Week Thirty-Six: “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin and “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

 

Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor” by Jimmy Breslin

 

From The World of Jimmy Breslin:

In the 1960s, as the once-proud New York Herald Tribune spiraled into bankruptcy, the brightest light in its pages was an ebullient young columnist named Jimmy Breslin. While ordinary columnists wrote about politics, culture, or the economy, Breslin’s chief topics were the city and Breslin himself. He was chummy with cops, arsonists, and thieves, and told their stories with grace, wit, and lightning-quick prose. Whether covering the five boroughs, Vietnam, or the death of John F. Kennedy, Breslin managed to find great characters wherever he went.

Today, let’s take a look at one of Breslin’s signature pieces, via that underappreciated art form, the obituary.

We’ll examine the passing of the well-known Irish American John F. Kennedy, and how one newspaper column can teach us how to write with loving attention to the everyday person.

Here is “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin. Breslin himself passed away just last March.

What do you notice?

 

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, at the funeral of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Breslin captured not only the call of duty through the musings of Pollard, the gravedigger, but also the uncertainty and grief of Jackie Kennedy through a touching description of the widow’s timid movements at the ceremony.

 

Here is one book club reaction from Wonderlings member Rick Williams:

I read this beautiful selection while pumping on an exercise bike as I listened to Beethoven’s 5th symphony on my headphones. Words and music can inspire me to a more intense workout. Ironically, even though I’m on a bike that is going no where, the words and music transport me to an imaginary world like a Twilight Zone episode.

Jimmy Breslin contrasts the death of the most powerful man in the world with his gravedigger. Three times, the author mentions the diggers salary of $3.01 per hour.
And twice Clifton Pollard responded that “it was an honor” for him.

While reading this obituary, I saw “John John” salute his father’s coffin. And then Hamlet talking to Ophelia’s gravedigger while looking at the court jesters Yorick’s skull.

It is etiquette to wipe off the fitness machines after using. I’m typically forgetful or superficial at best. But this time, I was amazingly patient and thorough making sure I did not miss a spot. I even took a measure of pride in this lowly job. My favorite part was when Breslin describes how Clifton and Jackie were similar in being quietly conscientious and wanting to do the right thing.

In my imaginary world, Jackie goes out of her way to meet Clifton. She shakes his hand, simply says “thank you” and gives him a memento from the President. Of course the grave digger responds “thank you, it was my honor.”   – Rick Williams, Wonderlings member

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

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The intrepid Jimmy Breslin

 

Jimmy Breslin was the biggest, the baddest, the brashest, the best columnist in New York City.

And the first to say so, too.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Daily News columnist died Sunday at age 88, leaving an unparalleled legacy as an unyielding chronicler of his hometown and an inspiration for a generation of writers, reporters and readers left to mourn his loss and envy his unmatched prose.

Armed with just a pen and pad, Breslin’s one-man beat covered the five borough’s streets, courthouses and barrooms, while inevitably uncovering a story that left the city’s press corps lagging far behind.

He was an unmade bed of a reporter with an unkempt mane of hair, unflinchingly speaking truth to power, exposing corruption and cheering the underdog across four decades.

To call the proudly blue-collar Breslin larger than life was pure understatement.

“It feels like 30 people just left the room,” said Pete Hamill, a Breslin colleague and contemporary, after learning of his death.”¹

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

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A Sledge of the 1800’s, this one in Siberia

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov is a sort of “silent obituary of the heart.” It’s also one of the most highly anthologized and studied short stories from the Russian literary canon.

One question to ponder as you read: how do we grieve?

Let’s follow Iona the sledge driver, as he navigates one winter evening of his life.

HERE is “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

“Misery” follows one evening in the life of the sledge man, Iona.  Iona’s son recently died. He desperately and unsuccessfully tries to have a talk with the people he meets and tell them of how shattered he is. He ends up talking to his horse.²

Breslin’s Clifton Pollard and the main character of Anton Chekhov’s “Misery” share common ground. Both are the salt of the earth; one a grave digger at Arlington Cemetary, one a sledge driver; both paying last respects to someone dear who was lost.

Yet both forgotten by society; the dead, both beloved sons in different ways. One is a darling of the nation, the other an unknown but beloved son, whose father’s grief is fathomless.

How do you grieve?

Said Shabnam Mirchandani on The Wonderlings Book Club Facebook Page:

I think the language of the deepest grief is silence. The indifference of others and the unabashed lack of empathy for the driver’s loss is unfortunately the way of the world. Isolation usually accompanies grief and traumatic loss. It is so poignant that the mare is the only audience for the driver to vent his sorrow to. I think this experience is integral to the human condition, and when there is poverty, the suffering is made worse by indignity.

I can’t help thinking of certain countries of the world as entities who are experiencing a violent passing of a “civilized’ persona” and are seemingly helpless and voiceless in the face of this (figurative) carnage.The grief of their citizens is filled with helplessness and fury, but does not seem capable of creating a shift toward a more viable system . . .

– Shabnam Mirchandani, The Wonderlings

 

 

Thanks to all who read and commented this week on our Facebook Page!

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

 

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A young Chekhov (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov January – 15 July 1904)was a Russian playwright and short story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. His career as a playwright produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.

Along with Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, Chekhov is often referred to as one of the three seminal figures in the birth of early modernism in the theatre. Chekhov practiced as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career.

Chekhov renounced the theatre after the reception of The Seagull in 1896, but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and premiered his last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a “theatre of mood” and a “submerged life in the text.”

Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story.[9] He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.³

 

 

 

¹The New York Daily News, March 19, 2017 by Justin Silverstein and Larry McShane

², ³ Wikipedia

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Week Thirty Four: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

highlonesome

Harper Perennial edition, 2007

“Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right . . .”

Thus begins “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” — a classic and often-anthologized short story by Joyce Carol Oates.

Is this fable? Allegory? Urban Legend? All three? Let us know your thoughts

Read Oates’ story HERE.

“The story first appeared in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch magazine. It was inspired by four Tucson, Arizona murders committed by Charles Schmid, which were profiled in Life magazine in an article written by Don Moser on March 4, 1966.

Considerable academic analysis has been written about the story, with scholars divided on whether it is intended to be taken literally or as allegory. Several writers focus on the series of numbers written on Friend’s car, which he indicates are a code of some sort, but which is never explained:

“‘Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,’ Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it.” (p. 41)

Literary scholars have interpreted this series of numbers as different Biblical references, as an underlining of Friend’s sexual deviancy, or as a reference to the ages of Friend and his victims.

The narrative has also been viewed as an allegory for initiation into sexual adulthood,[5] an encounter with the devil, a critique of modern youth’s obsession with sexual themes in popular music, or as a dream sequence.”¹

Did you know that “Where Are You Going…” is dedicated Bob Dylan?

Says Oates:

“Baby Blue” didn’t directly influence my short story, which was inspired by a Life magazine article about a serial killer in Tucson, Ariz., but the song’s soul and poetic rhythm were very seductive.

I loved the song’s surreal quality and Dylan’s couplets: “The vagabond who’s rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.” Or “Strike another match, go start anew,” which suggests renewal and beginning again, only to resolve with the blunt “And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.”

The beauty of the song is that you can never quite comprehend it. We know only that something is over: “The lover who just walked out your door / Has taken all his blankets from the floor / The carpet, too, is moving under you.” A powerful evocation of losing control, of losing everything.”²

. . .For further study . . .

Check out Celestial Timepiece, a brilliant website devoted to all things Joyce Carol Oates.

  . . .A bit about Joyce Carol Oates . . .

joycecaroloates2

Photograph from the New York Times

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. (Harper Collins)

Bonus Clip: Joyce Carol Oates at home:

¹ Wikipedia

²Celestial Timepiece (an authorized Joyce Carol Oates Website)

 

Week Thirty Two: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Helen-Macdonald-H-is-for-Hawk

 

H is for Hawk takes us on the path of a daughter’s grief, as she searches for an elusive author and wisdom from a goshawk named Mabel.

 

British author Helen Macdonald is the author of the book H is for Hawk. The memoir tells the story of the year Macdonald mourned the sudden death of her father.
A long-time falconer, Macdonald’s grieving process was aided by the presence of the young goshawk, Mabel.
Macdonald recounts how she worked with the young bird, and what lessons it taught her about life.
Her book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book of the Year award, among other honors.
Here’s an excerpt from H is for Hawk. Let us know what you think, as we untethered Wonderlings make our way into the territory of award-winning nature writing!

Read an excerpt of Macdonalds’ book, HERE.

 

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Helen MacDonald, from H is for Hawk, Grove Atlantic

 

H is for Hawk describes the year Macdonald spent training Mabel, yet ultimately this part of the story becomes mere scaffolding for the greater spiritual quest Macdonald undertakes. The winner of several prestigious awards, the book is also memoir of Macdonald’s search for understanding as she follows in the footsteps of the elusive author T.H. White, who penned not only The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone, but also The Goshawk , which is White’s own account of time spent mastering a bird of prey named Gos.  It’s interesting to compare the two works in terms of their common vocabulary of grief and ultimate recognition of what, in life and death, can and cannot be mastered.

 

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Read one of many gorgeous prose passages from Macdonald’s book:

Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution. Daylight irrigating the box. Scratching talons, another thump. And another. Thump. The air turned syrupy, slow, flecked with dust. The last few seconds before a battle. And with the last bow pulled free, he reached inside, and amidst a whirring, chaotic clatter of wings and feet and talons and a high-pitched twittering and it’s all happening at once, the man pulls an enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury. The hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porpentine. Two enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water. A broken marionette of wings, legs and light-splashed feathers. She is wearing jesses, and the man holds them. For one awful, long moment she is hanging head-downward, wings open, like a turkey in a butcher’s shop, only her head is turned right-way-up and she is seeing more than she has ever seen before in her whole short life. Her world was an aviary no larger than a living room. Then it was a box. But now it is this, and she can see everything: the point-source glitter on the waves, a diving cormorant a hundred yards out; pigment flakes under wax on the lines of parked cars; far hills and the heather on them and miles and miles of sky where the sun spreads on dust and water and illegible things moving in it that are white scraps of gulls. Everything startling and new-stamped on her entirely astonished brain.

 

. . .Part eulogy, part nature journal, part spiritual resuscitation and part tribute to the brokenhearted and misunderstood, Macdonald’s visceral, feral, metaphoric vocabulary is not only one of falconry but of healing.

 

goshawk

Goshawk

. . .A bit about the author . . .

 

Helen Macdonald is an English writer, naturalist, and an Affiliated Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She is best known as the author of H is for Hawk, which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book Award. In 2016, it also won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger in France. (Wikipedia)

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

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“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!”

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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

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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: “Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee and “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

 

 

 

 

“Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee

 

What purpose do food and travel writing serve, when an author is grieving?

 

Today’s piece focuses on author Chang-rae Lee’s preparation of traditional Korean family foods when his mother becomes very ill.

Not everyone is a master chef. Some of us hack and chop and frizzle away. The author’s frustration is, in fact, at his at his inability to understand and prepare the great traditional meal. It is an imperfect language, excavating Lee’s frustration and struggle to articulate that as a young son he didn’t appreciate her love, sacrifice and self-effacement in the face of his own hubris. The metaphor is that of food and trying to duplicate the family meal and in part, failing. The agony of that.


“I would enter the kitchen quietly and stand beside her, my chin lodging on the point of her hip.” “The bone fell away, though not completely” Then later, “careful not to dislodge the bones, I asked her why it was important that they remain connected.”


It may be useful to compare Lee’s piece with Momaday’s  “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman” in terms of the bones in the land; and that the chronology of events shifts back and forth via flashbacks yet all of the times are woven together to create, in the mind’s eye, that thing, that awareness, which had never been seen.
The final spectral image of the parents pulled over in the car and the son (in a different age) driving by and “seeing” them is the culminating image of his mourning. It is a synthesis.
It is not so much a piece about cooking as it is about coming to terms with the unfamiliar, death, (the tenor) in terms of the familiar, traditional Korean cooking (the vehicle).


The shadow-side failure at trying to say to someone, ” I love and respect you” through the preparation of a traditional meal for a mother, a child, who will not eat.

His clumsy, imperfect mourning via cooking to understand his stalwart mother’s impermanence.

Here is “Coming Home Again” by Chang-Rae Lee.

The piece was originally featured in The New Yorker Magazine, October 16, 1995.

Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

. . .A bit about Chang-rae Lee . . .

 

Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee by photographer Peter Murphy

Chang-rae Lee (born July 29, 1965) is a Korean American novelist and a professor of creative writing at Stanford University,.[1] He was previously Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton and director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing.

Lee was born in South Korea in 1965 to Young Yong and Inja Hong Lee. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old.

Lee’s first novel, Native Speaker (1995), won numerous awards including the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

Lee explores issues central to the Asian American experience: the legacy of the past; the encounter of diverse cultures; the challenges of racism and discrimination, and exclusion; dreams achieved and dreams deferred. In the process of developing and defining itself, then, Asian American literature speaks to the very heart of what it means to be American. The authors of this literature above all concern themselves with identity, with the question of becoming and being American, of being accepted, not “foreign.” Lee’s writings have addressed these questions of identity, exile and diaspora, assimilation, and alienation.¹

 

 

“The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

 

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A barbecue shack near Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia, 1940. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott (1910–1990) for the Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress)

 

By 1953 Carson McCullers’s dysfunctional marriage was at a breaking point. During a summer in Paris she and her husband were both drinking heavily, and Carson found out that Reeves had (once again) forged Carson’s name on checks. He attempted to kill himself and tried to talk Carson into committing suicide with him. She fled Paris alone and returned to the United States.

Around the same time, Holiday magazine had offered Carson McCullers fifteen hundred dollars to write a piece on Georgia where she returned in November to gather materials and memories.

While staying with friends McCullers learned that her husband had committed suicide in the Hôtel Chateau Frontenac on November 18.

Although her hosts initially urged her to remain at their home to recover from the shock, McCullers insisted on going to visit Hervey Cleckley, a friend who was also a psychiatrist. Cleckley, who was busy at work (with coauthor Corbett H. Thigpen) on his book The Three Faces of Eve, later told Carr that he and McCullers discussed his research in psychopathology and talked at length about Reeves’s suicide. Their conversations helped McCullers understand both her husband and their relationship, as she later described in her unfinished memoir:

 

 

 

 

McCullers (enduring what seems to be a rather uncomfortably close interview) about “The Member of The Wedding.” McCullers states that the basic premise of the play was just “to belong- to be a part of something; a part of life.” Perhaps this is also true of those who write about food and cultural tradition when they are grieving.

 

 

“Hervey Cleckley has written a masterful book called The Mask of Sanity, and in that book I could see Reeves mirrored. Psychopathic people are very often charming. They live on their charm, their good looks and the weaknesses of wives or mothers.”

 

McCullers finally returned to Nyack, NY at the end of November—and the next day The New York Times published her husband’s obituary, which suggested as a possible cause of death injuries suffered from a car accident several weeks before. Yet the actual cause was hardly a secret to the couple’s acquaintances and, amidst the deluge of calls and condolences, there seemed to be a palpable sense of relief among some of McCullers’s friends. Carr reports that the actress Helen Hayes, who also lived in Nyack, dropped by and told Carson’s mother, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry, Bebe, because I don’t think I am.”

 

McCullers soon returned to the task of writing the food article for Holiday, and she completed a version in early 1954. The events of the previous year surely explain the wistful and somewhat melancholy tone, and the essay was rejected because the magazine was “looking for a lighter, more descriptive, less personal piece.”²

 

Here is “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

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McCullers at a gathering with Isak Dinesen, author of “Babette’s Feast,” Out of Africa, and many other works including gothic tales which pair nicely with a read of U.S. Southern Gothic.

 

McCullers’ bittersweet narration (recovering from her spouses’ suicide and reeling from a bitter marriage), evokes a longing. She discusses regional foods and all but also gets to the heart of longing; using the communal (or isolated) act of eating; of belonging or not belonging in a household, a family, a community. Of again, not the rosy magazine-slick travelogue her editors were expecting (this piece was ultimately rejected and was not published in Holiday Magazine) a much more meaningful exploration of cooking and dining as it expresses friendship, marriage, widowhood, isolation, etc. Again, the shadow side of the meal.

Consider an old man who has just lost his wife, slumped in a wheelchair, trying to “enjoy” a steak at a family picnic and not wanting to chat but doing his best to make pleasant small talk. The Vietnam Vet at a Christmas party. One is perhaps able to move past the facade of emotionless silence to sense a great chasm of grief which was inarticulate as both Lee and McCullers went through the motions of describing and preparing food. The beauty was not in the eloquence or grammar nor in the perfect execution of a meal (although McCullers seems much more master of that!) but in the simple recounting of how they could NOT function normally.

So often today we have celebrity chefs and Food TV gurus, who “Celebrate Holidays!” and take smiling to another extreme with “Today on our show: Traditional Foods!” . . .it’s all so flouride-whitened. Perhaps these pieces are the yin to that yang. The power in the taking in of nourishment but not the outward power of flawlessly preparing it. The clinging, barely, to the memory of fruit, the children’s treats, the holiday punch, as a rote attempt to return to normalcy and be nourished.

The foods and their memories and preparation become, perhaps, a sort of prayer for healing.

 

. . .A bit about Carson McCullers . . .

 

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Carson McCullers by Henri Cartier Bresson

Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Her other novels have similar themes and most are set in the deep south.

McCullers’ oeuvre is often described as Southern Gothic and indicative of her southern roots. However, McCullers penned all of her work after leaving the South, and critics also describe her writing and eccentric characters as universal in scope. Her stories have been adapted to stage and film. A stagework of her novel The Member of the Wedding (1946), which captures a young girl’s feelings at her brother’s wedding, made a successful Broadway run in 1950–51.³

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ Source: Wikipedia

²Summarized from The Library of America

³Wikipedia

Week Fifteen: The Lost City of Z by David Grann and “The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh

 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

 

6145-770x433Percy Fawcett

Percy Fawcett was certainly one model for the character of Indiana Jones

 

By the time he disappeared, in 1925, Percy Fawcett was likly the best-known explorer on the planet – and his name’s been kept alive by authors such as David Grann, whose new book –The Lost City of Z  has been a surprise bestseller in America –and a movie in theaters. Grann’s book tackles not only the British artillery colonel’s final journey, but also his obsession with finding traces of civilization deep in the Brazilian interior: El Dorado; a settlement Fawcett named, for obscure reasons, The Lost City of Z.

Reader, don’t grow faint or fear we’ve lost our way. Stay with our party, and you’ll find some surprise twists this week, including some authors and characters from our past.

Let’s go along with reporter David Grann as he enters the Amazon and tries to solve the mystery of what happened to the lost explorer, Percy Fawcett.

Here is an introductory text and promotional website for Grann’s book.

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett DSO (18 August 1867 – 1925?) was a British geographer, artillery officer, cartographer, archaeologist and explorer of South America. Along with his eldest son, Fawcett disappeared in 1925 during an expedition to find “Z” – Fawcett’s name for an ancient lost city, which he and others believed to exist and to be the remains of El Dorado, in the jungles of Brazil.

Here is an except from Grann’s book, Chapter One, “We Shall Return”:

 

WE SHALL RETURN

On a cold January day in 1925, a tall, distinguished gentleman hurried across the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, toward the S.S. Vauban, a five-hundred-and-eleven-foot ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. He was fifty-seven years old, and stood over six feet, his long arms corded with muscles.

Although his hair was thinning and his mustache was flecked with white, he was so fit that he could walk for days with little, if any, rest or nourishment. His nose was crooked like a boxer’s, and there was something ferocious about his appearance, especially his eyes. They were set close together and peered out from under thick tufts of hair. No one, not even his family, seemed to agree on their color-some thought they were blue, others gray. Yet virtually everyone who encountered him was struck by their intensity: some called them “the eyes of a visionary.” He had frequently been photographed in riding boots and wearing a Stetson, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, but even in a suit and a tie, and without his customary wild beard, he could be recognized by the crowds on the pier. He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.PercyFawcett.1911jpg

He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public’s imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranha, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the “David Livingstone of the Amazon,” and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. An American explorer described him as “a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless”; another said that he could “outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else.” The London Geographical Journal, the pre-eminent publication in its field, observed in 1953 that “Fawcett marked the end of an age. One might almost call him the last of the individualist explorers. The day of the aeroplane, the radio, the organized and heavily financed modern expedition had not arrived. With him, it was the heroic story of a man against the forest.”

In 1916, the Royal Geographical Society had awarded him, with the blessing of King George V, a gold medal “for his contributions to the mapping of South America.” And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack into the Society’s hall to hear him speak. Among them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was said to have drawn on Fawcett’s experiences for his 1912 book The Lost World, in which explorers “disappear into the unknown” of South America and find, on a remote plateau, a land where dinosaurs have escaped extinction.

As Fawcett made his way to the gangplank that day in January, he eerily resembled one of the book’s protagonists, Lord John Roxton:
Something there was of Napoleon III, something of Don Quixote, and yet again something which was the essence of the English country gentleman._._._._He has a gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.

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Map of Mato Grosso from Expedition Fawcett

None of Fawcett’s previous expeditions compared with what he was about to do, and he could barely conceal his impatience, as he fell into line with the other passengers boarding the S.S. Vauban. The ship, advertised as “the finest in the world,” was part of the Lamport & Holt elite “V” class. The Germans had sunk several of the company’s ocean liners during the First World War, but this one had survived, with its black, salt-streaked hull and elegant white decks and striped funnel billowing smoke into the sky. Model T Fords shepherded passengers to the dock, where longshoremen helped cart luggage into the ship’s hold. Many of the male passengers wore silk ties and bowler hats; women had on fur coats and feathered caps, as if they were attending a society event, which, in some ways, they were-the passenger lists of luxury ocean liners were chronicled in gossip columns and scoured by young girls searching for eligible bachelors.

Fawcett pushed forward with his gear. His trunks were loaded with guns, canned food, powdered milk, flares, and handcrafted machetes. He also carried a kit of surveying instruments: a sextant and a chronometer for determining latitude and longitude, an aneroid for measuring atmospheric pressure, and a glycerin compass that could fit in his pocket. Fawcett had chosen each item based on years of experience; even the clothes he had packed were made of lightweight, tear-proof gabardine. He had seen men die from the most innocuous seeming oversight-a torn net, a boot that was too tight.

Fawcett was setting out into the Amazon, a wilderness nearly the size of the continental United States, to make what he called “the great discovery of the century”-a lost civilization. By then, most of the world had been explored, its veil of enchantment lifted, but the Amazon remained as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. As Sir John Scott Keltie, the former secretary of the Royal Geographical Society and one of the world’s most acclaimed geographers at the time, noted, “What is there no one knows.”

 

Ever since Francisco de Orellana and his army of Spanish conquistadores descended the Amazon River, in 1542, perhaps no place on the planet had so ignited the imagination-or lured men to their death. Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican friar who accompanied Orellana, described woman warriors in the jungle who resembled the mythical Greek Amazons. Half a century later, Sir Walter Raleigh spoke of Indians with “their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts”-a legend that Shakespeare wove into Othello:
Of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

What was true about the region-serpents as long as trees, rodents the size of pigs-was sufficiently beyond belief that no embellishment seemed too fanciful. And the most entrancing vision of all was of El Dorado. Raleigh claimed that the kingdom, which the conquistadores had heard about from Indians, was so plentiful in gold that its inhabitants ground the metal into powder and blew it “thorow hollow canes upon their naked bodies untill they be al shining from the foote to the head.”¹

Fawcett’s fate may never be discovered, but in recent years, evidence has shown that his theory about a sophisticated jungle city was not invented. As Grann points out in his book “The Lost City of Z,” many archeologists now believe the Amazon was home to sophisticated settlements in the centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Excavations have revealed the ruins of garden cities with earthen defensive walls, complex road networks and space for thousands of inhabitants. Some of these sites are deep in the modern day state of Mato Grosso—the very region where Percy Fawcett hoped to find his mythical city of Z.

 

Fawcett’s Last Letter (primary source):

 

Colonel Fawcett’s final written words, dated 29th May 1925, were to his wife Nina Fawcett:

 

 

    “My dear Nina,

    The attempt to write is fraught with much difficulty, thanks to the legions of flies that pester one from dawn till dusk – and sometimes all through the night! The worst are the tiny ones that are smaller than a pinhead, almost invisible, but sting like a mosquito. Clouds of them are always present. Millions of bees add to the plague, and other bugs galore, stinging horrors that get all over ones hands. Even the head nets won’t keep them out, and as for mosquito nets, the pests fly through them! It is quite maddening.

    We hope to get through this region in a few days, and are camped here for a while to arrange for the return of the peons, who are anxious to get back, having had enough of it – and I don’t blame them. We go on with eight animals – three saddle mules, four cargo mules, and a madrinha, a leading animal which keeps the others together. Jack is well and fit and getting stronger every day, even though he suffers a bit from insects.

    I myself am bitten or stung by ticks, and these piums, as they call the tiny ones, all over the body. It is Raleigh I am anxious about. He still has one leg in a bandage but won’t go back. So far we have plenty of food and no need to walk, but I am not sure how long this will last. There may be little for the animals to eat as we head further in. I cannot hope to stand up on this journey better than Jack or Raleigh – my extra years tell, though I do my best to make up for it with enthusiasm – but I had to do this.

 

    I calculate that I shall contact the Indians in about a week, perhaps ten days, when we should be able to reach the much talked-about waterfall.

 

    Here we are at Dead Horse Camp, Lat. 110 43’ S and 540 35’ W, the spot where my horse died in 1920. Only his white bones remain. We can bathe ourselves here, but the insects make it a matter of great haste. Nevertheless, the season is good. It is very cold at night and fresh in the morning, but the insects and heat are out in full force come mid-day, and from then until evening it is sheer misery in camp.

 

    You need have no fear of any failure ….”

 

 

Did you know . . .Literary Connections and Legacy

professorchallenger book

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories

 

Fawcett was friend to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as H. Rider Haggard.

‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his Professor Challenger character partly on Percy Fawcett, and stories of the “Lost City of Z” became material for his novel The Lost World?

Just as Sherlock Holmes was loosely based on Dr. Bell, one of his professors at the Medical School of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Challenger was inspired by real individuals. One of them was a professor of physiology named William Rutherford, who had lectured at the University of Edinburgh while Conan Doyle studied medicine there. The other, was the explorer Percy Fawcett.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Percy Fawcett were good friends and Fawcett told stories about his incredible exploits in the Amazon Jungle. Conan Doyle used lots of them in his novels. The most significant of is the description of the famous “Table Top Mountain” in The Lost World.’

 

Lost Cities as Genre

“The Lost City” and “The Lost World” are sub-genre categories of science fiction and fantasy literature?

From the tombs of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and the semi-mythical stronghold of Troy to the jungle-shrouded pyramids of the Maya, “Lost Cities” have captured the imaginations of the Victorian and Edwardian ethos and continue to capture our imaginations today. Check out this Wiki piece which discusses Doyle, H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines) and many others. Clearly, Steven Spielberg and other creators owe a great debt to actual explorers such as Fawcett.

 

Want more? Here’s an entire PBS episode about the Fawcett expedition!

 

An episode from PBS’s “Secrets of the Dead” about Fawcett

 

 

A bit about David Grann . . .

David Grann is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. david-grann

Grann’s other book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, contains many of his New Yorker stories, and was named by Men’s Journal one of the best true crime books ever written. The stories in the collection focus on everything from the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert to a Polish writer who might have left clues to a real murder in his postmodern novel. Another piece, “Trial by Fire,” exposed how junk science led to the execution of a likely innocent man in Texas.

His latest book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, will be released in April. Based on years of research, it explores one of the most sinister crimes and racial injustices in American history.

 

About El Dorado: “The Gilded Man”

 

El Dorado, The Golden Man

El Dorado refers not only to the great lost city but also to the “Golden Man”

Based on documentary research, Fawcett had by 1914 formulated ideas about a “lost city” he named “Z” somewhere in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. He theorized that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region and that isolated ruins may have survived. Did he believe that this was El Dorado? Or that El Dorado was nearby?

The conquistadores were convinced that El Dorado, which they had heard about from the Indians, was so plentiful in gold that the inhabitants ground the metal into dust and blew it through hollow canes about their bodies. “El Dorado” means “The Gilded Man.”

Yet El Dorado, at least in the Western imagination, has always seemed to represent something more than a golden kingdom—it is a lost world, even a paradise. Many have died seeking such a place, but that, at least in its more mystical incarnation, such a place will always lie beyond the horizon.

 

KnightAtTheCrossroads-vasnetsov.1

Knight at The Crossroads-Vasnetsov

 

 

Eldorado (1849)

 

By Edgar Allan Poe

 

Gaily bedight,

A gallant knight,

In sunshine and in shadow,

Had journeyed long,

Singing a song,

In search of Eldorado.

 

 

But he grew old—

This knight so bold—

And o’er his heart a shadow—

Fell as he found

No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.

 

 

And, as his strength

Failed him at length,

He met a pilgrim shadow—

‘Shadow,’ said he,

‘Where can it be—

This land of Eldorado?’

 

 

‘Over the Mountains

Of the Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,’

The shade replied,—

‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

 

 

Vocabulary:

  1. bedight: arrayed; dressed
  1. spot: perhaps a gold nugget, gem, or another sign of Eldorado
  1. pilgrim shadow: shadow of a traveler. Thus, the pilgrim shadow may be the knight’s own inner self (ambition, motivation) in the form of an apparition driving him on in spite of his weariness. One may also interpret it as death overtaking the knight.
  1. Valley . . . Shadow: These words echo the phrase valley of the shadow of death in Chapter 23:1 of the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament of the Bible.
  1. shade: reference to the pilgrim shadow. Shade is another word for apparition or ghost. But unlike ghost, wraith, phantom, spirit, or another word for apparition, shade maintains the ‘sh’ sound of shadow, thus keeping up the rhythm and musicality of the poem.

 

 

“The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh

 

themanwholikeddickens

From the movie A Handful of Dust, starring Alec Guinness and James Wilby.

 

“The Man Who Liked Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh is a fascinating piece which eventually became a chapter in Waugh’s novel, A Handful of Dust.
The protagonist, Mr. Henty, is a contented but shallow English country squire.
Yet the Camelot of old British landed aristocracy has faded away from society. Country estates are now something which must be kept up or rented to vacationers to produce income. Mr. Henty, who has seen his illusions of genteel country manor life shattered one by one, joins an expedition to the Brazilian jungle.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is no city of gold in the jungle, dear Wonderlings. Sometimes what we find is far stranger . . .

Here is “The Man Who Liked Dickens” the short story which Waugh eventually included as a chapter in his novel. Enjoy!

 

 

A bit about Evelyn Waugh . . .

Waugh incorporated several autobiographical elements into the plot, including his own recent desertion by his wife. In 1933–34 he travelled into the South American interior, and a number of incidents from the voyage are incorporated into the novel.

Evelynwaugh.jpeg

the author Evelyn Waugh

 

For more on lost worlds and cities . . .

 

Jimmy Nelson is a photographer who’s trying to photograph indigenous peoples around the world.

Several of these lost cities/ruins  have been virtually destroyed in recent years due to war, bombings and terrorism . . .Petra, Palmyra; the list goes on. But the fragments are beautiful:

http://www.touropia.com/lost-cities/

 

 

 

 

¹ The Lost City of Z-A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, By David Grann, Penguin Random House, 2010. From the Penguin Random House website “free” excerpt.

Week Eight: Walking in Two Worlds: Visiting our Ancestors in “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and “No Name Woman”

 

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” by N. Scott Momaday

N(avarre) Scott Momaday was born in 1934 into a Kiowa Indian family in Lawton, Oklahoma. Before graduating from the University of New Mexico in 1958, he attended the University of Virginia and met William Faulkner, who exerted a strong influence on his writing.

In The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday expands upon Kiowa folktales; in particular the Journey of Tai-me. The journey invokes both the personal and the archetypal  through an elegant montage blending both legend and Momaday’s personal memoir.

We read of the tribe’s three-century migration from Yellowstone to the Great Plains, and Momaday’s personal reflections on the land the people and the ghosts of his ancestors.

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” is also the standalone prologue essay of the book, setting the stage for an impeccable depiction of the people on, in and through the land, told in a way which goes well beyond literary personification or anthropomorphism.

Says Momaday, “None but an Indian, I think, knows so much what it is like to have existence in two worlds and security in neither.”

Here is “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” one of Momaday’s most-beloved essays. I hope you’ll give it a read and share your thoughts.

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A bit about N. Scott Momaday . . .

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N. Scott Momaday

N. Scott Momaday was born in Lawton, but grew up on the Navajo Reservation. Momaday earned his M.A. and Ph.D degrees from Stanford University in 1960 and 1963 respectively. He has garnered critical acclaim for his focus on Kiowa traditions, customs and beliefs, and is also recognized as one of the most successful contemporary Native American literary figures. Momaday’s writings are greatly influenced by oral tradition. He is professor of English at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a consultant of the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts since 1970. He is a known poet, and as well, an accomplished artist whose work appears at The Smithsonian, The Art Institute of Chicago and in many other places.

Momaday-Man-ka-ih

“Man-ka-ih”

 

Awards and Honors

Academy of American Poets Prize, 1962
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1969
Guggenheim Fellowship, 1966/67
National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, 1970

links:

Excellent information on Momaday and many others can be found at the site Modern American Poetry.

Momaday’s involvement with the making of Ken Burn’s The West (PBS) can be found here.

Momaday’s address to the U.N. http://www.wisdomoftheelders.org/un-address-n-scott-momaday/

For information on the kiowa: The Oklahoma Historical Society

https://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/kiowa-tribe.htm

Also see this Video on Kiowa dance:

 

“No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston

 

The womanwarrioCover_womanwarrior

Maxine Hong Kingston has played a leading role in establishing the personal memoir as a literary form, drawing narrative inspiration from the “storytalkers” of her Chinese-American girlhood.

Her very first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976) was named by Time Magazine as one of the top ten nonfiction books of the 1970’s.

In her award-winning book Kingston blends autobiography and mythology, outer world and inner being.  First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its portrayal of numerous intersectional personas—female, Chinese, immigrant, American.

From reviews:

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.”   . . .A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present.
Here is the essay “No Name Woman”, by Maxine Hong Kingston.  It’s the opening segment of her book. Let us know your thoughts!

isites.harvard.edu

A bit about Maxine Hong Kingston . . .

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Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who operated a gambling house in the 1940s, when Maxine was born, and then a laundry where Kingston and her brothers and sisters toiled long hours. Kingston graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley, and, in the same year, married actor Earll Kingston, whom she had met in an English course. The couple has one son, Joseph, who was born in 1963. They were active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but in 1967 the Kingstons headed for Japan to escape the increasing violence and drugs of the antiwar movement. They settled instead in Hawai‘i, where Kingston took various teaching posts. They returned to California seventeen years later, and Kingston resumed teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

While in Hawai‘i, Kingston wrote her first two books. The Woman Warrior, her first book, was published in 1976 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, making her a literary celebrity at age thirty-six. Her second book, China Men, earned the National Book Award. Still today, both books are widely taught in literature and other classes. Kingston has earned additional awards, including the PEN West Award for Fiction for Tripmaster Monkey, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President Clinton, as well as the title “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” bestowed by a Honolulu Buddhist church. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawaii One Summer, and latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.

Per Bill Moyer’s Journal:

“Maxine Hong Kingston began writing at the age of nine (“I was in the fourth grade and all of a sudden this poem started coming out of me”). She won her first writing award-a journalism contest at UC Berkeley-when she was sixteen. In 1976 THE NEW YORK TIMES praised her first book, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, comparing it to Joyce’s PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, saying, “It is an investigation of soul . . . Its sources are dream and memory, myth and desire. Its crises are crises of the heart in exile from roots that bind and terrorize it.” At the age of thirty-six, she was a celebrity, winning the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. Other books would follow, and the praise would continue to be unstinting. In 1980, she was named a Living Treasure of Hawai’i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai’i.

In 1991, following a massive fire in the Oakland-Berkeley hills that consumed Maxine’s house and the only copy of her manuscript-in process, THE FOURTH BOOK OF PEACE, and as the first President Bush was ordering the invasion of Iraq, she began offering writing and meditation workshops for veterans, to help them give voice to their experiences and work toward personal peace. As she’d hoped, the writing became a process of healing and renewal not just for the veterans but also for Maxine. She drew on the experience of these workshops in THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE.

In 1997, Maxine Hong Kingston was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton. In March 2003, she was arrested for crossing a police line at the White House as part of a CODEPINK action to protest the Iraq War.

She retired last year from her career teaching literature and creative writing, mostly at UC Berkeley, where she was known for offering personalized instruction to each student, even in auditorium-sized classes, encouraging “real communication.”

Links:

Kingston receiving the National Medal of Arts  from the President of the United States

Bill Moyer’s Journal interview:  http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/05252007/profile.html

A podcast interview with Kingston from The National Endowment for the Arts