#2 Selections Aftermath: Fuller Report

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Scott wide shot

As hinted at by the photos posted previously, the Tournament site became a wild place last Saturday after the #2 seed announcements.

The Big Four dropped back into town so Ernest Hemingway could join Scott Fitzgerald in the celebration. They held court at the new bistro. Norman Mailer joined the two for a time but couldn’t keep up with their drinking. Mailer was last seen staggering out the back door after losing an arm-wrestling contest to a grinning Hemingway. Mailer hasn’t been seen since. Scratch one of our commentators.

emily-dickinson painting
At the same time, Emily D joined the two friends. She wore a sleek white dress, and spoke to Scott while Hem was engaged in his arm-wrestling.

“I am small like the wren, and my hair is bold,” she told Scott, “as is my pen. If you would have the leisure to speak to me, I should feel quick gratitude.”

She fell instantly in love with him, but was also intensely intimidated by Scott and by the situation. While Hemingway bellowed nearby.

Fitzgerald’s green eyes were indeed entranced by the poet. He gazed at her wistfully– but two glasses of wine were too much for Emily and she fled back to her room, vowing to ever remain. Scratch our other commentator.

Fitzgerald was later carried off unconscious himself, but has promised not to take another drink while in training. An observer, Raymond Carver, remarked that this “was a good thing. A small thing, but a good thing.”

The rest of the night is blurry. Hemingway stood in the middle of the street challenging any writer to a fight. Herman Melville and Mark Twain wondered whether or not to intervene. Just then a dogsled pulled up. Jack London stepped out from behind the pack.

jack london
“What’s doing?” he asked.

Herman M pointed to swaggering Hem, as if to ask for a favor.

Jack London, an authentic tough guy, knocked the bear out with one punch. Melville thereupon picked up the sprawling writer, threw him over his shoulder, not without difficulty, and the Big Four went back to their camp to resume fishing in the morning.

The night culminated at the coffeeshop across the street, which was packed to the rafters when Jack Kerouac stepped to the podium.

jack-kerouac other
“This reading this coffeeshop this small all-American town incredible big porch big bridge in the mist this Emily Dickinson evening of beatitude writers everywhere without beginning or ending, heavenly, man. O Whitman! O Salinger! O Twain! It’s Saturday night all over America.

“I think of Hemingway bears, Scott purple pink ties, Mailer Pound Plath noisemakers hepcat Walt Whitman writers sucking on beers and pipes scratching into paper nutty wild jazzy sweet words people are yelling or whispering blown boom trombone insights and attitudes to the beat of their inner peace,

“I think of soft smart Wharton Eliot Updike Redcoats sky-high with their reps happy to be part of this sacred gathering prayerful celebration,

“I think of all writers everyplace carrying on the tradition, man, karmic drinking of this art this experience, this too-musical too-cool tournament give me the vibe the beat the bebop syncopation keeping me going man while I sneak out the back door back stairs back on the road back into the starry Van Gogh heavenly night.”
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Next: More analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ayn Rand. More “Appreciations” from real guest writers. Possibly an answer to our Trivia Question.

#2 Seeds Parties Report

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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paul whiteman record

The party for F. Scott Fitzgerald had music of the Paul Whiteman jazz band playing– on recording.
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josephine baker

Josephine Baker made an appearance, by all accounts was dancing.
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champagne

The Fitzgeralds sent their large champagne bill to the Tournament. WHAT?!!

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dollar sign

Celebration for Ayn Rand‘s inclusion in the Tournament was more subdued– she and a quiet circle of acolytes.
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ayn_rand_smoking

Ayn herself did most of the talking. Her long-suffering husband was in attendance.

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denyce graves

Opera star Denyce Graves was rumored to have sung at Toni Morrison‘s celebration. Graves has starred in the Morrison-penned opera “Margaret Garner.”

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Beatniks-1

While Jack Kerouac drank extensively at his own party, many of his “Beat” fans were more focused on smoking (not necessarily tobacco) and drinking coffee.

Beatniks

This party went late. Ended early morning with most partygoers on the floor– sleeping, or a few beatnik couples love making.

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trash 2

Four More Tournament Selections

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

The #2 Bracket Seeds

These four literary giants are very different from one another in style, voice, background, and ideology. What they have in common is the expression of American striving.

scott and zelda

A.)  F. Scott Fitzgerald. The writer as myth. The most glamorous of all literary stars, Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the American Dream and lived it. With Fitzgerald the case to be made is why he isn’t a #1 seed. For two reasons. First, he didn’t influence and express the American voice to the same extent as our first four tourney candidates. Nobody talks like Fitzgerald or writes like him. Being the best means being unique– and he’s the best American writer, the best stylist, if not the most important. Second, Fitzgerald has never been as big on a world scale as the others. Other cultures never quite “got” him– a sign of how truly American Fitzgerald is. Still, he’s never been more appreciated– the artistic failure of the most recent “Gatsby” movie notwithstanding. Fitzgerald’s works– all his works– contain special magic, part of his uniquely American vision, which can’t be adequately translated to more superficial vehicles like movies and television.
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Ayn Rand
B.) Ayn Rand. The literary world for seventy years has refused to acknowledge this person, but it’s like trying to ignore the sun or the moon. Her influence on America is bigger than what has become quite a tiny literary world. Rand’s ideas and analysis are the world we live in now. America, with its oversized strengths and flaws, its egoism and materialism, is a Randian world. If we as advocates of literature ask literature to be a living part of the civilization, a necessary part of the argument, then Ayn Rand, more than any American writer, past or present, fulfills that role. The Reagan era took its ideas from her. The Tea Party of more recent years was part Jefferson, part Jesus, and part Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged alone sells half-a-million copies a year. Added note for the p.c. crowd: Ayn Rand was a feminist before there was feminism.

But, the writing? What about the writing? Despite the ostensible logic she claimed to express, Ayn Rand’s novels– even their ideas– are illusion. Her books are very much creative works of art. Passionate works, which is why they appeal to so many individuals. Flawed Atlas Shrugged is one of the most artistically ambitious American novels ever written. Her earlier masterwork The Fountainhead is one of the most accomplished– also one of the most overlooked, because the extreme ideology in the later novel infuriates so many establishment intellectuals, never more than in the present time. (New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul put Rand’s novels at the top of her “Hate Reading” list.)

I’ll address Ayn Rand and her work further in a separate post.
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Toni-Morrison 2
C.) Toni Morrison.  Did we include Toni Morrison as a #2 seed in the brackets to confound skeptics on both the Left and the Right? Perhaps. Toni Morrison was an essential writer to include in the tourney, not for America Future, but for America NOW.

Morrison allows us to bring American literature to its varied present while at the same time strengthening its tie to the past. Morrison has a unique voice– a big, loud, American voice– which at the same time is inextricably linked to founding American authors like Herman Melville and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If Ayn Rand’s viewpoint is part of the contemporary American argument, then so is Morrison’s. Her emergence as an author marked recognition of what had always been present; the contribution to American letters– to the creation of a unique American literature– of the African-American voice.

Our literature is NOT simply a transplant of European sensibilities onto this continent, but a fusion of many influences, many voices. From the nation’s beginnings, the black voice, which includes African folk tales, black music, black humor, has been an underground current seeping into other currents. A voice which was absorbed and changed itself by other voices. Those writers influenced by the black experience of America range from Joel Chandler to Carson McCullers to William Faulkner to the Beats. To even our verbose tourney friend Norman Mailer.

Here in this country, in this event, there’s no “white” literature or “black” literature, or this division or that one. There’s only American literature. One of the goals of the Tournament is to show that.

Besides, Toni Morrison isn’t just a renowned novelist. She’s also a dominating essayist, and has written the libretto for an opera– “Margaret Garner”– which is quite good.
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Kerouac w cigarette talking

D.) Jack Kerouac. As dynamic a persona, as mythic a person, and as American a voice as anyone. On the Road, his most influential book, is quintessentially American. As much as any work of literature, it captures and defines this country, which has always, always, been about the open road– the impulse toward freedom, the need to travel ever farther. Where, we’re not always sure. Fitzgerald called it a green light. Kerouac expressed the driving and striving on a more visceral level.
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We at New Pop Lit believe in the American experiment– in Gatsby’s “green light.”

-K.W.