A well-documented, important study of one facet of a complex artist.

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GENTLEMEN CALLERS

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY DRAMA

Dramaturg, academic and journalist Paller situates Tennessee Williams within the New York gay theater of the mid-40s through 70s in a thoughtful, articulate defense of the playwright’s work.

By no means is Paller’s study an adequate biography of Williams: He quotes freely from Lyle Leverich’s Tom (1995) for a comprehensive look at the life. Instead, Paller concentrates on how the playwright’s work, especially its treatment of homosexuality (and evasion thereof), formed and fit into New York theater—excluding A Streetcar Named Desire, by the way, curiously ignored by Paller for “space limitation,” and also because, some may argue, “there are no gay characters in it, anyway.” Paller accepts the evidence of Williams’s “self-loathing” only in terms of the savage condemnation of homosexuality that permeated the society—Southern, WWII—he grew up in. In most of Williams’s best work, from Lord Byron’s Love Letter to The Night of the Iguana (1961), he would wrestle with “his urge to conceal with the equally strong need to reveal.” Paller tracks Williams’s work on Broadway, where he showcased almost exclusively, starting from the 1945 production of The Glass Menagerie. He examines each play with a probing analysis of plot, character and author’s intention. While mining Williams’s internal acceptance of his homosexuality (allowing, however, few clues from his actual life), Paller delves most effectively into the forms of institutionalized homophobia generated at the time of the Cold War, as in the Army’s justification for the rejection of homosexuals; the backlash to the Kinsey Report of 1948; the de facto criminalization of homosexuality, and the classification of homosexuality by the increasingly influential psychoanalytic establishment as a sickness. Moreover, Paller demonstrates a goodly knowledge of the entire context of New York theater. Yet his work will suffice only for readers already well familiar with Williams’s bittersweet trajectory as “founding father of the uncloseted gay world.”

A well-documented, important study of one facet of a complex artist.

Pub Date: April 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-4039-6775-X

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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