February 2, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. It’s Groundhog Day in Canada and the United States. And it’s the birthday of writers and poets James Joyce, Ayn Rand, William Rose Benét, and James Dickey. Joyce’s “Song” is our poem for today. Our weekend post and podcast will publish tomorrow morning. Thank you for reading, listening to, and following Bidwell Hollow.
Born today in Dublin in 1882 was James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (affiliate link).
“Ulysses” may be the work for which Joyce is most known. But if not for a judge’s decision, the book may never have been published in the U.S.
“Ulysses” first published in France on Joyce’s birthday in 1922. The book follows one man, Leopold Bloom, over the course of one June day in Dublin.
After it published in Paris, a U.S. literary magazine, The Little Review, printed excerpts from “Ulysses.” The U.S. Post Office Department banned copies of the magazine, deeming the excerpts to be obscene. The U.S. Customs Service followed in 1928 by banning the book from the country.
Bootleg copies of “Ulysses” were produced, though. Some claimed “Ulysses” was as available in the U.S. as liquor, despite Prohibition.
Then Bennett Cerf, who ran a six-year-old publishing company called Random House, met Joyce in Paris in 1932. Cerf offered the author $1,500 for the rights to publish “Ulysses” in the U.S. The deal was contingent on Cerf fighting the ban on “Ulysses.”
Which Cerf did. He arranged to have a copy of “Ulysses” brought into the U.S., where Customs officials confiscated it in New York.
The case came before U.S. District Court Judge John Woolsey. The judge spent a month reading the book. He then came back with a decision that read, in part, “in spite of its unusual frankness, I do not detect anywhere the leer of the sensualist. I hold, therefore, that it is not pornographic.”
Woolsey’s ruling came on Dec. 6, 1933, the day after Prohibition ended in the U.S.
Random House issued its first copies of “Ulysses” on Jan. 20, 1934. It was the first time the book had been legally printed in English.
William Rose Benét
It’s the birthday of poet William Rose Benét (affiliate link), born in Brooklyn in 1886. He was the older brother of writer and poet Stephen Vincent Benét. He was also married to poet Elinor Wylie until her death in 1928.
Benét published several poetry collections, beginning with his first, “Merchants From Cathay,” in 1913. He also contributed poems and short stories to The New Yorker from 1926-1940.
And in 1942, Benét won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his autobiographical work, “The Dust Which is God.”
But Benét may be most known for two other contributions he made to literature.
Benét helped found the Saturday Review of Literature in 1927. It published book reviews and many literary critics read it. The weekly magazine became the Saturday Review in 1952.
And Benét in 1948 published “The Reader’s Encyclopedia.” It’s a reference book containing literary awards, biographies of writers, playwrights, poets, and more. A fifth edition of “The Reader’s Encyclopedia” published in 2008.
Also born today, in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, was Ayn Rand (affiliate link).
After university, Rand decided she wanted to be a screenwriter. She left Communist Russia in 1926 to learn about the film industry in America.
Rand first arrived in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles. There she worked in a film studio’s wardrobe department while writing in her free time.
One of the pieces she wrote was a play, “Night of January 16th.” The play made it to Broadway, and Rand left LA for New York to oversee its production.
Rand’s first novel, “We the Living” (1936), reflected what she saw as the evils of Soviet collectivism. The book provided a hint of where Rand’s future work would lead.
Where Rand went next was “The Fountainhead” (1943). It’s about an architect who doesn’t bend to the conventional practices of his industry. Rand uses the story to show the power of the individual against collectivist society.
“The Fountainhead” became a bestseller. But Rand’s biggest success arrived with “Atlas Shrugged” (1957). It’s the story of a United States nearing collapse due to collectivism. In the book, Rand affirms her philosophy as “objectivism,” the idea that man’s happiness is the moral purpose of his life.
Rand’s writing gathered a following that continues still today. Some business leaders and conservatives see in Rand’s philosophy a justification for their work and beliefs.
And today is the birthday of poet and writer James Dickey (affiliate link). He was born in 1928 in Buckhead, GA.
You may know Dickey as the writer of the novel “Deliverance” (1970). It’s about four men from Atlanta who fight for their lives in the mountains of northern Georgia.
Dickey spent 10 years working on “Deliverance.” He used his personal outdoor experiences, as well as tales from his friends, in writing it.
The book became a 1972 movie starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, and Ned Beatty. Dickey wrote the film’s screenplay, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.
His success with “Deliverance” aside, Dickey always considered himself a poet more than a novelist. He won a National Book Award for his volume “Buckdancer’s Choice” (1962). He served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1966-1968. And he read an original poem at President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Inauguration gala in 1977.
Dickey said, “Poetry is, I think, the highest medium that mankind has ever come up with.”
My love is in a light attire
Among the apple trees,
Where the gay winds do most desire
To run in companies.
There, where the gay winds stay to woo
The young leaves as they pass,
My love goes slowly, bending to
Her shadow on the grass.
And where the sky’s a pale blue cup
Over the laughing land,
My love goes lightly, holding up
Her dress with dainty hand.
– James Joyce, Public Domain