The best part of buying a used book is the history that comes with it. Tucked in the pages, one finds photographs and letters used as bookmarks; on the inside cover and in the margins, long inscriptions to, from, about. It's true the printed text pulls us into the life of the author, but it's … Continue reading The book’s private journey through many hands and homes
"[D]on't be such a damn fool as ever again to go to work for someone else. Start your own business," the 34-year-old Sinclair Lewis advised his friend Alfred Harcourt. "I'm going to write important books. You can publish them. Now let's go out to your house and start making plans" (p.xi). That business became the publishing house Harcourt, Brace, and Company, and the next year, in 1920, it published the book that made Lewis famous: Main Street. Thus began a decade-long partnership that lasted until Lewis became the first American to the win Nobel Prize in Literature. As the only volume of Lewis' letters, From Main Street to Stockholm was published in 1952, the year after he died, and collects together his correspondence with Harcourt's publishing house. Given their relationship the letters just as often pertain to business as they do Lewis' European travels and the politics of the literary world. While the reader may not close the book with a richer understanding of Lewis' psychology, they will have witnessed an iconoclast at work. Through these letters one follows Lewis through the "Big Five" and the public's response, from Main Street (1920) being declared the most monumental book of the century to Boston's District Attorney banning Elmer Gantry (1927) from the city.
A few years ago I corresponded with poet Robert Bly, and I asked him what advice he had for young writers. In his late-eighties and ill, I did not expect an answer, and so I was surprised (even more: nervous) when a few weeks later a familiar cream-colored envelope arrived. Opening it, he'd written, "You're wondering what … Continue reading Writing advice from Bly, Merwin, and Pound: “It’s always good to learn another language and translate”
Back in November, I wrote about two letters from Garrison Keillor and Bill Holm I found in the University of Minnesota's Robert Bly Papers. What I didn't note is that I also found one from writer Charles Bukowski. Pulling it out of the stack was a surprise -- though it shouldn't have been given Bly's stature in the literary world at the time -- and so I made a copy of it thinking Buk's may be interested. It's not as big of a literary event as the discovery of Neal Cassady's "Joan Anderson letter," but it does include an unpublished poem. ...
While going through the Robert Bly Papers at the University of Minnesota, I came across two letters I wanted to share. In the past I've posted pieces from young writers like Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, and Hunter S. Thompson, but the following come from two of the state's most-famous contemporaries. The first excerpt is from Garrison Keillor (age 27) and the other from Bill Holm (age 26). Both letters are dated 1969 and written after Bly gained fame for his literary magazine The Fifties (then The Sixties) and first book of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1963). In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and through it staged readings on college campuses across the country, which introduced him to many young poets. This kind of literary activism culminated in his winning the National Book Award for his politically-charged The Light Around the Body (1967). It is hard to overstate the influence Bly had on his contemporaries during the decade. Although both Keillor and and Holm later found their own fame for A Prairie Home Companion and The Music of Failure (1985), respectively, these were still decades away. In fact the two would become good friends with Keillor calling Holm, "The sage ... a colleague of Whitman born one hundred years too late."
"You know, I'm basically a scientist; I don't really think of myself as a writer," says the neurobiologist and author Robert Sapolsky. "And it's something that I need to discipline myself to do less of because it is much easier for me than doing the science ..." If you aren't familiar with Robert Sapolsky, he … Continue reading Robert Sapolsky on Writing and The Popularization of Science
This is the follow-up to my last post, "Four Men in May (Part 1): Memory, Oscar Wilde, and Aldous Huxley," where I am posting four letters written by four men in the May before their twenty-third birthday. From Part 1: The title “Four Men in May,” then, is meant to be not only literal but … Continue reading Four Men in May (Part 2): Hunter S. Thompson, Joshua Preston