Browsing the archives for the writers' lives category.

Nabokov’s papers to be unsealed June 23

archives, canon, writers' lives


UPDATE [6/25/09]: The Library of Congress has posted a press release. [via Maud Newton]


The Library of Congress Manuscripts Division has two 20+ containers of Vladimir Nabokov’s papers under seal. Tomorrow, June 23, 2009, the restrictions set by his son are scheduled to expire, meaning that this set of papers will be completely available to the public.

To see the papers, you must go to the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room. I can give more details to anyone interested. If you peruse these papers and post something about them, please let me know.

A list of restricted collections at the Library is available at my other site, The Memory Hole.

{Thanks to Mike Ravnitzky for the heads-up.}

Harper Lee’s amazing friends

canon, writers' lives

In Who the Hell Is Pansy O’Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books, we find this about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

In 1957 Lee submitted a manuscript to J.B. Lippincott Company. However, the author might never have completed her novel if not for a generous gift of money from friends the year before. Witnessing her dedication to her craft, friends pooled their cash and gave Lee the best Christmas present of her life — a note attached to the envelope read, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

Note to my friends: This is not a hint for you to do the same thing. Really. Don’t even try. Unless you really, really want to. But otherwise, nope.

Dostoevsky on almost dying

death, the "on" series, writers' lives

dostoevskyIn 1849 Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested, along with the rest of the informal, progressive/revolutionary Petrashevsky Circle, which opposed the serf system and Tsarist rule. The members were to be executed - shot by a firing squad in threes. Dosty was in the second grouping, and as he watched the guns point at the first three, waiting for his turn, a stay of execution was given (they would be sent to hard labor in Siberia).

Upon returing to his cell, he wrote a letter to his brother. It read, in part:

When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul - then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness!

I am neither downhearted nor discouraged. Life is everywhere, life is in ourselves, not in the exterior. I shall have human beings around me, and to be a man among men and to remain one always, not to lose heart and not to give in no matter what occurs - that is what life is, that is its task, I have become aware of this. This idea has entered into my life and blood.

{quotes from Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal , 1850-1859.}

See also: Katherine Anne Porter on almost dying

Katherine Anne Porter on almost dying

death, the "on" series, writers' lives

In October 1918, Katherine Anne Porter nearly died from the Spanish flu during the pandemic. In a 1963 interview, she said:

It just simply divided my life, cut across it like that. So that everything before that was just getting ready, and after that I was in some strange way altered, ready. It took me a long time to go out and live in the world again. I was really ‘alienated,’ in the pure sense. It was, I think, the fact that I really had participated in death, that I knew what death was, and had almost experienced it. I had what the Christians call the ‘beatific vision,’ and the Greeks called the ‘happy day,’ the happy vision just before death. Now if you have had that, and survived it, come back from it, you are no longer like other people, and there’s no use deceiving yourself that you are.

Sing it, sister.

Jack London’s credo … or is it?

canon, writers' lives

In the house I grew up in, the fridge displayed - among some dog magnets and local pizza-joint numbers - a copy of Jack London’s credo, which I still love:

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

london-jackWhen I went searching for this text online, I noticed that no one was attributing it to a specific work, letter, etc. Red flag. The Jack London Online Collection at Sonoma State has done the detective work.

Bottom line: London informally wrote the first sentence. He might’ve spoken the whole credo, but all we have is an account from one reporter.The full passage has many marks of London’s style–its directness, its rhythm, its diction–to persuade that it is authentic.”

“Howl” movie

art/graphics, free speech & censorship, movies, poetry, writers' lives

A movie about Ginsberg’s “Howl” is officially underway:

“Howl” is a genre-expanding feature-length exploration of the courtroom drama of the obscenity trial over Allen Ginsberg’s poem, as well as an animated re-imagining of the poem.

James Franco stars as Ginsberg; Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are directing; Gus Van Sant is co-executive producer.

illuminated-poemsThe Ginsberg Project reports that the film’s animated version of the poem is being done by Eric Drooker, who graphically adapted “Howl” and other works from Ginzy in the book Illuminated Poems.

NOT “e. e. cummings”

canon, poetry, writers' lives

cummingsNorman Friedman definitively buries “the cutesy-pooh notion” that E. E. Cummings’ name is supposed to be written “e. e. cummings” (or “e.e. cummings” or “e e cummings” or “ee cummings”).

NOT “e. e. cummings”

Not “e. e. cummings” Revisited

Kurt Vonnegut’s letter home

war, writers' lives

vonnegutAt the Internet Archive, a scan of the now-famous letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to friends and family after being liberated from Dresden.

Text of the letter is here. Background here.

Great minds….

the "on" series, writers' lives

flaubert“How true it is that concern with morality makes every work of the imagination false and stupid!”

–Gustave Flaubert, 1854


picasso“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

–Pablo Picasso, c. 1957


Sources. Flaubert: letter to Louise Colet, January 2, 1854, in Madame Bovary: A Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited by Margaret Cohen, p 308. Letter translated from the French by Francis Steegmuller. Picasso: Quote Magazine, March 24, 1957. Cited here.

Bolaño on dreams, death, Huck, Dick, and favorite books

fiction, poetry, the "on" series, writers' lives

bolanoBelow are extracts from “The Savage Detective,” a long look at Roberto Bolaño by his friend, the Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresán. Published in The Believer, March 07 (only a small portion is available online). Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

“Then what is quality writing? The same thing it’s always been: knowing how to stick your head into the dark, knowing how to leap into the void, knowing that literature is basically a dangerous profession.”

“Writers are worthless. Literature is worthless. Literature only exists for literature’s sake. That’s enough for me.”

“Dreams are like psychiatrists, curing you every night.”

“I’d rather not die, of course. But sooner or later the great lady comes. The problem is that sometimes she’s no lady, never mind great, but a hot slut, as the poet Nicanor Parra says, which is enough to make even the bravest man’s teeth chatter.”

[O]ne of his recurring ideas was his suspicion that he had died ten years earlier, in a hospital in Gerona, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of pancreatitis, and that everything that had happened to him in the last decade - children and wife and books - was just his final hallucination, the merciful prolongation of the last seconds of a dying man. On more than one occasion, Bolaño confessed that he wished he were “a fantasy writer, like Philip K. Dick.” And it’s clear that Bolaño’s foremention obsession is an obviously and perfectly Dickian obsession.

Bolaño himself thought of The Savage Detectives as belonging to the genre of roman-fleuve and wrote, “I think I see it as yet another reading of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of the many that have followed in its wake; the Mississippi of The Savage Detectives is the flow of voices in the second part of the novel.”

Fresán also relates Bolaño’s favorite books:


Don Quixote

Satyricon (Petronius)

“the complete works of Borges”

A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)

Life: A User’s Manual (Perec)

The Trial and The Castle (Kafka)

Hopscotch (Cortázar)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein)

the works of Philip K. Dick, especially Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb

James Joyce’s lust letters

sex, writers' lives

I’m not sure how long they’ve been online, but James Joyce’s lust letters have recently been getting some notice in the blogosphere.

I wrote about them in my book The Disinformation Book of Lists: Subversive Facts and Hidden Information in Rapid-fire Format, specifically in the list “12 Erotic Works by Well-Known Writers”:


Although his works stirred up trouble because of some racy passages, it’s his letters to his common-law wife Nora Barnacle that are downright filthy. So filthy, in fact, that Joyce’s literary estate has sworn that they will never again be published. But they were published around 40 ago in The Selected Letters of James Joyce. If you can get your hands on a copy, you’ll read things like “my dirty little fuckbird!” “pull out my mickey and suck it like a teat,” “I would love to be whipped by you,” “the heavy smell of your behind,” and “a little brown stain on the seat of your white drawers.” Yep, Joyce reveled in the sound and smell of Nora’s farts and turds. “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere,” he wrote on December 8, 1909. “I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.”

On December 2, 1909, he explained to Nora the twin feelings of love that he has for her—the spiritual side and the earthy, physical side:

It allows me to burst into tears of pity and love at some slight word, to tremble with love for you at the sounding of some chord or cadence of music or to lie heads and tales with you feeling your fingers fondling and tickling my ballocks or stuck up in my behind and your hot lips sucking off my cock while my head is wedged in between your fat thighs, my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt.

These gloriously filthy, unashamed missives are truly some of the best erotic writing I’ve ever read. Joyce’s literary genius, his raging horniness, and his devotion to Nora are a combination that can never be beat. It’s a crying shame that his heirs now deprive the world of such high-caliber smut.


Flaubert on writing Madame Bovary

canon, the "on" series, writers' lives

I feel like a man who has fucked too much (forgive me for the expression) - a kind of rapturous lassitude.

flaubertFrom a letter Flaubert wrote to the poet and novelist Louise Colet, his sometime-lover, on December 23, 1853, at 2 AM:

I must write to you tonight, for I am exhausted. My head feels as though it were being squeezed in an iron vise. Since two o’-clock yesterday afternoon (except for about twenty-five minutes for dinner), I have been writing Bovary. I am in the midst of lovemaking: I am sweating and my throat is tight. This has been one of the rare days of my life passed completely in illusion from beginning to end. At six o’-clock this evening, as I was writing the word “hysterics,” I was so swept away, was bellowing so loudly and feeling so deeply what my little Bovary was going through, that I was afraid of having hysterics myself. I got up from my table and opened the window to calm myself. My head was spinning. Now I have great pains in my knees, in my back, and in my head. I feel like a man who has fucked too much (forgive me for the expression) - a kind of rapturous lassitude. And since I am in the midst of love it is only proper that I should not fall asleep before sending you a caress, a kiss, and whatever thoughts are left in me. …

Source: Madame Bovary: A Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited by Margaret Cohen, p 307. Letter translated from the French by Francis Steegmuller.

Dementia Praecox Fitzgerald

humor, writers' lives

After Zelda Fitzgerald was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized, she wrote to Scott that if she were released, “We shall have all the children we can, and call them Dementia Praecox Fitzgerald–Dear, how gruesome!”

Source: Modernism on File: Writers, Artists, and the FBI 1920-1950

Dickens sold his soul for rock ‘n’ roll

canon, writers' lives

dickensIn her introduction to Oliver Twist (Barnes & Noble edition, 2003), Jill Muller talks about Charles Dickens’ wild public performances and the toll they took:

During the last decade of his life, Dickens toured England, Ireland, and America, giving public readings of favorite sections from his novels. “Sikes and Nancy,” based on chapter XLVII of Oliver Twist, was a particular favorite of both author and audience. While Dickens’s rendition of Nancy’s brutal murder sent audiences into fits of screaming and fainting, a physician waited back stage to monitor the ailing author’s pulse rate. Dickens’s friend and biographer John Forster speculated that the energy and fervor with which Dickens threw himself into these performances may have contributed to his early death from heart disease in 1870.

In the endnote for that chapter, Muller writes:

Dickens’s dramatic rendering of this scene became the most celebrated of his public readings, and one in which the author clearly took a ghoulish glee. His son and some of his friends believed that the emotional intensity of Dickens’s frequent performances of “Sikes and Nancy” contributed to his early death.

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • quote

    Reality is not always probable, or likely.



    April 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Aug