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Willa CatherNovelist Willa Cather, best known for her stories about the settlers of the American frontier, was born on December 7, 1873 in Virginia. At the age of nine moved with her family to the Nebraska frontier.  Then, as a young woman she lived in Pittsburgh and made her name as a journalist there.  In 1906 she moved to New York after being recruited by Samuel McClure to write for his namesake muckraking magazine, McClure’s.  She resided in Greenwich Village from 1906 until 1927, and lived in New York until her death in 1947.
In the first few decades of the 20th century, Greenwich Village had a thriving bohemian and radical literary scene, including writers such as Theodore Dreiser and Edna St. Vincent Millay.  However, Cather remained aloof from this scene.  She was attracted to the Village’s European bohemianism, small-town domesticity, and laissez-faire attitude toward unconventional sexuality.  Yet she did not participate in the raucous party-hopping of the bohemian Village social life.
Her first place in the Village was a studio apartment at 60 Washington Square South.  In 1913 she moved with her companion Edith Lewis into an apartment at 5 Bank Street, where they stayed until it was torn down in 1927 to build the Seventh Avenue Subway.  She was managing editor of McClure’s for four years.  In 1912, after publication of her novel Alexander’s Bridge, Cather left McClure’s and devoted herself to creative writing.  It was while living at 5 Bank Street that Cather wrote her most famous novels.  Additionally, Cather’s short story “Coming, Aphrodite!,” originally published in H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s magazine Smart Set, is set in the Village and shows her dissatisfaction with the increasing bohemianism of the neighborhood.  It depicts a familiar Village resident, an aspiring artist who supported himself as a magazine illustrator while trying to launch his career.
Cather’s novels O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918) explore the stories of immigrant pioneers in Nebraska.  Cather won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for her novel One of Ours, which depicts a Nebraska native who goes to fight in WWI.  In 1927 she published what is widely considered to be her masterpiece, Death Comes for the Archbishop.  This tells the story of the establishment of the Catholic ministry in the Southwest.  Her other works include Song of the Lark (1915), Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920), A Lost Lady (1923), and Shadows on the Rock (1931).
She died on April 24, 1947 in her home at 570 Park Avenue at the age of 70.  Her work continues to be widely read and she is considered one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

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But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
Miles and miles above my head;
So here upon my back I’ll lie
And look my fill into the sky.
And so I looked, and, after all,
The sky was not so very tall.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
And — sure enough! — I see the top!
The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.

“Renascence” (1912), st. 3 Renascence and Other Poems (1917)

American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born on February 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine. When Millay was eight years old her parents separated. She was raised by her mother, Cora Millay, who influenced her interest in literature and poetry. In her twenties she attended Vassar, funded by a benefactor, before moving to New York City. Millay lived in Greenwich Village in the years following 1917 and was part of the same social circle as Theodore Dreiser. Millay was one of the most popular poets of her time and in 1923 won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Millay’s personality and the themes she explored in her poetry personified the spirit of America’s Bohemia.  The nymph of Greenwich Village, she defied convention and was determined to discover and declare a distinct identity for herself.  The theme of social and artistic revival that characterized the Bohemian Village can be seen in Millay’s poem “Renascence,” which she wrote at the age of 19. It was first published as a contest winner in the 1912 anthology The Lyric Year and became the centerpiece of Millay’s first collection, Renascence and Other Poems in 1917. Her second volume of poetry, A Few Figs from Thistles, was published in 1920. This collection includes the poem “Macdougal Street.” Shortly thereafter the collections Second April (1921) and The Ballad of the Harp Weaver (1922) were published. Later volumes include The Buck in the Snow (1928), Fatal Interview (1931), and Wine from These Grapes (1934).

In addition to being a poet, Millay was a playwright.  Her productions all took the form of poetry.  Her most popular play, Aria de Capo, debuted in 1919 with a performance by the Provincetown Players. Through this play, written shortly after World War I, Millay expressed her pacifist stance. The Provincetown Players, like Village troupes the Washington Square Players and the Theatre Guild, initiated and developed America’s “new theater.” Two years later, the Provincetown Players performed Millay’s Two Slatterns and a King. Before writing several plays, Millay acted for the first time with the Provincetown Players in Floyd Dell’s The Angel Intrudes.

Along with her poetry, Millay was famous for her activism and her bohemian, unconventional lifestyle. Though some of Millay’s earlier works, such as Aria de Capo, contain political themes, her work became increasingly political as she got older. Additionally, she became involved in contemporary issues such as the Sacco-Vanzetti case in 1927. Her many love affairs during the period in which she lived in the Village included Dell and the poets Arthur Davison Ficke and Witter Bynner. In 1923 she married Eugen Jan Boissevain. Together they bought their home “Steepletop” in Austerlitz, NY, where Millay died at the age of 58.

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Theodore Dreiser (1917)This week is banned books week, an annual event highlighting the value of free and open access to information.  Resident of Greenwich Village and novelist Theodore Dreiser dealt with censorship with several of his books, including his most famous: Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).  Dreiser’s writing was part of the literary movement naturalism, which was a grittier form of realism.  Its defining characteristic is its portrayal of people as passive victims of natural forces and their social environment.

Dreiser was born on August 17, 1871, in Terre Haute, Indiana.  While he was growing up, his poverty-stricken family frequently moved between small towns in Indiana and Chicago.  He studied at Indiana University, Bloomington for the 1889-1890 academic year before dropping out to become a journalist.  Dreiser first inhabited Greenwich Village in 1894, as a resident in a dingy hotel on Bleecker Street.  The next two years saw him return to the Village for brief stays as he traveled widely as a journalist and novelist.  Dreiser finally settled down in the Village in 1914 when he moved into an apartment at 165 West 10th Street.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Greenwich Village started to attract a “new type” of resident.  This included artists, journalists, and professional people.  Thus the Village in this period had thriving literary, artistic, and radical scenes.  These early Village residents made up a relatively tight-knit group. They hung out together, criticized each other’s writing, and felt a common bond keeping them together against the outside world.  This literary scene and Greenwich Village institutions were a major part of Dreiser’s life and work while he lived there.  During the day he would walk in Washington Square Park and browse in the 8th Street Bookshop.  In the evenings he would attend the productions of local theater companies.  His mistress, Kirah Markham, often performed with the Provincetown Playerrs.  The Washington Square Players performed some of Dreiser’s plays.  Floyd Dell, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, Margaret Sanger, Hutch Hapgood, and Emma Goldman are just some of the names that made up Dreiser’s New York social circle.

Many of Dreiser’s novels were composed at least partly in New York.  Sister Carrie, a novel about a young woman from a small town who moves to Chicago.  In the big city, she pursues the American Dream by becoming a mistress to men and then an actress.  However, Doubleday, its publisher, limited the novel’s advertising because the central character’s “morality” goes unpunished.  Consequently, not many copies of the book sold.  In 1916, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice forced Dreiser’s newly published novel The Genius off the market for being blasphemous and obscene.  Dreiser’s friends in Greenwich Village signed the many petitions that he circulated in his campaign against the Society.  The 1925 publication of An American Tragedy, about a murder case, brought Dreiser his greatest critical and commercial success.  Dreiser died on December 28, 1945, at the age of 74, in Hollywood, California.

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–One of the exhibits created by students in the Creating Digital History course.–

A Cluster of Characters: The Pleiades Club

by Caitlyn Hahn

The Pleiades Club was a social club in New York City from the late 19th century until the late 1930s focused on the arts. Despite its humble beginnings the Pleiades Club became quite popular and boasted both famous members and guests.

To see this exhibit, go to: http://aphdigital.org/GVH/exhibits/show/pleiadesclub

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–One of the exhibits created by students in the Creating Digital History course.–

The Dial in the Village

by Scott Young

The Dial was a literary magazine that published innovative poetry, prose, and other works on paper from 1920-1929. Its editorial offices and many of its most notable contributors lived and worked in the avant-garde neighborhood of Greenwich Village.

To see this exhibit, go to http://aphdigital.org/GVH/exhibits/show/dial

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