Today is Tuesday, April 17, 2018. It’s the birthday of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder. Also celebrating birthdays today are writers Cynthia Ozick and Nick Hornby. Amy Levy’s “At a Dinner Party” is today’s poem. Remember, you can submit a poem for possible publishing here on Bidwell Hollow. Visit BidwellHollow.com for more.
It’s the birthday of a writer who displayed the goodness of man through the lives of everyday people. That’s Thornton Wilder (affiliate link), born in Madison, WI, in 1897.
The experience inspired Wilder to write his first novel, “The Cabala,” which was published in 1926. It’s the story of a young American visiting 20th century Rome, his friend Blair, and a devastating relationship Blair has with a princess.
“The Cabala” sold 5,000 copies, not bad for a first-time writer at that time.
But in 1927 Wilder produced “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” The book, his second, was the top-selling book of 1928. It sold over 200,000 copies and netted Wilder a Pulitzer Prize.
Wilder delivered seven novels in his lifetime, all but his first were best sellers.
It’s in theater, though, that Wilder established his most-lasting legacy. He wrote three plays before creating “Our Town.”
Set in fictional Grover’s Corners, NH, the three-act play uses few props and features a character who speaks to the audience. These characteristics became Wilder trademarks.
And Wilder became when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Our Town,” the first person to win a Pulitzer in Fiction and Drama. It’s a distinction he holds still today.
Wilder’s other plays include “The Matchmaker,” “Infancy,” and “The Skin of Our Teeth.” It’s for the latter that the playwright won his third and final Pulitzer.
Much of Cynthia Ozick’s (affiliate link) writing focuses on the Jewish American middle-class experience.
Ozick, born on this date in New York City in 1928, produced several works focused on what it means to be Jewish in contemporary America. She published her first novel, “Trust,” in 1966. It’s a lengthy book about a wealthy Jewish American woman who rejects her family and searches for her father in Europe.
The Holocaust’s psychological impact is the focus of other Ozick works, including 1982’s “Levitation: Five Fictions” and 1989’s “The Shawl.”
“Levitation” is a collection of short stories, one of several short story volumes Ozick wrote.
Along with fiction, Ozick produced essays. Her essay collections include “Art & Ardor” and “The Din in the Head.”
In 1999, an interviewer asked writer David Foster Wallace which writers moved him. He answered by calling Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Ozick as the country’s best living writers.
While teaching in London, Nick Hornby (affiliate link) started up a freelance journalism career. Among the publications publishing his work were GQ and The New Yorker.
And then Hornby put together a collection of essays about his devotion to the Arsenal Football Club. That book, “Fever Pitch,” published in 1992. It became a best seller and the basis for two films.
In 1997, the first “Fever Pitch” movie released in the United Kingdom. And a U.S. version came out in 2005.
Instead of supporting a soccer team, though, the male lead in the American film is a Boston Red Sox fan. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore starred.
Other Hornby books that became films are “High Fidelity,” “About a Boy,” and “A Long Way Down.”
And Hornby, born on this date in Redhill, England, in 1957, adapted for film “Wild.” That’s Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Hornby also wrote screenplays for the movies “An Education” and “Brooklyn.” He received Oscar nominations for the latter two films.
Actors such as Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Grant, John Cusack, and Laura Dern have played characters created by Hornby.
When asked about the difference between novel writing and screenwriting, Hornby described writing screenplays as dispiriting. He said, “You spend an awful lot of time…thinking: what is the point of this? And then things get made and turn out well and you think: gosh, that was the point.”
“At a Dinner Party”
With fruit and flowers the board is decked,
The wine and laughter flow;
I’ll not complain—could one expect
So dull a world to know?
You look across the fruit and flowers,
My glance your glances find.—
It is our secret, only ours,
Since all the world is blind.
– Amy Levy (1861-1889), Public Domain