“American Dystopia”: Read My Review of Claire Sprague’s “It Can Happen Here.”

With the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there's been a renewed interest in Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here (1935). For those unfamiliar with it, it's about the rise-to-power of a Depression-era demagogue named Sen. "Buzz" Windrip who becomes president with a campaign based on religious zeal, patriotic fervor, and … Continue reading “American Dystopia”: Read My Review of Claire Sprague’s “It Can Happen Here.”

Translating Sinclair Lewis into English (Two Poems)

As my regular readers know, I write a lot about Sinclair Lewis. For example, there's the anecdote about him drinking with Gov. Floyd B. Olson, his advice on writing, and how those overseas understood his work. I also write about poetry, and recently I published here translations of Norwegian-American poet Julius B. Baumann. Well, here's where … Continue reading Translating Sinclair Lewis into English (Two Poems)

From Main Street to Stockholm: Letters of Sinclair Lewis 1919-1930

Joining Sinclair Lewis on the Trip from Main Street to Stockholm

"[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.

Writing advice from Bly, Merwin, and Pound: “It’s always good to learn another language and translate”

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”

The Digital Humanities and Word Clouds

Ever since I joined the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I've had a growing interest in big data analysis. With so much information being digitized -- whether it's criminal records, government documents, or historical archives -- researchers can engage with old resources in new ways and ask questions on scales previously unimaginable. Though I'm not too vocal about it here (yet), right now I'm working to apply what I've learned at the Initiative to the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" archives. This crossing of fields, for those who are curious, is called the "Digital Humanities." (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out the historian Dan Cohen's blog. Fred Gibbs also has a helpful introduction to historical data analysis here). I won't reveal any of my graphics here (I'm saving them for a future post), but here's an example of the Digital Humanities that everyone's familiar with: Word clouds. Technically, these were possible before the digitization of famous works, but it's the kind of work that required slave labor teaching assistants. The following I put together in a few minutes using Project Gutenberg and Wordle.

On women “mother-naked before long mirrors”: Dorothy Parker’s list of literary cliches to avoid

Recently I bought a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker (Penguin Books, 1973) and am now reveling in her genius and wit. For those unfamiliar with Parker (1893-1967), she was a writer and columnist whose book reviews frequently appeared in The New Yorker (1927-1933) and Esquire (1957-1962). In the few reviews I've written, I often feel compelled to be … Continue reading On women “mother-naked before long mirrors”: Dorothy Parker’s list of literary cliches to avoid