Thursday, April 25, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Virginia Woolf


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Virginia Woolf
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Woolf,

I first read your books as a college student. First was Mrs. Dalloway, a book that is both about everything and nothing at the same time.  An entire life contained in the events of a single day.

I have to admit that I didn't instantly fall in love with your stream-of-consciousness style. But I was fascinated by your portrayal of the subtleties of a person's heart. You "got" sadness.

Unfortunately, you got it too well. You died at your own hand. People say now that you may have had bipolar disorder, something the medical establishment knew very little about in the 1930s and 1940s. Certainly they didn't know enough to help you. We lost you to suicide. I like to think it would have been different for you if you lived now. I hope it would.

I recently read To the Lighthouse, and gasped as I read, recognizing so many of the situations: the way men and women speak past each other, the difficulty of finding your way as an artist.

Your style may have been radical, but your themes remain universal. A Room of One's Own shouldn't be a radical idea, but so may of us still struggle for literal and figurative space for our art.

I wish you'd found a lasting place for yours.

-Samantha

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Ursula LeGuin


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Ursula LeGuin
_____________________________
Dear Ms. LeGuin,

I haven't read enough of your work yet. A couple of years ago I was part of a book club that selected The Left Hand of Darkness to read.

I was reading a fifty year old book and yet the ideas felt fresh and new and so apropos to what was going on in the world. In a science fiction setting ostensibly about politics as much as anything else, the book explored gender fluidity before that was a term anyone knew.

I'm often not engaged by novels I'd called "idea books" where the concepts take precedence to character and plot, but all were so interwoven in this one. As soon as I set it down, I picked it up to read again.

I'll probably read a few times before I die. But in the meantime, I'm hoping to see what else you had to say. All the rest of your books are on my TBR.

Recently, probably because of your death, articles about you and your writing advice have been buffeting around the internet. It's good advice. No nonsense. To the point.



Even on the other side of the veil, you're still inspiring generations of women who write.

I already miss you.
-Samantha

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Sojourner Truth


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Sojourner Truth
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Truth,

For the longest time, I thought poetry was supposed to be decorous and calm.

The classic poems I'd been shown in school as a child were probably selected for their inoffensiveness above any other criteria.  Not to put down Mr. Wordsworth, but "I wandered lonely as a cloud" is definitely on the sweeter side of things.

But then, I found you. I wish I could remember the context more fully. But I do remember that I heard your famous spoken word piece "Ain't I a Woman?" performed by someone costumed as you. It must have been at some kind of history event.

It blew me away.

It was raucous. Loud. Funny. Angry. Sarcastic. Definitely not decorous.

Completely new to me. I was enthralled.

Since then, I've become a fan of good spoken word poetry. There is something special about poetry that is performed (not read) by its creator, where the voice and rhythm, appearance and movement, and words all combine to create the experience. I wish I could have heard you speak.

Reading about you later in my life, I was amazed by all you had overcome and how tirelessly you worked for social reform. Truly you were a woman. I'd love to become half the woman you were.

-Samantha



Monday, April 22, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Shirley Jackson


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Shirley Jackson
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Jackson,

Hello darkness, my old friend! Any time I pick up one of your books or stories, I get this tingle just knowing that you're about to scare and disturb and thrill me again. Even for the books I've read repeatedly (The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are perennial favorites), the effect lingers.

Your stories are all the scarier for the realization that the monsters are not supernatural in nature, but are just human beings exercising ordinary cruelty. The monsters are us.

Your most famous work is probably the short story "The Lottery." Thanks to its inclusion in many textbooks, most American schoolchildren have a chance to read it in middle or high school.

For me, that story shone, shocking me during a year where most things I was assigned to read bored me silly. Such an unflinching look at what people will do to one another if they believe it will protect them from pain themselves.

The worldview in your stories is dark and unforgiving, but deeply affecting and thought-provoking.

Thank you,
-Samantha

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Jean Rhys


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Jean Rhys
_____________________________
Dear Ms. Rhys,

I've only read one of your books, but it was a doozy! Wide Sargasso Sea was the first book of its ilk I ever read: a book that stands as its own work of art, but which draws inspiration from another.

I've become a fan of the entire genre: I call these stories backdoor stories, because they slip behind the scenes of another story and reinterpret them.

I already loved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It still ranks among my favorite books.

But your book turned that book on its ear, exploring who Bertha Mason was before she became Rochester's dark secret. Brontë doesn't give much detail about Bertha, so she left you plenty of room to invent and you created a masterwork commentary on marriage, the roles of women, colonialism in the Caribbean, and so much more.

It was stunning story. Brilliantly insightful and moving. I only wish I could read it again for the first time, not knowing what was to come.

-Samantha

Friday, April 19, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery (I know, I'm cheating a little to use her for Q, but I don't have a favorite dead writer whose name starts with Q).
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Christie,

My mother gave me your books to read many years ago. I'd long been a fan of Nancy Drew, and she thought I might be ready for some more adult mysteries.

So I spent a summer working my way through your impressive catalog. I don't know if I read all 66 of your novels, but I made a good attempt! I was an equal opportunity fan, loving both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

I recently revisited your work when the new movie edition of Murder on the Orient Express was made. It was gorgeous, by the way--I bet you would have loved it! Even though I remembered that one well, it was still wonderful to watch the mystery unfold.

That was what I enjoyed in all your books: the chase. Not just the one on the page, but the one between me (the reader) and you (the writer). I'd try and try to guess what the twist was going to be, who the real murderer would turn out to be, or how they did it. And again and again, I'd be wrong.

But I never felt cheated. Sure, there were red herrings, but when the drawing room explanation finally came, the clues had been there all along. No information had been withheld; I just hadn't spotted the details that mattered. It was a kind of literary sleight of hand, and you were a master.

Thanks for the ride!
-Samantha

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Dorothy Parker


This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.

Today's writer is Dorothy Parker
_____________________________

Dear Ms. Parker,

I first came to admire you for your quick wit and unapologetic snark. People quote you all the time without knowing it's you they quote:

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.

I hate writing, I love having written. 

If you were writing today, you'd be a superstar on Twitter for your brief and expressive poniards.Your Constant Reader reviews are works of art in and of themselves, though I'm glad my own work never passed under your laser eyes. I'm not sure my skin is quite that thick yet!

Your short stories and poems capture the brave front in the face of disillusionment. I suspect your black humor was a coping mechanism for a lot of pain. Your suicide attempts showed that "Enough Rope" --the title of one of your poetry collections--was not just a joke. Your struggles were real and difficult, even when hidden behind a witty remark.

Once you moved on to Hollywood, you worked on so many amazing projects, writing for A Star is Born and The Little Foxes, bringing your sharp tongue into play on some very memorable dialogue. Your words in Bette Davis's mouth? Whew!

I didn't really know about your political life until recently, but you were never afraid to take a stand, even an unpopular one. The world needs more women like you.

Thanks for teaching me that it's okay not to be nice sometimes.
-Samantha