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:


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.

Mark Twain Study sepia

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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F. Scott Fitzgerald Says “Read This!”


F. Scott Fitzgerald was very ill in 1936 and was recovering at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina with the help of a private nurse.  In addition to his failing health, the author was struggling with the decision to commit his wife, Zelda, to a mental institution at a nearby hospital.  His essay about his own decline, The Crack-Up, had just been published in Esquire.  Here, Fitzgerald voices an incredibly sad awareness of his own decline:  “[M]y life had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt,” he wrote.

It didn’t seem that anything could go right that year.  Fitzgerald’s drinking had become increasingly problematic and he had significant money problems.  That summer, he “fractured his shoulder while diving into the hotel swimming pool, and sometime later, according to Michael Cody at the University of South Carolina’s Fitzgerald Web site, “he fired a revolver in a suicide threat, after which the hotel refused to let him stay without a nurse.” (Source)

Eventually, the hotel relented and allowed Fitzgerald to have an attendant, a woman named Dorothy Richardson, who, in addition to tending to his physical needs, had the unenviable task of keeping the writer from drinking too much.

The two developed a friendship during his convalescence. At one point, apparently Dorothy asked what she should read.  Here is the list Fitzgerald gave her, written in her own hand as he reeled off the titles and author’s names:


Here is a  more legible list.


The Best Laid Plans of Novelists

Ever wondered how some of your favorite authors tackled the crazy job of putting pen to paper and creating those stories you loved to read? Well, we’re here to tell you it’s not all magical. As you can see from these intricate spreadsheets and notes, crafting a novel takes a whole lot of careful planning. Just click on any of the following spreadsheets and scribbles for a closer look to find out.

This first is from none other than J. K. Rowling, who planned out all seven books of her Harry Potter series before she had even started writing the second. Here’s part of her plan for Order of the Phoenix:

In the columns, Rowling separates each chapter by its subplots; she lists, “Prophecy,” “O of P” (Order of the Phoenix), “Cho/Ginny” (the romantic subplot of the novel), “Snape,” and “Hagrid” as different story lines to help her keep track of the plot. For a zoomed in look at the detailed spreadsheet, click here.

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Well, Good Luck With That: “As I Lay Dying” Film Coming, Someday, Briefly, to a Theater Near You


So the other day I was looking up something on IMDB and saw a listing for As I Lay Dying.  Now, that is shocking enough, if you have ever read the novel. To me, at least, its stream-of-consciousness format is going to make things mighty difficult to put on screen.

Then add to that the fact that the very-beautiful-to-look at James Franco  is starring as Darl Bundren and I really scratch my head (Franco is also directing).  I suppose Franco has been trying to branch out beyond his Pineapple Express and rom-com roles. In 2010, he took on the rather daunting challenge of portraying Allen Ginsberg in Howl.  The reviews were mixed

IMDB offers this description of the…plot… of As I Lay Dying: ” it is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family’s quest to honor her wish to be buried in the nearby town of Jefferson.” 

That sounds simple enough! A quest, a burial, a family…But for those unfamiliar,  here’s a sample of some of Faulkner’s text, which is, if I recall properly, pretty representative of the entire novel:

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know where he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.”

I really enjoyed the novel but I did not find it an especially accessible or easy read. Nor was it meant to be, and that’s fine. But I truly wonder how it can make the jump to film.

So what audience is Franco hoping for? Us? The English Majors of the World? Well, that’s cool, I guess.  I hope its  target is not the general movie-going public. And I hope the work doesn’t get mangled trying to make the transition to film.

Just for grins, here are a couple of “1-Star Review” comments on the novel from Amazon:

  • First off I am baffled at how many people like this book. You know a book is written poorly when you have to go on [online]  just to figure out who the characters are and what the hell is going on. Clear is something this book is not. What is with the round about ways of saying things?
  • The book was absolutely awful. Not one person had any sensible thoughts. If someone came close to making sense, their thoughts were hard to follow with a different speaker each chapter. All i got out of this book was: don’t cross a river with a coffin, and bananas must be really tasty (the characters probably ate over 10 tons of them)
  • How a group of self-absorbed, uncaring nimrods comes to feel such a sense of duty to a dead woman that they would risk crossing a river, that has swelled its banks and swept away the only bridge, in a donkey lead cart is simply beyond me.
  • This book and all of Faulkners works are horrible and would not find a publisher if written in 2008. There is not an editor alive that would read past the first chapter of As I lay dying. It is a dud. There is no reason to read it. None. The story is not interesting. Faulkners “stream of consciousness” writing style is not interesting. Nothing about this book is worthwhile, except to say that you’ve read Faulkner. I can say that rereading this book again I did actually feel pain. I felt like crying, it was horrible.

The film is still in production. No release date has yet been set.

Eek, it’s Frankensteinbeck! And Other Literary Puns

I came across this fantastic gallery in the Rumpus today and had to share. The artist Timothy Lee Taranto illustrates literature’s most serious authors in a less than serious light. Check out our favorite, the “Vonnugget,” below, and many more. Happy Friday!

Light in February: Plantation Diary Find Sheds New Light on Faulkner Novels

For scholars, there is no bigger coup than finding new information that offers insight to a writer’s processes, character construction, or plot development.  Even if one is working with a lesser known writer, there is joy in discovery.  To find previously unknown information for an author as popular and extensively researched as William Faulkner is akin to finding a gem in a junkyard.

Sally Wolff-King is a professor and Southern literature scholar at Emory University. She appears to have found the ledger that Faulkner used as a model for the famous scene in Go Down, Moses in which the character Isaac McClassin opens his grandfather’s farm ledgers and discovers his family’s slave-owning past.  Many of the character names, used in this and other works, seem to have come from this ledger as well.

The diary/ledger belonged to Frances Terry Leak, a plantation owner. Leak’s great-grandson, Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a childhood friend of Faulkner’s, and the two men remained friendly throughout their lives.  Mr. Francisco’s son, now 79, recalls that Faulkner was a frequent guest in their home and had a keen interest in the ledgers.

Character names that appear in both the ledgers and Faulkner’s novels include Moses, Isaac, and Toney in Go Down, Moses, Caddy/Candace (Candis) and Ben in The Sound and the Fury and Old Rose, Henry,  Milly, and Ellen in Absalom, Absalom!.

Of particular interest to scholars is that Faulkner has given many of his white characters the names of slaves listed in the ledgers. Why did Faulkner do this?  Professor Wolff-King believes Faulkner is trying to “give the slaves a voice.”