Most Book Clubs read full-length novels. We read everything else.

Don’t have time for a novel? Already belong to another book club? No problem.

Each week we’ll share one or two compelling short works.

Here are those excellent essays, wonderful short stories, inspiring speeches, letters, poems, plays and masterworks of journalism . . .all the works you’ve always been meaning to read, in one thought-provoking site.

Think of this as a recommended reading list: your online short form MFA . . .and join in our Facebook book club group discussions to share your thoughts. Enjoy!

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Week Thirty-One: “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

thebirds-2

A Penguin edition including a variety of the author’s stories

It’s early December, and there’s a sudden cold snap.
A wounded war veteran on military pension, Nat Hocken, works part-time for a farm owner when he notices a large number of birds behaving strangely along the peninsula where his family lives.
Here is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s original short story, “The Birds.” It’s a fine example of Cornish Gothic. You won’t find Tippi Hedren or Rod Taylor in this original version, just hardworking Nat and his family, facing terror.

Feel free to take a full, fine autumn week to read this one. It’s a long short story, but worth it.

Read du Maurier’s classic HERE!

Du Maurier’s story is a great read…but if you’d prefer to listen to it, here’s musician and actor Peter Capaldi reading “The Birds.”

What could be more surreal than the Twelfth Doctor reading Cornish Gothic?!

Here’s Part One:

. . .And here’s Part Two:

As Lisa Allardice tells us in her 2012 article for The Guardian,

Du Maurier’s are not supernatural tales (she doesn’t do real ghosts, so to speak); what could be more unnerving than nature behaving unnaturally? Not in the form of apocalyptic diseases, or storms and floods, but wreaking havoc through something as everyday and unthreatening as hedgerow birds. Environment is everything in Du Maurier’s fiction, from the sinister alleyways of Venice in Don’t Look Now, to the wilderness of her beloved Cornwall, where, like nearly all her most famous work, The Birds is set. In transposing the action to the tamer shores of northern California (no wonder Du Maurier was miffed), the film loses some of the elemental potency of the tale.

Questions

Topic1

Discuss the use of World War Two allusions and symbolism in “The Birds.”

Topic 2

What do you think the birds symbolize? What clues does Du Maurier give the reader about the message in their attack? Be sure to include examples from the text to help strengthen your arguments.

Topic 3

Do you think Nat Hocken is a good father and husband? Is he still a soldier? Why or why not? How does Nat treat his family at the opening of the story? How does his treatment change as the attacks persist?

Topic 4

What role do the Triggs play in the story? Why do you think the Triggs are killed while the Hockens survive?∗

Background and themes

Storytelling:

More than anything else, Daphne du Maurier was a storyteller. She wrote page-turners – stories that were hard to put down. Many second-rate storytellers are capable of writing page-turners, but du Maurier’s  stories go deeper, dealing with people’s primitive fears and longings. After her death in 1989,  The Times newspaper described her books as containing ‘some of the abiding fantasies of the human race’.

History and suspense:

Du Maurier’s major novels fall into two categories. The first category consists of historical novels set in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Cornwall.  Jamaica Inn (1936),  Frenchman’s Creek (1941), Hungry Hill (1943) and The King’s General(1946) are fine examples of du Maurier’s historical novels. They are full of smuggling, violence and (of course) romance. The second category consists of modern stories of mystery and suspense. Many of du Maurier’s short stories fall into this category. The Birds and Don’t Look Now are outstanding examples of du Maurier’s talent for suspense. She builds the tension slowly but surely until the reader realizes that there is no way out for the characters.

Cinematic storytelling:

Du Maurier’s novels and short stories contain compelling storylines, powerful characterizations and highly visual scenes. They were seemingly made for the cinematic screen, and in fact, a number of her stories were adapted into successful feature films, including The Birds, Jamaica Inn, Don’t Look Now, Frenchman’s Creek and Hungry Hill (for which she co-wrote the screenplay). Two of the films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the famous British film director.

Produced in 1940, Rebecca starred the world-famous British actor, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Like the novel on which it was based, the film is riveting. It eventually earned Hitchcock a highly coveted Academy Award for Best Picture. The Birds, produced in 1963, was a free adaptation of du Maurier’s short story, but Hitchcock was known as the true ‘master of suspense’, and so the film contains some truly terrifying – indeed, genuinely horrifying – moments. Both The Birds and Rebecca are fitting tributes to du Maurier’s vast storytelling powers.¹

The Apple Tree and Other Stories

TheAppleTree

Looking for more suspense from du Maurier for a fine, dark afternoon?

The Birds and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier, originally published in 1952 as The Apple Tree by Gollancz in the United Kingdom. It includes “The Birds,” which was made into a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. The anthology was published in the United States as Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Doubleday and then has been republished under the current name, The Birds and Other Stories

The title story, “The Apple Tree” is a darkly comic gem about a weary, nasty husband and the wife who is eternally committed to his . . .well-being . . .

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories

The Doll

Lost for more than 70 years, this dark story of a man’s obsessive passion for Rebecca, a mysterious violinist, hasn’t been published since it appeared in a small collection in 1937.³  Read it, HERE.

Learn more about the lively and often-misunderstood author in this short interview from her home in Cornwall in 1977!

For Further Reading:

Mistress of Menace by Patrick McGrath (The Guardian) – Daphne du Maurier has often been dismissed as a writer of popular romances, yet her work is infused with hidden violence. To mark the centenary of her birth this month, Patrick McGrath relishes the dark side of her short stories

. . .a bit about Daphne du Maurier . . .

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE, (May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright.

Daphne-du-maurier

Her bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft. Many have been successfully adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn and the short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now/Not After Midnight”.

Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall where most of her works are set.

Bibliography

Daphne du Maurier

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia,  “The Birds” and
  2. “The Apple Tree and Other Stories”
  3. Wikipedia

BookRags

Scary Stories for Halloween , Lisa Allardice, October 2012, The Guardian

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Penguin Readers, Pearson Education Limited 2008

The Official Daphne du Maurier Website

 

Week Thirty: “Trifles/A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, and “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare

trifles_

 

“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell

“A Jury of Her Peers” is a short story by Susan Glaspell, loosely based upon an actual murder in 1900.
Glaspell covered the news story while working as a journalist for the Des Moines newspaper in Iowa.
In 1916 Glaspell wrote the account as a one-act play entitled “Trifles” for the Provincetown Players.
She later adapted it into the short story presented here for you today.
This story is often anthologized in “Best of” compilations. Glaspell would later go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her other work.
Join Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters as they investigate a run-down home where something went terribly wrong, in “A Jury of Her Peers!”

 

Old-style-Kitchen-Walls-Painting-Colors-Ideas

What do you think happened?

Study Questions:

  • Why is this psychological play named “Trifles?”
  • Explore the title “A Jury of Her Peers.”
  • Why was this considered an early feminist play?
  • What does the first sentence reveal about the character of Mrs. Hale, and how is this fleshed out or supported by later descriptions of her character and thought process, in the story?

 

. . .A bit about Susan Glaspell . . .

 

Glaspell_Life1

Photograph of Susan Glaspell taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE Magazine, 1940

According to a brief biography by Krystal Nies, Susan Glaspell was born in Iowa and raised by a conservative family with a modest income.

After receiving a degree from Drake University, she became a reporter for the Des Moines News. According to the Susan Glaspell Society, she worked as a reporter for less than two years, then quit the job to focus on her creative writing. Her first two novels, The Glory of the Conquered and The Visioning were published while Glaspell was in her 30s.

 

 

 

The Provincetown Players

While living and writing in Iowa, Glaspell met George Cram Cook, the man who would become her husband. Both wanted to rebel from their conservative upbringing. They met in a socialist society during a time when Cook had divorced for a second time and longed to experience a rural, commune lifestyle. However, his series of divorces conflicted with the traditional values of Iowa, and so the newly married couple traveled to Greenwich Village. (Susan Glaspell Society).

According to “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door,” Cook and Glaspell were the creative force behind a new style of American theater.

In 1916 she and a group of writers, actors, and artists co-founded the Provincetown Players. Both Glaspell and her husband, as well as other drama icons such as Eugene O’Neill, created plays that experimented with both realism and satire. Eventually, the Provincetown Players gained fame and economic success which, according to Cook, led to disagreements and disenchantment.

Glaspell and her husband left the Players and traveled to Greece in 1922. Cook, shortly after achieving his life long dream to become a shepherd, died two years later. Glaspell returned to America in 1924 and continued to write. Her work focused more on her best selling novels, but also included a Pulitzer Prize winning play, Alison’s House.

abandonedfarmhouse

 

The Origin of “Trifles”

“Trifles” is currently Glaspell’s most popular play. Like other works of early feminist writing, it was rediscovered and embraced by the academic community. One of the reasons for this short play’s enduring success is that it is not only an insightful commentary on the different perceptions of each gender, but it’s also a compelling crime drama that leaves audiences discussing what happened and whether or not the characters acted unjustly.

While working as a journalist for the Des Moines Daily News, Susan Glaspell covered the arrest and trial of Margaret Hossack who was accused of murdering her husband. According to a summary by True Crime: An American Anthology:

“Sometime around midnight on December 1, 1900 John Hossack, a well-to-do, 59-year-old Iowa farmer, was attacked in bed by an axe wielding assailant who literally beat out his brains as he slept. His wife became the prime suspect after neighbors testified to her long-simmering hatred of her abusive spouse.”

The Hossack case, much like the fictionalized case of Mrs. Wright in “Trifles,” became a hotbed of debate. Many people sympathized with her, seeing her as a victim in an abusive relationship. Others doubted her claims of abuse, perhaps focusing on the fact that she never confessed, always claiming that an unknown intruder was responsible for the murder.

True Crime: An American Anthology explains that Mrs. Hossack was found guilty, but a year later her conviction was overturned. The second trail resulted in a hung jury and she was set free.¹

 

oldbirdcage

Learn more about Susan Glaspell at The International Susan Glaspell website.

“Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser

 

Looking for a pairing for this week’s story, “A Jury of Her Peers?” If so, here’s another poem by Ted Kooser: “Abandoned Farmhouse.”

Abandoned Farmhouse
By Ted Kooser

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

Ted Kooser, “Abandoned Farmhouse” from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser.

Learn more about Ted Kooser HERE.

 

“The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare

 

Music by Bernd Wahlbrink

Did you know Ted Kooser received inspiration for his poem “Abandoned Farmhouse”  from an actual farmhouse he passed on his daily morning walks? And he received inspiration from Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners.”

“The Listeners”

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

 

delamarepoems_

. . .A bit about Walter de la Mare . . .

walterdelamare

Photograph of de la Mare by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Walter John de la Mare (25 April 1873 – 22 June 1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist. He is probably best remembered for his works for children, for his poem “The Listeners”, and for a highly acclaimed selection of subtle psychological horror stories, amongst them “Seaton’s Aunt” and “All Hallows”.

His 1921 novel Memoirs of a Midget won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction,and his post-war Collected Stories for Children won the 1947 Carnegie Medal for British children’s books.

 

Walter de la Mare was also a notable writer of ghost stories. Although de la Mare wrote a number of them, only a select few are considered to aspire to elicit terror in the reader, with most instead essaying a type of dream-like melancholy and mystery. His collections Eight Tales, The Riddle and Other Stories, The Connoisseur and Other Stories, On the Edge and The Wind Blows Over all contain a few ghost stories each.
¹Biographical information about Susan Glaspell from THOUGHTCO.

 

 

 

 

 

Week Twenty Nine: “A Hunger Artist” and “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka

franzkafkathecompletestories

Kafka’s Complete Stories, edited by John Updike

This week let’s take an opportunity to discuss absurdity, the nature of performance, and all things “Kafka-esque!”
“A Hunger Artist” (German: “Ein Hungerkünstler”) is a short story by Franz Kafka first published in Die neue Rundschau in 1922.
It’s one of Kafka’s most anthologized short stories. Enjoy reading here as a PDF, or listen to a wonderful performance of the tale by actress and “diseuse,” Lotte Lenya (the wife of Kurt Weill and “Jenny” in The Three-Penny Opera.)

Let’s talk about Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist!”

Here’s some food for thought: How does Kafka make use of the parable storytelling form?

thefrugalrepast

The Frugal Repast, Pablo Picasso, Copper lithograph, 1904.

“I spent my first week’s wages on having Kafka’s three stories– The Metamorphosis, The Judgement, and The Stoker– bound in a dark brown leather volume, with the name Franz Kafka elegantly tooled in gold lettering.
The book lay in the briefcase on my knee …Then I proudly took the volume out of the case and gave it across the desk to Kafka.

“What is this?” he asked in astonishment.
“It is my first week’s wages.”
“Isn’t that a waste?”
Kafka’s eyelid’s fluttered. His lips were sharply drawn in. For a few seconds he contemplated the name in gold lettering, hastily thumbed through the pages of the book – and – with obvious embarrassment– placed it before me on the desk. I was about to ask why the book offended him, when he began to cough.
…You overrate me. Your trust oppresses me.”

He sat himself at his desk and said, with his hands to his temples: “I am no burning bush. I am not a flame.”

—Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka.

kafka

Parable: a simple story told to convey or represent a basic moral truth or religious principle; in literature to illustrate an aspect of the human condition.

Fable: a short story that tells a moral truth, often using animals as characters.

sur·re·al·ism

/səˈrēəˌlizəm/

noun

  • 1. a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

 

Learn more about Surrealism, including information on Kafka, Dali, Man Ray and others HERE.

Looking for a short pairing to “A Hunger Artist?”

If so, here is “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka.

. . .A bit about Franz Kafka . . .

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-language novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best known works include “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle). The term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those in his writing.

Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today part of the Czech Republic. He trained as a lawyer, and after completing his legal education he was employed with an insurance company, forcing him to relegate writing to his spare time. Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal relationship. He became engaged to several women but never married.

He died in 1924 at the age of 40 from tuberculosis.

Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime: the story collections Betrachtung (Contemplation) and Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and individual stories (such as “Die Verwandlung”) were published in literary magazines but received little public attention. Kafka’s unfinished works, including his novels Der Process, Das Schloss and Amerika (also known as Der Verschollene, The Man Who Disappeared), were ordered by Kafka to be destroyed by his friend Max Brod, who nonetheless ignored his friend’s direction and published them after Kafka’s death. His work went on to influence a vast range of writers, critics, artists, and philosophers during the 20th century.

Looking for more?  Check out this piece from The Atlantic on what it means to be “Kafka-esque.”

 

Week Twenty Eight: “Shooting an Elephant” and “Why I Write” by George Orwell

 

 

 

“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

Eric A. Blair, better known as George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism.¹
Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay “Shooting an Elephant,” which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.
It’s often found in “Best of” anthologies, and can be read on several different levels.
Please share your observations after reading Orwell’s essay- we’d love to hear from you
.

You can read Orwell’s essay here.

A point for discussion one might find worthwhile is the difference between connotation and denotation in “Shooting an Elephant.”

Connotation and Denotation

Denotative meanings are generally the literal meaning of the word, while connotative meanings are the “coloring” attached to words beyond their literal meaning. For example, the “army of people” Orwell refers to in his essay bring to mind not only a large group of people, but also a military and oppositional force. Explain the connotative and denotative meanings of the following words or phrases using this organizational chart.²

Another point for discussion . . . saving face

What is the process of saving face? Read and discuss this passage from Orwell’s essay:

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone … The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probably that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

 

“Why I Write” by George Orwell

 

orwellrules

 

Looking for a reading pairing for our week of Orwell? Have a look at his essay, “Why I Write.”

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw

 

 

On video . . .

 

Here’s a worthwhile Book TV interview about Orwell with astute literary critic Christopher Hitchens and author/editor George Packer.

 

 

 

For Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

George Packer’s seminal collections of Orwell’s essays

 

George Orwell was first and foremost an essayist, producing throughout his life an extraordinary array of short nonfiction that reflected–and illuminated–the fraught times in which he lived. “As soon as he began to write something,” comments George Packer in his foreword, “it was as natural for Orwell to propose, generalize, qualify, argue, judge–in short, to think–as it was for Yeats to versify or Dickens to invent.”

Facing Unpleasant Facts charts Orwell’s development as a master of the narrative-essay form and unites such classics as “Shooting an Elephant” with lesser-known journalism and passages from his wartime diary. Whether detailing the horrors of Orwell’s boyhood in an English boarding school or bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells of the Spanish Civil War, these essays weave together the personal and the political in an unmistakable style that is at once plainspoken and brilliantly complex.

 

As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his most important experiences were behind him and some of his most incisive writing lay ahead. All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary. With masterpieces such as “Politics and the English Language” and “Rudyard Kipling” and gems such as “Good Bad Books,” here is an unrivaled education in, as George Packer puts it, “how to be interesting, line after line.”³

 

. . .A bit about George Orwell . . .

 

Orwell2

Eric Arthur Blair  (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950),better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, proles, unperson, and thoughtcrime.

 

¹From the National Endowment for the Humanities.

²ibid.

³ Amazon.Com

Week Twenty Seven: Two Poems by Ted Kooser

“Applesauce” and “So this is Nebraska”

 

 

“Applesauce”

Let’s starts out with a poem which surely marks the changing of the seasons . . .a poem about canning. It’s “Applesauce,” by the fabulous Ted Kooser, from his marvelous collection Delights and Shadows  (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.)  Enjoy.

You can read Kooser’s poem here!

 

“So this is Nebraska”

How does the warmth and intimacy of the microcosm of the old kitchen (governed by the stars and navigated by the sailboats on the woman’s apron) compare with the expansiveness of our second poem, “So this is Nebraska?”

What do the two poems have in common?

Read Kooser’s second poem here!

The poem is part of Kooser’s collection, Sure Signs.

. . .A bit about Ted Kooser . . .

 

Born April 25, 1939, in Ames, Iowa, Ted Kooser attended Iowa State University (B.S. 1962), and the University of Nebraska (M.A. 1968).Ted_Kooser

In 2006 he completed his second and final term as U. S. Poet Laureate and since then has continued to spend much of his time as a public spokesperson for poetry.  He’s currently a Presidential Professor at The University of Nebraska, teaching the writing of poetry.

 

Ted Kooser’s poetry has been collected in a number of full-length volumes and special editions and has appeared in many literary periodicals. A number of his poems appear in textbooks and anthologies currently in use in secondary school and college classrooms.

Kooser is also the editor of a weekly newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry,” which is carried in over 150 newspapers and is available online at http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org. It is jointly sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, The Library of Congress and the Poetry Foundation. Distribution of the column has continued to grow despite the problems in the newspaper industry and many readers now receive it via email. It, too, is being used in classrooms. The column has an estimated circulation of three and a half million readers around the world.

Check out more from Ted Kooser at his website.

poetryhomerepair

 

And for those of you interested in writing and the poetry writing process in terms of real-world elements of craft, please check out The Poetry Home Repair Manual.

 

 

Weeks Twenty Five and Twenty Six: The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Trumbo by Bruce Cook

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a play in 4 acts by the author Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690’s.

Considered a classic of American Literature, the play is required reading for most high school students.

Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being communists. In 1956, Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.

The play was first performed at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway on January 22, 1953, starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight and Madeleine Sherwood. Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold and the reviews for it were largely hostile (although The New York Times noted “a powerful play [in a] driving performance.”) Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic.[5] It is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama.¹

What are your thoughts about Miller’s play? And how does the depiction of the characters compare to those penned in I, Tituba? Enjoy!

https://www.hatboro-horsham.org/cms/lib2/PA01000027/Centricity/Domain/339/The%20Crucible%20-%20Arthur%20Miller%20.pdf

crucibleposter.jpg

Poster for the original Broadway production of TheCrucible at The Martin Beck Theater, 1953.

The Cast of Characters:

Reverend Parris: Minister in Salem. He believes a faction plans to force him to leave Salem, so he attempts to strengthen his authority through the witch trial proceedings.

Betty Parris: Parris’ daughter. Her father discovers her dancing in the woods, and she later accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft.

Abigail Williams: Parris’ niece. She instigates the witch trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft. She pretends to see spirits and instructs the other girls to pretend as well.

Tituba: Parris’ slave. Parris discovers her casting spells and making potions with the girls in the woods.

Mrs. Ann Putnam: Wife of Thomas Putnam. She believes that a witch is responsible for the deaths of her seven infant children. Her jealousy of Rebecca Nurse leads her to accuse Goody Nurse of being a witch.

Thomas Putnam: A greedy landowner in Salem. He systematically accuses his neighbors of witchcraft so that he might purchase their lands after they hang.

Ruth Putnam: The Putnams’ daughter. She accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft. A witness claims to have heard Putnam say Ruth’s accusations helped him obtain land.

Mary Warren: Servant to the Proctors. She goes along with Abigail and the girls by falsely accusing others of witchcraft; however, she later admits that she was lying.

Mercy Lewis: Servant to the Putnams and friend to Abigail. She participates in the witch trials by pretending to see spirits and falsely accusing individuals of witchcraft.

John Proctor: Salem farmer and former lover of Abigail’s. He openly denounces Parris and does not attend church.

Elizabeth Proctor: Wife of John Proctor. She is a decent and honest woman, who dismissed Abigail because of her affair with John Proctor.

Reverend Hale: Minister in Beverly. The people of Salem summon him to investigate Betty’s condition and determine if witchcraft is responsible. He supports the witch trials, but later denounces them when he learns that Abigail is lying.

Rebecca Nurse: Wife of Francis Nurse. She is one of the most respected individuals in Salem because of her kindness and charity. She argues against the witch trial investigations. Mrs. Putnam accuses her of witchcraft.

Francis Nurse: Farmer and landowner in Salem. He is a respected member of the community often called upon to settle disagreements between individuals.

Susanna Walcott: Friend to Abigail. She also takes part in the trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft.

Giles Corey: Elderly inhabitant of Salem. He challenges the court in an attempt to defend his wife who has been convicted of witchcraft. He is pressed to death as a result.

Sarah Good: Beggar in Salem. She is the first individual accused of witchcraft.

Judge Hathorne: A judge in the Salem court.

Deputy Governor Danforth: A special judge serving in the Salem court during the witch trials. He signs the death sentences for those individuals who refuse to confess their crimes. He refuses to delay any execution for fear that he will appear weak and irresolute.

Ezekial Cheever: Appointed by the court to assist in arresting accused individuals.

Marshal Herrick: Appointed by the court to arrest the accused individuals.

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The original cast of The Crucible. Film and television influenced the play’s narration, direction and staging.

Here’s the original theater review of The Crucible, after it was first performed at The Martin Beck Theater in 1953. Miller’s play would eventually become required reading in most high school English curricula.

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/theater/84386319.pdf

The opening overture narration explains the context of Salem and the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts, which the narrator depicts as an isolated theocratic society in constant conflict with Native Americans. The narrator speculates that the lack of civil liberties, isolation from civilization, and lack of stability in the colony caused latent internal tensions which would contribute to the events depicted in the play.

Act Two offers a second narration, where the narrator compares the Colony to post-World War II society. The narrator compares the Puritan fundamentalism to cultural norms in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Additionally, fears of Satanism taking place after incidents in Europe and the colonies are compared to fears of Communism following its implementation in Eastern Europe and China during the Cold War.

And of course, there are always the themes of fear of women as a potential source of evil in the world which must be “kept down,” as well as the fear of “the other” as illustrated in treatment of disenfranchised groups such as slaves, Jewish people, Native Americans, etc.

A quote from Miller’s play:

”  . .But the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. No hint of such speculation appears on the court record, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.

The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its res-olution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high pur-poses, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.

Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom. When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for every-one so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. It suddenly became possible – and patriotic and holy – for a man to say that Martha Corey had come into his bedroom at night, and that, while his wife was sleeping at his side, Martha laid herself down on his chest and nearly suffocated him.” Of course it was her spirit only, but his satisfaction at confessing himself was no lighter than if it had been Martha herself. One could not ordinarily speak such things in public.

Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.

Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”

-The Crucible, Act one Overature (pages 6-8)

Additional Resources:

A glossary, from the irrepressible Cliff’s Notes

A discussion guide for The Crucible, from Penguin

. . .A bit about Arthur Miller . . .

ArthurMiller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist born of Polish-Jewish descent. Among his most popular plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955, revised 1956). He also wrote several screenplays and was most noted for his work on The Misfits (1961).
In 2001 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Miller for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Miller’s lecture was entitled “On Politics and the Art of Acting.” It analyzed political events (including the U.S. presidential election of 2000) in terms of the “arts of performance,” and it drew attacks from some politicians, who called it “a disgrace,” and George Will, who argued that Miller was not legitimately a “scholar.”Here is the rather long but quite provocative Jefferson Lecture, “On Politics and the Art of Acting” by Arthur Miller.

https://www.neh.gov/…/jefferson-lectu…/arthur-miller-lecture

Trumbo by Bruce Cook

TrumboBruceCook

Have your ever heard of the Blacklist, the HUAC, or a man named Dalton Trumbo?

The United States saw a different kind of witch hunt in the mid-20th century.

Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, who scripted films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. He continued working clandestinely, producing work under other authors’ names.

His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was given to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact.

Here is Trumbo, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Let’s talk about the Hollywood Blacklist!


Dalton Trumbo was the central figure in the “Hollywood Ten,” the blacklisted and jailed screenwriters. One of several hundred writers, directors, producers, and actors who were deprived of the opportunity to work in the motion picture industry from 1947 to 1960, he was the first to see his name on the screen again. When that happened, it was Exodus, one of the year’s biggest movies.This intriguing biography shows that all his life Trumbo was a radical of the homegrown, independent variety. From his early days in Colorado, where his grandfather was a county sheriff, to Los Angeles, where he organized a bakery strike, to bootlegging, to Hollywood, where he was the highest-paid screenwriter when he was blacklisted.²

One of Bustle’s top books to read before Oscar season, Bruce Cook’s Trumbo is a gritty, realistic biography of a tough-as-nails artist working in a time of neo-witchhunting.

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

Cook’s Trumbo includes passages of original statement and testimony from the HUAC proceedings of October 27th, 1947.

Here’s a sample of what Trumbo had to say:

“The Committee throughout its hearing has approved even the grossest attacks upon the right of the artist to express his ideas freely and honestly in his work. Similarly, you have sought testimony attacking his right to function in craft organizations and trade unions for thc advancement of his interests. You are now attacking his right to think, and seeking by public inquisition to ferret out his innermost ideas and his most private and personal convictions. No institution on earth possesses this power over American citizens. You violate the most elementary principles of constitutional guarantees when you require anyone to parade for your approval his opinions upon race, religion, politics, or any other matter.

We must furthermore remember always that the defense of constitutional rights is not simply a convenience to be invoked in time of need, but a clear and continuous obligation imposed equally upon all of us at all times. We are, as citizens, literally commanded by its implications to defend the Constitution against even the slightest encroachment upon the protective barrier it interposes between the private citizen on one hand and the inquisitors of government on the other.”     – Dalton Trumbo, 10/1947

The quintessential photo of Trumbo working in his bathtub:

dalton-trumbo

Resources:

Here are three different film resources to learn more about blacklisting, Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten:

Storm Center

The first stars an adamant Bette Davis in the movie “Storm Center.” Davis stars as Alicia Hull, a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children’s wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book ‘The Communist Dream’ from the library’s collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive. Especially upset by this is young Freddie Slater, a boy with a deep love of books whom Alicia has closely mentored.

Here’s a scene where the demure but feisty librarian (yay, librarians!) explains her position:

Movies about Blacklisting:

Next up is a collection of super movie clips from films about blacklisting. Well worth the watch! The video is dedicated to actress/author/activist Lee Grant, herself a blacklisted actress, because her new autobiography “I Said ‘Yes’ To Everything” inspired the youtuber to make this video; and to Victory Navasky who wrote the book “Naming Names,” a book about the subject.

Full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist. Fascinating.

Last but not least, for anyone who wants to delve further into this historically important topic, here is a good full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist, using many authentic clips of famous actors, screenwriters and directors. We see Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Walt Disney and many others. Check it out!

Also check out PBS American Masters for their special presentation on Trumbo.

. . .A bit about Bruce Cook . . .

Born in 1932, Bruce Cook grew up in California (Berkeley, Dunsmuir) and in his birthplace, Chicago, where he received a degree in English literature. He began his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He worked as critic-of-all-media-duties (with the National Observer from 1967 to 1975), then became film reporter, and book review editor (with the Los Angeles Daily News from 1984-1990), then followed his love of literature by writing many book reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, and USA Today.

At the same time, during the 1970s, Bruce Cook was writing books–The Beat Generation (1971), Listen to the Blues (1973), The Town that Country Built (1993), and two biographies, one of Dalton Trumbo (1977), the other of Bertolt Brecht (1983). His last book was a fictional biography of Shakespeare–Qualms of Conscience: The Confessions of William Shakespeare (2004).

As he liked to tell it, he developed an early interest in fiction.

He is perhaps best known (under the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander) as the author of the adventures of Sir John Fielding, his main work between 1994 and 2003. Though these ten novels of detection, translated into nine languages, brought him an international reputation, his bibliography includes twelve other books that appeared between 1979 and 2003, along with many hundreds of reviews and articles in many newspapers and magazines.³

¹Wikipedia

²Goodreads

³Bruce Cook’s official website

Weeks Twenty Two to Twenty Four: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

i,tituba

 

It would be easy for a book set during the Salem Witch Trials to disintegrate into yet another western racial pastiche where the character of Tituba remains a culturally unimportant shadow in the background of a privileged white morality play.  Yet in the strong, capable hands of French (Guadoluopean) author Maryse Condé, Tituba at last has had her day.

In her short novel, I,Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986) Condé traces the life journey of the young, delightfully human Tituba. Tituba was conceived from rape (aboard a vessel ironically named Christ the King) and she takes us right up through the end of her life, breathing fresh life, memorable as apotheosis,  into a character whose story was long overdue to be told.

Condé’s novels often raise racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales. She explores, for example,  the 19th-century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu (1980); and the 20th-century building of the Panama Canal and its influence on increasing the West Indian middle class in The Tree of Life (1992).¹

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, is equally captivating.

Tituba, who possesses the skill and visions of a healer, is biracial. Born on Barbados to a young African slave woman, Abena, and a loving gentle giant named Yao, Tituba eventually becomes a maroon, having no owner, but an outsider to society. She’s taken under the wing of an herbalist named Mama Yaya, learning about traditional healing methods; then falls in love and marries a slave, John Indian, willing to return to slavery on his behalf. Mortal unions with men are to become a weakness of Tituba’s, throughout the story.

 

barbados_sugar

rendering of a Barbados sugar plantation

 

Soon after, Tituba and John Indian are sold to Samuel Parris, the Puritan who takes Tituba and John Indian to Boston, then to Salem Village, where Tituba is accused of witchcraft and arrested. Tituba shares a prison cell with a pregnant Hester Prynne, the heroine from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (Prynne also receives a bit of a feminist makeover.)²

Tituba’s story also includes a relationship with a Jewish merchant, Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo, and raises issues of shared cultural disenfranchisement and the commonality of oppression.

Condé’s narrative employs elements of traditional storytelling to provide tales within tales, magical as double yolks within eggs, resulting in an extremely well-narrated  depiction of Tituba as a larger-than-life yet supremely human protagonist; flawed and as likeable as anyone who has been marginalized and has had to fight to survive. The inclusion of a trinity of spiritual presences, namely Mama Yaya, Yao and Abena, her mother, serve as a sort of often-appearing chorus of the ego, advising and often chiding the very human Tituba as she navigates the racist and misogynist zeitgeist of the 1600’s.

Recently The Wonderlings Reading and Discussion Group voted to read I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.

Condé’s  book is actually the longest work the group has ever read together, and they did a smashing job! A tight core group of readers explored many aspects of the work, including narrative, voice, character development, analysis of passages they felt were brilliant or needing form, as well as history, study of the atrocities of life on a sugar plantation, and waves of feminism which either did, or did not, apply to Tituba.

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was published in 1986. It would go on to receive the French Grand Prix award for women’s literature.

 

Although recovering from a fractured ankle, the author was quite gracious in answering several of our member’s questions about I, Tituba. Here are her responses, which were very kindly sent by the translator of the book, Richard Philcox.

She wrote;

Dear Celeste Schantz,

Life has got just a little bit complicated as I have fractured my ankle and my husband will type my answers to your questions.

We greatly appreciate how gracious the author was,  to provide these responses.

 

 

 

Also check out this 52-minute documentary, Maryse Condé : Une voix singulière       (with subtitles) 

 

 

A Wonderlings Interview with Maryse Condé . . .

 

TW: You received your PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne in 1965, what is the title of your dissertation? (PS: Thank you, thank you for your generosity in taking part in our group!) –Rick Williams

MC: The title of my thesis at the Sorbonne in 1975 was “Stereotype of Black Characters in Caribbean Literature.”

TW: There is a vast chasm going back thousands of years between the culture and history of the African peoples and the white people from Western Europe that settled this country. Taking into consideration your personal experiences with racism, do you think there is any solution to the racist problem that presently exists in the US? – Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: I am not a specialist of racism in the US but I do believe that in spite of the prevalent ideas, racism will die and humanity will become one. Maybe that is a dream, but it is mine.

TW: Within the book you use the heralding “crick, crack!” –the traditional opening used by a West Indian storyteller in front of an audience. It seems to say; “Now, listen! I’m about to tell you a fantastic tale!” Can you elaborate on the use of this device when writing/telling Tituba’s stories? As a proclamation that we as readers are about to hear something fantastic? I loved these passages; they were among the most excellent in the book, because they contain archetypes and dreams and folk tale elements, and the reader or audience member is wondering what is tangible and what is spiritual. I’d love for you to tell a bit about your use of that story opening, “crick, crack!” – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC:  Every writer is jealous of the storyteller. There is in the spoken word a spontaneity that writing brings to an end. I wanted to remind my readers that I belong to a society where oral traditions are still alive, that my words convey a magical power and that my story can be seen as a wonderful filter for emotions and knowledge. I was trying to say that people belonging to my part of the world do not simply write, they retain the power to influence deeply the minds of their listeners.

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger Date 1902 Source “Giles Corey of the Salem Farms” (1868), in The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Boston, Houghton, 1902

 

TW:  What did use of the spirit world bring to your story? When in the trance of writing, how did the exchanges come out from the “other world?” Did you write these and let them stand or revise the exchanges? How has this book shaped your later views on other writings/life? –David Delaney

MC:  A writer is a dreamer. A book is the fruit of her imagination, complex and full of diverse ideas. There is a magical relationship between Tituba and me; One day when I was searching for books at the UCLA library, Ann Petry’s book on Tituba fell into my hands. That is how I got to know the story of the Salem witch trials. That bond between Tituba and me has never been found again in my writing.

TW: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was written in 1986, a time when women’s spirituality, particularly reclaiming witchcraft and goddess lore, was being articulated. Was Tituba’s spirituality, as well as being historically relevant, part of the parody of feminism, or more a depiction of a healthy relationship with spirit which we could emulate today? – Anna Schantz

MC: I Tituba as a book is a parody. I went to the extent of meeting with a real witch in Los Angeles who told me the secret of her art. For me there was a large part of humor in portraying Tituba who would not be taken too seriously. Her spirituality should not be taken as a model.

TW:  We appreciated the fact that you refrained from idealizing Tituba, and portrayed her fully, flaws and all, especially her perverse tendency to embrace exploitative situations to her own detriment. What was it about Tituba’s character that affected you most deeply?  -Shabnam Mirchandani

MC: In The Crucible by Arthur Miller Tituba has been portrayed as an unimportant, old Negress without any character, a shadow in the background. I wanted to give her a character of her own: young, attractive, fond of handsome men, not at all a role model. I suppose I was trying to make her human.

TW:  Do you think that some of your meaning or references to feminism/ parody are lost in translation? How involved are you in the translation process? –Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: For me translation is another work entirely. My husband is a translator and I never interfere with his work. I never read his translations. They belong to him. If you would like to know more on this topic read the conversation we had between author and translator published in the book Intimate Enemies (Liverpool University Press.)

TW:  Are excellent writers born? Or are MFA programs in creative writing useful to hone our skills? Did you personally ever “study” creative writing or did you learn to write on your own through reading and learning from the craft of other authors? What is the most challenging aspect for you when writing a novel? What do you love? – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC: Creative writing programs are an invention of American universities. In the Francophone world we believe that the power to write is a gift which cannot be taught. My fondness for writing comes from my knowledge of literature from different parts of the world. It is by reading certain authors that I learned how to write and influence my readers. I have never studied otherwise. Reading for me is my master.

As for the writers I prefer, the list would be too long, but I make no difference between a Japanese writer, a French writer or an American: all of them can teach me their craft and bring me closer to what I want to achieve.

TW: Can you tell us about what you are working on now? (or at least give us a hint . . .?) –Susan Pigman

MC: I have just published a novel dealing with the major issue of terrorism. It’s called Le destin triste et fabuleux d’Ivan et Ivana, but it has not been translated yet into English. My autobiography of my years in Africa is about to be published by Seagull Press/University of Chicago as What is Africa to Me? True Fragments of an Autobiography. My husband is translating at the present time Of Morsels and Marvels, a travelogue of recipes and journeys throughout the world.

 

Best regards to all the Book Club members!

Maryse Condé

 

 

. . .A Bit About the Author . . .

 

conde_01_body

Sandro Michaeless, BOMB Magazine

 

Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the author Maryse Conde’ was the youngest of eight children. After having graduated from high school, she would go on to attend the Sorbonne in Paris.

After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal. She returned to Paris, and in 1965 completed her PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne.

In 1985 Condé was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in the US. She then became a professor of French and Francophone literature at Columbia University in New York City. In addition to her creative writing, Condé retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. She and her husband (Richard Philcox, the English-language translator of most of her novels) split their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.

About Windward Heights

 

windwardheights

 

Her novel Windward Heights (2008) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which she had first read at the age of 14. She had long wanted to create a work around it, as an act of “homage.” Her novel is set in Guadeloupe, and race and culture are featured as issues that divide people  Reflecting on how she drew from her Caribbean background in writing this book, she said:

“To be part of so many worlds—part of the African world because of the African slaves, part of the European world because of the European education—is a kind of double entendre. You can use that in your own way and give sentences another meaning. I was so pleased when I was doing that work, because it was a game, a kind of perverse but joyful game.”³

 

About Crossing the Mangrove

 

“Conde writes elegantly in a style that beautifully survives translation from the French…[she] gives readers a flavor of the French and Creole stew that is the Guadeloupan tongue.  In so doing, Conde conveys the many subtle distinctions of color, class, and language that made up this society.”–Chicago Tribune

 

 

In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Conde has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture. Francis Sancher–a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others–is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe.

crossingthemangrove

None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself.  As the villagers come to pay their respects they each–either in a speech to the mourners, or in an internal monologue–reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death.

 

Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community. In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Conde has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher.  Retaining the full color and vibrance of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.

Maryse Condé’s works go well beyond historical fiction.

Among her plays are: An tan revolisyon, published in 1991, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1989; Comedie d’Amour, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1993; Dieu nous l’a donné, published in 1972, first performed in Paris in 1973; La mort d’Oluwemi d’Ajumako, published in 1973, first performed in 1974 in Gabon; Le morne de Massabielle, first version staged in 1974 in Puteaux (France), later staged in English in New York as The Hills of Massabielle (1991); Pension les Alizes, published in 1988, first staged in Guadeloupe and subsequently staged in New York as Tropical Breeze Hotel (1995); Les sept voyages de Ti Noel (written in collaboration with José Jernidier), first performed in Guadeloupe in 1987.

Prolific, refreshingly honest, and an excellent writer who deserves great praise and place in any canon of world literature . . .Maryse Condé is all of these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ Wikipedia

² ibid.
³ Rebecca Wolff, Interview: “Maryse Condé”, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999, accessed 27 April 2016.