Welcome to the May 24-27, 2018 edition of Bidwell Hollow. Birthdays in this episode include the writer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, authors Michael Chabon and Margaret Forster, and poet Maxwell Bodenheim. Our poem is by Emerson. It’s titled, “Fable.” In the U.S., we’re on the precipice of the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer. Have a safe weekend. And thank you for reading.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1831, a Unitarian minister found himself unable to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The minister was in grief. He’d recently lost his young bride to tuberculosis.Photo of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Confronted with a crisis of faith, the minister resigned his position. The following year he sailed to Europe, where he visited with Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle and writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Walter Savage Landor.

The former minister then returned to the United States and started challenging traditional ways of thinking.

This man, Ralph Waldo Emerson (affiliate link), published a book in 1836 titled, “Nature.” The work summarizes Emerson’s philosophy, which became known as Transcendentalism. Transcendentalists believe that everything is connected to a larger whole.

Emerson argued that nature is a manifestation of the soul and that man possesses within himself all knowledge. He popularized the phrase, “trust thyself,” in dictating his Transcendentalist views. The motto became a guiding principle for others, including Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller.

Emerson’s writings include two collections of essays, titled, “Essays, First and Second Series,” and a book of poetry, titled, “Poems.”

And he delivered speeches that remain fixtures in the canon of American literature. Emerson’s best-known addresses are The American Scholar, given in 1837, and The Divinity School Address.

Emerson was born May 25, 1803, in Boston, MA. He died of pneumonia in 1882.

Michael Chabon

Cover of Michael Chabon's, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
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Michael Chabon’s (affiliate link) first novel netted him a six-figure advance. The book, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” was published in 1988. It became a bestseller.

Then Chabon worked on his second novel. It didn’t go well. He wrote 1,500 pages over five years and still didn’t have a finished manuscript.

That’s when Chabon changed gears. He wrote a book about a writer struggling to write a novel.

Chabon finished the novel in seven months. “Wonder Boys” came out in 1995.

For his next project, Chabon wrote a story about two Jewish comic book creators in the 1940s. That novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” netted Chabon a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

Chabon’s other books include “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” “Moonglow,” and “Summerland.”

Chabon was born on this date in Washington, DC, in 1963.

Margaret Forster

Cover of Margaret Forster's, "Lady's Maid."
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Margaret Forster (affiliate link) was born on this date in 1938 in Carlisle, England. She’s the author of books such as “Georgy Girl” and “Mother Can You Hear Me?.”

Female protagonists dealing with love and loss and family were mainstays of Forster’s novels. And Forster wrote non-fiction, including a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and a book about women who were involved in the Feminist movement.

When asked why she frequently wrote about families, Forster said, “I don’t think there’s a more serious subject in the world. The family is the basic building block of society.”

Forster died in 2016. Ten months after her death, her husband, author Hunter Davies, discovered Forster’s diaries.

Every day for years, Forster wrote at least 500 words in her diary. When she died, the journal comprised 11 volumes of over one million words.

Maxwell Bodenheim

May 26 is the birthday of a poet who rose to prominence in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1920s.Photo of Maxwell Bodenheim.

Maxwell Bodenheim (affiliate link) was born in 1893 in Hermanville, MS. He came to New York at the end of the 1920s. By that time, he’d already published some poetry and novels.

And Bodenheim had feuded with the writer Ben Hecht when the two had lived in Chicago. For a couple of years, the men edited a literary magazine in Chicago, but that ended when they had a falling out.

In New York City, Bodenheim helped lead the Modernist movement in American poetry. He produced several poetry collections, including 1946’s, “Selected Poems, 1914-1944.”

Shortly after World War II, though, Bodenheim’s productivity decreased. He and his wife, Ruth, became homeless. The poet resorted to peddling his poetry in bars.

Bodenheim and Ruth were murdered in February 1954 by a man who was discharged from the U.S. Army for being “mentally unfit.”

Hecht, Bodenheim’s former antagonist, paid for Bodenheim’s funeral.


“Fable”

The mountain and the squirrel   

Had a quarrel;   

And the former called the latter ‘Little Prig.’

Bun replied,   

‘You are doubtless very big;          

But all sorts of things and weather   

Must be taken in together,   

To make up a year   

And a sphere.   

And I think it no disgrace   

To occupy my place.   

If I’m not so large as you,   

You are not so small as I,   

And not half so spry.   

I’ll not deny you make   

A very pretty squirrel track;   

Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;   

If I cannot carry forests on my back,   

Neither can you crack a nut.’

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Public Domain

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