February 27, 2018 – John Steinbeck, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays
Today is Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. It’s the birthday of writers John Steinbeck and Irwin Shaw. Also honored with birthdays today are poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Kenneth Koch. Longfellow’s “The Evening Star” is our poem for today. Thank you for reading and sharing Bidwell Hollow with others. Have a terrific Tuesday.
It’s the birthday of John Steinbeck (affiliate link), born in Salinas, CA., in 1902.
As a young man, Steinbeck took classes at Stanford University. He wrote in his spare time, and he worked manual labor jobs in the California sunshine.
Steinbeck published his first novel in 1929. Titled “Cup of Gold,” the work of historical fiction is about the life of 17th-century privateer Sir Henry Morgan. The book didn’t sell many copies.
Neither did Steinbeck’s next three books. But Steinbeck did achieve success with his fourth novel, “Tortilla Flat.” A movie based on the book released in 1942 starring Spencer Tracy.
That was the beginning of Steinbeck’s success. He drew on his working-man past in writing “In Dubious Battle” and “Of Mice and Men.” Both books focus on the plight of laborers. And both reinforced Steinbeck’s reputation as a significant author.
Steinbeck’s most notable achievement came with “The Grapes of Wrath.” The book published in 1940. It tells the story of a family fleeing Dust Bowl Oklahoma for California.
“The Grapes of Wrath” received the 1940 Pulitzer Prize. It’s sold over 14 million copies. And director John Ford turned the book into a film that’s today considered a classic.
Steinbeck continued producing work for most of his life. He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. At his Nobel Prize banquet, he said, “I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Also born today, in Portland, ME, in 1807, was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (affiliate link).
One of Longfellow’s grandfathers was a Revolutionary War hero. Longfellow’s father was a prominent attorney. And Longfellow’s parents expected that he, too, would practice law.
But the Portland of Longfellow’s youth was a place of sailors from foreign lands who spoke foreign tongues. He soaked-up the sailors’ stories, supplementing them with his reading of books such as “Robinson Crusoe.”
After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1825, Longfellow taught at Harvard and visited Europe. He released a little-read collection of sketches about his travels in 1835.
Longfellow then published his 1839 book, “Voices of the Night.” It contained poetry that captured readers’ attention. Poems such as “Hymn to the Night” and “A Psalm of Life” featured sing-songy rhymes and superb poetic meter.
In 1855, Longfellow produced the epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” It became an instant classic.
As did “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Longfellow’s poetic and fictionalized telling of Revere’s ride at the start of the Revolutionary War.
Today, critics attack Longfellow’s work for lacking depth. But it’s hard to argue that in his time, Longfellow made poetry accessible to millions of Americans.
Today is also the birthday of poet Kenneth Koch (affiliate link). He was born in 1925 in Cincinnati, OH.
As a student at Harvard, Koch met John Ashbery. Both wanted to be poets, and they kept in touch after Koch graduated and moved to New York City. It’s through Ashbery that Koch met Frank O’Hara, another aspiring poet.
By the 1950s, all three were in New York. There they became founding members of the poetic movement known today as the New York School.
The New York School took over from beatnik poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Like the Beat Generation, New York School poets were irreverent. But classical European literature influenced their writing. As did action painting, particularly the work of artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
For his part, Koch deployed satire and irony in his poems. Fellow poet David Lehman once called Koch “the funniest serious poet we have.”
In his life, Koch published 30 volumes of poetry. He also taught, at Columbia University for nearly 40 years, and in New York’s public schools. He wrote about his experience teaching poetry to kids in New York’s schools in 1970’s “Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry.” The book also includes some poems written by Koch’s students.
The many honors Koch received include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress.
Kenneth Koch passed away in 2002.
And it’s the birthday of Irwin Shaw (affiliate link), born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1913.
Shaw’s writing career began at 21 in New York, where he wrote radio scripts for shows such as “The Gumps” and “Dick Tracy.”
Soon, though, Shaw added movie writing to his resume. His first screenplay became the 1936 film “The Big Game.” The movie received mixed reviews.
Then in 1942, Shaw had his first hit with “The Talk of the Town.” It’s about a law professor and escaped convict competing for a schoolteacher’s affection. The movie earned seven Oscar nominations, including one for Shaw for Best Screenplay.
After World War II, Shaw produced his first novel, “The Young Lions.” The 1948 book tells the story of three soldiers in the war, two Americans and one German.
“The Young Lions” became a bestseller and a film starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin.
Shaw went on to write 12 novels, some which became bestsellers, such as 1969’s “Rich Man, Poor Man.” He also produced hundreds of short stories.
So popular was Shaw’s writing that at the end of 1981 over 14 million copies of his books were in print.
“The Evening Star”
Lo! in the painted oriel of the West,
Whose panes the sunken sun incarnadines,
Like a fair lady at her casement, shines
The evening star, the star of love and rest!
And then anon she doth herself divest
Of all her radiant garments, and reclines
Behind the sombre screen of yonder pines,
With slumber and soft dreams of love oppressed.
O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus!
My morning and my evening star of love!
My best and gentlest lady! even thus,
As that fair planet in the sky above,
Dost thou retire unto thy rest at night,
And from thy darkened window fades the light.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Public Domain