Literary Musings

Three things I learned writing Pride and Prejudice in 61 Haiku (1,037 Syllables!)

Emily Dickinson once famously remarked that if she felt as though the top of her head were taken off, she knew she was reading poetry. And who among us did not read, “It is a truth universally acknowledged …” and feel our heads explode?

So, if Jane Austen has been hiding her poet self in prose, how better to acknowledge the power of her collective one-line poetry than by translating all of Pride and Prejudice’s 61 opening-sentence poems into contemporary twists on the classic Japanese 17-syllable haiku? Read More→

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6 Interesting Facts About Ann Petry

Ann Petry (1908 – 1997) is best known as the first African-American woman to produce a book whose sales would top a million copies. The Street ultimately sold a million and a half copies. A gritty story of a single mother raising a son in Harlem, it brought its author much praise and a little notoriety. Here are 6 interesting facts about Ann Petry, an under-appreciated classic American author.

She had a sheltered upbringing in a New England town

Before she was Ann Petry she was Ann Lane, and was raised in Old Saybrook, a middle class town in Connecticut. Her parents tried to shelter Ann and her sister from the systemic racism of black life in America. They largely succeeded, with the exception of a few unfortunate and  indelible incidences. Her father was a pharmacist who owned his own drugstore;  her mother was a chiropodist, and businesswoman. Ann’s mother and aunts were strong role models. She said of her mother and aunts that “it never occurred to them that there were things they couldn’t do because they were women.” Read More→

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Sylvia Plath’s Suicide Note: Death Knell, or Cry for Help?

Excerpted from Or Not to Be: A Collection of Suicide Notes by Marc Etkind (Riverhead Books, 1997).

“Please call Dr. Horder.”

This was the suicide note left by Sylvia Plath. Dr. Horder was her psychiatrist. Though only one sentence, this note is actually quite revealing. Why call the psychiatrist, who can only help patients who are alive? Perhaps Plath didn’t expect to die. 

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

(— from Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Lady Lazarus”) Read More→

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Indiana by George Sand: The Author Answers Her Critics

George Sand’s first novel, Indiana, argued for the freedom of young women to follow their hearts, make their own terrible mistakes, and learn from them in order to grow and be true to themselves. Only then could they become equal partners to their husbands.

Indiana is a young woman married to a much older man. She falls in love with a rake who has seduced her own maid. Indiana’s passion is nonetheless awakened by her perfidious lover. The restrictive French marriage laws of the time and double standards of the time created a perilous path for Indiana’s passage to womanhood. Critics of that time considered the novel shocking, scandalous stuff coming from the pen of a woman (George Sand’s masculine nom de plume apparently didn’t mask her identity).

But Sand always gave back as good as she got. She wasn’t afraid to answer her critics, any more than she was afraid to wear men’s clothes and smoke cigars in public and travel alone — things a women just didn’t do in those days. Indiana had a long life in print; here’s a portion of her introduction to the 1852 edition (translated from the original French): Read More→

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Laura Ingalls Wilder: Late Blooming Author with a Passion for Nature

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867 – 1957) was a late bloomer in terms of her literary life. She was well into her forties before she was ever paid for a piece of writing. So those of you who are just getting started at whatever age, take heart.

You may know the fictional Laura from the Little House series, that bumper crop of books for young readers brought out by Harper & Brothers in the 1930s and ‘40s, or from the NBC television adaption first aired in the 1970s and ‘80s, starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura and Michael Landon as a heartthrob version of Charles “Pa” Ingalls. The TV series is still a regular on syndicated stations. Millions and millions of copies of the books have sold worldwide, and Harper-Collins brought out yet another new edition of the series in 2017 in honor of the 150th anniversary of Wilder’s birth. Read More→

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