Writers Tournament Combine!

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ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT 

WE NOTE the National Football League will soon commence their “Combine” used to evaluate new talent.

We at New Pop Lit have decided to conduct our own writing combine, examining renowned American writers past and present to ask the question: “Who’s good enough?” Who’s good enough to be included in the tournament’s remaining brackets?

Our crack commentators, @MelDiper, Norman Mailer, and Emily Dickinson will be back with us, covering this event AT the tournament venue as we winnow the field. Might be fun.

(We might announce the #8 seeds bracket first.)

Stay tuned.
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(Dartmouth photo.)

Writers Tournament: #7 Seeds

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(Stephen Crane.)
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Our latest entrants into the big event:

A.)  Stephen Crane.

For pure writing talent, few American writers match the author of The Red Badge of Courage, “The Open Boat,” and other classics. Decades before Hemingway, Crane saw writing visually, like a painting. His works are expressionist explosions of color and emotion.

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(Art: “Evening Sun” by Otto Dix.)

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B.)  Carl Sandburg.

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Sandburg’s poetry reflected his home base of Chicago: rough-hewn, proletarian, and real. A voice of the Great Depression of the Thirties. An American cultural giant in the Fifties. Thoroughly populist, his clear-but-strong poems were accessible to everyone.

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C.)  J.D. Salinger.

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He’s most widely known for his assigned-in-high school study of adolescence, Catcher in the Rye. But his best work is Nine Stories— nine well-crafted modernist gems of fiction synthesizing those twin pillars of American literature, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the jewels contains the best short story title ever: “For Esme with Love and Squalor.”

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D.)  Kenneth Rexroth.

A forerunner of, and large influence on, the Beats, this San Francisco poet’s uncompromising work was more accomplished. Would Ginsberg’s “Howl” have been possible without the example of Rexroth’s powerful masterpiece, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”?

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#6 Seeds!

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(Kurt Vonnegut.)

THESE SELECTIONS are a mixed bag of qualities and achievements. Perhaps all they have in common is that each attained, at some point– while alive or afterward– an enormous critical or popular reputation. Are the reputations larger than the actual work?
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A.)  Harriet Beecher Stowe

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(Etching by Francis Holl.)

Author of the most influential novel in American history. (Abe Lincoln himself half-in-jest credited Uncle Tom’s Cabin with starting the Civil War.) No American novel so keyed into its moment of time– the zeitgeist of the day. Or so provoked the emotions of its readers.
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B.)  James Baldwin

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Like other writers of his era– Gore Vidal; Mary McCarthy– Baldwin was a better essayist than novelist. An excellent essayist, during a golden age of American essays. But he was also a superb short story writer, penning several which retain their power and relevance; “Sonny’s Blues” and “Going to Meet the Man” among them.

(Photo by Allan Warren.)

 

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C.)  Kurt Vonnegut

One cannot ignore the Cult of Vonnegut! He took the serious American novel out of strictly realistic bounds into new worlds. The novels Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions were imaginative and wildly popular– especially among college students. (Would that a novelist could be so now!) In his later works Vonnegut was trying too hard to be original while simultaneously repeating himself. His best novel might be his first, Player Piano.
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D.)  Henry James

A critical darling, reputation courtesy of Harvard and Oxford. Producer of a collection of plodding, word-clotted novels, James makes the Tournament based on three of his shorter works. The pop story “Daisy Miller.” The creepy gothic pop tale Turn of the Screw. And the weirdly effective novella, Altar of the Dead.

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(Portrait of Henry James by Jacques Emile Blanche.)