Friday, August 31, 2012

DuBose Heyward wrote novel Porgy

It is the birthday of writer DuBose Heyward (1885), whose novel Porgy (1925) was the basis of a Broadway play and an opera with music by George Gershwin.

Heyward grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where a local theater produced a one-act play he wrote in his late 20s, setting him on the path to a literary career. He wrote poetry and fiction, and edited poetry yearbooks, an published a book of poetry. He also was a partner in a successful real estate and insurance company.

Heyward based his title character on a disabled man who was well known in downtown Charleston, who was really named Porgy. He begged from tourists on street corners and sold peanut cakes. Heyward's sensitive portrayal of Southern black life without condescension was lauded by critics. The book became a best seller.

Heyward and his playwright wife Dorothy adapted Porgy as a play of the same name, which opened on Broadway in 1927. George Gershwin contacted DuBose right after reading the book and suggested a collaboration on the folk opera. DuBose wrote the libretto and most of the lyrics, though George's brother Ira wrote "It Ain't Necessarily So" and some others. George Gershwin wrote the music. The opera opened in 1935.

A film version of the opera was released in 1959, starring Diahann Carroll, Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey. Only Pearl Bailey sang her part. The others had to be dubbed. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein

Mary Shelley
It is the birthday of English writer Mary Shelley (1797), who is best remembered as the author of the novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and as the devoted wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose work she promoted long after his death.

Following scholarly research in the 1970s and 1980s, Mary Shelley has come to be regarded as a major literary figure of the Romantic period and an early feminist author.

In 1816, Mary Godwin, Shelley, their illegitimate son, and her half-sister, left England to spend the summer with poet George Lord Byron and his physician at a manor near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It rained incessantly and the group was confined to the house for days.

They discussed literature, kept diaries, wrote poems and stories. Soon they were engaged in a contest to see who could come up with the scariest story. Mary Godwin wrote a tale about a scientist obsessed with bringing inanimate bodies to life, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. She intended it only as a short story  but Shelley and the others were so intrigued they encouraged her to expand it as a novel. it became her first (and most successful) and it was published two years later.

Mary Godwin and Shelley were married after the suicide of his first wife. Mary devoted many years to developing Shelley's reputation as a poet and promoting his work. Though he was known throughout England during his lifetime, most recognition did not come until after his death.

Mary Shelley continued to write and publish throughout her life, and published several books after her husband's untimely death in a storm at sea in 1822. She edited collections Shelley's poetry, including Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824). Among her novels are Mathilda (1819), in which a woman on her deathbed tells of her father's incest and suicide;  and The Last Man (1826), a science fiction tale of the survivors of a plague-ridden world.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes

It is the birthday of writer Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809), who was a physician and professor in addition to writing prose and poetry. Among his best known books is The Autocrat at the Breakfast-Table (1858), a collection of essays in the voices of various residents of a New England boarding house. They first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. Holmes also was popular for his poetry and became known as one of the Fireside Poets, a group of literary luminaries that included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, and William Cullen Bryant. Here is a poem by Holmes that gently pokes fun at writers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Leo Tolstoy wrote greatest novels ever

Leo Tolstoy
It is the birthday of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828), whose novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878) are considered two of the greatest novels ever written. Tolstoy did not consider War and Peace to be a novel but rather an epic in prose. He considered Anna Karenina to be his first novel.

Tolstoy grew up in a privileged old Russian noble family, and though his parents died when he was a child, he was brought up by relatives. He received a university education but left in the middle of it, with instructors saying he was unable or unwilling to learn. He was given to heavy gambling and living a wild life full of drinking and women. He joined the army and served as a second lieutenant in the Crimean War. His experience became the basis of parts of War and Peace.

Tolstoy traveled in Europe and met Victor Hugo, who had just finished Les Miserables. He also met French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Both were to have a great influence on Tolstoy's outlook and his writing. In fact, Tolstoy took the title for War and Peace from a work by Proudhon.

War and Peace is a sweeping saga that is set after the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Tolstoy began writing it after he settled down on his country estate with his wife. He interviewed numerous veterans of that war and read journals, letters, autobiographical and biographical works about Napoleon  in an effort to depict the era accurately. The book contains historical figures as well as fictional characters, some 580 in all. It describes the Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the effect on Russian aristocratic families. It is divided into four volumes and is one of the longest books ever written.

Tolstoy's character Anna Karenina was a Russian aristocrat married to a man 20 years older. She carries on an affair with a young affluent nobleman. The story is set against the tapestry of Russian society in the late 19th century. The story was first published in serialized form beginning in 1873 but Tolstoy clashed with his editor over political positions Tolstoy took near the end of the serialization so the complete novel only appeared in book form.

Both books have been adapted for film. The most well known version of War and Peace was released in 1956 and starred Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer, though a four-part, seven-hour, 1965 Russian version won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. There have been numerous versions of Anna Karenina. Greta Garbo made the film twice, in 1927 and in 1935. The most recent version will be released in November starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.

Monday, August 27, 2012

C.S. Forester wrote The African Queen

C.S. Forester
It is the birthday of English writer C.S. Forester (1899), who best known for his Horatio Hornblower series about the adventures of a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic era and for his novel The African Queen (1935), about the arduous journey of an Englishwoman and a Cockney mechanic on a steam-powered launch down an African river at the beginning of World War I.

Forester lived in the United States during World War II and wrote propaganda aimed at getting America to enter the war. By then, he had at least 27 novels to his credit. Winston Churchill was an admirer as was Ernest Hemingway.

There were a dozen novels in the Horatio Hornblower series. The first was The Happy Return (1937), in which Hornblower is a junior Royal Navy captain on secret mission to Central America. Hornblower appears in short stories, and several of the novels have been published together in omnibus editions.

Both the Hornblower series and The African Queen have been adapted for films.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Happy birthday, Bret Harte

Bret Harte
It is the birthday of writer Bret Harte (1836), who is best remembered for his short stories about life in the mining camps of northern California during the Gold Rush days, particularly The Outcasts of Poker Flat and The Luck of Roaring Camp.

Harte moved to California from Albany, New York, when he was 17. He worked at several different jobs, including messenger, teacher, and miner. Eventually he became a newspaper reporter.

His first newspaper job, in a tiny town in northern California, ended abruptly when he was run out of town after reporting a detailed account of a massacre of members of a native tribe and then editorializing about the suspected attackers.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat concerns the fortunes of a gambler, a madam, a saloon girl, and a drunk who are run out of town by a pious secret committee bent on cleaning up the town. The Luck of Roaring Camp tells the story of a luckless gold prospecting camp in which a baby boy is born. When his mother dies in childbirth, the boy is adopted by the prospectors and is named Thomas Luck. Things are looking up until a flash flood hits the camp.

The stories were first published in Overland Monthly, a northern California literary magazine, and brought him national recognition. Harte later wrote for The Atlantic Monthly and, still later, served as U.S. consul in Germany and Scotland. He settled in London and spent 24 years living in Europe. He died in England in 1902.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys
It is the birthday of Dominica-born writer Jean Rhys (1890), who is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a prequel to  Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

She was born in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica to a third-generation Dominican creole mother (of Scottish ancestry) and a Welsh father. She was sent to Great Britain for education when she was 16 and never lived in the Caribbean again.

She wanted to be an actress but her Caribbean accent prevented her from getting the best roles and her father took her out of acting classes, though she continued to work in traveling companies in small parts and dancing in the chorus line.

She became a party girl, had an affair with a wealthy stockbroker but didn't marry him, though she returned to him for financial support after they split. All the while she kept notebooks about her life. She was married three times, the first to a French-Belgian journalist and spy who ended up in prison.

While he was imprisoned, she met writer Ford Madox Ford, moved in with him and his girlfriend and soon developed an affair with him. Ford encouraged her to write and taught her to fashion her life stories into something that could be published. He also suggested that she change her name from Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams to Jean Rhys. She learned well. She wrote many short stories under his direction. She subsequently wrote about her affair with Ford in the novel Quartet (1928).

She married twice more, once to an editor and literary agent who died in 1945. Then she married her second husband's cousin, an attorney. He was convicted of fraud and sent to prison.

In 1949, the BBC presented some of her work on the air and she gained the attention of a book editor who asked her for more work. She told him she was working on a novel. It turned out to be Wide Sargasso Sea, in which she imagined the backstory of Mr. Rochester's wife (the mad woman in the attic) in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Rhys writes her as a white Creole heiress from Jamaica whose unhappy arranged marriage to an English nobleman and her displacement in Victorian England leads to her undoing. The book was adapted as a film in 1993.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy birthday, Edgar Lee Masters

It is the birthday of writer Edgar Lee Masters (1868), who is best remembered for his collection of poems titled Spoon River Anthology, about a fictional town in Illinois and the people who lived there. The story is told in the form of epitaphs given by the dead who are buried on the hill outside of town. Here is Faith Matheny performed by Chicago actor Christopher Merrill.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy birthday, Claude Debussy

It is the birthday of French composer Claude Debussy (1862), whose work served as a transition to modern European classical music. His work influenced Bela Bartok, Pierre Boulez, Philip Glass, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky, as well as many jazz musicians. Here is his popular Clair de Lune, part of his Suite bergamasque he wrote in 1890.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy birthday, poet X.J. Kennedy

It is the birthday of poet and writer X.J. Kennedy (1929), who is known not only for his lighthearted verse, but also for his poetry and literature textbooks for college students as well as his children's books.

Kennedy was known as Joe Kennedy as a young man and published science fiction magazines in the 1940s but people kept saying he was related to Joseph P. Kennedy, then-ambassador to Great Britain, (which he is not) so he added an X in front of his name on a couple of pieces that were published in The New Yorker. They were his first published poetry. "He stuck the X on and has been stuck with it ever since," says his Web site.

Kennedy's first book of poetry, Nude Descending a Staircase (1961) the title of which seems to be a play on the 1887 stop-action photographic images by Eadweard Muybridge and the 1912 painting by Marcel Duchamp. Kennedy's book won several awards and began his career as a poet. Other Kennedyt titles include Breaking and Entering (1971), Missing Link (1983), Hangover Mass (1984), Cross Ties: Selected Poems (1985, and The Lords of Misrule: Poems (2002).

Among his numerous textbooks, Kennedy's popular Introduction to Poetry, (first published in 1976) is in its 12th edition.Introduction to Fiction (1976) is in its 10th edition.

He has to his credit at least 20 children's books, including One Winter Night in August (1975), Brats (1986), Ghastlies, Goops, and Pincushions (1989) and Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh (2002).

Here is his reading of Lonesome George, a poem about the celebrated Galapagos turtle, the last of his kind, that died recently.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy birthday, Edgar Guest

It is the birthday of English-born poet Edgar Guest (1881), who became America's most famous poet. He once had a television show, a radio show and a column that was syndicated in newspapers throughout the country.

He considered himself a newspaperman who happened to write verse. He began as a copy boy at the Detroit Free Press and worked his way up to reporter. At the height of his career he appeared on a weekly radio show for 11 years, beginning in 1932. In 1951, he had a TV show on NBC, A Guest in Your Home. His poetry collections were best sellers.

He was born in Birmingham, England, and his family moved to Detroit when he was 10. His father died when he was 17, and he went to work full time at the newspaper. He became an American citizen in 1902.

Here's Harvey Keitel reciting one of Edgar Guest's best-loved poems.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Robbe-Grillet: avant garde writer, filmmaker

Alain Robbe-Grillet
It is the birthday of French writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922), who is best known for his contributions to the genre called the new novel or nouveau roman in the 1950s and 1960s. He contended that artist should be freed from reality to create solely from the mind.

His novels were not traditional narratives with a central character. Instead, Robb-Grillet tended to produce mind-testing games that invited the reader to figure out the writer's purpose.

His best known novel is The Voyager (1955), the tale of a traveling watch salesman who returns to the island where he lived as a child on a quest that is not immediately clear. He frequently looks at a newspaper clipping about the murder of a young girl but it is not clear what his relationship is with the girl — whether he is the murderer, or someone less directly related to the incident.

Another acclaimed novel is Jealousy (1957), about a jealous husband who suspects his wife of having an affair. Imagined scenes of suspicious activity are interspersed with real observed scenes to the point that it is not clear which ones are real and which ones are imagined. Perhaps that is the point.

Robbe-Grillet also wrote the screenplay for Alain Resnais'  film Last Year at Marienbad (1961), an ambiguous story of a man who meets a woman at a resort and claims they had met the year before at a spa town in the Czech Republic, and that she is waiting at the resort for him. Another man in the story may be here husband but that isn't clear either. The film explores the relationship of the characters. Some critics hailed the work as a masterpiece. Others said it was incomprehensible.

Ultimately, Robbe-Grillet may be most remembered as a punchline. In the independent 2004 movie Sideways, the Paul Giamatti character explains his unfinished novel as a "kind of a Robbe-Grillet mystery" with no resolution. It is a pretentious comment meant to poke fun at avant garde film and literature.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ted Hughes was British Poet Laureate

It is the birthday of English poet Ted Hughes (1930), who served as Britain's Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. He was married to American poet Sylvia Plath for seven years until she committed suicide at age 30. Some American feminists blame Hughes for Plath's death, saying he drove her to it. Plath had suffered from bouts of depression and had attempted suicide long before she met Hughes. Ted Hughes is considered among the greatest British writers. His best known work is the epic narrative The Life and Songs of the Crow. Here is a recording of Hughes on the topic of thinking.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Charles Bukowski was an outcast poet

It is the birthday of cynical outcast writer Charles Bukowski (1920), who was once called a "laureate of American lowlife" by Time magazine. Scholars consider him the godfather of the "dirty realism" literary movement that emphasizes the seamy side of ordinary life. One of its leading practitioners is Cormac McCarthy. Bukowski wrote six novels, seven non-fiction books, at least 11 short story collections, and more than 40 poetry collections. Bukowski wrote the screenplay for the 1987 film Barfly, which starred Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. Over the years, numerous documentaries have been made about Bukowski. Here is one of the best known, Bukowski: Born into This (2003).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy birthday, Sir Walter Scott

It is the birthday of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott (1771), who is considered one of the greatest historical novelists ever. He was immensely popular in his lifetime, enjoying a following that stretched throughout Great Britain to Europe, Australia, and the United States. He wrote historical novels, poetry, and plays. Among his best known works are Ivanhoe, Waverley, Rob Roy, and The Lady of the Lake. Scott built Abbotsford with the proceeds from his writing. The vast estate inspired Queen Victoria when she had Balmoral built. Here is a video about Abbotsford.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

John Galsworthy wrote The Forsyte Saga

It is the birthday of English novelist John Galsworthy (1867), whose work won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. He is best known for his three novels and two interludes known collectively as The Forsyte Saga, a sweeping tale of a "new money" British family only a few generations removed from their agrarian roots, and their struggles with their new position in society. Parts or all of the story has been adapted for film and television, most recently on Masterpiece Theatre in 2002-2003. Here is a preview of the Masterpiece Theatre version. Read the books first.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Happy birthday, Kathleen Battle

It is the birthday famed opera soprano Kathleen Battle (1948), who is known for her remarkable voice that The Washington Post compared to "the ethereal beauty of winter moonlight" and The New York Times called "cream from a miraculous bottomless pitcher." She performed in operas in the 1970s and 1980s. Today she continues a concert career. Here is a recording of her performance of Puccini's O mio babbino caro in 1994.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Happy birthday, Alex Haley

It is the birthday of author Alex Haley (1921), whose best-selling novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977. Roots ostensibly told the story of Haley's ancestors beginning with Kunta Kinte, an 18th century West African man taken as a slave and sold in the United States. Although subsequent researchers suggested that Haley may have been misled during his investigation in Africa, the work remains a substantial representation of the slave trade in the era and of African Americans in the South in that era. The book was adapted for two television miniseries, in 1977 and 1979. The original miniseries was a groundbreaking event, and one of the highest rated TV series ever. Here is a video visit to Alex Haley's birthplace in Tennessee. Enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Witter Bynner created poetry hoax

Witter Bynner
It is the birthday of poet Witter Bynner (1881), who may be less remembered for his poetry than for an elaborate hoax he and a friend perpetrated on the literary world. It is known as the Spectra Hoax, and it worked better than Bynner and his colleague expected, maybe too well.

In the early part of the 20th century, new movements in poetry materialized, modernist schools pretentiously espousing a stark departure from the pastoral imagery of the Romantic period and the idealization of the Victorian era.

Among them was the Imagism movement, a style using very specific word pictures, "luminous details,"  as Ezra Pound put it. It was developed in Paris in 1911 by Pound, along with Hilda Doolittle (who wrote as H.D.) and Richard Aldington. The idea spread in literary circles in Europe and the United States, and was soon considered a new school of poetry.

By 1916, Bynner, then a young poet living in New Hampshire, and his friend from Harvard, Arthur Davison Fricke, had had enough of nonsensical verses of the new poetry. They decided to spoof the Imagism School by creating a new tongue-in-cheek school, supposedly centered in Pittsburgh.

Fortified with 10 quarts of scotch, in 10 days they produced a volume of very bad poetry, complete with a suitably pretentious sounding preface explaining the Spectric School of Poetry. They adopted pseudonyms Emanuael Morgan (Bynner) and Anne Knish (Ficke) and proceeded to have the book published, letting the publisher in on the joke only as the volume was about to go to press.

To their surprise, a whole lot of literary types took the Spectric School seriously, including William Carlos Williams, Edgar Lee Masters, and John Gould Fletcher. Bynner was even asked to write a review of a book of poetry from the Spectric School that he had secretly published.

Years later, Bynner was giving a talk and someone in the audience asked him if it was true that he was really was Emanuael Morgan. Yes, he replied. And the secret was out. The two later admitted that they were, perhaps, better known for the hoax than for their poetry.

In 1918, Bynner taught oral English at Berkeley. He was rather unorthodox, often conducting his classes outside. He had rooms at a nearby hotel where faculty and students stayed. He started inviting students to his rooms, which he had turned into an incense-filled Aesthetic Movement retreat inspired by his visit to Japan. Clad in a silk kimono, he would serve undergraduates wine and cocktails. Naturally, when the head of the English department heard about it, Bynner was severely reprimanded. The university didn't renew his contract the following year.

Bynner eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he presided over the artistic community for decades, making friends with actors, artists and writers, including such notables as Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Igor Stravinsky, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Aldous Huxley, Clara Bow, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, Christopher Isherwood, Carl Van Vechten, Martha Graham, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Thornton Wilder.

Bynner died in 1968. His home is now a bed and breakfast called the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Happy birthday, John Dryden

It is the birthday of English poet and playwright John Dryden (1631), who served as Poet Laureate of Great Britain and dominated literary circles under Charles II. The period became known as the Age of Dryden. It was a period that saw the rise of journalism and periodicals and the essay as well as the advent of literary criticism. Here is a poem by Dryden from his play The Conquest of Granada.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy birthday, Majorie Kinnan Rawlings

It is the birthday of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896), who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Yearling (1938), about a Florida backwoods boy and his love for a young deer. Rawlings is one of Florida's best known writers. She published eight books while she lived at Cross Creek south of Gainesville. Two more were published posthumously. She also wrote 26 short stories, most of them set in Florida. Here is a video made at Rawlings home featuring writer Betty Jean Steinshouer, who portrays Rawlings and other authors. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Happy birthday, Garrison Keillor

It is the birthday of writer and radio personality Garrison Keillor (1942), who created the A Prairie Home Companion radio show on Minnesota Public Radio in 1971, and has done so ever since, except for a six-year hiatus (1987-1993) during which he produced a similar show called The American Radio Company of the Air. Keillor also hosts The Writer's Almanac, a daily literary program. He has written 24 books, including short stories from his fictional town of Lake Wobegon, poetry collections, and novels. Last year he appeared at the National Book Festival. Here is a video presentation of that appearance, and although it is 50 minutes long, it is well worth the time investment. Enjoy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy birthday, Lord Tennyson

It is the birthday of English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809), one of the most popular and often quoted poets in the English language. He served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom for 42 years, longer than anyone else. Queen Victoria, who appointed him, was a great admirer. In 1890, Thomas Edison recorded Tennyson reading one of his most famous poems, The Charge of the Light Brigade, about an ill-fated battle during the Crimean War. Here is a very creative animation using that recording. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a bad boy

Percy Bysshe Shelley
It is the birthday of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), who wrote some of the most  popular poems in the English language, including Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, and To a Skylark, though his greatest success came after his death.

Scholars say it was Shelley's unorthodox lifestyle that limited the acceptance of his writing to a rather small circle of friends. At Oxford, Shelley wrote two gothic novels  and read extensively, though it is said he didn't go to class often.

He wrote a pamphlet with a fellow student defending atheism, earning him the scorn of the college administration when he refused to deny that he wrote it. He and his fellow student, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, were expelled. Shelley's father intervened and won him a chance to reenter Oxford if he would state that what he wrote was untrue. He refused, earning him the scorn of his father.

At 19, Shelley eloped with a 16-year-old student from a boarding school, only to abandon her three years later, when she was pregnant with their second child, to run away to Switzerland with the 16-year-old daughter of a writer friend. Mary Godwin was more Shelley's intellectual equal. Later, Shelley's first wife committed suicide and he and Mary were married.

In 1818, Percy and Mary, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, lived in Italy, where he wrote the lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound, which was based on  a Greek trilogy whose title character steals the secret fire to help mankind progress, only to be punished by Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Shelley's play was never intended to be performed, only read.

It wasn't until several generations after his death that Shelley became widely accepted. He was admired by the later Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets, and by such diverse luminaries as Isadora Duncan, Thomas Hardy, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Sinclair Lewis, and Oscar Wilde.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rare Book Moment: Building a collection

No. 8: Michael Slicker discusses book collecting and how to build a great collection. Michael Slicker's Rare Book Moment is recorded at Lighthouse Books, ABAA in St. Petersburg, Florida. Music by Jack Payne: Back to Those Happy Days Lighthouse Books, ABAA specializes in antiquarian books, serving St. Petersburg, Tampa, the Tampa Bay area and all of Florida. In addition to rare books, Lighthouse Books, ABAA also offers expert antiquarian book appraisals.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy birthday, James Baldwin

James Baldwin
It is the birthday of novelist and social critic James Baldwin (1924), who emerged as a voice of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, with such books as The Fire Next Time (1963), Going to Meet the Man (1965), and Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone (1968).

His best known novel was his first, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a semi-autobiographical novel about a young black man growing up in Harlem in the 1930s. It is considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Baldwin grew up in a repressive household with a strict stepfather who was a preacher. Baldwin himself became a preacher at age 14, and in his three years in that capacity discovered his love of writing. He said being in the pulpit was like being in the theater. "I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked," he wrote in The Fire Next Time.

Baldwin came to view religion as misguided and partly responsible for perpetuating in institution of slavery in America, though he also praised it for inspiring some of his race to cast off the shackles of oppression and seek a better life.

He spent much time as a teenager in Greenwich Village, an experience that awakened him to the possibilities of a larger world beyond Harlem. In 1948, he moved to Paris, and spent much of the rest of his life living abroad, but always reflecting on life as a black man in America.

Baldwin became a friend of African-American writer Richard Wright, and wrote Notes of a Native Son (1955), a collection of essays on race, sex and social structure in America. The title is a reference to Wright's 1941 novel, Native Son. Later, Baldwin wrote an essay criticizing Uncle Tom's Cabin and Native Son as lacking credible characters. Baldwin's friendship with Wright dissolved after that. Baldwin's Giovanni's Room (1956) and Another Country (1962) deal with homosexuality, race and the bohemian lifestyle he became familiar with in Greenwich Village.

Baldwin participated in the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963, the march in Selma, Alabama, in 1964, and was in demand as speaker on civil rights. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1963 as part of an article on the growing unrest. His book No Name in the Street (1972) dealt with the despair he felt after the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all personal friends.

Baldwin was said to have influenced poet Maya Angelou and novelist Toni Morrison. Among his friends were Josephine Baker, Amiri Baraka, Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Alex Haley, Elia Kazan, Margaret Mead, and Lee Strasberg.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy birthday, Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key
It is the birthday of lawyer Francis Scott Key (1779), who wrote the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner, America's national anthem, during the War of 1812.

On the night of September 13, 1814, Key was detained aboard a British prisoner ship anchored in Chesapeake Bay at Baltimore, where he had gone to negotiate the release of prisoners. He and Col. John Stuart Skinner, a fellow negotiator, were not allowed to return to the mainland because the British planned to bombard Fort McHenry and the negotiators had seen British positions up close.

Key watched the attack, and at dawn could see the American flag still waving, which he told the prisoners below deck. As he and Skinner returned to Baltimore that day, Key wrote a poem about the experience of the night, which he titled Defence of Fort McHenry. The attack became known as the Battle of Fort McHenry. The poem was published in a newspaper six days later.

As he wrote it, Key fit the poem to a popular British song, To Anacreon in Heaven, the official song of an 18th century British gentlemen's club. Key had used the rhythms of the song before for a poem he wrote in 1805 that celebrated American heroes in the war against the Barbary pirates.

Key's poem with the British tune was retitled The Star-Spangled Banner and became a popular patriotic song throughout the country. In 1889, the U.S. Navy began using it as the tune to be played when the flag was raised. It wasn't until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson signed an Executive Order declaring it an official song, which meant that military bands had to play it. Still, 15 years passed before Congress made it the country's national anthem.

There were originally four stanzas to Key's poem but today only the first two are commonly used. Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes added a fifth stanza at the beginning of the Civil War. These lines appear in the fourth stanza: "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' " In 1956, the United States officially adopted "In God We Trust" as the national motto.

Key defended U.S. Rep. Sam Houston in his 1832 trial in the U.S. House for assaulting another congressman. Houston, frustrated about untrue accusations made by the congressman, had confronted him on Pennsylvania Avenue and beat him with a hickory cane. Key lost the case but Houston received a light reprimand.

Key served as U.S. district attorney and prosecuted Richard Lawrence for trying to assassinate President Andrew Jackson. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital.

Key published a book The Power of Literature, and Its Connection with Religion (1834). For 25 years, Key served as vice president of the National Bible Society, a non-denominational, nonprofit organization dedicated to publishing and distributing the Bible throughout the world.

The Star-Spangled Banner was first played at a baseball game in Philadelphia in 1897, and sporadically at games after that, but especially during the seventh-inning stretch of the first game of the 1918 World Series, and during the rest of that series. After World War II, it became a tradition at all professional baseball games. Today it is performed at the beginning of all pro soccer, basketball, football and hockey games, as well as NASCAR and motocross races.

Our specialties

Our specialties include Floridiana (Florida History, Florida Authors, Florida Related Ephemera), American History, Literature of the South, Military History (including, but not limited to, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korean War), Children’s Literature, Maps, Leather Bindings and Rare & Unusual items.

We also have a wide variety of general stock, including a large Landscape/Gardening section, a great selection of Christian/Church History/Bible Study titles, Beat Literature, and much more. Please browse our extensive category list.

Appraisal service

Michael F. Slicker, is one of about 450 qualified members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Inc., and its affiliate the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Condition of the book, demand for it and history of comparable sales are among the factors considered in evaluating the value of a book. Other factors may apply as well.

Please contact us for more information regarding our certified appraisal services. We encourage you to visit our website, Lighthouse Books, ABAA

Florida Antiquarian Book Fair

Michael Slicker was the founding president of the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association and has served as chairman of its annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair since its inception.

The 36th annual book fair is set for April 21-23, 2017 at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg.

The fair is the oldest and largest antiquarian book fair in the Southeast. Learn more about the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association.

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