Today is a tall order, so here we go…
On this day, May 30th, five writers passed under the great veil of the afterlife. Harlem Renaissance writer, Gwendolyn Bennett died in 1981. American poet, William Meredith died of respiratory failure in 2007. Beat poet and lover to Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky died just last year, 2010 from lung cancer. English poet, Alexander Pope died of unspecified causes on May 30th in 1744. And finally, the notorious French playwright and author, Voltaire, died on this day in 1778.
Gwendolyn Bennett was committed to the African-American arts community all her life, continually fostering the talents of young African American artists and energizing the Harlem Renaissance. During her undergraduate education at Columbia, Bennett’s poem “Nocturne” was published in Crisis in November, 1923, and in December of the same year, her poem “Heritage” was included in Opportunity, a magazine published by the National Urban League.
For more biographical information and a list of her complete works, click here. We highly recommend her first published piece, “Nocturne” and her short story “Wedding Day Fire!!”, published in 1926.
William Meredith was America’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 through 1980, and was the first openly gay poet to receive this honor. He was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1988, for his work “Partial Accounts”, which we cannot praise enough. Among his other achievements, one will find the Carl Sandburg Award, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry and the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize as well. Meredith’s work is moving and at times… mysterious. For more insight into what we mean, check out The William Meredith Foundation website for more bio information and works.
Peter Orlovsky was a Beat poet and well known writer amongst the “Allen Ginsberg” crowd. It may surprise you to know that Orlovsky dropped out of high school and was deemed unfit to serve on the front lines after being drafted into the US Army for the Korean War. This led him to work as a medic in a hospital… guess where it was… SAN FRANCISCO! Orlovsky, who had never been terribly interested in becoming a poet, began writing in 1957 at the encouragement of Ginsberg. In 1974, Orlovsky joined the faculty of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado, where he taught poetry. While his volume of work is not staggering, his contributions to the Beat poetry scene can still be felt today. And we highly recommend his work Lepers Cry, published in 1972.
English poet and satirist Alexander Pope is best known for his work The Rape of the Lock, but is also well respected for his excellent translation of The Odyssey and his essays. While Pope was heavily influenced by Dryden, he was also industrious; and he spent eight or nine years in arduous discipline, reading, studying, experimenting with poetry before anything of his appeared in print. “Poetry his only business”, he said, “and idleness his only pleasure”. His first publication was his “Pastorals”, which are certainly worth a read through if you’ve never read them.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we give you… Voltaire. The famous French philosopher and wit is most remembered for his infamous criticisms of the church, his poetry and plays, and a plethora of books, most notably Candide. Voltaire was quite prolific, producing works in almost every literary form including plays, poetry, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets! For more biographical information and a list of complete works, please check out the Voltaire Foundation via University of Oxford.
These five writers came from different backgrounds and for the most part different time periods and cultures. But the one thing they all have in common, aside from the shared deathday, is that they will all be remembered for their unique literary contributions to this ever changing world. Let us never forget this wonderfully diverse deathday!
Enjoy Memorial Day and please remember to raise five glasses today in remembrance of these writers.
Write on in peace, Mrs. Bennett and Messrs. Voltaire, Pope, Meredith and Orlovsky!