Remembering Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Oscar Hijuelos, Dead at 62

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“Oh yes!…The sweet summons of God to man.  That’s when He calls you up to His arms.  And it’s the most beautiful thing, a rebirth, a new life.  But, just the same I’m in no rush to find out.” ― Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love , died yesterday of a heart attack while playing tennis, according to his agent, Jennifer Lyons.  Hijuleos was 62.

Hijuelos was the first Latino writer to be awarded the coveted prize.  The novel traces the journey of two Cuban brothers who leave Havana for a life in New York to pursue a career in music. In 1992, the novel was adapted into a film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

Although the Pulitzer brought the author fame, it also brought hardships.  Hijuelos felt labeled as an “ethnic” writer.   In an interview on NPR’s Newshour in 2011, Hijuelos  discussed his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.  He told interviewer Ray Suarez that he

 sometimes felt like a freak, simply because the level of my success and traveling around the world as — quote — “a Latino writer” as much as anything, was sort of wonderful and also very strange for me at the same time, because, indeed, I’m — I came up as but one version of many potential versions of Latinos that there could be.

And I have never — as I say in the memoir, I have never intended to represent myself as a spokesman for anybody but myself. And yet I would be in a roundtable in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, at a live television show, and the host would come on and look around trying to figure out who the Latino guy was in the group. That kind of thing was both interesting and alarming at the same time.

Here is the complete interview. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hijuelos.


Alice Munro Wins the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

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“A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows.”

Canadian writer Alice Munro has been awarded 2013’s Nobel Prize in Literature.  Often heralded as “one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction,” Munro is best known for her short stories which are accessible yet complex narratives about the human condition.  Her best-known works include “Lives of Girls and Women” (1973), “The Love of a Good Woman” (1998) and “Runaway” (2004). A collection of her work, “Too Much Happiness: Stories,” was published in 2009.

2009 is also the year in which Munro was award the coveted Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work.  Additionally, she has been awarded Canada’s literary honor, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, twice.  She might have won a third but she removed her name from the contenders in 2009 saying that “she wanted to give younger, less-established authors an opportunity.”

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Literary America: Ten Places to Visit for National Author’s Day

Mark your calendars and make some plans!  November 1st is National Author’s Day.  In 1929, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs created the day to honor America’s writers; in 1949, the day was officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Congress. The resolution states, in part, that “[b]y celebrating author’s day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America.”

Most of these historic places are privately staffed or state-run, meaning that even if the government shutdown continues, you should be able to visit these homes, museums, and locations:

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1. Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, VA

Called “America’s Shakespeare,” Edgar Allan Poe created or mastered the short story, detective fiction, science fiction, lyric poetry and the horror story. His dark genius has invited children and adults to read and love literature for over 150 years.

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2.  Mark Twain Study, Elmira, New York 

Built by Twain’s father-in-law, Twain called this retreat “The Cozy Nest.”  It is located on the campus of Elmira College.  Twain’s grave is also located in the town of Elmira.

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“A Government of Wolves”: Ten Writers Sound Off

Like most of you, I am becoming more and more annoyed by the government shutdown. Yesterday, I heard a sick child will not get his weekly visit with a therapy dog because those “non-essential workers” had been “furloughed.”

Here are ten quotes from writers, past and present, that may help you channel and articulate your own feelings and frustration with our elected leaders:

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1.  “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”  — Edward R. Murrow

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2.  “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”  — Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

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4.  “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”  — Jon Stewart

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“The Point of Life Was to Press On”: Remembering Tom Clancy

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Fans of espionage and military science novels have lost one of that genres’ most popular authors. Tom Clancy has died at age 66.  The cause of death has not yet been released.

Here are some facts about Clancy that you may not know:

  • Worked as an insurance salesman after attending Loyola College.
  • Tried, but failed, to purchase the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Divorced after thirty years following revelations of an affair with a New York Assistant D.A.
  • Second wife is the niece of General Colin Powell.
  • Although he loved the military, poor eyesight prevented him from enlisting.
  • In 1984, President Ronald Reagan boosted sales of Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October, by praising it at a press conference. “It’s a really good yarn,” Reagan said.
  • Founded the gaming company Red Storm Entertainment in 1996 and sold it for a reported $45 million
  • Was the co-owns the Baltimore Orioles

Tom Clancy was one of the best-selling authors of the last thirty years.  In addition to The Hunt for Red October, his other popular works included Patriot Games (1988), Clear and Present Danger (1989), and The Sum of All Fears (1991).


Baffling Banned Books: A Fun (Disturbing) Quiz!

If you’ve waited to celebrate the chance to be Officially Subversive during Banned Books Week, it’s not too late!  Sure, you probably figured that Huck Finn is a perennial favorite for its politically incorrect language and Fifty Shades of Grey for its Crimes Against Ink and Trees, but I am willing to bet there are quite a few that will make you say, “Ummm. What?”  The alleged  “reasons” for protecting Our Nation’s Youth are even more bizarre than you can imagine. 

Take our quiz and see if you can guess the actual arguments that succeeded in getting the following ten books on the Naughty List. Answers at the end of quiz!

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1.  Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

a)  The National Pork Council feared declining bacon sales

b)  Children were trapping dangerous spiders and being bitten

c)  A Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural

d)  Girls were being encouraged to defy their fathers

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2.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

a)  Removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri, for ‘making promiscuous sex look like fun.’

b)  Removed from Texas libraries for “encouraging revolution”

c)  Attempted ban in California for “focusing on negativity.”

d) Both a and c

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No Child Left Inspired: Parent-Teacher Night Blues

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Last night I attended Parent-Teacher night with my eighth grade son.  It was depressing.

For two hours, I, my son, and several hundred other parents were herded from classroom to classroom where we were introduced to the variety of TEKS tests our children would endure this year.  TEKS, the acronym for the assessment  “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills,” will measure students’ ability to take tests.  Honestly, that’s what it boils down to. The four areas of “knowledge” they will assess are math, science, history, and social studies.  Writing, and critical thinking, apparently, are not deemed “essential.”

Now,  I realize teachers only have ten minutes to address each class.  They were dead tired, as was I.  But you know, in each ten minute session, ALL I heard was due dates for tests and the breakdown of grades. In not a single class was there any excitement about the curriculum, no discussion of new ideas or interesting projects… nothing.

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