Remembering the Pioneering Writer
James Baldwin photographed by Sedat Pakay.
Born 90 years ago, on Aug. 2, 1924, James Baldwin grew up triply removed from society—thrice marginalized, as the current term has it. First, he was black in a nation that even today has no idea how to deal with its racist past and present. Second, he was a lover of books, reading and writing in a culture mistrustful of the intellect. Third, he was gay. All these facts gave him no end of torment, but he dealt with them ...
John O'Hara. Photo courtesy of Estate of John O'Hara.
When Nick and Nora Charles enjoy a cocktail in Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man yarns, they become effusive. When they enjoy several, they become wittier still and lots of fun.
When John O’Hara’s characters enjoy a cocktail, they look into their glasses, brood and fight.
Edmund Wilson, O’Hara and Hammett’s contemporary, grouped both among a cluster of “hard-boiled” writers whom he considered unworthy of much serious attention. Today, 80 years after the publication of what might be O’Hara’s best book, Appointment ...
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.
Labor befitting artists, not machines. No bosses. Free love. Born 210 years ago, on July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne took great interest in matters that today we associate with the 1960s and early ’70s, that era of back-to-the-land aspirations and open relationships whose experiments fared just as badly as those of the Transcendentalists 120 years before.
Many communes of the recent past failed because charismatic leaders proved themselves to have feet of clay, or, as in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel ...
Maya Angelou photographed by Dwight Carter.
Born in the urban South but raised in the countryside, a migrant to the West during the uprooting years of World War II and later to the Northeast, a laborer and an artist, an activist and teacher and, in the end, a very wealthy woman, Maya Angelou knew many worlds, many of them at the edges of the mainstream and well beyond its ken. In many respects, her experience is that of the larger African American experience in the ...
Andrew Kaufman photographed by Sarah Cramer Shields.
“All happy families are alike,” writes Leo Tolstoy, the 19th-century Russian count who was never quite at home among the nobility, in the well-known first words to his novel Anna Karenina, published in 1877.
The opening words of Tolstoy’s most famous novel, War and Peace, which preceded Anna Karenina by a decade, are less memorable: “Et bien, mon prince, Gênes et Lucques ne sont plus que apanages, des estates, de la famille Buonaparte.” That remark, claiming the ...
Stephen King photographed by Shane Leonard.
If you are younger than—well, younger than I am, anyway, Stephen King is like the Overlook Hotel: He has always been there.
But, like its eternal caretaker, Jack Torrance, King has a back story. Forty years ago, he wasn’t quite there—that is, he wasn’t yet a giant of popular fiction and an ascended master of the pants-wettingly–frightening yarn. Instead, he had been laboring away for a while on the lower rungs of a high school faculty, teaching English by day ...
David Kinney photographed by Marjan Osman Gartland.
He not busy being born is busy dying.
The answer is blowing in the wind.
Everybody must get stoned.
If you know who wrote these words, you’re probably a music fan of a certain age. If you’ve thought about them for any length of time, you’re a well-versed one.
If you know every printed and recorded variant of these words, every concert in which they’ve been sung, every cover band that’s ever essayed them, you’re a Dylanologist.
A Dylanologist—a student ...
Jeff Guinn photographed by Jill Johnson.
The Western isn’t dead, not with Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry kicking up dust, not with the spirits of Tony Hillerman and Elmore Leonard wandering around among the cactus and mesas. But the genre, a branch of American popular writing since the 1870s, just doesn’t get much respect. Like country music, square dancing, and Cracker Barrel, it hasn’t been made ironic enough to be hip, hasn’t found enough young readers to make it seem something other than a province for ...