Monthly Archives: March 2012

More on Southern Women Writers — televised segments of “American Masters”

       Fortunate timing!  Corresponding to recent blog posts here on Southern women writers, I stumbled upon news about two back-to-back American Masters series segments to be televised on PBS this next week concerning two Southern women writers:

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel premieres nationally Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9 p.m. followed by Harper Lee: Hey, Boo at 10 p.m. (you’re advised to check local listings).

Am especially interested in the program about Harper Lee, who wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  My earlier blog post discusses why I recently developed a bit of a fascination about her life.  I hope this American Masters segment sheds more light on her.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.  I haven’t read this novel.  I’ve seen the film 2-3 times and enjoyed it.  Actors Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were terrific as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and their portrayals are now cinematic legend.  The movie is something of an “epic,” and I guess people would say the same about the novel, I imagine.  I’ll probably watch the American Masters segment also on Margaret Mitchell just to familiarize myself with her a bit.

P.S.  As an aside, I began watching American Masters series in the late 1980s.  This is a no-holds-barred quality presentation about individual writers, poets, film directors, musicians, composers, actors, visual artists, etc. who have had an impact on the arts in America.  While the format of some of the segments are a bit similar, there is nothing “cookie cutter” about how the biographical material is presented.  For example, for Charlie Chaplin there are three segments.  I believe the presentation on Bob Dylan is two segments.  The people who make these segments do a good job of drawing the viewer in to the life, mind and creativity of each person discussed in a way that makes you understand how this person worked and created.

Anyway I’ve never been bored watching an American Masters segment.  After I saw the one on George Gershwin I walked around for a couple of days saying I was in love with a dead man (I was so enamored with this man’s talent and the music he composed and played.  I remember being astonished that he never married and   shocked that he died before he reached 40…)

Yes, this is my plug for the PBS American Masters series.  Check it out sometime if you’re not able to watch next week’s segments on Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee.

Confessions of a Guilty Book Reader

I read.  I’m not an avid reader per se.  I just enjoy fiction (especially) and I believe that reading a good novel can be a very worthwhile experience.   However I’m not a quick reader so it takes time for me to finish a book.  Maybe because of this, in my life I’ve sometimes stopped reading a book when I grow disillusioned with the story or the approach the author is taking.  Does this mean I’m a quitter or just have particular taste?  I’m not sure.

I guess what’s strange is I can remember fairly vividly the books I started and were not able to finish.  In some instances I also can recall precisely why I stopped reading the work.  Today I decided to make a list of these “unfinished” books.  This list goes back some years, and I have carried in me the guilt of stopping and never picking them up again to finish.

There is one peculiar instance where I started one of these books more than once and still never completed reading it.  I remain in awe of this book to this day.

Books I started to read and never finished:

Light in August by William Faulkner (I read his Go Down Moses)

V by Thomas Pynchon (read his The Crying of Lot 49)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read and “performed” his short story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship” as a choral reading)

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipal

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (read his first four novels – this was his fifth…)

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (this I tried to read twice and never made it to the end)

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (read some of his short stories in college however I don’t remember their titles)

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (my older sister and I both read this at the same time – she finished it; I didn’t)

So that’s it.  I’m not asking for absolution.  Just wish I had more perseverance.

**this piece is dedicated to writer, Cathy Crimmins and her article “Confessions of a Guilty Shiksa,” that appeared in Philadelphia Magazine in the 1980s.  RIP Ms. Crimmins**


Credit: Graphic of novel War and Peace from the blog:


Annie Lebowitz — “Pilgrimage”

Pilgrimage -- Book of Photography by Annie LebowitzPhotographer Annie Lebowitz is known for her portrait photography — she began her career some years back working for “Rolling Stone” magazine and then subsequently “Vanity Fair,” and also, I believe, “Vogue.”  Her photos include a ton of musicians as well as a myriad of celebrities.

A few years ago I noticed that Ms. Leobwitz published a book of photographs spanning a decade of her life and these included more intimate family photos.  Now, in Pilgrimage, her most recent work, published in November 2011, she has produced a book of photos of places.  These places, in a number of instances, are the homes of notable historic persons both in the U.S. and England.  It’s quite a departure for Ms. Lebowitz.

This “pilgrimage” of searching photos of places began with her travelling to Amherst, Massachusetts for a family function, and with one of her sisters, visiting the home of Emily Dickinson.  Armed just with a digital camera, this first foray into photographing a place grew into her creating a list of places and residences that sparked an interest in her.  Most of these places were in the U.S, however England also factored into the list including the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and that of Sigmund Freud among others.  She does later return again to New England and Massachusetts to photograph and delve into the residences of Thoreau, Emerson and Alcott as well.

I’ve only been able to see and read excerpts so far of Pilgrimage.  Am hoping to suggest that the local library purchase this for its circulating collection.  Ms. Lebowitz is worth exploring!

Good news: Photographs from Pilgrimage are being exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., from January 20 to May 20, 2012.  Admission to this museum is free.

Poets on Postage – Now & Then

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

In the mid 1990s picked up a “first day of issue” postage stamp of the poet Edna St. Millay (happened to be waiting for a train at Union Station in Washington DC and had some time — it turns out the National Postage Museum is right across the street from the train station & admission is free).

This was actually an “archived” item as this stamp was an 18 cents first class postage stamp from 1981. 

Was able to find that there are some other “archived” postage stamps that were issued from time to time in honor of other poets as well:

Emily Dickinson (issued 1971 8 cents stamp);

Paul Laurence Dunbar (issued 1975 10 cents stamp);

T. S. Eliot (issued 1986 22 cents stamp);

Robert Frost (issued 1973 10 cents stamp);

Robinson Jeffers (issued 1974 8 cents stamp);

Edgar Lee Masters (issued 1970 6 cents stamp);

Marianne Moore (issued 1990 25 cents stamp);

Edgar Allen Poe (he’s had two stamps in his honor: issued 1949 3 cents stamp and issued 2009 42 cents stamp);

Walt Whitman (issued 1940 5 cents stamp)

Now: March 2012 

Yesterday, at the U.S. Post Office happened to look thru Vol. 17, Quarter 1, 2012 edition of the “U.S. Philatelic” Catalog of stamps and stumbled upon the 2012 forever stamps of “Twentieth-Century Poets.”  All right!

So who are the poets whose black & white photographic portraits are featured in this sheet of new stamps:

Elizabeth Bishop

Joseph Brodsky

Gwendolyn Brooks

e.e. cummings

Robert Hayden

Denise Levertov

Sylvia Plath

Theodore Roethke

Wallace Stevens

William Carlos Williams

Similar to me there may be some of these poets whose work people possibly know and others perhaps not.  (my familiarity includes the work of Gwendolyn Brooks, e.e. cummings, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams –the others, in some instances, I recognize the name only).

It’s a good thing for poets to be honored in this way, and if you think of it when you’re in the post office needing stamps, ask for one or two of these forever poet stamps ~

P.S. April is “National Poetry Month”

Southern Women Writers (Part III)

Southern Women Writers -- Part III

A contemporary literary journal:
Southern Women’s Review February 2012 issue

Southern Women Writers (Part II) — Writer, Eudora Welty

If I had to teach a course in writers I think I’d choose Southern women writers.  I’ve read a few and there’s quite a few I haven’t read (for example, I don’t believe I know the work of any Black Southern women writers).  Here I want to write about someone who is possibly the opposite of Harper Lee who wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird that I wrote about in a former blog post here.

This someone is writer, Eudora Welty.  Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she is known for her short stories and novels that have been revered by both readers and other writers.  To be honest it was not her stories or her novels that drew me to this writer — it was her autobiography “One Writer’s Beginnings” that I read and found so compelling.  This autobiography is actually based on a series of three lectures that Eudora Welty gave at Harvard University in the early 1980s.  It is a loving explanation of this writer’s childhood and of a writer’s first foray into the world of the senses.  For example, there is a description in this work of “sound” and how she remembers hearing things for the first time in a singular and acute way.  Another recollection of hers is a description of a family trip that her family made by car in the 1920s from Mississippi to see relatives in West Virginia (am not entirely sure about the state — it was some distance away however still in the South) that is very memorable.  She talks about how the car didn’t go very fast nor were the roads very good and what a process it was to travel this way.  Her family, being fairly well off financially, were actually unique in that they owned their own car also.  Ms. Welty conveys her childhood wonderment at this excursion drawing the reader into how extraordinary this seemingly ordinary family trip was.

I have since learned that Eudora Welty, similar to Harper Lee, received the Pulitzer Prize in literature.  Different from Ms. Lee, Eudora Welty’s award was given some years after she’d been publishing her work.  Interestingly I learned also recently that Eudora Welty also stopped writing for a time later in her life when she began to feel that her writing was not the caliber that it had been.

Well, perhaps Harper Lee and Eudora Welty weren’t so different after all, at least not in the respect that they judged their own work perhaps with their own keen eye and if what they created didn’t measure up, they weren’t going to put it out there for the world to read.  It makes you wonder if people aren’t too hard on themselves, however the idea of quality and achievement is what an artist strives for in a creation, otherwise why bother?

I don’t seem to have that problem (ha ha) — i can think of the mediocre stuff i’ve done in my own life that at the time i thought was all right for presentation (especially in the way of creating something in the visual arts).  I do admire people who do have a certain level of mastery that they are aiming for and don’t settle for something that doesn’t measure up in their own eyes.

Southern Women Writers — Thinking about Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

Last month, February 2012, I wanted to read something to commemorate it being Black History Month. It occurred to me sometime in the past year that I’d never read the book or seen the film based on the book To Kill a Mockingbird. What I knew vaguely about the book is that it takes place in the American South and it is about a white Southern male lawyer who defends an impoverished Black man when he is accused of raping a white woman.

I remember being slightly shocked when I initially was told by someone that this was what the novel was about (not the entire plot as it turns out, however a very pivotal aspect of the story). I’d also read that Robert Duvall played the part of “Boo Radley” in the movie, and this was one of his first roles, I believe, as an actor. I didn’t know who this character Boo Radley was and where it fit into the story. Basically I had some pretty disjointed knowledge and questions about what this novel was actually going to be about as I went about to read it.

Turns out it is actually of a coming of age story about Scout Finch, a 6-7 year old girl, and her view of the world that includes her father (lawyer Atticus Finch), her 11-12 year old brother, their neighbors including the reclusive Boo Radley, and some other asundry characters as well. The story takes place in the late 1930s in a small Alabama town and for Atticus, a white man lawyer, to believe in and defend a Black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, it caused quite a stir in the town. The dynamics of the trial and Atticus’s fortitude in the face of the white townspeople awakens in the reader an awareness of how prevalent biogtry and racism was there.

The writer, Harper Lee herself, is from the South and this story’s voice has the depth of authenticity to it. The book was published actually in the late 1950s, I believe (the book celebrated its 50 year anniversary in 2008). It is not my intention here to write about the novel itself, its themes and characterizations and such. What is interesting to me are two things: first, the book won a Pulitzer Prize. This is pretty astounding in my opinion and I believe the book (& Harper Lee, the author) earned it. What is amazing is that this was Lee’s first published novel (!) And this leads me to the second thing: Harper Lee did not write any other novels. It is said that she collaborated with her longtime (from childhood) friend, Truman Capote, on doing research for his work, In Cold Blood, so she was involved in the literary world after the publishing and subsequent popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. Still it seems strange and kind of sad that she didn’t go on to write more. Fame and all the hullabaloo that goes along with it perhaps played a part in Harper Lee not being able to write more. Also I read that two of her good friends, a couple, gave her money to be able to take off a year working a 9-5 job so that she would be able to write (& the result was her writing TKAMB). So maybe, after that experience, Lee was not able to feel free enough to take the time again to write. It is hard to say or speculate why.


Why a blog???

As a frustrated reader (& not a book club joiner — the two ongoing book groups i joined in the past disbanded within a year after i joined…not a good track record), I want to actually comment/journalize on some things i’ve been reading.  Also just want to write about things that i’ve no one to discuss this stuff with.  To some extent I actually hope this gets lost in the shuffle somehow as i need to just write this & not feel i’m in a vacuum.