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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 on in peace, Mr. Hesse!
“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)
Write (and shag) on in peace, Mr. Wilmot!
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!
Write on in peace, Mr. Ernest Hemingway.
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.
Write on in peace, Giacomo Leopardi!
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?
Write on in peace, Mr. Crane!
On this day, in 1967, American writer and social-activist, Langston Hughes died of prostate cancer at the age of 65.
Hughes is widely considered to be one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.
In 1926 he published “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in The Nation, an essay that would influence the Harlem Renaissance for years to come.
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.
Write on in Peace, Mr. Hughes!