Displaying articles for: March 2012

Courting Catastrophe

March 31: The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway on this day in 1945. This first major hit springboarded Tennessee Williams to fame and, he wrote shortly afterward in "The Catastrophe of Success," to the "false dignities and conceits" that characterize "the seduction of an effete way of life."

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O'Casey's Dublin

March 30: Sean O'Casey was born on this day in 1880, in the working-class ghettos of Dublin that he would make famous in such controversial plays as The Plough and the Stars and in his six-volume autobiography. "He's the first Irish writer I ever read," says Frank McCourt, "who wrote about rags, dirt, hunger, babies, dying…[instead of] farms and fairies and the mist that do be on the bog."

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Thurb & Fitz

March 29: A monthlong exhibition of Zelda Fitzgerald's paintings, organized by her husband, Scott, opened in New York on this day in 1934. It was an event surrounded by the tangle of private and public tragedy that seemed to pursue the Fitzgeralds. The exhibition also occasioned the one and only evening Fitzgerald spent with James Thurber, this a memorable, nine-hour drink-about-town.

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Delivering James Dickey

March 28: James Dickey's Deliverance was published on this day in 1970. Dickey's first novel was a bestseller, and the subsequent movie (screenplay by Dickey) was a box-office hit. In his memoir of growing up with a famous father, Summer of Deliverance, Christopher Dickey describes how his father's success only increased his reputation as "a great poet, a famous novelist, a powerful intellect and a son of a bitch I hated."

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Schulberg's Sammy

March 27: Budd Schulberg was born on this day in 1914. Schulberg's career as a screenwriter yielded one of Hollywood's most memorable lines, Marlon Brando's "I coulda been a contender…" (On the Waterfront). Schulberg's earlier career as a novelist yielded a line equally famous, coined to express a veteran reporter's head-shaking wonder at the determination of the young hustler Sammy Glick.

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The Odd Standard

March 26: Alex Comfort died on this day in 2000. Apart from being a novelist and poet, he was a respected academic and a social activist who wrote extensively on a wide range of topics. But Comfort, to his horror, found wealth and fame for only one book (and its sequels) -- his 1972 bestseller, The Joy of Sex, regarded as one of the essential texts of the "sexual revolution."

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"Coney Island" Crimes

March 24: Lawrence Ferlinghetti turns ninety-three today. If Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) is not, as often claimed, the bestselling book of American poetry ever, it helped to criminalize former poet laureate Billy Collins, who took it as license "to break into the poems of others / with a flashlight and a ski mask."

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The Woolfs & the Press

March 23: On this day in 1917 Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased a small, used hand press; a month later, it was delivered to Hogarth House, their London home, and the Hogarth Press was born. Over the next three decades the Woolfs would publish many of the most influential modernists -- besides Woolf herself, the list includes Katherine Mansfield, E. M. Forster, and T. S. Eliot.

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"More Light!"

March 22: Eighty-one-year-old Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died on this day in 1832, under now legendary circumstances. Though only an order to a servant to open a shuttered window, Goethe's "More light!" has anchored all approaches to his life, his masterwork Faust, and his place in the German Enlightenment.

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Selma & Sharpeville

March 21: The Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March, regarded as a milestone of the modern civil rights movement, began on this day in 1965; and the UN has proclaimed today International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, not because of Selma but because of South Africa's Sharpeville Massacre, which occurred on this day in 1960.

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Practicing "Self-Reliance"

March 20: Ralph Waldo Emerson's first book of Essays was published on this day in 1841. "Self-Reliance," the second essay in the volume, contains some of Emerson's most ringing and influential declarations -- for example: "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." Brook Farm, one of the most famous adventures in Transcendental self-reliance, began later in the spring of 1841, and that same year Bronson Alcott began plans for his Fruitlands community.

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Not-So-Great "Gatsby" Titles

March 19: On this day in 1924, feeling that he had finally found the ideal title for what would become his most famous novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald enthusiastically wired his editor, Max Perkins, that he was "CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE...." Not as crazy as her husband about this one (or about "The High Bouncing Lover," "Among the Ash Heaps," "Trimalchio," etc.), Zelda Fitzgerald (and Perkins) eventually talked him into The Great Gatsby.

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In Search of Ireland

March 17: St. Patrick said that he returned as a missionary to Ireland because of a vision in which he heard the local peasants ask him "to come and walk among us." The advice contained in Turtle Bunbury's Vanishing Ireland is that those who wish to see the island's old folk and old ways better not wait for a visionary invitation.

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Algren's "Golden Arm"

March 16: America's first National Book Awards were presented on this day in 1950, the fiction award going to Nelson Algren for The Man with the Golden Arm. Algren's hero is an ex-GI known as Frankie Machine, who struggles to hang on to the card magic in his titular Golden Arm: "War's over, war's over, war's over for Frankie -- drives like he deals, deals like he lives 'n he lives all the time -- war's over, war's over -- "

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Learning "Fair Lady"

March 15: My Fair Lady opened for a record-setting six-and-a-half-year run on Broadway on this day in 1956. In her recent memoir, Home, Julie Andrews describes her involvement with the play as "one of the most difficult, most glorious, most complex adventures of my life." Not least among the difficulties was costar Rex Harrison: "Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait!"

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Beach, Whitman & Company

March 14: Sylvia Beach was born on this day in 1887. Beach's Shakespeare & Company would offer a home and a helping hand to many, and become "a stronghold in attacks against the rights of free speech." Beach's legacy, including her leftover books and bookshop name, was passed on to George Whitman, another American expatriate who would befriend the Next Gen-Lost Gen.

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Spooked by "Ghosts"

March 13: Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts premiered in London on this day in 1891. Theater historians report that the scandal over this single "controversial and epoch-making" performance elicited over 500 printed articles and made Ibsen "a household word even among those Englishmen who never went to the theatre or opened a book."

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Growing Up Albee

March 12: Edward Albee was born on this day in 1928. Albee left home at age nineteen, moving to Greenwich Village. In interviews, the playwright has described how stimulating he found Village life, and how he had grown to detest life at home with his adoptive parents: "I didn't want to have anything to do with those people. I'd learned to hate their politics, their morality, their bigotry."

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Taking Tibet

March 10: The Tibetan Uprising began on this day in 1959, when some 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama's Lhasa residence, reacting to rumors that the occupying Chinese forces planned to  abduct him. This defiant act set in motion the events that would shape modern Tibetan history: the Dalai Lama's escape to India, the subsequent death or flight into exile of tens of thousands, the persecution of many who remained home.

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Woolf's Voyage Out

March 9: Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out, her first novel, was delivered to the printer on this day in 1913. Although neither as experimental nor as famous as Woolf's later work, the book is regarded as a first glimpse into the themes and techniques that would preoccupy her entire career.

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Volk Rock

March 8: The Volkswagen minibus went into production on this day in 1950, and Bill Graham's Fillmore East opened on this day in 1968. The two events meet at the American counterculture, the Fillmore(s) providing the rock, the VW providing the roll, especially for Deadhead Nation.

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The Birth of a "Scientist"

March 7: The English astronomer John Herschel was born on this day in 1792. Apart from his original work in astronomy and other areas, Herschel's place in science history is based on his efforts to transform scientific study from a gentleman's avocation to a rigorous and specialized profession. Among Herschel's collaborators in this was William Whewell, the man who coined the term "scientist."

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Magical Márquez

March 6: Gabriel García Márquez was born on this day in 1928. Márquez's Living to Tell the Tale (2003), a memoir of his first twenty-seven years, is prefaced by his comment, "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it." Chapter 1 then recounts a career-shaping journey he took at the age of twenty-two with his mother, a two-day trip to the home where Márquez had lived for his first eight years.

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Thomas in Llareggub

March 5: Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood was published on this day in 1954, just four months after his death in New York. Most of the play was written during Thomas's last years, after he had returned to Wales to live at the Boat House in Laugharne. His lifelong ambivalence toward Wales -- "Land of my fathers. My fathers can keep it" -- is maintained in the play, Laugharne becoming the imaginary Welsh village of Llareggub, or "bugger-all" backward.

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Forster, India

March 4: E. M. Forster set out for India on this day in 1921, heading for his post as secretary to the maharaja of Dewas Senior. The trip brought A Passage to India a crucial step nearer to completion and helped to inspire his travel memoir, The Hill of Devi. Forster also edited and introduced Eliza Fay's Original Letters from India, regarded as a unique window on the eighteenth-century Subcontinent.

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Godwin's Firsts

March 3: William Godwin was born on this day in 1756. Most discussions of Godwin start with one or more items from his impressive list of "firsts" -- among the first exponents of utilitarianism, the first to articulate and advocate anarchism, and the writer of one of the first political novels, also one of the first mystery novels, and a member of "England's first family of writers."

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Irving's "Person"-ality

March 2: John Irving turns seventy today. Irving says that if his forthcoming novel, In One Person, contains some of his inescapable "obsessions" -- loss of childhood innocence, absent parents, sexual outsiders and misfits -- he is not entirely responsible: "Those things obsess me; those things choose me. You don't get to pick the nightmare that wakes you up at 4 A.M., do you?"

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Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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