Full Texts of Classic Works

“A Chat About the Hand” – A 1905 essay by Helen Keller

Blind and deaf from an early age, Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) became a prolific American author and disability rights activist. The 1905 essay by Helen Keller presented here, “A Chat About the Hand,” conveys in great detail how she communicated and sensed the world around her. At right, Helen Keller in 1904.

This entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica illustrates how accomplished she was already (with decades to live yet ahead of her) at the age of thirty-one:

Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1880. When about nineteen months old she was deprived of sight and hearing by an attack of scarlet fever. At the request of her parents, who were acquainted with the success attained in the case of Laura Bridgman, one of the graduates of the Perkins Institution at Boston, Miss Anne Sullivan was sent to instruct her at home … Read More→

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Body of this Death: Poems by Louise Bogan (1923) – full text

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970) has largely fallen off the radar when it comes to American poetry of the 20th century, yet in her time she was one of the most lauded poets of her generation. Presented here is the full text of her first published book of poems, Body of this Death (1923).

The title is derived from the quote, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” from the King James Bible.

Bogan’s poetry was praised by her contemporaries for its spare, restrained style. Much of her expression and subject matter was derived from her personal life (which wasn’t an easy one), yet her subtlety prevented her poems from becoming confessional. Read More→

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“A Death in the Desert” — a short story by Willa Cather

Originally published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1903, “A Death in the Desert” is a widely anthologized short story by Willa Cather. The full text of its final, 1920 version is presented here.

Cather had two occasions to self-edit the story. It appeared in her first collection of stories, The Troll Garden (1905), and then in Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920). All told, she edited it down from about ten thousand words to seven thousand, polishing it to its essence.

“A Death in the Desert” tells of a man named Everett who, at the start of the story, is on a train from Holdrege, Nebraska to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Bearing a strong resemblance to his older brother Adriance, a well-known musician, he is forever burdened by the comparison. Read More→

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Enough Rope: Poems by Dorothy Parker (1926) — full text

It’s almost a cliché to say that Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) was known for her acid wit, but that’s an accurate way to describe her acerbic style. Enough Rope: Poems by Dorothy Parker (1926) was her first published collection of verse. This collection includes the much-anthologized verses “Résumé” and “One Perfect Rose.”

In addition to verse, Parker wrote short stories, essays, and reviews. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Roundtable, an exclusive group of eminent New York City writers in the early twentieth century.

Published by Boni and Liveright (NY) in 1926, Enough Rope is dedicated “To Elinor Wylie” a highly regarded poet of the era. A credit line reads: “The verses in this book were first printed in LifeVanity FairThe New Yorker, and The New York World.” Read More→

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Second April by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1921) – Full text

For Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1921 proved to be the year she broke through. A Few Figs from Thistles, her first major collection after Renascence and Other Poems (1917), explored, among other themes, love and female sexuality. It was soon followed by Second April, also published in 1921. 

Second April, which is in the public domain, is presented here in full. The poems dealt with love, heartbreak, nature, and death. These 1921 publications catapulted her to superstar status, something rarely achieved by a poet, before or since.

Throughout the 1920s — call them The Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age — Vincent, as she was known by those closest to her, recited to enthusiastic, sold-out crowds during her many reading tours at home and abroad. Read More→

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