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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘biographies’ Category

Joyce Carol Oates/American Writer

Monday, July 16th, 2018

June 16 was the birthday of American novelist and short-story writer Joyce Carol Oates , born in Lockport, New York (1938). Oates has written more than 70 books and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize five times. She is often been criticized for being so prolific, and once replied, Each book is a world unto itself and must stand alone, and it should not matter whether a book is a writers first, or tenth, or fiftieth.”

 

Oates was raised Catholic in Millersport, New York, where her father was a tool and die designer. She led a typical working-class life, though she once called her childhood a daily scramble for existence. Her grandmother encouraged her obsessive reading habits and gave Oates Lewis Carrolls Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Oates referred to as the most profound literary influence of my life.

 

In her teens, she tore through the works of Charlotte Brontë, William Faulkner, and Dostoyevsky. Her grandmother gave her a typewriter when she was 14, and she began writing stories immediately. By the time she graduated Syracuse University as valedictorian, she’d already completed several novels, though she found them shoddy and threw them away. Her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, was published in 1969.

 

Oates writes about class and violence, and also writes in genres like romance and mystery. She once submitted a novel to her agent under a pseudonym, Rosamond Smith, and it was accepted for publication without her agent even guessing. When the ruse was discovered, Oates was unrepentant. She said, “I wanted to escape from my own identity. She’s written about boxing in the book On Boxing (1987) and a fictionalized account of actress Marilyn Monroe’s life, called Blonde (1999). Her other books include We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) and A Fair Maiden (2010).

 

Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac, June 2017

George Orwell/Great English Writer/20th Century

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Today, June 25, 2018, is the birthday of the man who wrote, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” That’s George Orwell , born Eric Blair in Motihari, India (1903).

 

He wrote his first poem — which he dictated to his mother — at the age of four or five. He was 11 when he wrote a patriotic poem after World War I broke out. It was published in the newspaper. He wrote a short story that he described as “a ghastly failure,” and a rhyming play, and helped edit the school’s newspaper. He was also constantly narrating his own actions in a writerly way, in his head. “I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons,” he later wrote, “and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.”

 

His father was a civil servant, and the family was, in Orwell’s words, “lower-upper-middle class.” Orwell received a scholarship to Eton, the prestigious boys’ school, but he felt alienated from his wealthy classmates. He opted not to go on to Oxford or Cambridge, but served as a military policeman in Burma instead. His essay “A Hanging,” which he published in 1931, is about his time there; it describes his role in the execution of a prisoner.

 

He believed there were four great motives for writing prose: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. By “political,” he meant in the widest sense of the word: “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” His writing was pushed even more toward the political after Hitler’s rise to power, and the Spanish civil war. He said, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” In the early 1940s, he began work on a novella about a group of farm animals that decide to stage an uprising against their tyrannical farmer. Orwell called it Animal Farm (1945), and often described it as a satirical tale against Stalin and the Soviet Union.

 

“What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art,” he wrote in his essay “Why I Write” (1946). “My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. […] Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.”

 

His next — and final — novel was Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), about a future in which England has become a totalitarian state run by an anonymous presence known only as Big Brother. Orwell died of tuberculosis just a few months after it was published. Far from being a failure, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into 62 languages, has sold millions of copies, and just this past January it was No. 1 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list.

 

Garrison Keiller/Writers Almanac, June, 2017

Ian McEwan/English Writer

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

June 21, 2018, is the birthday of English novelist Ian McEwan , (1948), best known for his internationally best-selling novel Atonement (2001), about a young girl who starts a disastrous rumor. It was later made into a hit film starring Keira Knightley.

 

McEwan tends to write about unsavory characters and situations, like incest and murder. He likes to choose unlikely and provocative ways to tell a story. His novel Nutshell (2016) is essentially a retelling of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, but told from the point of view of a fetus in his mother’s womb. His penchant for dark material has earned him the nickname “Ian Macabre” in the British press.

 

McEwan’s novels include The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Amsterdam (1998), and On Chesil Beach (2007). He’s fond of intense research for his books, like shadowing a neurosurgeon for two years for the novel Saturday (2003) and immersing himself in physics for Solar (2010).

 

When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself.

 

Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.”

 

About writing, he says, “Not being boring is quite a challenge.”

 

 

 

Garrison Keillor/Writers Almanac, June, 2017

Jean-Paul Sartre/French Writer

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

June 21, 2018, is the birthday of French existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris (1905). Among his most well-known works: No Exit, Nausea, and The Roads to Freedom trilogy.

 

Unlike his existentialist colleague Albert Camus — who achieved something akin to movie star status in their homeland of France with his traditionally handsome looks — Sartre stood just five feet tall, had a lazy eye, and dressed in oversized clothes.

 

Still, Sartre caught the attention of a young woman by the name of Simone de Beauvoir as the two studied for the national competitive exam for a career as a schoolteacher. Sartre scored first in the class, and Beauvoir a close second. The two began a lifelong intellectual and romantic courtship. Beauvoir would herself become a prominent philosopher and feminist scholar.

 

Shortly after their meeting, Sartre was drafted into the French army to serve as meteorologist. He was captured by the Germans and kept as a prisoner of war for nearly a year. He became an outspoken Marxist, though not a communist; in fact, he was one of the first to point out human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. He was also anti-colonialist, opposing French occupation of Algeria.

 

He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature, but became one of only two laureates in the prize’s history to decline it. He said that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.”

Garrison Keillor/Writers Almanac, June, 2017

William Butler Yeats/Poet

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

 June 13, 2018, is the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats , born in Sandymount, Ireland (1865), and considered one of the greatest poets in the history of the English language. Some of his most famous poems are “Easter, 1916,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.

 

Yeats was committed to writing about Ireland and national identity. He once said, “I should never go for the scenery of a poem to any country but my own, and I think I shall hold that conviction to the end.” He was a fervent Irish nationalist and even served six years in the Senate, the Dáil Éireann. About Ireland, Yeats said, “We are a nation of believers.”

 

As a child, he was homeschooled and then sent to art school to follow in the footsteps of his father, a famous portrait painter. One of his school reports said, “Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling.” Undeterred, he quit art school and devoted himself to poetry. His collections include In the Seven Woods(1903), Responsibilities (1904), and The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910).

 

W.B. Yeats became quite famous in his lifetime. As a young poet, he went to visit fellow poet Paul Verlaine in Paris and later, poet Ezra Pound became his secretary for a time when they shared a cottage for several months in Sussex. Yeats cut a dashing, if unkempt figure about London at one time, with one friend remarking, “Yeats was striding to and fro at the back of the dress circle, a long black cloak drooping from his shoulders, a soft black sombrero on his head, voluminous black silk tie flowing from his collar, loose black trousers dragging untidily over his long, heavy feet.”

 

Yeats met the great, unrequited love of his life, Maud Gonne, in London. She was tall, beautiful, devoted to Irish nationalism, and didn’t return his ardor. He wrote several plays for her, like The Countess Kathleen (1892) and Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), in which Gonne played the starring role. Yeats proposed to her three times over several decades and each time she refused. The last time she rejected him, he proposed to her daughter, who said no, as well. When Yeats met Maud Gonne, he famously said, “The troubles of my life began.”

 

In the end, at 52, he married Georgie Hyde-Lees and had two children. They lived in a tower on the outermost edge of Ireland and practiced spiritualism and automatic writing. Yeats had many lovers over the years, but Georgie forgave him.

 

 

Garrison Keillor/Writers Almanac, June, 2017


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