On October 16th in 1847, Charlotte Brontë published, Jane Eyre. 165 years old, and it’s still considered a masterpiece of fiction.
In other news, we’d like to wish Mr. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde a very happy 158th birthday! As always, we are throwing a little birthday party tonight and we hope you will all yield to at least one temptation in his honor ;)
On this day, in 1974, confessional poet Anne Sexton, took her own life by asphyxiating herself with carbon monoxide in her garage. She was 45 years old.
Many of you will already know that Anne Sexton’s life was haunted by abuse she suffered as a child, at the hands of her parents. She was committed to mental institutions, and underwent many years of intense therapy to treat her tendencies. It is said she abused her children and struggled with bipolar disorder, nervous breakdowns and alcoholism. If you would like more information on her personal life, we recommend her biography by Diane Middlebrook.
Sexton’s first book of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), examines her mental breakdowns and subsequent recoveries. It was her confessional intensity that brought her to the forefront of the literary world, earning her a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for Live or Die. Our favorite collection of poems by Sexton is undoubtedly All My Pretty Ones, published in 1962. It’s beautifully lyrical and just so… honest.
Several volumes of poetry were also published posthumously. Among them, our favorites are 45 Mercy Street (1976) and Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories (1978), which are both edited by her daughter, Linda Gray Sexton.
Sexton utilized her knowledge of the human condition; pain, joy… vulnerability. Her metaphors were harsh at times, and the unexpected twists and turns of her verse either made readers love her or hate her. I think it’s pretty clear where we stand ;) What made her a great writer was her brutal honesty.
Today… we encourage you to confess. Write about a secret you dare not expose… write about some innermost thought you’ve had, no matter how taboo. Expose yourself through the written word and see what happens. You may surprise yourself.
Also, please consider making a donation to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to help prevent another brilliant artist, friend or loved one from hurting themselves in the future.And if you feel yourself struggling with similar issues as Ms. Sexton, we encourage you to please seek the help you need… and continue writing. Writing Saves.
On September 28th in 1891, American author, Herman Melville passed away at the age of 72.
Melville is, of course, best remembered for his novel Moby Dick, or The Whale. But what you may not be as familiar with is his first work, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, or Four Months’ Residence in a Valley of the Marquesas (1846), in which he described his escape from the cannibals! Melville worked in merchant shipping until 1844, documenting his unique seafaring travels all the while.
Though none of his other works ever reached the popularity as Moby Dick, they are still worth a read through. Particularly if you are a fan of realism, adventure tales and rich description. We can recommend Redburn, His Voyage (1849) and White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War (1850).
As for “The Whale”, it would be perfectly silly for us to express the significance of this book here. It is one of the ultimate classics of American Literature that has inspired popular fiction, music, fine art, poetry, theatre, advertising and film.
Today, we encourage you all to tell the biggest “whale tale” you can possibly imagine! And please remember this wonderfully expressive writer today and everyday!
On this day in 1881, American poet and musician, Sidney Lanier died from possible complications due to tuberculosis. He was 39 years old.
This one time confederate soldier, first published in 1867, is thought today by many to be the greatest Southern poet to emerge after Edgar Allan Poe. His debut novel, Tiger Lilies deals mostly with his war experiences but is a hint of the sort of musical writer he would one day become.
Unfortunately, many of the poems he is best remembered for, can be rather racist. “The Raven Days,” “Civil Rights,” “Betrayal,” “Corn,” “Laughter in the Senate,” and “The Revenge of Hamish” are just a few that come to mind. Before pursuing writing full-time, he practiced law, and wrote in 1878 the poem, “The Marshes of Glynn” which endeared him to his native state of Georgia. In 1879, he was made lecturer on English literature at Johns Hopkins University. His lectures became the basis of his Science of English Verse (1880, his most important prose work, and an admirable discussion of the relations of music and poetry.
Since his death, an enlarged and final edition (1884) of his poems, prepared by his wife, his Letters, 1866-1881 (1899), and several volumes of miscellaneous prose have been published. In fact, a posthumous work on Shakespeare and his Forerunners (1902) was edited by H. W. Lanier. If you are a fan of Southern poetry and historical content from this time period, we recommend The Song of the Chattahoochee (1877).
Today, write a love letter to your native state or town. Write about the times we’re currently living in… the war, the politics… get angry, be empathetic… find the beautiful things beneath the turmoil.
“Constant work, constant writing and constant revision. The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge. What he takes in he takes in normally the way any person takes in experience. But it is what is done with it in his mind, if he is a real writer, that makes his art.”—Gore Vidal
On this day in 1962, German author, Hermann Hesse, died of a Cerebral Hemorrhage. He died in Switzerland at the age of 85.
Hesse is probably best remembered for his novel, “Siddhartha”, published in 1922. If you have not read it, we’ll not spoil the experience for you here, but we will say that Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey is delightfully revealing of both the author, the subject and… the reader. Hmm… not sure if that last bit made sense… well… read the novel and you’ll see what we mean! ;)
Our favorite work by Hesse is his 1919 novel, entitled “Demian”, which he wrote after his son had suffered traumatic illness, his wife had experienced a nervous breakdown and his father had just died. Keep in mind, also, that this book was written right after the United States had just declared war on Germany! To say this book is “intense” and loaded with societal angst and uncertainty, is a gross understatement.
Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Some of his other notable works include: “Narcissus and Goldmund” (1930), “Gertrude” (1910), “The Journey to the East” (1932), “The Glass Bead Game (1943), and “Steppenwolf” (1927). For more biographical information on this fascinating man, please check out this link at nobelprize.org.
Today, draw upon your own personal tragedies to find the “understanding” Hesse found in Siddhartha or the great realization of self that Emil found in “Demian”. Ask yourself if the totality of your experiences allow you to attain understanding in the same way. Seek the truth as you meander through the dark corridors of your memories.
“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”—Henry David Thoreau
“He never said a foolish thing nor never did a wise one”
On July 26th in 1680, the Second Earl of Rochester and perhaps the most debauched libertine poet to ever live, died of syphilis at the age of 33. That “debauched” man was John Wilmot.
Horace Walpole once described him as “a man whom the muses were fond to inspire but ashamed to avow”. We would have to agree.
Wilmot, who was a friend of King Charles II and infamous across London during the Restoration period, was a satirist, poet, playwright and notorious libertine. His work was greatly influenced by classical authors, such as Lucretius and Ovid, and it is evident that he was highly educated as he alludes to politics, literature and philosophy in his bawdy and often offensive rhymes.
Our favorite work by Wilmot is undoubtedly Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, published in 1684. We’ll not disclose the particulars of this play here… but we encourage any lovers of erotic literature to give it a read. Unfortunately, many of Wilmot’s writings were burned and otherwise destroyed after his death, in an effort to “preserve his decency”. What was not destroyed, was not published under his name until well after his death, but his influence on popular culture is clear. Authors such as Tennyson, Goethe , Defoe and Voltaire often complimented Wilmot’s work or quoted him in their own writings.
Today, we encourage our readers who are of legal age, to rent “The Libertine” starring Johnny Depp and disappear into 17th century England for awhile… (Stern Warning: If you watch this movie, you will end up snogging whoever you happen to be sitting next to while watching it)
On July 2nd, in 1961, American writer Ernest Hemingway was found in his Idaho home, with a self inflicted gunshot wound through the head. He was 61 years old and is remembered today as a brilliant writer, a WWI veteran and an acclaimed journalist.
Most people tend to focus on Hemingway’s rather low view of women or the fact that he, like so many writers we love, killed himself. The truth, as we see it, is this; Ernest Hemingway documented the world around him. Not unlike the great painter Walter Sickert who boasted that he only painted what he had seen, so we feel it is the same with Hemingway. He wrote what he saw in the vast and adventurous life that he led and in the company he kept. Hemingway used plain but forceful prose, with very few adjectives or adverbs. He wrote crisp, accurate dialogue and exact descriptions of places and things. Hemingway’s simple style undeniably exerted a powerful influence on American and British fiction in the 20th century.
During the twenties, Hemingway became a member of the group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which greatly influenced his first notable work, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Some of our favorite Hemingway novels include For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952) , The Sun Also Rises and his collection of short stories published in 1932 Death in the Afternoon.
Our ultimate favorite long format piece by Hemingway, is without question A Moveable Feast. It was posthumously published in 1964, and is an autobiographical book based on notebooks he kept in Paris in the 1920s. If you’ve not read it, we are hesitant to say much more about it and encourage every aspiring and working writer alike to READ THIS BOOK!
Two more novels were published after his death — Islands in the Stream (1970) and the unfinished The Garden of Eden (1986). A “must read” for die-hard Hemingway fans.
We have posted this short story before, but we just love it so much, we thought we’d post it again! Our favorite Hemingway short story is only 6 words long and is thought by many to be his greatest work:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Today we encourage our readers to stay up all night brooding and writing.
Challenge yourselves, write a short story in just six words!
On June 14th, in 1837, Italian poet and scholar, Giacomo Leopardi, died in Naples, during a cholera outbreak. He was 38 years old.
The product of an aristocratic, religiously fanatic and emotionally stifled household, Giacomo Leopardi began reading and eventually writing as a means of escape. As a child, he was sickly and suffered physical pain and deformity due to scoliosis, and so he was often confined to the house- where he passed the time immersed in his father’s extensive library of classics.
At the tender age of fourteen, he wrote Pompeo in Egitto (Pompey in Egypt) an anti-Caesarean manifesto, and from there, he developed a taste for writing many other philological works, and he may have continued down that path and made a career of it, until…. in 1816, something remarkable happened. Leopardi wrote L’appressamento della morte(The Approach of Death), a poem in terza rima , which was, obviously, well influenced by the works of Dante.
On his transition to poetry, he is recounted as having called it “the passage from erudition to the beautiful”. And how beautiful it was. Leopardi would go on to be praised not only for his lyrical poetry, but also his satirical prose.
Even today, many people regard Leopardi as the “first modern Italian classic” poet. Some scholars liken his style to that of Byron, in that it is often melancholy and despairing, but there is some deeper quality to Leopardi’s work that we find perfectly sobering, if at times depressing. In fact, we found this great article from the New Yorker, published in 2010, which describes reading Leopardi’s works as not being “an experience for the fainthearted”. This could not be more true. As Frederick John Snell, author of The Primer of Italian Literature, once said of Leopardi’s writing:
“He opens every little scratch, and probes, if he does not poison, the wounds of suffering humanity. Yet in all this he is the reverse of a fanatic. He argues dexterously, in the finest of literary styles.”
If you are unfamiliar with this tragically beautiful poet, you should head to your local library and scout around for him. Some of our favorite works by Leopardi include Zibaldone di pensieri (a collection of observations and criticisms) and the Last Canti, published between 1832 and 1837.
Today… explore your own cynicism and get to know the tormented artist within. Write down everything that you think is wrong with the world. Even if you never share it with another living soul, perhaps Signore Leopardi will appreciate your clever observations.
On this day in 1900, American writer, Stephen Crane died of Tuberculosis in Germany. He was only 28 years old.
Educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University, Crane did not graduate, but opted to work as a journalist for the New York Tribune, as well as the Herald. (If only all of us writers had that opportunity just fall in our laps with no degree, these days…) Crane’s first published work was a story, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, and was published in 1891. However Crane’s greater success came in 1896, when he wrote The Red Badge of Courage. Chances are, if you have made it through grade school, you have read this book. It has been used across the Nation, for decades, to teach youngsters about the American Civil War.But make no mistake, we’re not trying to say that the work is childish. The descriptions are as rich as the realism and we cannot stress enough that if you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a linguistic treat!
Mr. Crane also authored a wonderful book of poems in 1895 entitled, The Black Riders, and a plethora of other stories. What you may not know about Crane is that he acted as a war correspondent in the Greco-Turkish War (1897) and the Spanish American War (1898).
Today… we challenge you to dwell in the world of harsh realism and follow the story of a character that is thrown right into the middle of it. Will your character earn their very own read badge of courage?
Poetry, plays, short stories, nonfiction and memoirs… Hughes wrote it all. One of our favorite poems by Mr. Hughes will always be “A Negro Speaks of Rivers”. Hughes was speaking specifically of the Kaw River, which figures heavily in recollections of his youth, spent in Lawrence, Kansas.
Hughes strongly believed that “black art” should represent the experiences and culture of the black “folk.” His work was infused with blues and jazz culture and reflected the soul of the urban working class at that time. Some of his more famous writing associated with the Harlem Renaissance include the collections of poems, The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927); the novel Not Without Laughter (1930); and a personal favorite of ours, a collection of short stories called The Ways of White Folks (1934).
His influence, even today, upon not only “black art” but on the whole of politically charged writers and artists, is undeniable.
Today, think about your culture… your roots. Because in the end, it’s not really about whether you’re black or white anymore… (or at least, it shouldn’t be) … it’s about what you, as a voice of your generation, have to say about social injustice across the world… it’s about what you have to say about your own identity and how it fits into the environment and time in which we live now. Write for your people today… whoever they may be.
On this day in 1983, author, screenwriter, and idol of Charles Bukowski, John Fante, died of complications due to diabetes. He was 74 years old.
Oddly enough, there are quite a few people out there who have never heard of Mr. Fante.
By far, Fante’s most recognizable work is, his semi autobiographical novel Ask the Dusk, published in 1939. It is the third book in a series, referred to now as “The Bandini Quartet”, as it follows the story of it’s protagonist Arturo Bandini. If you’ve never read the book or seen the film adaptation… we suggest you pick it up this week. Especially if you have any interest at all in Great Depression-era stories or “old L.A.” settings. It is a treat, and those of you who are familiar with Charles Bukowski already know how much the novel influenced him.
"I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer… It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture… one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was…The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humor and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante”
Bukowski certainly sums up how we feel too.
Although Fante’s stories were not originally wildly popular, many of his books saw a resurgence of interest upon their republication in the 1980s.
We highly recommend Dago Red , Fante’s only collection of short stories, published in 1940. The stories follow the maturation of one of Fante’s prominent characters, Jimmy Toscana, and wonderfully encapsulate what coming of age stories are all about.
Some of his screenwriting credits include Full of Life, Jeanne Eagels, My Man and I, The reluctant Saint, Something for a Lonely Man, My Six Loves, and Walk on the Wild Side.
For us, Fante’s work is such a fun read because it’s character driven and so very real. You begin reading his stories and thinking ‘I know someone just like Bandini’, you finish his stories with the realization that you are Bandini.
Today, take a minute to remember John Fante and perhaps, try your hand at creating your own alter-ego. What makes you a unique character and what about the time and place you’re living in make your alter-ego stand out as someone worth writing about? Find your inner-Bandini!
On April 10th, in 1931, Lebanese poet and novelist, Khalil Gibran died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was only 48 years old.
Gibran drew his words from an overwhelmingly vast well of influences. He often merged Eastern and Western philosophies in his poetry, and having grown up in Lebanon, studied art in Paris with Rodin and then adopted America as his new home, Gibran had a broad view of life, religiously, economically and romantically.
If you are unfamiliar with this spiritually stirring poet, we suggest you take a look at this biography on the young writer’s life, or if you are in a hurry check out this link.
Our favorite work by Mr. Gibran, also happens to be listed as one of the century’s best selling books in America after the Bible! The Prophet ,published in 1923, has touched millions of people, all over the world. This was one of the first books Gibran wrote in English and we highly encourage those who have not experienced it, to give it a chance.You’ll be so glad you did.
Some other favorites of ours include The Madman (1918), Sand and Foam (1926) and The New Frontier (1925). It may surprise some of you to hear that American president, John F. Kennedy was influenced by Khalil Gibran, when he famously stated in his Inaugural Speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He was, in fact, quoting from The New Frontier, which had been written thirty-six years prior.
“Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?”
Today, we have a fun exercise for you and a nice way to remember Mr. Gibran… be your own prophet. The prophet begins like this…
The Prophet, who has lived in a foreign city for twelve years, is about to board a ship that will take him back home. He is stopped by a group of people, who interrogate him about the mysteries of life…
Now, YOU, fill in the blanks. What are your mysteries? What are your solutions to the day’s problems? What are you certain of? What lies ahead?
“The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.”—Walt Whitman
A Tall Order: Happy Deathday Messrs Whitman, Chandler and Coward!
Today is a big day for us here at the DWC! On this day in 1892, American poet, Walt Whitman died of pneumonia at the age of 72. Also on this day, in 1959, American author, Raymond Chandler also died of pneumonia at the age of 70. And finally, on this day, March 26th, British playwright, Noël Coward died of heart failure at the ripe old age of 74.
Mr. Whitman is, of course, remembered best for his major work, Leaves of Grass, which he continued to update even upon his death bed! It may surprise many of you to know that this wonderfully lyrical work was periodically banned for being “indecent,” as well as for the equally powerfully moving poems, I Sing the Body Electric and Song of Myself. Whitman may have ignored conventional rhyme and meter, but his style is recognized the world over, for its unique, melodic speech patterns.
Although Whitman’s earlier works were far from popular, Ralph Waldo Emerson was among the poet’s early admirers. He found Leaves particularly inspiring, writing of the poem in 1855, “I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy.” Well put, Mr. Emerson, well put.
Whitman’s final volume of poetry was the “Deathbed” edition of Leaves of Grass, which he prepared in 1891-92. It concludes with the prose piece, “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads,” in which the poet attempts to give us a glimpse of where he has been and perhaps… where we are all headed. We encourage readers, young and old, from every race, class and religion to pick up a copy of this truly epic piece of American literature today… for many of us, it is a “must-own”. For an excellent biography on this titan of literature, we will direct you here.
Now for Mr. Chandler…whose idiosyncratic prose voice is not so unlike Mr. Whitman’s, in that it is entirely unique. His first novel, The Big Sleep (which he wrote in three months and happens to be one of our personal favorites), hit bookstores in 1939 and introduced the character who would come to be synonymous with, and long outlive, his creator: the wisecracking, chess-playing, late-30s L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe. Although Chandler has not set out to write mysteries, it turned out he had a real talent for it, so he continued, penning a plethora of stories, featuring Philip Marlowe. Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953) are, without question, his master works. Chandler also took to writing for the big screen in the early ’40s, adapting James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1943) and writing the original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946), both of which, he was given Oscar nominations for.
The New York Times once said “Chandler wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered”. This statement holds up, even today. Whatever image you have today of life in mid-20th-century Los Angeles, you have because of Mr. Chandler’s rough, raw look at a city alternating between two worlds of luxury and lawlessness. Personally, we rather think the creators of popular video game L.A. Noire should have given Mr. Chandler a screen credit ;)
Moving on to Noël Coward…let us start by saying that Mr. Coward was truly a titan of his field, penning over forty plays, including musical librettos and film adaptations of his own work. Many people have attributed the notion of “celebrity” to Mr. Coward, whose debonair and stylish appearance, made him an early icon of the 1920s and 30s.
Coward wrote classics of high comedy that capture the period in which they were written. By far, Coward’s most spectacular show was Cavalcade, which opened in 1930 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Cavalcade was a pageant of English history seen through different generations of the same family and if you ever get a chance to read/see it, you will be all the more enriched for having done so. Some of our favorite works by Coward include The Young Idea (1922), Fallen Angels (1925), Private Lives (1930) and Blithe Spirit (1941). Notable songs written by Coward include “I’ll See You Again” and “Mad About the Boy.”
What we admire most about Mr. Coward, was his ability to wear many hats. Musician, writer, wit…actor. In 1943, Coward received an Oscar for his patriotic war film In Which We Serve. Not only did he write the screenplay, but Coward composed the film’s music and starred in the film as well! If you’ve never seen it… go rent it today! You will not be disappointed.
Today, we hope you will observe the passing of these three very different but nonetheless important innovators of the craft. Whitman… with his lithesome and natural verse, that caresses the soul and cradles the spirit of America in so weathered, yet steady a hand. Chandler… the man who gave the dirty and decadent streets of 1930s Los Angeles a voice. Coward… a name synonymous with cheek, chic and superb technique.
Today, be vulnerable, be perceptive and be daring… be innovative. Cultivate a style all your own. Start a movement.
Write on in peace, you sleeping giants, Mr. Whitman, Mr. Chandler and Mr. Coward!
We received a touching message from one of our readers that we had missed a deathday yesterday. And so, we would like to offer this belated deathday post to American poet John Wieners, who died on March 1st in 2002.Many special thanks to http://thesetelevisionblues.tumblr.com/, for bringing this to our attention.
Wieners was a student of the Black Mountain College and studied under fellow poets, Robert Duncan, Robert Creely and Charles Olson. He also worked in the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, Ma. and lived in San Francisco for a stint, during which time his first book of poems, The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958), was published. In 1960, Wieners was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Though mental illness was something Wieners would struggle with all his life, it has also been said that his illness was thought by many to be “a very special reality”, by which the commonplace gave way to poetry. In fact, it was Robert Creely who once said of Wieners’ work, “His poems had nothing else in mind but their own fact.” Well put, Mr. Creely.
As a beat poet and member of the San Francisco Renaissance, Mr. Wieners was also an antiwar and gay rights activist and founder/editor of the literary magazine Measure (1957–1962). Wieners’ various honors include awards from the Poets Foundation, the New Hope Foundations, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
While we have unfortunately not read much of his work, we have listened to it. And would like to share one of our favorite recordings with you here. We are looking forward to rushing down to the library and scooping up Ace of Pentacles, published in 1964, as it has been highly recommended to us. We hope you’ll do the same.