Published 90 Years Ago: Sherwood Anderson’s “A Story Teller’s Story.”

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Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson was born 138 years ago on this day in Camden, Ohio: September 13, 1876. I’d like to mark the occasion by noting that the first of three autobiographical works that Anderson composed—A Story Teller’s Story—came out ninety years ago. The two other autobiographical volumes are Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926), and the posthumously published Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs in 1942.

A Story Teller’s Story is no simple autobiography. Kim Townsend, a recent biographer of Anderson’s, describes this book as “the story of the emergence and development of the equivocal and problematic state of being that was his as a writer. It was akin to the work he once projected as ‘the autobiography of the fanciful life of an individual.’ It was the story of how he came to have faith in his ability to tell stories, it was his defense of himself as a creator.”

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A Story Teller’s Story could be considered perhaps a kind of spiritual autobiography, one that traces “the artist’s psychic development,” as Rex Burbank put in in his study of Sherwood Anderson for the Twayne’s U.S. Authors Series.

Anderson examines four phases of his life: his youth in small town America; his time in Chicago as a young man after leaving Clyde, Ohio, and his deepening awareness of life’s darker elements; his business achievements and subsequent rejection of America’s capitalistic success culture; and his later development as an artist seeking to establish psychic balance and wholeness. The book overall is a look at Anderson’s development as an American artist as his country entered the industrial age, but also examines the broader issue of how any artist struggles to survive and create in the United States.

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Anderson’s autobiographical and journalistic works are often overlooked in favor of books such as Winesburg, Ohio, Poor White, and various short stories, but interested readers may find much of value in them. Anderson was always relentlessly trying to understand America and the lives of its people–and his own experience as well.

 

Patrick Kerin

 

Sources:

 

Sherwood Anderson. Rex Burbank. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1964.

 

Sherwood Anderson: A Biography. Kim Townsend. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1987.

 

The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925. Maxwell Geismar. Hill and Wang, New York. 1959.

 

On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1942, 1995.

 

 

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Mary Oliver: At Home in the Natural World.

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The recent date of September 10, 2014 marks the seventy-ninth birthday of the distinguished poet Mary Oliver, born on September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. She is one of America’s most popular and best-selling poets, and she has accumulated numerous honors, having won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and a Lannan Literary Award, in addition to other awards and fellowships. Much of her poetry concerns celebration of the natural world.

Mary Oliver is a famously private poet, reticent to speak much about her personal life. Even in researching this blog entry I did not find a great deal of in-depth biographical information. But in 2011 she did an interview with Maria Shriver for O Magazine in which she spoke of her life, mentioning in particular growing up in a dysfunctional family and being sexually abused as a small child.  She spent hours roaming local woods and writing poems when she was a child and teenager. She left home immediately after finishing high school.

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Mary Oliver attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, but never graduated from either school. As a young woman, she was especially devoted to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry and later assisted Millay’s sister, Norma Millay, in organizing the renowned poet’s papers. She also met her longtime companion Molly Malone Cook after moving east. The two women made their home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Oliver lives to this day. Cook died in 2005.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Mary Oliver carefully honed her craft, publishing her first volume of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, in 1963, but her second collection didn’t appear until nine years later: The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972). Three other books of poetry appeared in the 1970s, and Oliver was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1983 for her book American Primitive. More critically acclaimed work followed, and Oliver received the National Book Award for poetry in 1992 for her New and Selected Poems. Mary Oliver has published twenty-one books of poetry since the 1970s.

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Oliver has also had a successful teaching career. In the early 1970s she was chair of the writing department at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, then moved on to visiting professorships and poet-in-residence appointments at various institutions. She was back in her native Ohio several times in the 1980s: twice as Mather Visiting Professor at Case Western University in Cleveland (1980, 1982), and then as Elliston Visiting Professor at the University of Cincinnati in 1986. Oliver later taught at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.

Mary Oliver is known for her lyrical poetry about nature and animals. Critics have compared her work to poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, and Walt Whitman. The landscapes of New England—and also Ohio—appear in her work. The desolate rural landscape of Ohio—especially the sight of foreclosed farms–figures in the title poem “The River Styx, Ohio” from her second collection. The great Indian leader Tecumseh is also the subject of a poem examining the nature of freedom in her collection American Primitive.

Tecumseh

Tecumseh

Mary Oliver has also written several volumes of prose. These works include A Poetry Handbook (1994), Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998), and Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004). In the fifty-one years that have passed since her first volume appeared, she has created a remarkable body of work that has earned both critical acclaim and a wide readership–something many poets dream of, but few attain.

 

 

Patrick Kerin

Links:

Here’s a link to Mary Oliver’s website: http://maryoliver.beacon.org/

The Maria Shriver interview: http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Maria-Shriver-Interviews-Poet-Mary-Oliver/1

 

Sources:

Dictionary of Midwestern Literature: Volume 1: The Authors. Philip A. Greasley, General Editor. Author of entry on Mary Oliver: Margaret Rozga. Indiana University Press, 2001.

The Poetry Foundation: Online entry on Mary Oliver.

 

 

 

 

 

Harlan Hatcher: Buckeye Extraordinaire.

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Harlan Hatcher

Harlan Henthorne Hatcher

The author Harlan Hatcher was born 116 years ago today on September 9, 1898 in Ironton, Ohio. He lived for nearly a century, dying at the age of 99 in 1998. Harlan Hatcher was a true man of letters: a novelist, editor, historian, and literary critic, as well as a teacher who became a successful college administrator, eventually assuming the post of president at the University of Michigan (no easy task for an Ohio State man!) from 1951 to 1967. Harlan Hatcher was also one of the rare men who served in both World Wars. He served in the Army in WWI and the Navy during WW II.

A descendant of Ohio pioneers, Harlan Henthorne Hatcher spent much of his boyhood playing along the Ohio River, fascinated by the barges and steamboats that plied her waters. An interest in the midwest’s inland waterways would surface in his work later in life. He attended public schools in Ohio and Kentucky, and after his service in WWI, he entered Ohio State University.

Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Seicer through Creative Commons).

Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Seicer through Creative Commons).

It was the beginning of a long connection with the university. Hatcher would earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at OSU, then take a post as professor of English after some additional post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago. Hatcher would eventually become dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and then vice president of OSU.

Hamilton Hall and Starling Loving Hospital on the OSU campus in the 1920s (photo courtesy of OSU archives).

Hamilton Hall and Starling Loving Hospital on the OSU campus in the 1920s (photo courtesy of OSU archives).

Let’s take a look at Hatcher’s career as a man of letters. One aspect of his career is his work as literary critic and editor. His first work was The Versification of Robert Browning, published in 1928. He also wrote the critical study Creating The Modern Novel, first published in 1935 and revised thirty years later. He also edited the anthology Modern Drama (1944).

Hatcher  embarked on a career as a novelist during the 1930’s, producing the novels Tunnel Hill (1931), Patterns of Wolfpen (1934), and Central Standard Time (1937). These works draw upon his own family history in the Ironton area, which is located in southern Ohio. Tunnel Hill and Patterns of Wolfpen concern early rural life in the state, while Central Standard Time shows an Ohio town entering the industrial age.

Big Etna coke furnace in Ironton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Appalachianhistory.net.

Big Etna coke furnace in Ironton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Appalachianhistory.net.

The 1930s also saw Hatcher taking on a vital editorial role. He became director of the Federal Writers’ Project in Ohio, helping to oversee the production of various regional guides, and he was also the editor of The Ohio Guide. The Federal Writers’ Project was a New Deal program to put writers to work, preserve American history and folklore, and educate Americans about their country. There were numerous city and county guides as well as one large volume for each of the then 48 states.

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By the late Thirties Hatcher had acquired a rich and deep knowledge of the history and geography of Ohio, and began writing cultural history works about the state and the Great Lakes region, starting with The Buckeye Country: A Pageant of Ohio in 1940. He followed this with The Great Lakes in 1944 and Lake Erie in 1946. In 1963 he published the handsomely illustrated volume A Pictorial History of the Great Lakes.

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Hatcher wrote two other important works of Ohio cultural history. The Western Reserve: The Story of New Connecticut in Ohio (1949) examines this northern portion of the state and how New England cultural influences left their mark on the culture there. A Century of Iron and Men (1950) is another work on Great Lakes history, this time focusing on mining history and lore.

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Harlan Hatcher’s life was crowded with activity and accomplishments. He taught and lectured abroad, served on numerous boards, and was active in civil and scholarly organizations. In 1944, the U.S. Navy placed Hatcher on inactive duty so he could return to Ohio State to help prepare the campus for the anticipated flood of returning veterans. Then in 1951 he assumed the presidency of the University of Michigan, a position he held until 1967. The heavy demands of the presidency made it difficult to complete books during this period, although he still completed his illustrated history of the Great Lakes, the revised version of Creating The Modern Novel, and The Persistent Quest for Values: What Are We Seeking? (1966), a book in which Hatcher reflects upon the challenges of modern life in the late 1960’s. During his lifetime he also completed many articles and short pieces of fiction.

Hatcher garnered many awards, including a dozen honorary doctorates. He was a Kentucky Colonel, and received honors from the Netherlands and Thailand as well. He did a great deal of work to strengthen the collections at the University of Michigan library, and the graduate library was named after him.

Hatcher graduate library at the University of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barera through Creative Commons).

Hatcher graduate library at the University of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barera through Creative Commons).

I hope that in some small way this entry helps to keep his legacy alive. As scholar, novelist, historian, teacher, and man of letters, he made great contributions to understanding the history of this part of the United States and strengthening two of its most vital and prestigious universities. He is a wonderful example of the writer, teacher, and man of letters as citizen and public intellectual–his is a legacy of a life well-lived, and work well done.

PH History - Harlan Hatcher

 

Patrick Kerin

 

Sources:

 

Dictionary of Midwestern Literature: Volume One—The Authors. Philip A. Greasley, General Editor. Entry on Harlan Hatcher by David D. Anderson, one of our most important scholars in the field of Midwestern literature. Indiana University Press, 2001.

 

Ohio Authors and their Books 1796-1950. Edited by William A. Coyle. The World Publishing Company. Cleveland and New York, 1962.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago……

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“Great industries were moving in. The huge railroad corporations which had long before recognized the prospects of the place had seized upon vast tracts of land for transfer and shipping purposes. Street-car lines had been extended far out into the open country in anticipation of rapid growth. The city had laid miles and miles of streets and sewers through regions where perhaps, one solitary house stood out alone–a pioneer of the populous ways to be. There were regions open to the sweeping winds and rain, which were yet lighted throughout the night with long, blinking lines of gas-lamps, fluttering in the wind. Narrow board walks extended out, passing here a house, and there a store, at far intervals, eventually ending on the open prairie.”

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900).

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Patrick Kerin

 

Published 100 Years Ago: Theodore Dreiser’s “The Titan.”

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This year marks the centennial of Theodore Dreiser’s novel The Titan. Dreiser published The Titan in 1914 with the John Lane Company. It is the second volume in his trilogy sometimes called The Trilogy of Desire. The trilogy follows the commercial and amorous adventures of ruthless businessman Frank Cowperwood, a character based on real life traction magnate Charles T. Yerkes. The first volume in the trilogy is The Financier (1912), which relates the first rise and fall of Cowperwood from his beginnings as a banker’s son in Philadelphia to his eventual prison term for corrupt business practices.

Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser

In The Titan, Cowperwood has moved west to Chicago to make a fresh start. The novel details Cowperwood’s attempt to control of Chicago’s railway system, and also examines in detail his business and romantic relationships. Dreiser followed this book with an unrelated novel called The “Genius,” (1915 ) which traces the life of a talented illustrator in the Midwest. The third volume of the trilogy, The Stoic, was published posthumously in 1947. It is generally regarded as an inferior work, the long period of intervening years having taken Dreiser in other directions and drained away the original creative impulse behind the trilogy.

 

Patrick Kerin