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 Two: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

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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.

 

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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 Seventeen: Keeping up Appearances- “The Diamond Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant and “The Far and the Near” by Thomas Wolfe

The Diamond Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant

This time around we’ll examine classic short stories about appearances, reality VS illusion, and perception.

A poet once said that ”beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
But consider, if you will, one young woman, Madame Loisel; a lady who is beautiful, but not content with her social station in life. She has the appearance of beauty . . . will she ever possess the reality?

Here is Guy De Maupassant’s ironic short story, “The Diamond Necklace.” Enjoy!

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Charles-Frederick-Worth-Evening-Gown-of-Pale-Blue-Silk-Taffeta.-Paris-1860s

According to a study of Maupassant’s story from the Hatsboro-Horsham school district (which provides many great reader resources for students);

“Guy de Maupassant’s  short  story “The Necklace” (“La parure”) was  first published in  the Paris newspaper Le Gaulois on February 17, 1884, and was subsequently included in his 1885 collection of short stories Tales of Day and  Night (Contes de jour et de  la nuit).

In addition to its well-rounded  characters,  tight  plotting, wealth of  detail, and keen social commentary, “The Necklace” is conspicuous for  its  use  of  the “whip-crack” or “O. Henry” ending,in which a plot twist at the end of the story completely changes the story’s meaning. Although Maupassant rarely made use of this device, its presence in the work has tied him to it irrevocably.

Connections may  be made  between “The Necklace” and  the novel Madame Bovary written by Maupassant’s mentor and friend, Gustave Flaubert.

Both stories feature a young, beautiful woman  in a social situation that she finds distasteful.  Like Madame Bovary, Mathilde Loisel attempts to escape her social  station in  life, but her scheming  actions ultimately doom her.”

(Read the full study HERE.)

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Paris, 1860 vintage photo

The study of Maupassant brings up some interesting issues about translation. The two written versions and the audio version presented in our group  are each slightly different in their word choices. The work of the translator doing faithful justice to the author might be one topic to discuss. Even the title of the story appears as “The Necklace” in some versions and “The Diamond Necklace” in others.
Our Wonderlings member Jeri Harbers Thomson noted that even just the first sentence in two of the versions are very different.
In one version: “The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.”
In another version:  “She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks.”
Wonderlings member Mark Ordon, a translator, noticed, for example that the Soundcloud rendition uses different wording as well. Says Ordon;
“One very important difference between the audio and written versions was in the scene with the invitation. The written versions claim that tears went down Mathilde’s cheeks, while in the audio version they’re going down the husband’s cheeks! Also, the husband exclaims ‘how stupid you are’ in the written translation, but in the audio it’s ‘how stupid we are’. It seems the translator of the audio gave the husband more compassion!”

A bit about Guy De Maupassant . . .

Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (5 August 1850 – 6 July 1893) was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.

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Guy De Maupassant

Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert and his stories are characterized by economy of style and efficient, effortless dénouements (outcomes). Many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, describing the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught up in events beyond their control, are permanently changed by their experiences. He wrote some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. His first published story, “Boule de Suif” (“Ball of Fat”, 1880), is often considered his masterpiece.

“The Far and the Near” by Thomas Wolfe

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Wolfe’s collection of stories published by Scribner in 1935

Let’s continue our examination of reality versus perception, appearance, and perspective with a very short story.
This one’s just three pages in length.

It’s time to meet the engineer of the Limited Express.

Has he ever passed by your town?

Here is “The Far and the Near” by the author Thomas Wolfe.

Background Information

Thomas Wolfe’s short story “The Far and the Near” was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1935 and was reprinted later that year in Wolfe’s first short—story collection, From Death to Morning.

For a writer known by his long, sprawling novels such as Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life and Of Time and the River, this ultrashort short story is a rare occurrence. While Wolfe’s novels have often fallen under criticism for their excessive autobiographical sources, the influence of their editors, and Wolfe’s wordy style, many critics in the last half of the twentieth century began to praise Wolfe for his short fiction.

“The Far and the Near” details the story of a railroad engineer in the 1930s who passes a certain cottage every day for more than twenty years, waving to the women who live there but never actually meeting them or seeing them up close. Upon his retirement, he goes to see the women, but they treat him badly and destroy the idyllic vision that he has built up around them.

Within its few pages, Wolfe’s short story emphasizes the potentially devastating effects on a person who is forced to confront the reality behind a vision. Since the work was written during the Great Depression, the loss of hope that takes place in the story would have been extremely familiar to Wolfe’s audience. The story can be found in the paperback edition of The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, which was published by Collier Books in 1989.¹

Wolfe inspired the works of many other authors, including Betty Smith with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek, and Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy, who has said, “My writing career began the instant I finished Look Homeward, Angel.”Jack Kerouac idolized Wolfe. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Wolfe, and included him as a character in his books. Earl Hamner, Jr., who went on to create the popular television series The Waltons, idolized Wolfe in his youth.

Hunter S. Thompson credits Wolfe for his famous phrase “Fear and Loathing” (on page 62 of Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock).

For more information, check out this exploration of Thomas Wolfe’s Work, from SCRBD.

(SCRBD is a digital library which also amasses a huge variety of documents including literary criticism and essays.)

 

Thomas Wolfe and the art of Edward Hopper
For a cross-disciplinary study it’s interesting to examine the work of one of Wolfe’s contemporary mid-century artists: Edward Hopper.
“Moments of the real world, the one we all experience, seem mysteriously taken out of time. The way the world glimpsed in passing from a train, say, or a car, will reveal a piece of a narrative whose completion we may or may not attempt, but whose suggestiveness will move us, making us conscious of the fragmentary, even fugitive nature of our own lives.”   -Mark Strand
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Edward Hopper, House By The Railroad (1925)

Similarly, The American Experience (Prentice Hall Publishers 2005,) we find;
“Wolfe’s works reflected the country’s loss of stability and control (after World War One.) Modern storytelling was open-ended, fragmented, and narrated from a limited point of view-often leaving the reader frustrated, but challenged. Themes were no longer explained; they were implied. The Modernist audience must interpret this new literature, as well as a new era, for themselves.
Realist painter Edward Hopper also captured this fragmented, isolated American scene during the Depression Era. He and fellow American artists Robert Henri and John Sloan painted city scenes of everyday working class people, although he disassociated himself with the Ash Can School. The urban landscape lured a potential work force to the big cities, where people only met anonymity and isolation. He was fascinated by the lonely-solitary people, dark streets, vacant windows, and empty theater seats. Even his small groups of human subjects were indifferent and disconnected. His simplified shapes suggest
abstraction, but represent a realist vision.”
 There is much to excavate in both Maupassant’s and Wolfe’s stories of appearance, reality, and the irony of unfolding tragedy that dwells within the lives of their characters.

A bit about Thomas Wolfe . . .

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Thomas Wolfe Courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library,  Asheville, NC.

Thomas Clayton Wolfe (October 3, 1900 – September 15, 1938) was an American novelist of the early twentieth century.

Wolfe wrote four lengthy novels, plus many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas. He is known for mixing highly original, poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic prose with autobiographical writing. His books, written and published from the 1920s to the 1940s, vividly reflect on American culture and the mores of that period, filtered through Wolfe’s sensitive, sophisticated, and hyper-analytical perspective.

You can purchase his collected short stories here.

For more information . . .

Be sure to check out The Thomas Wolfe Society’s great website.

¹Bookrags.com

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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.

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“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

 

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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!

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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

Week Five: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “Between Solitude and Loneliness” by Donald Hall

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Illustration from an article in The Atlantic by Joe Fassler.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

“A Rose For Emily” is a classic short story by William Faulkner, anthologized in so many required reading collections that one loses count:
William Faulkner (born William Cuthbert Falkner), (September 25, 1897–July 6, 1962) was an American author. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. His reputation is based on his novels, novellas, and short stories. However, he was also a published poet and also was a screenwriter of such movies as The Big Sleep.

“A Rose For Emily” is a deceptive story, short and yet within its few pages lays a mystery. And each reading of the story will reveal nuances and details perhaps missed the last time.
The story begins with the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson, an eccentric lady of the town whose life was caught up in her home. For your consideration, here is  “A Rose for Emily.”

Can you tell what happened?

“A Rose For Emily” originally appeared in These Thirteen, a 1931 collection of short stories. The collection was dedicated to his first daughter, Alabama, who had died nine days after her birth on January 11, 1931, and to his wife Estelle.

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The First Edition of These Thirteen

Faulkner’s first release of short stories, it contained the following pieces:

Additionally,  modern and comprehensive collection of Faulkner’s stories can be found in  William Faulkner Collected Stories from Vintage (Amazon, here)

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From the Vintage promotional materials:

Forty-two stories make up this magisterial collection by the writer who stands at the pinnacle of modern American fiction. Compressing an epic expanse of vision into hard and wounding narratives, Faulkner’s stories evoke the intimate textures of place, the deep strata of history and legend, and all the fear, brutality, and tenderness of the human condition. These tales are set not only in Yoknapatawpha County, but in Beverly Hills and in France during World War I. They are populated by such characters as the Faulknerian archetypes Flem Snopes and Quentin Compson, as well as by ordinary men and women who emerge so sharply and indelibly in these pages that they dwarf the protagonists of most novels.

“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word than did William Faulkner. If you want to know all you can about that heart and soul, the fiction where he put it is still right there.” —Eudora Welty

“For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for greatness of our classics.” —Ralph Ellison

After reading “A Rose For Emily” it may be of use to regard a poem by Faulkner entitled  “After Fifty Years” (find it here): a meditation on mortality.

It’s an interesting poem in several ways. It may be useful to discuss why Faulkner chose the form of the sonnet for this piece.

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Faulkner at UVA

Additionally, true scholars and fans of Faulkner must certainly peruse an incredible resource: the website archive, Faulkner at Virginia.

In 1957/58 William Faulkner was Balch Writer in Residence at The University of Virginia. While he was there, he gave many class lectures and answered many student questions.

Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner, members of UVA’s English department, had the idea to record these sessions on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and create transcripts of those lectures.

This website featuress those clips, which you can explore by title, where the author answers the students’ questions in class asked about “A Rose For Emily” and all of his other works. My recommendation is to explore this website on a full screen if possible, and start with the tab “Contexts”. Then, click on “Clips” to see the recordings organized by novel and story title. It’s a treasure trove.

Faulkner on audio, articles, photographs, transcripts, magazine clippings – I strongly encourage any student studying William Faulkner to explore this website, if only to hear him teach you how to pronounce ” Yoknapatawpha.”

 

“Between Solitude and Loneliness” by Donald Hall

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Illustration from The New Yorker

The second selection for Week Five is an essay by the poet Donald Hall, entitled “Between Loneliness and Solitude” (The New Yorker.)

From his biography:

“Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature.”
In December 1993 he and Jane Kenyon were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary ,  A Life Together. In the June 2006, Hall was appointed the Library of Congress’s fourteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. He lives in Danbury, New Hampshire.”

Here, Hall examines his long partnership with his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. What are your thoughts on Hall’s essay?

Hall’s essay can be found here.

The language is sparse, reflective and declarative.

From the website of The Academy of American Poets:

“Hall has published numerous books of poetry, including The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), The Painted Bed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002) and Without: Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), which was published on the third anniversary of his wife and fellow poet Jane Kenyon‘s death from leukemia. Other notable collections include The One Day (Mariner Books, 1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination; The Happy Man (Secker & Warburg, 1986), which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and Exiles and Marriages (Viking Press, 1955), which was the Academy’s Lamont Poetry Selection for 1956.

In a review of White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), Billy Collins wrote: “Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.”

It’s worthwhile to take a few moments to read Hall’s poem, “The Painted Bed.”

It provides an interesting tangent to the study of his essay as well as  Faulkner’s story and poem.

Additionally, check out “My Son, My Executioner” –another poem which was added to the Wonderlings discussion by member Rick Williams, in which the narrator laments;

We twenty two and twenty five,
who seemed to live forever,
observe enduring life in you
and start to die together.

(from “My Son, My Executioner”)

In an interesting synchronicity, here is Hall reciting the poem (first in the lineup)  as part of a program at, of all places, The University of Virginia, where Faulkner was writer in residence. And so we come full circle. Enjoy.