ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
Writers and their fans love a party.
Ernest Hemingway was able to squeeze in some trout fishing at a nearby river early that morning.
Fans of Walt Whitman greeted his entrance into town, then followed him everywhere.
We were surprised at how much trash talking the “Big Four” writers did at the event, especially Mark Twain and Whitman. Apparently it’s an American tradition of long standing. You get a hint of this in our initial report.
Our reporter Mel Diper (@meldiper) did three interviews before becoming indisposed. Here are statements gleaned from his notes:
Poet Maya Angelou: “I was exquisitely gratified by the experience, I truly was. A spring tonic to renew the spirit. Such men. I feared entanglement with brutes! But they were, all four of them– even Ernest– very charming.”
Participatory Journalist George Plimpton: “I met the organizer of this event once before, you know. Don’t trust him!” (To a waitress): “I believe I’ll have a be-ah.” (Note: beer.) “It’s been ye-ahs” (years) “since I had one.” (An assistant of Plimpton’s pays for the beer. Like many writers of his station, George never carries money.)
Critic/Novelist Mary McCarthy: “Young man, have you been drinking too much? You are not looking well!”
Stay tuned for more reports from the venue!
THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
We fill in the other two #1 spots in our Tournament brackets with two other legendary names from the past.
C.) Herman Melville. What does one do with Moby Dick? One of the other top competitors, Toni Morrison, explained once in a long essay the novel’s symbolism and significance. Talk about writing about America! The Pequod with its hierarchy, mad captain, and multi-cultural crew remains a striking metaphor about the country and concept “America.” What do they chase? That which Melville, writing ten years before the Civil War, saw as America’s founding flaw– the “white whale.” An allusion to slavery at minimum. I doubt if any novel ever written by anyone anywhere has been more ambitious– ambitious in terms of discussing the world, nature, society– and ambitious in looking inward toward man’s sins and soul. It’s also a great yarn. Lest we think this was all Melville wrote, he began as a popular novelist, wrote some classic short stories, including one, “Bartleby,” which in our cubicle work world is more relevant today than ever. Herman finished his career with a great novella, “Billy Budd,” just to show he still had it. But Moby Dick. A novel which can stand with any novel written by the world’s best, even the Russians.
D.) Mark Twain. We happily bow to the voice of the crowd on this selection. As a persona he’s up there with anyone. He has his undeniable masterpiece, other classic works, fantastic essays and a few good stories. If we’re talking about which writers defined the culture and the American voice, then figures like Twain have an undeniable edge. We also can’t deny there was a time when American lit was much bigger in cultural importance than it is now. But be aware– there are many brackets to fill. A wide variety of voices will be announced.
(We will be staging a press conference at which all four #1 seeded writers will be present. At least, we have commitments from them. Could be exciting.)
WE’VE given much thought to the venues for the All-Time American Writers Tournament. As the city of Philadelphia was a successful spot for the recent NFL draft, we’d like to hold the tournament itself in that fair town. But for the period when we fill in the brackets– the “season” before the event– we’ve decided on a roomier place. Less hectic. A more rustic setting– a small town near woods and lakes. There will be plenty of space for the legendary names to relax and be themselves, before we bring them intensively under the spotlight.
AS PART of our preparation for the All-Time American Writers Tournament, we’re re-reading several classic American writers to see, frankly, if they’re any good. The National Football League has their “combine” for evaluating talent. This is the stage we’re in now.
How are the writers doing?
Not that well. Perhaps worst of all is Theodore Dreiser, who wrote at least two historically significant novels. I just completed reading one of them, Sister Carrie. While one can see why the book was controversial in its day, by our “Pop Lit” standards it doesn’t hold up– even though it was a populist novel. The word-clotted style doesn’t help it. The narrative never creates momentum or excitement. The plot becomes predictable about halfway through– from that point the story is a slowly winding-down dirge. It’s a poorer read than a Rex Beach novel we recently reviewed, written in the same time period. But Dreiser’s book was “Literature,” don’t ya know.
The question is: How far do we go in keeping writers in context– in giving them credit for their importance in their own era? We don’t wish to completely discount that– but, we also plan to bring objectivity to this tournament.
Do we then also bring the same criteria we’re bringing to Dreiser (“Show us how good you are!”) to more recent, trendy authors?
David Foster Wallace is as unreadable as Dreiser– except in the opinion of his fan club, a well-connected, over-educated clique which carries weight in today’s lit world. Putting Wallace into context might work to his detriment. His writing may be as obsolete in 100 years as Dreiser’s is now.
Dilemmas! Dilemmas! We’ll post our criteria soon. . . .