Letters to Juliet: A Project of Love for the Lovelorn

ecard_romeo

One of my favorite things that has been going around the internet for some time is the EMO person who posted, “What if he’s your Romeo, but you’re not his Juliet?” The lightning-fast response was, “That means you’re his Rosaline and you survive the friggin’ play.”

Despite the reality of what happens to the “star cross’d lovers,” the persistence in thinking of them as the romantic ideal lives on.

See?

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Most people, even those who have never read or seen the play, are more likely to conjure up this image, or something close to it, than gruesome deaths:

r&j_b&w

I didn’t know, however, until I heard a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, that men (mostly, I guess) have been penning letters to Juliet for centuries.  Initially, shortly after the play’s performances, people left notes at what was thought to be her tomb. The numbers of letters left became so great that the post office of Verona established a special office to handle the volume. 

The remarkable thing about the letters left for Juliet is that she actually answers. Well, understudies for Juliet do. Dozens of volunteers in Verona, who call themselves “The Juliet Club” answer, by hand, each of the 6,000+ letters addressed to Shakespeare’s heroine each year.  All of the letters are retained in a massive archive, to which more letters are regularly added.

The job must be tough but many of the volunteers have been at it for ten and twenty years, some even longer. What do they say to these heartbroken people? Here is one of their answers to someone who was driving herself crazy asking, “What if?”

“What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet”

You can read more about the long history of the Juliet Project in Lise Friedman’s study,  Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love


Woody Guthrie’s Posthumous Novel, “House of Earth” Finally Published

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What do Woody Guthrie, Johnny Depp, and historian Douglas Brinkley all have in common? Guthrie’s only known novel, House of Earth. Brinkley, in one of those moments of discovery that scholars live for, stumbled across a reference to the work while doing some research. He, along with Guthrie’s daughter Nora, were the first to read the unpublished novel. The manuscript was taken to Brinkley’s friend and publishing partner, the actor Johnny Depp, who has created the new imprint “Infinitum Nihil” at HarperCollins.

Guthrie wrote the the novel in 1947, when he was very well known, so it may seem surprising that his novel remained tucked away for 66 years. There are probably a couple reasons the book was never published. First, as his daughter Nora was surprised to find, there is some sexually explicit material, quite racy for its day, as Nora remembered to Lynn Neary on NPR’s Morning Edition“The opening chapter was so sexy,” she said, laughing. “I just went, whoa, Dad, where are you going with this?”

The other reason Guthrie likely could not find a publisher is because of the political climate of the time. The “Red Scare” was in full force and the book,  “both a love story and a polemic against the bankers and businessmen [whom] Guthrie blamed for keeping the poor, poor” was not a message that would find a buyer.

These themes appear in some fashion in all of Guthrie’s vast repertoire of songs, including the much-beloved, “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.” While many people happily sing along with its patriotic message, many express surprise when they truly read the lyrics and understand some of its subversive content:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

“Woody believed that the people that lived on the land should own the land,” says Brinkley. “So he was outraged at what bankers were doing, and when people were struggling and they couldn’t pay rents and were being forced off the land. And so ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and House of Earth are both aimed at people being able to say if you grew up on a property it should be yours, and you should be able to live on it.”


		

The Big Read: Get Talking About Books

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One of the things I miss most about graduate school is the time to luxuriate in conversation with intelligent, engaged people about literature.  Inevitably, someone had a different take on some element of the book that made me re-evaluate my own position or, conversely, helped me feel more confident about an interpretation.

In a recent interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Oprah Winfrey told interviewer Lynn Neary that her reason for starting the original book club (that catapulted so many authors to fame and fortune) was for the exact same reasons as my own: wanting to talk to other people books.

Of course, there are probably hundreds of book clubs in every city and intimate gatherings are great. But if your life and relationships are anything like mine, trying to get friends to commit, show up at the same time, and actually have read your selection by a specific date can about as successful as herding cats.

That’s why I think that this year, for the first time, I am going to attempt to participate in a number of  “Big Reads.”  The Big Read is a project sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts “designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.”

Here is a brief description of how The Big Read works (learn more by clicking the link):

Through The Big Read, selected communities come together to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 34* selections from U.S. and world literature. In addition, The Big Read provides comprehensive information about the authors and their works in the Our Books section of The Big Read website.

Click here to enter your city, state, or zip code to find out what your community is reading, find a “real life” book club or online discussions.

Curious what titles up for discussion? Here are just a few of the selections, ranging from new works to classics:

alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

bless_me

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

antonia

My Antonia by Willa Cather

dickinson

The Poetry of Emily Dickinson

 


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