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Apr 16, 2021 - AP Literature    Comments Off on The Great Okeechobee Hurricane

The Great Okeechobee Hurricane

palm beach

The central historical event of Their Eyes Were Watching God is the Great Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. The hurricane had already wreaked havoc across the Caribbean, most notably on the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. The storm made landfall in South Florida on September 17 in Palm Beach County. The internal pressure of the storm was 929 millibars, with wind speeds of around 145 mph, ranking it sixth on the list of most intense storms to hit the United States. Only four storms have made landfall in Florida with higher wind speeds: the unnamed hurricane of 1919, the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Charley in 2004. The Saffir-Simpson scale that divides hurricanes into categories had not yet been invented, but based on these measurements, the Great Okeechobee hurricane would have made landfall in Florida at Category 4.

map2Although the storm caused a great deal of property damage in Palm Beach and other coastal areas, the real devastation happened as the storm moved inland over Lake Okeechobee (Okeechobee is a Seminole word for “big water”). Strong rains in the weeks before the storm had raised the water level in the lake. Storm winds drove water to the south end of the lake, and in two locations, the levee surrounding the lake broke.

In his book Okeechobee Hurricane, Lawrence E. Will described the flood this way:

The period of the lull here had apparently been between 8:30 and 9:30 that night. The exact time of the breaking of the dike is difficult to determine. There were several breaks and they may have occurred at slightly different times. Although it took an appreciable time for the flood to arrive in Belle Glade, those in the hotel said that when it did arrive, it rose on the steps at the rate of an inch a minute. The highest crest, which was during the maximum velocity of the wind during the second phase of the storm, was, according to my recollection, at 10:20 PM. This crest was a rolling swell of short duration, after which the water fell about a foot and remained nearly constant for twenty minutes. This mark in Belle Glade was about seven feet above the ground, nearer the lake it was a great deal higher, for example, in Stein’s house at Chosen, 11 feet 3 inches, and on Torry (Island) 11 feet, 8 inches, and similar heights in South Bay. As the flood advanced, it necessarily fanned out, becoming shallower. At the (University of Florida) Experiment Station its maximum depth was three feet, and that, strangely enough, according to foreman Tedder, was after daylight.

caneAs the category 4 hurricane moved inland, the strong winds piled the water up at the south end of the lake, ultimately topping the levee and rushing out onto the fertile land. The storm surge alone was nearly ten feet. The floodwaters in Belle Glade, on the southern shore of the lake, rose at a rate of one inch per minute and nearly topped seven feet. Thousands of people, mostly non-white migrant farm workers, drowned as water several feet deep spread over an area approximately 6 miles deep and 75 miles long around the south end of the lake.

The initial death toll set by the Red Cross was just under 2,000 people. However, that number most likely minimized the actual loss of life in order to prevent a negative effect on tourism to the state. The fact that most of the dead were migrant workers also played a part. The National Weather Service set the official death toll at more than 2,500* in 2003. The asterisk exists because the true death toll is unknown. Many of the bodies of the migrant workers were washed into the Everglades and never recovered. This storm was the second most devastating in terms of loss of life in U.S. history, ranking behind the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.

The burial scenes depicted in Their Eyes Were Watching God illustrate the difficulty in dealing with the huge loss of life, animal and human, and the necessity of burying so many in the short time required by Florida’s heat and humidity. They also call into attention the additional effect that segregation had on the tragedy. Whites were buried first, as many in private graves as possible until the heat demanded other measures. Blacks were more likely to have been interred in mass graves. Separate memorial services were held for white and black victims. Markers commemorating the mass burials may be found in West Palm Beach, one at Woodlawn Cemetery, where nearly 70 whites were buried, and another close to the intersection of 25th Street and Tamarind Avenue which marks the resting place of nearly 700 blacks. This marker is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

800px-Mass_Grave_020

Liz Doup’s story in the Broward Sun-Sentinel discusses the human cost of the hurricane, including interviews from survivors. Read the story here.

Information from:
Hurricanes: Science and Society, http://www.hurricanescience.org/history/storms/1920s/Okeechobee/
Memorial Page for the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/?n=okeechobee

Apr 9, 2021 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Up on the Porch: The Center of Town Life

Up on the Porch: The Center of Town Life

porch

Their Eyes Were Watching God begins with Janie’s return to Eatonville, told primarily through the onlookers gathered on the porch in front of Joe Starks’s store: “It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.”

Throughout the Eatonville section of the novel, the porch serves as the center of town life. It’s the place to go for a game of checkers or a cold drink on a hot day, the one place you want to be to hear the news, swap stories, “play the dozens,” and gossip. “When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice.” (Chapter 6)

Janie realizes the importance of the porch as a way to integrate fully into the life of the town. Jody’s determination to keep her in the store reinforces his belief of her as something better than the rest of the townswomen, the “bell cow” whose prominence complements his own.

Porches serve as a touchstone in much of Hurston’s work, like her story “Sweat” and her novel Seraph on the Suwanee. In her autobiography Dust Tracks on A Road, Hurston recounted her early experiences in Eatonville:

“I know that Joe Clarke’s store was the heart and spring of the town. Men sat around the store on boxes and benches and passed this world and the next one through their mouths. The right and the wrong, the who, when and why was passed on, and nobody doubted the conclusions…For me, the store porch was the most interesting place that I could think of. I was not allowed to sit around there, naturally. But, I could and did drag my feet going in and out whenever I was sent there…But what I really loved to hear was the menfollks holding a “lying” session. That is, straining against each other in telling folktales. God, Devil, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Sis Cat, Brer Bear, Lion, Tiger, Buzzard, and all the wood folk walked and talked like natural men.”

As a cultural anthropologist, Hurston certainly knew the connections between the stories and folktales she heard on those porches and those of West Africa. Trickster tales of Anansi the Spider migrated across the Middle Passage and found new homes in the American South, Anansi becoming the fabled trickster Brer Rabbit (and his Brooklyn-accented descendant, Bugs Bunny) and the porch taking the place of the talking stool reserved for the tribal chief.

The Act I Setting of Mule Bone, written in 1930 by Langston Hughes and Hurston from her story “A Bone of Contention,” describes how the porch should look.

SETTING: The raised porch of JOE CLARKE’s Store and the street in front. Porch stretches almost completely across the stage, with a plank bench at either end. At the center of the porch three steps leading from street. Rear of porch, center, door to store. On either side are single windows on which signs, at left, “POST OFFICE,” and at right, “GENERAL STORE” are painted. Soap boxes, axe handles, small kegs, etc., on porch on which townspeople sit and lounge during action. Above the roof of the porch the “false front,” or imitation second story of the shop, is seen with large sign painted across it “JOE CLARKE’S GENERAL STORE.” Large kerosene street lamp on post at right in front of the porch.

Saturday afternoon and the villagers are gathered around the store. Several men sitting on boxes at edge of porch chewing sugar cane, spitting tobacco juice, arguing, some whittling, others eating peanuts. During the act the women all dressed up in starched dresses parade in and out of store. People buying groceries, kids playing in the street, etc. General noise of conversation, laughter and children shouting. But when the curtain rises there is a momentary lull for cane-chewing. At left of porch four men are playing cards on a soap box, and seated on the edge of the porch at extreme right two children are engaged in a checker game, with the board on the floor between them.

mule boneMule Bone was based on an African-American folktale. The play was intended to be the first of what Hurston hoped would be a truly “black vernacular” theater; however, a falling out between the authors prevented the play from ever being produced in their lifetimes. A production of Mule Bone finally made its debut in 1991. The fascinating story behind the conflict may be found here.

Mar 31, 2021 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Meeting Zora Neale Hurston

Meeting Zora Neale Hurston

 

Hurston 1

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
From Dust Tracks on a Road

 

Although Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891, she moved to Eatonville, Florida when she was a toddler and claimed that as her hometown. Eatonville, the first black-incorporated town in the United States, served as the backdrop for her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in addition to providing a rich vein of African-American folklore that resounds throughout her writing. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Hurston sought to incorporate the black culture and dialect that she knew best into her writing. Her positive outlook on black culture as it was created friction between Hurston and other luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance movement. After a few decades of literary success, Hurston fell into obscurity. Her works went out of print. It wasn’t until novelist Alice Walker, who had read Their Eyes Were Watching God and who became a passionate advocate of her work, published the essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in a 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine that scholars renewed their focus on the Hurston, her amazing life story, and her contribution to American literature. Their Eyes Were Watching God is now one of the most widely-taught and best-known of African-American novels. Hurston died in Ft. Pierce, FL on January 28, 1960.

Hurston’s Perspective

What strikes the contemporary reader is that Hurston was deeply passionate about the people whose dreams and desires, whose traumas and foibles she describes with such élan, and that she loved the fictional language in which she cloaks their tales; hers is not the urgency of the essayist or the columnist, intent upon reducing human complexity to a sociological or political point. Above all else, Hurston is concerned to register a distinct sense of space—an African-American cultural space. The Hurston voice of these stories is never in a hurry or a rush, pausing over—indeed, luxuriating in—the nuances of speech or the timbre of voice that give a storyteller her or his distinctiveness.

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sieglinde Lemke,
Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston: The Complete Stories

In the twenties, thirties, and forties, there were tremendous pressures on black writers. Militant organizations, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, expected them to be “race” people, defending black people, protesting against racism and oppression; while the advocates of the genteel school of literature wanted black writers to create respectable characters that would be “a credit to the race.” Many black writers chafed under these restrictions, including Hurston, who chose to write about the positive side of black experience and to ignore the brutal side. She saw black lives as psychologically integral—not humiliated half-lives, stunted by the effects of racism and poverty. She simply could not depict blacks as defeated, humiliated, degraded, or victimized, because she did not experience black people or herself that way.

Mary Helen Washington, “Zora Neale Hurston: A Woman Half in Shadow”

 Hurston 2“I tried … not to pander to the folks who expect a clown and a villain in every Negro,” Hurston said of Their Eyes Were Watching God. “Neither did I want to pander to those ‘race’ people among us who see nothing but perfection in all of us.”                               

Hurston’s Language

Reading Their Eyes Were Watching God for perhaps the eleventh time, I am still amazed that Hurston wrote it in seven weeks; that it speaks to me as no novel, past or present, has ever done; and that the language of the characters, that “comical nigger ‘dialect’” that has been laughed at, denied, ignored, or “improved” so that white folks and educated black folks can understand it, is simply beautiful. There is enough self-love in that one book—love of community, culture, traditions—to restore a world. Or create a new one.

Alice Walker, “On Refusing to be Humbled By Second Place in a Contest You Did Not Design: A Tradition by Now”

 

Hurston Resources

The PBS program Do You Speak American? includes an excellent essay on African-American women writers including Hurston, Alice Walker, and Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison. Hurston’s use of dialect is discussed in detail. The essay also includes links to sounds clips and other info:

www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/powerprose/hurston

The idea that there are proscribed ways for people of varied races to speak still exists these days. In her podcast “Sounding Black,” produced for Studio 360, performer Sarah Jones discusses “blaccents” and their impact on communication and the 2008 presidential election.

www.studio360.org/episodes/2009/10/16/segments/142665

Dec 1, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on The Pittsburgh Cycle

The Pittsburgh Cycle

The Pittsburgh Cycle, also known as the American Century Cycle, is August Wilson’s magnum opus, a series of ten plays that charts the African American experience throughout the twentieth century. “Put them all together,” Wilson once said, “and you have a history.” All of the plays are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is set in Chicago. 

Wilson didn’t actually plan to write a 10-play cycle. “I didn’t start out with a grand idea. I wrote a play called Jitney set in ’77 and a[n unpublished and unperformed] play called Fullerton Street that I set in ’41,” he told author and teacher Sandra Shannon. “Then I wrote Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which I set in ’27, and it was after I did that I said, ‘I’ve written three plays in three different decades, so why don’t I just continue doing that?’”  (Fassler)

Characters in the plays often appear at different stages of their lives, with the offspring of previous characters cropping up in later plays. The figure of Aunt Ester features most often in the cycle. Other recurring elements include the use of music and the presence of an apparently mentally-impaired character; examples include Gabriel in Fences and Hedley in Seven Guitars.

Gem of the Ocean
Nominee, Tony Award, 2005

Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 in the Pittsburgh home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave and renowned cleanser of souls. A young man from Alabama visits her for help in absolving the guilt and shame he carries from a crime he’s committed, and she takes him on a journey of self-discovery to the City of Bones.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Tony Award, 1988

Set in a Pittsburgh boardinghouse, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone tells the story of owners Seth and Bertha Holly and the makeshift family of migrants who pass through during the Great Migration of the 1910s.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Yale Repertory Theatre. William B. Carter, 1986. Courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Tony Award, 1985

Set in 1927. Legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her band players convene in a Chicago studio to record a new album. As their conversation unfolds, their bantering, storytelling and arguing raise questions of race, art and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is being released by Netflix in December, starring Viola Davis as Ma Rainey and Chadwick Boseman, in his last performance, as the young jazz musician Levee.

The Piano Lesson
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1990
Nominee, Tony Award, 1990

The Piano Lesson is set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression. The play deals with themes of family legacy. Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece Charles clash over whether or not they should sell an ancient piano that was exchanged for their great-grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery. The Piano Lesson was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1995, the first of Wilson’s plays to be filmed for a large audience.

Seven Guitars
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1995
Nominee, Tony Award, 1996

A blues singer just released from prison is asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes an unexpected hit in 1948. He is ready to right the past year’s wrongs and return to Chicago with a new understanding of what’s important in his life. Unfortunately his means of righting wrongs are inherently flawed.

Jean Hyppolite as Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton is confronted by Stephon Duncan’s Louise in M Ensemble’s “Seven Guitars.”
A 2018 production of Seven Guitars by Miami’s M Ensemble Theatre

Fences
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1987
Winner, Tony Award, 1987

Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete. Troy has gone through life in an America where to be proud and black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul. But the 1950s are yielding to the new spirit of liberation in the 1960s, a spirit that is changing the world Troy has learned to deal with the only way he can, a spirit that is making him a stranger, angry and afraid, in a world he never knew and to a wife and son he understands less and less.

Mary Alice, James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance in Fences at Yale Repertory Theatre. William B. Carter, 1985. Courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre

Two Trains Running
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1992
Nominee, Tony Award, 1992

Two Trains Running is set in 1969. It tells the story of a local diner owner who fights to stay open as a municipal project encroaches on his establishment. His regulars must deal with racial inequality and the turbulent, changing times of the Civil Rights movement.

Production of Two Trains Running at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Jitney
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle

Set in 1977 in a worn-down gypsy cab station, Jitney tells the story of men hustling to make a living driving jitneys — unofficial and unlicensed taxi cabs — because official cabs will not accept jobs in the Hill District, and what the company and its drivers must consider when the building housing the station is slated for destruction. Jitney is the only one of Wilson’s plays not to have been produced on Broadway during Wilson’s life, although it had been performed off-Broadway and overseas. It finally made its Broadway debut in 2017.


Jitney at True Colors Theatre, Atlanta 2010

King Hedley II
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2000

Nominee, Tony Award, 2001

One of Wilson’s darkest plays, King Hedley II tells the story of an ex-convict trying to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can save enough money to buy a video store during the trickle-down economic era of the 1980s and a decaying Hill District. Many of the characters have connections to the characters in Wilson’s 1940s-era play Seven Guitars, showing “how the shadows of the past can reach into the present.” (Samuel French playscript Overview)

Radio Golf
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle

Radio Golf is set in 1997 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Aunt Ester returns in this story of a charming, powerful African-American politician who is running for the highest office of his career with the support of his savvy wife. As he steps into political prominence, his plans to redevelop the Hill District collide with his past.

Sources
https://augustwilsonblog.wordpress.com/tag/the-greene-space
http://www.august-wilson-theatre.com/plays.php
https://www.thegreenespace.org/watch/11-things-you-should-know-about-august-wilson
https://ronfassler.medium.com/the-magic-of-august-wilson-d6da37dbcfec

 

Nov 30, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on August Wilson Introduction

August Wilson Introduction

Perhaps the most successful African-American playwright in American history, August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents were Daisy Wilson, who cared for August and his four siblings alongside her work as a cleaning woman, and Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant and baker.

Young August Kittel went to parochial school near his Hill District home on Bedford Avenue until his parents’ divorce. He, his mother, and his siblings moved from their historically black community to the Oakland neighborhood, which was primarily white. The constant bigotry of classmates led him to change high schools three times by the time he was fifteen, when he withdrew from formal school and began educating himself independently at Pittsburgh’s famed Carnegie Library. In 1962, at age 17, he enlisted in the Army but left after a year of service. After his father’s death in 1965, he took the name August Wilson to honor his mother.

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library c. 1935

The 60s launched Wilson’s writing career. Although he originally planned to work as a poet, by the late 1960s he had formed, with a group of friends, the Centre Avenue Poets Theater Workshop. In 1968, he met collaborator Rob Penny through the CAPTW, and they co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District, a community-based Black Nationalist theater company. Penny worked as the playwright while Wilson directed the productions, which were designed to raise awareness of the African-American experience.

Wilson relocated to Minneapolis in 1978, where he began serious work on his own plays. His first play, Jitney, was completed in 1979. Over the next few years, Wilson submitted both Jitney and his second play Fullerton Street to the renowned Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwright’s Conference without success, but his third attempt, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was selected in 1982. Through the Conference, Wilson was introduced to the artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, Lloyd Richards, who nurtured trailblazing playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the author of A Raisin in the Sun and the first African-American to have a play produced on Broadway. Richards helped shepherd the development of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and ended up directing Wilson’s first six plays on Broadway, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences. Wilson earned his second Pulitzer in 1990 for The Piano Lesson.

From a piano hand-carved by slaves to prison work songs to blues anthems, music sings throughout Wilson’s plays. He said hearing Bessie Smith’s “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine” the first time “was a defining moment: it made him recognize the poetry in the everyday language of black America and gave him the inspiration and freedom to use that language in his own writing.” (Greene Space) He often explained that he got his education from the four B’s: the blues, the art of painter Romare Bearden and the writing of poet Amiri Baraka and writer/poet Jorge Luis Borges. “The foundation of my playwriting is poetry,” he once said, and that influence is obvious from the cadence and power of his dialogue. (Greene Space)

After a decade in Minneapolis, Wilson moved to Seattle in 1990 and continued work on the ten-play series that would become known as The American Century Cycle or The Pittsburgh Cycle. The plays explore the challenges faced by African-Americans in each decade of the 20th century, “beginning with the complex narrative of freedom at the turn of the century and ending with the assimilation and sense of alienation of the 1990s.” (The Greene Space)

A passionate advocate for black representation in the theatre, Wilson explained, “I think my plays offer [white Americans] a different way to look at Black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this Black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things—love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with Black people in their lives.” He stated that he didn’t write for black or white audiences, but about the black experience, because “…contained within that experience, because it is a human experience,” he said, “are all universalities.” This 1998 interview with Charlie Rose preceded a five-day symposium at Dartmouth University and reveals much of Wilson’s thinking on the topics of race and culture.

The day after Wilson’s 60th birthday in April of 2005, the last play of the Pittsburgh Cycle, Radio Golf, made its debut at the Yale Repertory Theatre. In August of that same year, Wilson revealed his diagnosis of terminal liver cancer. Wilson died October 2, 2005. Peter Marks of The Washington Post wrote that Wilson did not “simply leave a hole in the American theater, but a huge yawning wound, one that will have to wait to be stitched closed by some expansive, poetic dramatist yet to emerge.” (Greene Space)

Actor-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who performed in many Wilson plays and won a 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance as Canewell in Seven Guitars, said, “August Wilson left such a tremendous body of work for us. He wanted to make sure that our culture did not become history without some life and love and breath in it. He wanted a heartbeat in the stories that we told.” (Fassler)

On October 16, two weeks after Wilson’s death, the owners of the Virginia Theatre on East 52nd street renamed the theatre after him. The August Wilson Theatre is the first Broadway venue to be named for an African-American. In 2006, the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh officially became the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Sources
https://augustwilsonblog.wordpress.com/tag/the-greene-space/

https://www.biography.com/writer/august-wilson
http://www.august-wilson-theatre.com/plays.php
https://www.centertheatregroup.org/programs/students/learn-about-theatre/august-wilson-monologue-competition/august-wilson-biography
https://www.thegreenespace.org/watch/11-things-you-should-know-about-august-wilson/
https://ronfassler.medium.com/the-magic-of-august-wilson-d6da37dbcfec

Nov 6, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Survival and The Coral Island

Survival and The Coral Island

Survival stories have been a popular mainstay of literature stemming back to the oral tradition. The British and American branches of literature are full of them. Daniel Defoe’s 1719 tale Robinson Crusoe exemplifies many of the hallmarks of these tales we find familiar: a stranded hero, a deserted island, meetings and clashes with various native cultures, and eventual rescue, where the hero returns home a changed man for his experience. The book’s popularity spawned an entire subgenre of literature called Robinsonade, all of which contain a stranded hero, a new beginning, encounters with natives, and commentary on society. These influences can be seen in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a particularly biting piece of satire that uses the castaway motif to savage various aspects of English society, and the modern film Cast Away (2000), in which Tom Hanks plays a stranded Federal Express executive who survives alone on an island in the South Pacific for four years with the help of the contents of FedEx packages that washed up on the island with him, including a personified volleyball named Wilson.

In the Victorian era, one book of Robinsonade rose above all others in popularity, The Coral Island, published in 1858 by the Scottish author R. M. Ballantyne. The Amazon summary for this book reads, “When the three sailor lads, Ralph, Jack and Peterkin are cast ashore after the storm, their first task is to find out whether the island is inhabited. Their next task is to find a way of staying alive. They go hunting and learn to fish, explore underwater caves and build boats – but then their island paradise is rudely disturbed by the arrival of pirates.” 

Clearly, Golding is in familiar territory, which is unsurprising. The Coral Island, one of the first adventure books written for boys and employing a boy as the central character, became wildly popular in Great Britain. The Coral Island has been required reading for British schoolchildren since the Victorian era (Golding will most certainly have read it in school), and the characters of Lord of the Flies reference it in Chapter 3 when Jack, Ralph, and Simon return from their fact-finding mission and confirm they have all been stranded.

Part of The Coral Island‘s popularity was its clear messages about morality and choices. Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin of the story are tested by their isolation, their encounters with pirates, and their interactions with the cannibalistic inhabitants of nearby islands. Through a series of adventures, the boys’ friendship and loyalty are tested and proved, and at the end the three friends, older and wiser, sail back to England together. Ballantyne included them in a sequel, The Gorilla Hunters, in 1861.

Victorian audiences ate it up. In a time when virtue was valued above all else, the purifying adventures of the novel revealed English boyhood at its very best, a trait embodied in Jack’s confident assertion in Lord of the Flies that their group would survive triumphant simply because they were English and therefore the best at everything. However, the book also contains the Victorian fault of viewing its English central characters as superior in breeding and morality to the “savage” native inhabitants of the region, who are dismissed as evil or praised as good based on whether those people have submitted to English values or have adopted Christianity. Golding, as you will see, explores these moral ideas with his characters in quite a different way.

A clear and rather extensive analysis of the literary influences and history of The Coral Island may be found at its Wikipedia entry. And since Golding clearly borrowed many elements of The Coral Island for Lord of the Flies, perhaps that helps us get close to solving one of the little, yet provocative, mysteries of the book: What is Piggy’s real name? (Hint: Who are the three main characters in The Coral Island?)

 

 

 

Nov 2, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on William Golding Intro

William Golding Intro

The British novelist William Gerald Golding was born in St. Columb Minor, a village in Cornwall, on September 19, 1911. Golding greatly admired his father, Alec Golding, a distinguished school master who “inhabited a world of sanity and logic and fascination.” His mother, Mildred Golding, was active in the suffragette movement.

Golding entered Oxford University, and to please his parents, he began to study science. After two years, however, he switched to English. He graduated in 1935 with a B.A. degree and diploma in education.

Golding moved to London, where he became a social worker. During this time, he began writing, acting, and producing for a small London theater, bu eventually deferred to family tradition and became a teacher. When World War II began in 1939, he was teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s school, a boys’ school in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

In 1940, Golding joined the Royal Navy and served on a cruiser. Eventually he became a lieutenant, ending his career in command of a rocket launching craft. During his naval career, Golding saw action against battleships, submarines, and aircraft. He was present at the sinking of the Bismarck and took his rocket-launching craft to Normandy for the D-Day invasion.

golding1In 1945, Golding resumed his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School and began writing again. Some of his reviews and essays were published, but he found no publisher for the novels he had written. In spite of this, Golding persisted. He concluded that since he would probably never be published, he would simply write for his own satisfaction. One night after reading a bedtime story to his children, he spoke with his wife about his true desire, to write a book about what people are really like. Boys’ adventure books such as Coral Island and Treasure Island weren’t believable, and he wanted to trace the darkness that he witnessed as being part of every human being. The result was Lord of the Flies, published in 1954 when Golding was 43. Lord of the Flies sold well when first published;however, it sold fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States and soon went out of print. Later, the novel found and retained an influential audience and eventually became a favorite of college students, rivaled only by J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Later Golding published The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1956), and Free Fall (1959).

In 1961, largely due to the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding was able to leave his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School to become writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. Thereafter, he became a full-time writer. His later novels include The Spire, The Pyramid, The Scorpion God, Darkness Visible, Rites of Passage, The Paper Men, and Fire Down Below, published four years before his death at 81 years old.

goldingnobel

In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of his works in general, he was quoted as saying,

In all books I have suggested a shape in the universe that may, as it were, account for things. The greatest pleasure is…just understanding. And if you can get people to understand their own humanity–well, that’s the job of the writer.

His Nobel lecture discusses various topics and focuses not only on writers, their creations, and the impact that writing has on humanity, but also the mutual responsibility we have for the Earth. He ruminates on the interplay between pessimism (which people assume he has based on the dark focus of his works) and optimism, which he challenges us to embrace and recognize in the power of the written word. Golding says,

Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion, and the luck of writers prove to be the most powerful thing in the world. They may move men to speak to each other because some of those words somewhere express not just what the writer is thinking but what a huge segment of the world is thinking. They may allow man to speak to man, the man in the street to speak to his fellow until a ripple becomes a tide running through every nation – of commonsense, of simple healthy caution, a tide that rulers and negotiators cannot ignore so that nation does truly speak unto nation. Then there is hope that we may learn to be temperate, provident, taking no more from nature’s treasury than is our due. It may be by books, stories, poetry, lectures we who have the ear of mankind can move man a little nearer the perilous safety of a warless and provident world.

You may listen to a recording of Golding’s Nobel lecture here.

In the year before his death in 1993, Golding reflected with melancholy on the body of his literary career. Comparing his few works to other writers whose works number in the hundreds, Golding said,

The list makes me more aware of wasted time, the years the locusts have eaten, than of achievement. Seeing them in my mind’s eye I feel a little depressed, like a tourist catching sight of Stonehenge from a distance and for the first time: “not a very impressive scatter of a few stones heaped in a plain without much feature and under a gloomy sky.”

Of course when the tourist (if he can) gets inside the stone circle he will find things much different, and I hope against hope that the same thing can be said of my books.

golding3When looking at Golding’s philosophical attitude about Lord of the Flies, one interpretation is that each individual must acknowledge his connection to all people. Humanity’s problems stem from lack of awareness of this truth. People remain trapped inside themselves, too self-absorbed to look at the world around them. Only if people are able to see themselves as part of the whole, not as islands, will they find salvation. Humans must somehow find a way to connect with outer reality. Golding believes that humans’ intelligence will help them to make this necessary connection: one cannot change basic human nature, but can recognize and understand it. In so doing, individuals can willfully choose to suppress the savagery beneath their humanity.

For a commentary on Golding’s reputation in literary circles, check out William Boyd’s “Man as an Island,” published in the New York Times Book Review in 2010.

adapted from material by Jane Gutherman, DPHS English Department

Sep 23, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Sandra Cisneros Introduction

Sandra Cisneros Introduction

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1954 to a Mexican father and Mexican-American mother, the only girl in a house with six brothers. Her work “deals with the formation of Chicana identity, exploring the challenges of being caught between Mexican and Anglo-American cultures, facing the misogynist attitudes present in both these cultures, and experiencing poverty.” The family moved often between Illinois and Mexico. These travels informed much of her early life and helped plant the seed of restlessness that has endured throughout her career. Today, she is widely hailed as one of the most successful Chicana writers, someone whose “sense of ethnic identity or chicanismo animates their work manifestly and fundamentally, often through the presentation of Chicano characters, cultural situations, and speech patterns.” (Paredes)

The Cisneros family lived in many different places in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, which was well-known as a neighborhood of immigrants, first from Europe and Eastern Europe, then transforming into a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood in the 1950s. They settled into a small brick house on Campbell Street which later became one of the most famous fictional addresses in the country. Her father worked as an upholsterer while her mother, moody and unfulfilled as the mother of seven, sought escape through trips to libraries and museums.

Cisneros as a child in front of the Chicago residence that informed  The House on Mango Street
Cisneros as a child in Chicago

Cisneros noted during an interview with Chicago Reader that “My memories when I was living in Chicago were struggling with getting to and from school or work and just writing on the side.” She wrote constantly, gaining the nickname “the poet” from her high school classmates. After graduating, Cisneros attended Loyola University of Chicago, graduating with a degree in English, and then the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop, where she earned her master’s degree in poetry in 1978. In 1980, her first chapbook of poetry, Bad Boys, was published. After graduation, she returned to Chicago, where she worked as a teacher and counselor at the Latino Youth Alternative High School and later as an administrative assistant at her college alma mater.

Biography — Sandra Cisneros
Cisneros around the time The House on Mango Street was published.

Her best-known work, The House on Mango Street, made its debut in 1984. The central character, Esperanza Cordero, shares many of the experiences and thoughts that Cisneros did growing up in Humboldt Park. It was most readers’ first exposure to Cisneros’s poetic voice. The House on Mango Street has sold more than six million copies and been translated into more than twenty languages. It was selected as the One Book One Chicago read in 2009.

The same year The House on Mango Street was published, Cisneros moved to San Antonio, Texas, to take a job as the Literature Director at the Guadalupe Arts Center. During her years in Texas, Cisneros expanded her voice–she honors her migrant roots by writing in both Spanish and English–and began earning the awards that have marked her exceptional career. Her works written during that time encompass poetry (My Wicked Wicked Ways, 1987, Loose Woman, 1994), short stories (Woman Hollering Creek, 1991), novels (Caramelo, 2002, and the illustrated fable Have You Seen Marie?, 2012), and children’s books (Hairs/Pelitos, 1994, and Bravo Bruno!, 2011).

Cisneros’s numerous awards are listed in the biography on her official website. She has earned fellowships in both poetry and fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius grant,” in 1995. Cisneros is also well-known for her community activism and her work in social justice. She is the founder of both the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros de Moral Foundation for emerging writers. She is the organizer of Los Macarturos, a group of Latino MacArthur Fellows who are also community activists. For her activism, she earned the Ford Foundation’s Art of Change Fellowship and was recognized among The Frederick Douglass 200. Cisneros has been awarded multiple literary prizes including the Texas Medal of the Arts, Chicago’s Fifth Star Award, the PEN Center USA Literary Award, the Fairfax Prize, and the PEN/Nabokov Award for international literature.

Cisneros was interviewed for the PBS News Hour in 2015 after the publication of A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, a collection of early writings. Listen to her talk about making her place as an immigrant writer and her lifelong search for home.

After nearly thirty years in San Antonio, Cisneros moved to San Miguel de Allende, a small town in Mexico, where she still lives as “nobody’s mother and nobody’s wife.” She holds dual American and Mexican citizenship and continues to teach and lead workshops and write. Her most recent book, Puro Amor (2018) is another series of poetic vignettes, this time about the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Rivera’s “la casa azul” full of interesting animals, written in both English and Spanish and illustrated by the author.

In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded Cisneros the National Medal of Arts “…for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity.”

Obama to present two local artists with National Medals of Art | WOAI

References
https://www.arts.gov/2015-national-medal-arts-ceremony-photos
https://www.biography.com/writer/sandra-cisneros
https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/author-sandra-cisneros-interview-memoir/Content?oid=19308626
https://www.sandracisneros.com
https://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/books/readings_signings/building-her-own-house-sandra-cisneros/article_d93e23e7-35a5-5ab0-a288-9d8fe30bc2be.html
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sandra-cisneros

Sep 1, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on The Pied Piper and Bob Dylan – Context for “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

The Pied Piper and Bob Dylan – Context for “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

In May of 1964, a young woman named Alleen Rowe disappeared from her home in Tucson, Arizona. Her mother was convinced that a popular young man known as “Smitty” by the kids in town was connected to Alleen’s death. He was questioned, but never charged.

A year later in August, sisters Gretchen and Wendy Fritz disappeared. Gretchen, the volatile daughter of rich parents, had been dating Smitty for some time. By October, a friend of Smitty’s finally confessed his knowledge of the double murder and led police to the bodies he’d helped Smitty bury in the desert outside of town. Once Smitty and his friends were rounded up, the truth about Alleen Rowe’s death emerged. Charles Schmid, known to the teenagers as “Smitty,” is now one of America’s best known serial killers, the infamous “The Pied Piper of Tucson.”

Schmid was an interesting combination of characteristics. He was short, only 5’3″ or so, but an excellent athlete and gymmast. He was smart but never graduated from high school. He was handsome but created a look for himself of dark pancake makeup, jet black dyed hair, white lips, and a false beauty mark. He stuffed the boots he wore with flattened cans and newspapers to make himself appear taller.

Schmid

Charles Schmid, the Pied Piper of Tucson.
Photo from the Tucson Citizen, 1965
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Writer Don Moser’s profile of Schmid in Life magazine, entitled “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” provided in-depth information about Schmid and the murders he’d committed. Moser’s story and the Bob Dylan song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” were the impetus for author Joyce Carol Oates to create the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The ambiguous tale of Connie and her doomed relationship with Arnold Friend hails back to the events in Tucson in the ’60s and introduces a number of questions that Oates herself has not fully answered. It makes for a disturbing and intriguing read.

A recording of Bob Dylan singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from a concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England.

In San Francisco in 2004, author Joyce Carol Oates was asked about the connection between the Bob Dylan song and her eventual story. Here is her response:

Student Spencer Mead’s short film “Arnold Friend,” which dramatizes “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Finally, this is the trailer for the 1985 movie Smooth Talk starring Treat Williams and Laura Dern, which is an adaptation of the story. The movie has a definitive ending–whether it matches what you think happens, well…

Dec 16, 2019 - AP Literature    Comments Off on The Awakening Pronunciation Guide

The Awakening Pronunciation Guide

awakening1899

The Awakening‘s setting among New Orleans’ Creole community brings with it the inevitable wave of French names. Here is a brief pronunciation guide for major character and place names in the novel:

Alcée Arobin – al-SAY a-ro-BANH *

Chênière Caminada – shuh-ne-AIR* ka-mi-NAD

Lebrun – leh-BRUNH *

Léonce – LAY-ons

Pontellier – PAHN-tay-yay

Ratignolle – ra-tee-NYOL

Reisz – RICE

* In French, the final “n” or “r” sound would be pronounced toward the back of the mouth, almost as if it’s being swallowed.

Original cover of The Awakening at its publication in 1899.

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