“Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.”
The cars of the migrant people crawled out of the side roads onto the great cross-country highway, and they took the migrant way to the West. In the daylight they scuttled like bugs to the westward; and as the dark caught them, they clustered like bugs near to shelter and to water. And because they were lonely and perplexed, because they had all come from a place of sadness and worry and defeat, and because they were all going to a new mysterious place, they huddled together; they talked together; they shared their lives, their food, and the things they hoped for in the new country. Thus it might be that one family camped near a spring, and another camped for the spring and for company, and a third because two families had pioneered the place and found it good. And when the sun went down, perhaps twenty families and twenty cars were there.
In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.
Where: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 121 Wall St., New Haven
Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series
Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection
Celebrated for his powerful and carefully crafted poems, Komunyakaa has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Louisiana Writers Award. About his work, the poet Toi Derricotte wrote for the Kenyon Review, “[Yusef Komunyakaa] takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” The Beinecke Library acquired the papers of Yusef Komunyakaa in 2014.
Today is the birthday of the man known as “The O. Henry of Harlem,” American poet Langston Hughes (1902). In 1926, he was working as a busboy at a hotel in New York City when the poet Vachel Lindsay arrived for dinner. Hughes placed some poems under Lindsay’s dinner plate. Intrigued, Lindsay read them and asked who wrote them. Hughes stepped forward and said, “I did.” And that’s how he came to publish his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues (1926), at the age of 24.
When asked what he wrote about, Langston Hughes answered, “Workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago — people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter — and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.”
Feb. 27 is the birthday of writer John Steinbeck, whose great novel of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath, gives an eloquent and sympathetic voice to the dispossessed. In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” You can watch him deliver his Nobel speech above.
And for insights into how Steinbeck reached that pinnacle, you can read a collection of his observations on the art of fiction from the Fall, 1975 edition of The Paris Review, including six writing tips jotted down in a letter to a friend the same year he won the Nobel Prize. “The following,” Steinbeck writes, “are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.”
Here’s one way to become a better writer. Listen to the advice of writers who earn their daily bread with their pens. During the past week, lists of writing commandments by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard (above) and William Safire have buzzed around Twitter. (Find our Twitter stream here.) So we decided to collect them and add tips from a few other veterans — namely, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman.
And one tip from me: Don’t get too hung up on tips but write if that is what you want to do. Just write. Your style will develop. Your words will come out. Your story will come out. Try various things. Start at the end. Or start at the beginning. Try outlining if you’re comfortable with it. Or not. Do what comes naturally. If you like what you do, then you’ll find yourself trying to do more. If you don’t like what you do, then read a book and try it again when you feel you’re ready.
PARIS — Shakespeare and Company, the small, crumbling bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank, may be the most famous bookstore in the world.
It was the first place to publish the entirety of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” when no one else would, and for decades it has been an informal living room — and sometimes a bedroom — for many of the most revered figures in modern literature: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin.
This week, the staff of the multicolored storefront at 37 Rue de la Bucherie released a comprehensive history of the shop that originally opened at another location in 1919. The book was years in the making, nearly 400 pages of text, testimonies and photographs from the store’s sprawling archive, crammed in mismatched boxes in a closet three floors up an uneven staircase. Conceived as a “memoir” instead of a history, the project is essentially a rigorous attempt to explain what, exactly, Shakespeare and Company is.
I read ““Writing Without Teachers,” by Peter Elbow in college. One of the things he talks about is how a daily freewriting exercise can free the writer’s mind to write better. It involved writing for at least ten minutes and not stopping even to think of the next word you’re going to write. Not thinking of ideas. Not starting in one place and not going to another. So, I tried to get back into the practice, which I used to do regularly, today. Here is the result. Hope you enjoy.
Freewriting. Writing freely. Writing about freedom. Writing to free the thoughts and ideas that sit untapped, stored in a can of sardines on a pallet on a ship in the harbor, a ship with a name of mostly consonants, painted thickly with a reddish pink or pinkish red sea faring paint and stacked with a seemingly infinite variety of colored shipping containers that, once removed, once unpacked, are placed neatly on trucks and indeed become the containers on the trucks – MAERSK and other names that make me, even an adult, curious as to what they contain, where they come from, China probably, where they’re going, various Walmarts or Michael’s probably, how much they’re worth and if we really need them as if they are but another example of the freedom we hold so dear, the same freedom that holds so many others captive and economically enslaved so that we can enjoy our toilet bowl scrubbers, our Christmas ornaments, our multi-colored ink pens and infinite notepad designs like this one made “sustainably” from the waste of the sugar cane manufacturing process, made for and by Staples stores, but still, behind the sugar industry in Florida where maybe some of that material originates, is a political corruption that spoils millions of acres in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars that’s reported on in the Miami Herald but continues despite the corruption that holds migrant families hostage in the Land of the Free.
It’s the birthday of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who said, “I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of journalist.” That’s Gabriel García Márquez, born in Aracataca, Colombia, on this day in 1927. He’s the author of one of the most important books in Latin American literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).
He once said: “I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway … [but the] tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.’’
Khaled Hosseini said: “There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline […] You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”