Literature as an Art Form and Historical Actor

Throughout my college experience, I have often found the overlaps between my undergrad focus in history and my passion for literature. Kuper-free_speechBy the first line of a poem or a novel, I begin to dig deeper to try to understand its historical context, picturing the author as a historical actor or actress, inevitably influenced by his or her particular time and place. During my history seminar last semester, my extended research project focused on The New York Times v. Sullivan and the cases impact on the legal history of the Civil Rights Movement. Last week marked the 51st anniversary of the case and I have found myself, once again, combining my interests of literature and history, assessing how the case and its legacy of free speech relates to the publication of literature. While the majority of Americans view literature as a form of entertainment or art, literature has always been an effective and crucial actor in history. The New York Times v. Sullivan reveals the importance of the free press and journalism’s ability to bring about change, yet literature is just as much of a catalyst.

The case began in 1961, when The New York Times published an advertisement that supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement that was rapidly spreading into Alabama. The ad caused uproar amongst Montgomery state officials. L.T. Sullivan, head of the police force, sued the New York Times for libel—claiming that there were intentional, defamatory errors throughout the ad, while in reality there were only one or two of meaningless, accidental errors in the text. Sullivan won $5 million in damages in an Alabama court with his ability to manipulate libel law. He and other southern officials in the Deep South began to use libel law as a legal means of massive resistance. These tactics extended to literature, and Alabama officials even brought an author to court for his children’s book about a black and white rabbit. While free speech under the First Amendment forbade the enactment of censorship laws, they realized that newspapers would stay away from reporting on racial issues in the South if they were threatened with lawsuits and damages large enough to destroy them.

new_york_times_605_605Fortunately, The New York Times appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the Alabama Court. The Court took the necessary measures to protect the rights of publications, understanding the importance of free speech in raising awareness and ensuring democracy, especially during at a time like the Civil Rights Movement.

While it is easy to see the case within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, it is fascinating to take a broader look and revisit the overall importance of writing as a fundamental tool to inspire change in history. The written word in the U.S. has not always been as unrestricted as it is today, and nearly half a century ago, writers who chose to publish controversial works often feared lawsuits. Especially with the birth of the Digital Age, publications are so unrestricted that these concepts seem completely foreign. Yet, the Sullivan case resulted in a landmark decision and its legacy shows us the importance of the free press to democracy.

I have spent much time considering how literature specifically, like journalism, is a tool to inspire change. Through focusing on history over the past four years, I have realized that reading literature is much more than a form of leisure. The ability of writing to raise awareness and inspire real action extends beyond journalism and certainly applies to literature as well. While journalism is undoubtedly an effective and essential tool for communication and certainly raises awareness of current events, literature has the unique ability to reach a deeper level, a depth necessary to truly open our eyes and bring about fundamental change. Novelists and poets, in a way, can more effectively reach and touch a broader audience than the press. Especially in today’s overly polarized political climate, we often question the authenticity of a news article, assuming it is the product of a bias news source, politically aligned to the left or the right. Well-written works of literature, at least for me, immediately seem far more genuine, and I fully let down my guard when beginning a poem or a novel.

I am quick to begin a work of literature for pleasure; whereas I often times hesitate before reading the news, fearing that it will arouse pessimism and distrust. At the same time, literature is emotionally engaging and has the power to pull readers into the heart of an issue. Literature can bring us to tears in an instant—which a news article rarely does—yet we approach literature lightly and easily. Although often based on a completely fictitious plot and characters, when a book is within a certain historical context or surrounded by a certain social or political issue we are able to bring the story to life in our imagination, which at times challenges us to alter our perspectives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we focus on the freedom of the press, freedom of all types of writing are critical to democracy. To Kill a Mockingbird, which is now a required read in most southern classrooms, was widely forbidden across the South. At the time, it was clear that the moving and authentic words of the story would inevitably cause even proponents of “separate but equal” to question their beliefs. After reading the novel, individuals across the nation altered their views, including James Carville who exclaimed, “It is because seeing things in writing brings change.” He continued that once he picked up the book, he immediately knew Harper Lee was right and he was wrong.

Literature often times focuses on simplicity and usually does not have the intent of completely transforming the reader’s outlook on serious issues. Yet, well-written literature always reveals something to us that is worth revealing. Whether it exposes racial injustice through To Kill a Mockingbird, uncovers the loneliness that often comes with wealth through The Great Gatsby, or the value of family in hardships through The Grapes of Wrath, literature targets what is truly human within us. It is relatable and emotionally engaging—and that is what touches us to the point of change and action.

While we often associate freedom of speech with journalism, and believe that democracy relies upon the circulation of news stories centered on serious and factual political or social issues, literature is a tool that is just as, if not more, effective in revealing truths and inspiring change. It lures its audience through entertainment, but goes beyond entertainment and introduces ideas and beliefs in a relatable way, effectively compelling readers to challenge preconceived notions and perspectives.

–Katie Nell Taylor

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NEW SHENANDOAH ISSUE Vol. 64, No. 2 Now open to the public

Poems, essays, reviews, flash fictions, short stories and poems, an interview with Tim Seibles, as well as new poems by Tim.  And the art of Suzanne Stryk.  Follow the links on the left-hand side of the homepage.

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Is Any New Literature Actually New?

With the recent cinderellaresurgence in popularity of Cinderella, I’ve been thinking of the original tale that I remember reading and watching in my youth. From the classic Walt Disney version, to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version with its skewed view of how interracial couples produce children, I remember the hope I used to feel, that one-day, I too would find my Prince Charming and become the princess I thought my name entitled me to one day be. To be fair, at this point in my life I don’t think I quite realized that other people could also have a name that meant princess. But now, as I think of the fairytale from my childhood the feminist in me sees another side of the tale and the literature lover within me sees patterns.

When I think of Cinderella, I think of the fact that women are separated into innocent princesses and evil stepmothers. I think of how it instills the idea of the makeover being necessary for a woman to catch the eye of a man. I think of the fact that the entire goal of the heroine of this tale is to meet a man who can save her by marrying her. But ultimately, when I think of this fairytale, I also think of how it, and famous fairytales like it, has influenced much of the literature that has come after it. There may be strong, independent women who came before this fairytale princess, the Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Biblical Judith, but it is not these women that young girls grow up idealizing. Little girls worship princesses and this does not stop when these women stop being children, it continues as the fairytales they grew up with follow them into adulthood.

cinderella fifty shadesWhen I think of books like Pride and Prejudice or even the hot topic book of the last few years, Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still fairytale undertones in each of them, Cinderella undertones specifically since I’ve been discussing that fairytale in particular in this blog. When considering all three of these tales it is readily visible that all three depict females in less well off financial situations who meet wealthy men who eventually help them in some way (either by saving them from evil stepmothers, helping save their sisters from reputational ruin, and helping save them from the monotonous life of postgrad). The only major differences that can be seen between these three tales are setting, familiar circumstances, a glass slipper, and a few whips and chains.

Though I was interested in seeing the similarities and minute differences between novels and many of my favorite fairytales, I was more interested in how I struggled to come up with novels that were in no way impacted by fairytales. I could think of horror novels and short stories, but many of these can been seen as takes on the original versions of fairytales. In the original fairytales there was rape in Sleeping Beauty, cannibalism in Little Red Riding Hood, women cutting off parts of their feet like something out of a Saw movie in Cinderella, and undertones of necrophilia in Snow White. So even these types of stories take bits from the tales that came before them.

But this process is cyclical. Even if I could think of stories that aren’t based on other stories I’ve read before, I haven’t read everything the world has to offer and never could. Even if I found some obscure novel or even piece of nonfiction, there is probably someone who has written a story just like it before or who has lived through similar experiences and written about it. This brings me my real overarching question, however. If recent literature all has some basis in the books and stories that came before them, can any new books actually be considered new? Is there any such thing as a new piece of literature?

Samuel Clemens, known as Mark Twain to most of the world, has been quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious ideas We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” If Clemens is correct, then everything that has ever been thought, seen, or written has been thought, seen, or been written before. While I agree with Clemens in part of his argument, I also have a little rebuttal. Indeed, I agree with Clemens when he says that everything is just the “same old pieces or colored glass” and they are all just being turned “and making new combinations indefinitely,” but doesn’t this undermine the concept that there are no new ideas? Isn’t the idea to rearrange the pieces of glass into new formations new in and of itself? So even if new books take ideas from old fairytales or biblical stories, aren’t they new in the inventive execution of these old ideas? I think they are. I think that the ability of authors to piece old storylines together into new tales is what makes literature a creative art form. Even if parts of the story have been written before, they are still new in how those bits and pieces fit together. They are still new to the world in some way or another and that is one of the reasons why I continue writing and reading. I hope that some day I can write or read something that is exorbitantly different than what has come before it.

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Shenandoah 64, 2 COMING NEXT WEEK.

POETRY//  mysterious fall of blackbirds and the sins of the past/ Graybeal-Gowen winner “May” by Juliana Daugherty/ a relief pitcher picks up the fiddle/ meditative and spiritual poems/ Davis McCombs on the mysteries of fox passage /Wild Turkeys and Marianne Moore/ Bobby Rogers on Elvis, Hank and wondrous births / Tom Reiter, Jeff Mock, Carol Frost and more/ an interview with Tim Siebels/ Kempf on the associative mode in contemporary poetry

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Inspirational Libations

Edogvery writer has his or her own routine. When I sit down to write anything, from a short reporting story to a 20-page research paper, I always sit in the same spot at the head of my dining room table with my pajamas and slippers on. I always have some sort of snack, usually something chocolatey. But, that’s not where my writing routine stops. I also can’t write without a jumbo glass of water with crushed ice. My dog is almost always at my side. So, in pursuit of an intriguing post, I asked myself, what do the most famous of authors do to prepare themselves to write?

Many writers are notorious for going straight to alcohol for inspiration—but do they have a favorite food? Or a favorite place? Can writers be inspired by specific foods and drinks? There’s nothing I like better than a great book and a delectable meal. So, are foods, drinks, and literature all connected?

In my research, I found tons of bar-books, filled with tidbits and recipes about writers and their favorite cocktails. However, some articles also included food preferences and other routines writers followed before sitting down to write.

After having dinner and going to sleep at 6 p.m., French author Honoré de Balzac woke up at 1 a.m. every morning to write. After writing for a while, he then took a short nap, and upon awaking would start writing again. It is said that in order to stick to this military schedule, Balzac drank cups upon cups of black coffee, sometimes up to fifty cups daily—it is rumored he sometimes even ate straight coffee grounds.

Stephen King, a more recent kingauthor, depends on cheesecake and beer to get his ideas flowing. King says that his sweet tooth has been passed down to his son, who eats crème brûlée for writing inspiration. King never goes to bars to drink because he says,“[bars are] full of assholes like me.” He drinks so much to write, that he claims to not remember writing his novel Cujo. One of King’s biggest fears is that sobriety will lead to the loss of his creativity.

Maya Angelou went to a hotel every day at 6:30 in the morning and checked into a room to write without any distractions, bringing only a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry.

Carson McCuller’s favorite indulgence while writing was a combination of hot tea and sherry, a drink she called “sonnie boy”. She often claimed that it was just tea in her thermos and drank it throughout the workday.

Cat’s Cradle author Kurt Vonnegut drinks a cheap scotch and water daily at exactly 5:30 pm in order to “numb [his] twanging intellect.”

Truman Capote refused to write using a typewriter. He only wrote by hand and with a cigar and beverage nearby. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy,” Capote said. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”

authorAgatha Christie supposedly always wrote after bathing in a large, footed tub while eating apples. However, when Victorian-style bathtubs became harder to come across, she quit the habit completely.

Daniel Handler, who writes under the name Lemony Snicket, only eats healthy food at his desk. He works in a distraction-free zone, with only a window as a decoration.

Joyce Carol Oates told The Paris Review that she will not eat a bite of anything until she’s finished her writing for the day. “Sometimes the writing goes so smoothly that I don’t take a break for many hours—and consequently have breakfast at two or three in the afternoon on good days,” she said.

According to his biographer, Hunter S. Thompson’s routine relied on cocaine and food while writing. He said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

smokerGreat Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald preferred gin because he believed that gin was the only liquor people couldn’t smell on someone’s breath. He had a notoriously small tolerance and lived the drunken lifestyle that is so often associated with the roaring twenties. Apparently he and his wife, Zelda, were infamous pranksters, doing things like swimming in the fountain at the Plaza, going to parties in pajamas, and boiling their party guests’ watches in tomato soup.

How many writers, or people in general who don’t even know that they’re gifted writers, miss out on their untapped potential to write something powerful and influential? Sometimes we assume that people are born with great talents and blessed with the streak of genius it takes someone to produce a work of art that has the power to change people’s outlook on the world. How many of us have the capability to write something amazing but our ideas are stuck deep down inside, impossible to grasp and produce? What makes writers be able to dig out those ideas, embellish them and share them with anyone willing to read their work? From my own experience, no matter what I’m writing, it’s not until I go to my own writing spot and follow my own routine that I can fish deep down and really be creative and inventive with my thoughts and ideas. However, along with routine comes discipline; finding your routine takes trial-and-error. You’ve got to figure out what does and what does not draw out your creative drive, what routine you actually enjoy. Some of the most famous writers mentioned above have the most specific and personal of routines—maybe that’s the key to good writing.

— Emily Flippo

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Read it Again, Sam

Looking through my bookshelf is effectively viewing a timeline of my life thus far as a reader. Some of the “chapter books” I began savoring as a first grader sit, collecting dust, not reread since I discovered Harry Potter. Then there is, of course, the Harry Potter series, all seven books, the companion books written by JK Rowling, and an extra copy of the third one, because it was my favorite book for at least five years. There are Babysitters Club novels, Agatha Christie mysteries, and Lee Child thrillers. Among the middle and high school-assigned readings are the ones I read the obligatory time, if even that, and the ones that became instant favorites on my shelf. The ones that I loved but haven’t touched since and the ones with pages falling out from use. Two books have severe water damage—a young adult novel that a friend borrowed and then returned after dropping it in the bathtub, and one that I’ve cried while reading so many times over the years that it may as well also been plunged into a full body of water.

Dedicated readers have a few books on the shelf that they just know: exact scenes, chapters, pages, even lines that have stuck with them for years. They can select a familiar spine, feel its familiar weight in their hand, and flip almost effortlessly to their pages of choice. Rereading may be a guilty pleasure of sorts, but it also offers a lot of novelty and value. Just ask any English teacher.

ClassicBookStack_zps38bf6f0dMy parents used to hate that I reread books. They wanted for me to keep expanding my library and literary education. I distinctly remember being “caught” rereading a book and receiving a bizarre chastisement from my mother. She argued that there was no merit, no growth, from reading a book more than once. Fast forward to high school English classes, where standard procedure involves reading a book twice, annotating, highlighting, bookmarking key passages, skimming notes for themes and motifs, and close reading certain pages.

 Clearly, this exhibits that there is value in rereading; it is simply not expected that someone will glean all the information a book has to offer from just one go through. An article published on illustrates a similar mindset to mine—the author is in love with second and third and tenth readings of her favorite books, and with a mother who simply “can’t” do it. She links to a article that deems rereading a “guilty pleasure” and a “security blanket.” Revisiting a childhood library probably corresponds more with this idea. You probably will not discover a profound literary statement reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Rereading a novel assigned in middle or high school though, with added years and a broader vocabulary and just a different perspective, can totally change a person’s perceptions of a book. In some ways, rereading a book is also more challenging because the surprise and novelty is gone. While a second read offers the comfort of familiarity, it also grants the reader a chance, even a dare, to look further and think more deeply.


I have read each of my favorite books time and time again, with new interpretations and observations and life experiences coloring the way they are read. Just like children like to hear their favorite bedtime stories, I will always love flipping through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The plot, the characters, and the magical setting are of course, captivating for young readers, but only in a more mature rereading do themes and motifs, even hidden meanings, begin to

surface. For example, Prisoner of Azkaban draws strongly on themes of innocence and justice among many different plot lines. It is also wrought with symbolism in character names and animals. Until the book is experienced through the lens of a reader who knows to think more deeply and critically, it’s just about a bunch of kids on brooms and an escaped murderer. Just like a film enjoyed by people of all ages, or a work of abstract art, many of the more intricate nuances go unnoticed by a young or unfamiliar viewer. A second impression reveals a deeper look, guided by the knowledge that comes from age and learned approaches to viewing and reading.  Would you debate the merits of listening to a piece of music more than once, or seeing a famous Van Gogh more than once?  Would anyone question the merits of rereading, say, the Bible?

Revisiting a piece of writing certainly provides a different experience then the first read-through and creates an exciting mix of familiarity and new discoveries. So the question is, how many times have you read your favorite?

— Emily Danzig

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Writers’ Best Friends

On April 5, 1905, the Kansas City Star ran the following post about a lost cat: “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair acrosstwain his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” The author of this advertisement? None other than Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, himself. Though this specific ad was about his beloved cat Bambino, Twain collected a variety of other cats throughout the years as well. He loved cats so much that he once said, “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.” Twain, however, is not the only writer who fancied feline friendship.

Ernest Hemingway also enjoyed the companionship of cats. He had a six-toed white cat named Snowball, among others. Cats even made their way into his famous work For Whom the Bell Tolls: “No animal has more liberty than the cat, but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist.” hemingwayTo this day, visitors can find more than 50 six-toed (polydactyl, to use the technical term) cats roaming around Hemingway’s home in Key West. It is said that they are the descendants of dear old Snowball.

Joyce Carol Oates has even gone as far as crediting her cat for helping her write. She has said, “I write so much because my cat sits on my lap. She purrs so I don’t want to get up. She’s so much more calming than my husband.”

So what is it with writers and their cats? Why do so many choose to spend their time with those of the feline persuasion? Perhaps, as Oates said, cats encourage writing with their refusal to be dislodged from their resting places. Maybe they dissuade writers’ block with their mysterious air and playful antics. I certainly find cats to be the ideal writing companions. Their warm bodies create a cozy environment and their purring has a calming effect, making for a low-stress writing atmosphere. I can see this being the reason that authors for generations have adored their meowing muses.

It isn’t only cats that steal a place in writers’ hearts, however. Canine companions have been just as present throughout history. Emily Brontë, a great animal lover, had a trusty mastiff sidekick named Keeper. Some even argue that Emily’s adoration of all creatures influenced her writing in Wuthering Heights, as many characters in the novel have quite animalistic qualities. Her contemporary, Emily Dickinson, also had a love for dogs. Dickinson once said, “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.”

HuxleyA more recent writer shared his predecessors’ preference for pups. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, once explained “the constant popularity of dogs” by saying, “To his dog, every man is Napoleon.” This quote could explain why some writers keep pooches as pets. Take a survey of any authors and chances are some are going to say they write because they want to make an impact on their readers or even on the world. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald put it best when he said, “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you’ve got something to say.” Keeping a dog as a pet allows authors to experience that feeling of heroism on a smaller scale.

Or maybe writers simply have dogs because they bring a certain level of joy that encourages the writing process. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, asked, “Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness?” Just as cats inspire writers with their furtiveness, dogs can hearten writers’ work with their blatantly unconditional love and loyalty. Conversely, dogs can reveal the negative side of human nature as well. As John Steinbeck said after years with his treasured poodle, Charley, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.” While dogs do not necessarily create the same relaxed atmosphere that cats do, I find their constant cheerfulness to be a definite mood-booster, something that always helps with my writing.

Dogs and cats are not the only pets that have kept famous writers company, however. Lord Byron, 19th century poet, housed a pet bear during his time at Cambridge, even walking it through campus on a leashoconnor. And let us not forget about Flannery O’Connor and the famed peacocks that kept her company. She once wrote of them, “Visitors to our place, instead of being barked at by dogs rushing from under our porch, are squalled at by peacocks whose blue necks and crested heads pop up from behind tufts of grass, peer out of bushes, and crane downward from the roof of the house, where the bird has flown, perhaps for the view.”

So, while many authors may use historical figures or real-life acquaintances for inspiration in their writing, some turn instead to their furrier pals, giving a new perspective on the phrase “man’s best friend.”

— Cara Scott

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Mostly Harmful (or, The Publisher’s Dilemma)

AMC’s Better Call Saul, a prequel to the smash hit Breaking Bad, premiered on Sunday to much acclaim and no small amount of trepidation. As Snopes covered recently, many were worried that an inferior second show from creator Vince Gilligan would undermine the immense public respect for the original series. Fortunately, the quality of the pilot episode should be enough to dissuade fan fears for the moment, though undoubtedly such concerns will haunt Better Call Saul until it reaches its own conclusion. But such is the risk run by any long-running narrative; any series, whether it be book, film, or movie, that continues to produce more and more texts risks creating a sub-par product that tarnishes the series as a whole. There’s a reason there is not a The Godfather Part IV, and that reason is The Godfather Part III.

But the risk of churning out a sub-par installment is just one of the risks of extending a series out over years or decades. Not to be morbid, but one of the biggest concerns in such literary works is the entirely literal death of the author. It seems this is hardly a new phenomenon; scholars think that Chaucer died before completing even a quarter of his Canterbury Tales.

So what does one do when an author dies before completing a long-running and immensely popular series? For hundreds of years, the only real answers to that question have been to shrug and make do with the existing material or consume unlicensed fan fiction. But in the last few years, publishing companies unwilling to part with cash-cow franchises over so trivial a matter as an author’s passing are increasingly resorting to another tactic: hire another well-known author to write a new “official” installment in the series.

British humorist Douglas Adams was mulling over writing another installment of the wildly popular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when he died of a heart attack in 2001. Though Douglas had publicly expressed regret for the “very bleak” ending of his last Hitchhiker’s book, Mostly Harmless, he had not written a word of the proposed novel at the time of his death. So fans were surprised at Penguin Book’s announcement in 2008 that it had hired Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer to pen another book in the series, aptly titled And Another Thing. . .

colferInterestingly enough, the fans of the series were generally supportive, possibly because the new book undoes the downer ending of Mostly Harmless. Despite fan acceptance, however, Colfer announced he did not intend to write another Hitchhiker’s book, telling Wired, “I do think somebody should write another [ . . . ] I think it’d be interesting to see other Hitchhiker’s books from different authors—to see how different imaginations and voices present that universe.”

This phenomenon seems especially common in British literature. Snopes has already discussed how the passing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did little to stem the tide of Sherlock Holmes stories and movies.  Ian Fleming wrote twelve James Bond novels; since his death, different authors have put nearly three times that number of fully licensed Bond stories—and that’s not even counting the movies. In an interesting twist, the newest novel featuring Bond will be written by Anthony Horowitz, but based off of a scrapped story treatment written by Fleming back in the 1950s.

On this side of the pond, however, not everyone takes such a sanguine view toward different authors’ exploring the universe of a dead colleague. George R.R. Martin, the author of the current popular culture phenomenon A Song of Ice and Fire, has denied the possibility of another writer finishing his narrative if, for any reason, he should be unable to. (He’s also sick and tired of fans speculating on when he’ll die, resorting to some rather colorful words to describe his feelings towards the swarms of individuals predicting his imminent demise.) Martin has long been critical against any kind of fan fiction, describing it as lazy, and has promised to never allow another author to write a story set in Westeros “while I’m alive.” Interestingly, this stance only seems to apply to the printed word; after all, the mere existence of the Game of Thrones television show and its recent spin-off video game (both of which Martin actively promote on his blog) show that Martin is amendable to adaptions of his work in other mediums. Perhaps the key to this apparent paradox is that the Game of Thrones universe represents a tweaked, streamlined “alternate universe” version of the world of Ice and Fire. Perhaps Martin does not have a problem with other creators playing with his characters, as long as they don’t do it in his sandbox.

You can look, but you can't touch

You can look, but you can’t touch.

Of particular interest to this debate, however, is that Martin has publicly expressed his fear of what will happen to his world once he does pass on, telling the Sydney Morning Herald, “one thing that history has shown us is eventually these literary rights pass to grandchildren or collateral descendants, or people who didn’t actually know the writer and don’t care about his wishes. It’s just a cash cow to them. And then we get abominations to my mind like Scarlett, the Gone with the Wind sequel.”

Martin’s disgust at the idea of another author appropriating his universe does speak to the more unsavory ethical aspects of the practice. No one really seems to mind that much that Eoin Colfer took up the Hitchhiker’s series, but it is not like Adams ever proscribed such a practice. Even though Martin has publicly expressed his desire to have the world of Westeros left unmolested after he leaves it, he is absolutely right that there will come a day when he will not be around to prevent such “abominations.” One can hope that publishers and Martin’s descendants will respect his wishes, but really, there is nothing to stop them if they chose to resurrect the franchise after the senior Martin passes away.

Maybe some people don’t have a problem with that, but I do find it a depressing prospect that there is nothing to protect the sanctity of Martin’s wishes. Hopefully, once everything is said and done, his descendants and the publisher that he has made so much money for will respect his wishes and let sleeping franchises lie.

— Ryan Scott

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Mockingbird, Be my Valentine?

by Anna DiBenedetto


This Valentine’s Day, some people will take their loved one to a romantic dinner, others will send their daughter roses and some will even venture to the premiere of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But my plan for this year is to snuggle up on my sofa and celebrate my love of literature by rereading my favorite book, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

I will admit that staying in and reading a book is not my ideal Valentine’s Day evening. However, the recent news that Lee will soon publish Go Set a Watchman, an accompaniment to her beloved classic 1960 novel, sparked my interest to revisit the novel.

mockingbird-coverLee’s first novel (widely thought to be her only) is well know, having sold over thirty million copies and been translated into forty different languages. With the announcement of the release of Watchman, fans are re-reading the tale in preparation. According to The Telegraph, “sales of To Kill a Mockingbird [have rocketed] by 6600%.” I think it is safe to say that I’m not the only one who thinks of Lee’s novel as a favorite.

But what exactly about Lee’s novel makes it such a cherished read? After thinking about the question for a while and thinking about the new novel, set to publish in July, I came up with three specific reasons that I love the book as much as I do.

The first reason I love Mockingbird is because of the nostalgic feeling that comes over me when I think of the first time I ever read the novel. The book was first introduced to me in my 7th grade English class. I remember reading the Pulitzer Prize winning novel and discussing racial issues for one of the first times in my sheltered, predominately all-white school. In high school, another one of my English classes read the same novel and examined the book’s title and the theme of loss of innocence (seemingly fitting for high school students). Perhaps my sentimental feelings surrounding the book exist solely because I read it when I was younger, but I think there is something more to it. Just as most people have beloved books from childhood years, I think of Mockingbird as a milestone book for me in forming my interest in literature as a young girl.

Scout Finch is the second reason I admire this book. Scout’s tomboy persona and mischievous attitude aligned with myself as a young girl. I found her youthful and innocent nature to be a sense of comic relief in the narrative. This is exhibited in the part of the story when she, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill decide to play “Boo Radley.” The three create a game of acting out the life and times of the Radley’s, the odd family of Maycomb. Scout elaborates, “As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, added dialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changes every day.” Her enacting the reclusive Boo reminds me of “playing house” with my own siblings. Her carefree attitude speaks to a young girl that I could identify with as a young girl, and even now that I am older.

Finally, and most importantly, Scout and Atticus’s relationship is the third reason I love To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout’s relationship with Atticus emulates a picturesque bond between a father and daughter that I did not appreciate the first time I read the novel. But having matured since 7th grade, a relationship with my dad is something I value and cherish greatly. In the novel, Scout goes to Atticus after she and Jem have been attacked by Bob Ewell and saved by Boo Radley. After imagining Boo’s character in the first half of the book and listening to Atticus’s demands to stop messing with him, she finally tells her father:

‘When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .’ His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’

Her recognition of Boo’s character and harmless nature align with everything that Atticus had previously told her. Scout’s admittance to him that Boo is “real nice” acknowledges Atticus’s influence on her. His fatherly role is solid and resilient, and his sense of right and wrong remains constant throughout the novel. Atticus’s strong presence in his daughter’s life stands as one of the most important bonds in the book and is one of my favorite relationships in literature.


My favorite novel may very well be shared with a million other readers out in the world. So maybe I won’t be the only one reading it alone this Saturday night. But who knows, maybe with another reread of To Kill a Mockingbird, I will have to expand my list of why I love Lee’s book so much.

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The Art of Spoken Word

The first time I heard spoken word, otherwise known as slam poetry, I was not impressed.  Now, I’ve even tried my hand at writing my own. So, to the summer camp counselor reciting his slam to 14-year-old me, I apologize for finding it boring and kind of strange. My view of poetry mainly focused on the “roses are red” variety, and I had never heard of a poetry slam. Fast forward a few years to seeing my first live slam at Brandeis University, and I was a completely different audience member, snapping at the snappiest lines and laughing at the more adult poems–much to my older sister’s chagrin.  After that I occasionally looked at videos others showed me, but I still remained pretty clueless.

Then, one magnificent day, I discovered the vast collection of poets featured on YouTube. Searching “slam poetry” on YouTube garners a whopping 324,000 vihqdefaultdeos of the passionate rhymes, personal stories, and well-placed f-bombs that general characterize a slam poem.   Some nondescript night last year, I began a homework-avoiding binge of YouTube slams that led me to Dylan Garity’s “Friend Zone,” posted by an organization called Button Poetry.  The language was beautifully sculpted, and the tone and pace picks up in the middle to transition from funny and light to serious and heavy and important.  The video has over 11 million views (to which I have contributed maybe a hundred). Try finding an open mic night that allows for an audience 11 million.

YouTube is the perfect platform to popularize spoken word performances. Rather than having to show up in a specific coffee shop in a specific city in a specific state and even country, anyone can stumble upon a performance from the comfort of their own home.  They can listen to it once. And then again. And again. And then watch other performances from the same poet, or the same subject matter, at any time. Because of this, slam is growing more and more popular, and the conventions and subject matter have adapted with that growth. Relationships, social issues, and character flaws are common topics, and hundreds of thousands of views prove that people find them relatable and touching.

Slam poetry is a performance art—the works are written to be read aloud, and the conventions of the style appeal to a large audience. Good luck finding a poem devoid of slang and cursing, or a pop culture reference. A billion people watch videos on YouTube every day, and anyone can upload. There are also tons of benefits to an online performance that make it even better than a live performance:

  1. You can watch it as many times as you want, and show your friends, and download the written transcription. And then watch it again.
  2. It’s sharable.  You could tell your friend, “Hey, come to this open mic venue and maybe the same poet will be there this week that I saw last week and he’ll recite the same poem in the same perfect inflection that really connected to me last time,” but we all know this is a one and a million chance, or you could just tell your friend to click here.
  3. Videos can add more performance to the performance art.  Artsy setting? Check.  Mood lighting? Check. Improved sound quality? Check.
  4. Poets can become famous.  A few years ago, my counselor was the only slam poet I had ever heard.  Now I have favorites that I follow and even fangirl over.
  5. Part of the draw towards slam poetry is how these poems can appeal to and inspire empathy in a wide range of people. Snaps for the sassiest or best-crafted lines, and tears for the most personal. The Internet grants a huge audience of age ranges, demographics, geographic locations, everyone.

The Internet is an amazing platform for arts of all kinds, from visual art to music, to even online literary journals…

But, I’m not trying to write a hidden advertisement or convince anyone to flock to the web here. 44f81e6577055ad230466ddac42379e6I simply have such an appreciation for a medium that can so transform the way people see and become influenced by the arts, that I want to share it with others. I spend an immense amount of time finding videos and pictures and content on the Internet finding art. Sites like Pinterest, Stumble Upon, Tumblr, and yes, YouTube make arts more available, popular, and most importantly, experienced.  I don’t have to visit a museum or gallery to appreciate a painting, because what’s most interesting to me is discovering a whole new art through the vessel of the web.

Certainly many lovers of poetry would argue that popularity does not make a poem valuable, which is true, but I admire that the Internet can help a very modern and unique form of poetry become something completely different.

Thanks to my WiFi connection, my feeble experience of slam poetry rocketed off into an extreme love for the art, and it is only continuing to grow.

— Emily Danzig

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