Balzac—he created an intact world of his own, a bloodstream running through twenty books—Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare. I read Melville occasionally and, of the poets, Marlowe, Campion, Jonson, Herrick, Donne, Keats, and Shelley. I still read Housman. I’ve read these books so often that I don’t always begin at page one and read on to the end. I just read one scene, or about one character, just as you’d meet and talk to a friend for a few minutes.

INTERVIEWER

And Freud?

FAULKNER

Everybody talked about Freud when I lived in New Orleans, but I have never read him. Neither did Shakespeare. I doubt if Melville did either, and I’m sure Moby Dick didn’t.

INTERVIEWER

Do you ever read mystery stories?

FAULKNER

I read Simenon because he reminds me something of Chekhov.

INTERVIEWER

What about your favorite characters?

FAULKNER

My favorite characters are Sarah Gamp—a cruel, ruthless woman, a drunkard, opportunist, unreliable, most of her character was bad, but at least it was character; Mrs. Harris, Falstaff, Prince Hal, Don Quixote, and Sancho of course. Lady Macbeth I always admire. And Bottom, Ophelia, and Mercutio—both he and Mrs. Gamp coped with life, didn’t ask any favors, never whined. Huck Finn, of course, and Jim.

Read the PARIS REVIEW interview at this link.

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Today, we celebrate “Get Caught Reading” month with a tribute to one of the world’s most renowned readers — and writers — Nobel-prize-winning writer William Faulkner (1897-1963).

According to an article by Susan Reichert at the Southern Writers Magazine blog: The University of Mississippi once invited William Faulkner to the English department to address one class per day for a week. Faulkner devoted the entire time  to answering the students’ questions. When asked what is the best training one should have for writing he said:

Read, read, read. Read everything – classics, good or bad, trash; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

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In this charming photo from 1969, novelist/screenwriter/essayist/writing icon Joan Didion reads HONEY BEAR by Dixie Willson to three-year-old daughter Quintana Roo Dunne. Since Didion is a writer par excellence, we are assuming that she picked only the best books to read to her daughter — and it follows that Honey Bear is a classic.

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Wow! Yes! None other than Tom Wolfe — author of one of my favorite novels THE BONFIRES OF THE VANITIES and many other fiction and nonfiction works — claims that Honey Bear by Dixie Willson was the piece of literature that inspired him to become a writer (no kidding!). Because Wolfe’s take on Willson’s book is so fascinating and informative, I’m including an excerpt from his musings below.

From “The Books that Made the Writers” (YALE ALUMNI MAGAZINE) by Tom Wolfe:

“…I was… galvanized…by a writer who never rated so much as a footnote to American literary history: Dixie WillsonDixie Willson wrote, and Maginel Wright Barney illustrated, a book called Honey Bear in 1923. My mother used to read it to me at bedtime long before I knew one letter of the alphabet from another. Over and over she read it to me. I was small, but like many people my age I had already mastered the art of having things my way. I had memorized the entire poem in the passive sense that I could tell whenever Mother skipped a passage in the vain hope of getting the 110th or 232nd reading over with a little sooner. Oh, no-ho-ho…there was no fooling His Majesty the Baby. He wanted it all. He couldn’t get enough of it.

Honey Bear is a narrative poem about a baby kidnapped from a bassinet by a black bear. Maginel Wright Barney drew and painted in the japanais Vienna Secession style. To me, her pictures were pure magic. But Honey Bear’s main attraction was Dixie Willson’s rollicking and rolling rhythm: anapestic quadrameter with spondees at regular intervals. One has to read it out loud in order to be there:

Once upon a summer in the hills by the river
Was a deep green forest where the wild things grew.
There were caves as dark as midnight—there were tangled trees and thickets
And a thousand little places where the sky looked through.

The Willson beat made me think writing must be not only magical but fun…I resolved then and there, lying illiterate on a little pillow in a tiny bed, to be a writer. In homage to Dixie Willson, I’ve slipped a phrase or two from Honey Bear into every book I’ve written. I tucked the fourth line, above, into the opening chapter of The Right Stuff (page 4) from memory as I described how not-yet-an-Astronaut Pete Conrad’s and his Jean Simmons-lookalike wife Jane’s little white brick cottage near Jacksonville Naval Air Base was set in a thick green grove of pine trees with ‘a thousand little places where the sun peeks through.’ Peeks… looked… Ah, well, hey ho…”

Read more of of “The Books that Made the Writers” at YALE ALUMNI REVIEW.

Photo: Joan Didion Reads Honey Bear by Dixie Willson to daughter Quintana Roo Dunne, Los Angeles Times, 1969, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Note: Honey Bear by Dixie Willson is currently out of print, but copies are usually available on ebay (starting at around  $100)…

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“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.” EUDORA WELTY (1909-2001)

April 13, 2013 marked the 104th anniversary of the birth of author and photographer Eudora Welty who lived a long and productive life, passing away in 2001 at age 92. Welty spent most of her years in her native Jackson, Mississippi, where she wrote novels and short stories in the bedroom of her family home.

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According to the Eudora Welty House website, her writing routine was to start early and write as long as she could, pausing briefly at noon for a light lunch. She viewed writing as joyful work and summer was her favorite time to write — because the neighborhood was especially quiet, with people staying indoors to avoid the Mississippi heat. Her home is a National Historic Landmark and open to the public as a museum.

The photo of Welty at the top of this post shows the author In the editing phase of her work, when she would place manuscript pages on her bed,  cutting and pinning passages together with sewing pins. Later she used rubber cement. (We sometimes forget what writers went through in pre-computer times — when cut and paste was exactly that.)

Eudora Welty was also a gifted photographer — find out more in this Smithsonian article — and one of the most decorated of American authors. Her awards and honors include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Optimist’s Daughter, 1973), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), the National Book Award (Collected Works of Eudora Welty, 1983), numerous O.Henry Awards for her short stories, the National Medal of Arts (1986), designation as Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the government of France, and many other forms of recognition for her gifts as an author.

Find her most renowned novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, at Amazon.com, where used hardcover copies are available for as low as one cent!

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April 24, 2013 marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of multi-hyphenate Robert Penn Warren — a poet-novelist-essayist-editor-critic — the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry, and likely the most decorated American author of all time.

Warren (1905-1989) received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for his novel All the King’s Men and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. From 1944-1945, Warren served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. His other honors and awards include Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), MacArthur Fellowship (1981), designation as first U.S. Poet Laureate (1986), and National Medal of Arts (1987).

Photo: Robert Penn Warren working on the revisions of a book in a barn near his home (April 1956 by Leonard McCombe, Time/Life, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED).

Let’s celebrate this remarkable writer’s birthday with one of his most beautiful poems.

TELL ME A STORY

by Robert Penn Warren

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward. 

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Today we celebrate the birth of one of the all-time greatest of the great writers — Flannery O’Connor, born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925. Author of two novels — Wise Blood (1952), which she holds on her lap in the photo at right, and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) — and 32 short stories, O’Connor created a lasting body of work in her short life (she died in 1964 at age 39).

Kurt Vonnegut said of her, The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.” (For the record, Vonnegut’s first rule of writing is:Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” Read the complete list at this link.)

Here’s one of our favorite Flannery O’Connor quotes: “I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both time and eternity.”

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WHAT WE NEED IS HERE

by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. 

Photo: White Buffalo BK, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934) describes himself as  “an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer.” He is a prolific author of novels, short stories, poems, and essays. He is also an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012.

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FLANNERY O’CONNOR TALKS ABOUT HER WRITING HABITS: “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” 

Illustration: Tin House, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED