Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy birthday, Gertrude Stein

It is the birthday of writer and arts patron Gertrude Stein (1874), who is most famous for nurturing painters such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, as well as writers Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Thornton Wilder in her Paris salon in the 1920s. Much of her writing reflected the abstract art she collected and was virtually unintelligible, even to well educated readers. Nevertheless, she achieved stylistic notoriety with such quotes as “A rose is a rose is a rose,” perhaps her version of the more recent “It is what it is.” She also wrote the oft quoted “There is no there there,” to describe her hometown of Oakland, California. Her one great commercial success was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), written in the voice of her lifelong companion but really about herself and the artists and writers she knew. She also wrote the librettos for two Virgil Thomson operas, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947).

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