Friday, 29 October 2010
Somali author Nadifa Mohamed has been nominated for the 2010 Guardian First Book Award. Also shortlisted for this year's Dylan Thomas Prize, her debut novel 'Black Mamba Boy' describes a journey from her homeland to Port Talbot in Wales and the experiences endured. Up against such names as Kathryn Schulz and Maile CHapman, the winner will be announced in early December. Here is a podcast about the award, featuring one of the nominees, Ned Beauman.
Hungarian journalist Joseph Pulitzer, died in 1911 at the age of 64. The son of the 'foremost merchant' in Mako, Pulitzer enjoyed a prosperous childhood, receiving private tuition and learning French and German. Yet after the death of his father, the family went bankrupt, and Pulitzer attempted to enlist in several European armies before emigrating to the U.S. Following his participation in the Civil War, Pulitzer worked a number of odd jobs, including being a mule hustler and a waiter, before his first journalistic piece was published in the 'Westliche Post'.
He became an American citizen in 1867, and two years later was chosen and elected as a Republican member of the Missouri State Assembly, despite being three years under the legal age. However, a decade later, disgusted by GOP corruption, he switched to the Democrat party. By now a highly successful editor, Pulitzer purchased a variety of newspapers, including the 'Post', 'The St. Louis Dispatch', and 'New York World' - increasing the circulation of the latter by 40 times. Pulitzer's legacy has been cemented in establishing the world's first school of journalism, and the famous Pulitzer Prize.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Llloyd Dorfman is not a name which many theatre-goers would recognise. However, it is sure to become much more well-known, after the founder of Travelex made a donation of £10 million to the National Theatre. The 'supremely generous gift' marks the beginnings of the £70 million redevelopment of the Grade II listed building, which will include gardens and an education centre. The Cottesloe Theatre, the smallest of the three auditoria, will now be renamed after its benefactor.
American writer Henry David Thoreau gets sent all the unsold copies of his first work, in 1853. Only 1000 copies of 'A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers' had been published at the author's own expense, yet four years later, Thoreau was sent 760, over three-quarters, of the books back. Ostensibly a piece of travel writing, written in tribute to his late brother, the book was published with considerably more success in 1868, six years after Thoreau's death.
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Although the political scene in the U.S. is preoccupied with the upcoming mid-term elections, a week later sees the release of a new book, 'written' by ex-President George W. Bush. 'Decision Points', will apparently not be a traditional memoir, but instead an account of the key decisions he made whilst in office. Frequently a figure of comedic gold in the press, it is interesting o see how the release is being reported in the U.S. The right wing Fox News channel, currently the broadcaster of the Tea Party Movement, quotes the publisher, stating the book will offer 'gripping, never-before-heard detail' on his 'historic achievements'. Compare this to Dean Obeidallah, a writer for the liberal Huffington Post, who has some suggestions on how Bush has managed to fill 512 complete pages:
1. Font Size: 96. That size font easily lets you fill a page with just a few words.
2. Blank pages so you can doodle: I'm sure Bush loved to doodle while reading. (I can imagine Bush exclaiming: "I'm a doodler!") These blank pages will let you doodle things that Bush would have likely drawn while reading a book, such as drawing a turkey by using your hand, the Texas Rangers' logo, Dick Cheney's head and other fun stuff. That's about 100 pages right there.
3. Favorite recipes: Bush will share recipes for his favorite foods like how to make a quesadilla, popcorn or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Making PBJ sandwiches are not as easy as they look as Bush will show us over 10 to 20 pages of his book.
4. Another 100 pages of Sudoku, word jumbles and connect the dots so you can fill the work day the same way Bush did on many days. The connect dots section will even draw things that Bush liked, such as Weapons of Mass Destruction - this can turn into a selling point for the book as Bush can exclaim: "I finally found the WMDs and so can you-They're on page 327 of my new book!"
5. Decision Points: Bush will complete the book by sharing with us some of the key decisions he made during his life such as: What nickname to give to Vladimir Putin? (Final decision: "Pootie Poot" - that's true); How to eat a pretzel and watch a football game on TV at same time? (Final decision: Don't do both together or could lead to choking- true again.)
Virgina Woolf's 'Jacob's Room' was published in 1922. Her third novel, the work was the first full-length book published by the Woolfs' Hogarth Press, complete with cover designed by her sister. Thought to be a fictional biography of her late brother, Thoby Stephen, 'Jacob's Room' appears to be a turning point in Woolf's literary career, she herself writing in her diary of the achievement 'that I have found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice'.
Indeed the novel can be seen as a departure from her two previous books, 'The Voyage Out' and 'Night and Day', and instead adopts the more modernist and experiemental style that appears in her later works, such as 'To the Lighthouse' and 'The Waves'. Perhaps the most striking feature of Woolf's third novel, is the absence of the 'protagonist', as the readers' perception of Jacob is primarily formed through other characters' impressions.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke. J. G. Ballard. All have somthing in common - the formula for good science writing. In this podcast, tying in with the Royal Society's annual science fiction prize, Tracy Chevalier debates how to craft the perfect science novel, with titles such as 'A World Without Ice', and 'We Need to Talk About Kelvin' under discussion.
Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen re-enrolled at his local school in 1822, at the age of 17. Andersen had previously dropped out of education 6 years earlier, hoping to provide additional income for his struggling family. However, unsuited to a factory environment and rejected as a singer, dancer, actor and playwright, Andersen found himself back in school, supported by wealthy arts patron Jonas Collin.
Yet, stuck in a class of 11-year-olds and supposedly an unattractive boy, Andersen's school years were far form the happiest days of his life. Tormented, failing, and at the mercy of a temperatmental headmaster with whom he boarded, Andersen was the ultimate misfit, often driven to bouts of severe depression. It is in these haunting memories that many of his works have found their inspiration, such as 'The Ugly Duckling', and 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.
Monday, 25 October 2010
Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney has been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. The poet has been recognised for his collection 'the Human Chain', a work which won him the Forwar Prize earlier this year. Heaney will join his fellow nine shortlisted candidates, including Simon Armitage and Derek Walcott, in a poetry reading at London's Royal Festival Hall on the eve on the announcement, which will take place on January 24th. Founded in 1953, the award comes with a monetary prize of £15,000.
The army of Henry V defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The event was to become the inspiration for Shakespeare's play written over 180 years later, and formed the last part of the historical tetralogy which included 'Richard II', 'Henry IV part 1', and 'Henry IV part 2'. A play renowned for its patriotic themes, a Laurence Olivier adaptation led to a resurgance in its popularity during World War Two. Arguably the most famous lines in the play are delivered on 25th October, in Henry V's pre-battle rallying cry - the St. Crispin's Day Speech:
- And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
- From this day to the ending of the world,
- But we in it shall be remembered-
- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
- For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
- Shall be my brother
Friday, 22 October 2010
Everyone is familiar with the works of one of Britain's most popular writing talents. 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'Emma' are just three of Jane Austen's novels that have enchanted their readers for almost 200 years. Yet new research suggests that the words we read, may not actually be hers.
During a project to create an online archive of Austen's handwritten fiction manuscripts, Professor Kathryn Sutherland has discovered 'a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing', which makes her think that a third party was 'heavily involved' in the editing process. She says, 'the polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in Emma and Persuasion is simply not there', but instead the manuscripts 'reveal Austen to be an experimental and innovative writer, constantly trying new things'. The online project is set to be launched on October 25th.
French writer and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre won and declined the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1964. The first Nobel Laureate to voluntarily decline the prize, Sartre had a history for refusing awards, having previously turned down the Legion d'honneur in 1945. As it turned out, the embarassment to the the Swedish Academy could have been avoided, as it later transpired Sartre had written to them two weeks previously asking to be removed from the list of nominees.
However, this went unheeded, and so, on the 23rd of October, 'Le Figaro' published a statement by Sartre explaining the reasoning behind his refusal. His primary objection, was that he did not wish to be seen to be taking sides in an East vs. West cultural struggle by accepting an award from a prominent Western cultural institution. Sartre subsequently hid in a friend's house in a bid to escape the media attention.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Following her success in an adaptation of Moliere's 'The Misanthrope', Keira Knightley is once again to take to this stage. Assuming the role of a teacher, Knightley will be performing in 'The Children's Hour', a play written by Lillian Hellman in 1934, and last produced in London by the National in 1994. She will be joined by Elisabeth Moss, best known from American drama series 'Mad Men' and 'The West Wing', and the two will open the production early next year.
Ernest Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', was published in 1940. Coming 10 years after the publication of 'A Farewell to Arms', Hemingway's new novel marked his first real success since, with one critic commenting, 'Hemingway the artist is with us again; and it is like having an old friend back'. The title of the book is a quotation from John Donne's 'Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions', itself very famous, which starts with 'no man is an island, entire of itself..'.
Written partly while Hemingway was in Cuba, the work is based around his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, and thus depiction of death becomes its primary theme. Yet this has caused controversy about the style of Hemingway's narrative, as he, clumsily according to many, uses archaisms and transliterated Spanish to convey the sense of a foreign setting. The work was an undeniable success and sold over half a million copies within its first six months. It was also nominated for the 1941 Pulitzer Prize, yet the President of Columbia University decided that no award was to be given for letters that year, and so Hemingway's masterpiece was never recognised.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
His mother died when he was two, leaving him an orphan. His wife, thirteen years his junior and also his cousin, died of the same condition, spinning him into a state of depression.
Edgar Allan Poe's relationships with women were both complicated and destructive, yet inspired some of the best American literature of the 19th century. Here is a film depicting his life
French poet Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854. The child of a soldier, Rimbaud was raised by his mother from an early age, as his father, growing irritated by domesticity, fled the household. However, influenced by her strict Catholicism, she ruled her children with an iron fist, reportedly depriving them of meals if they failed to recite hundreds of lines of Latin verse correctly. An extremely gifted boy, Rimbaud's first poem, 'Les Etrennes des orphelines' was published in 1870, and he continued to write under the tutelage of Georges Izambard - a new teacher, who became his literary mentor and a great friend.
Yet shortly afterwards, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and Izambard left, leaving Rimbaud in a a state of despondency. His behaviour started on a downward spiral, and he began to drink heavily, steal books from local shops and become unkempt. A short but eventful affair began with Paul Verlaine, during which the two lived a lifestyle of absinthe and hasish in the poverty of London and ending with Verlaine shooting Rimbaud twice. Although he gave up writing at the age of 21, Victor Hugo described him as 'an infant Shakespeare', and his best known works include, 'Le bateau ivre' and 'Lettres'. Rimbaud died in 1891 from cancer, at the age of 37.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Some are bold and and attratcive, other merely a last resort, yet a book is nearly always judged by it cover. In this video, Simon Garfield discusses the influence of this art and how it complements, enhances or detracts from the work.
Irish writer Jonathan Swift died at the age of 77, in 1745. Born in Dublin, the Glorious Revolution forced Swift to move to England in 1688, and he soon became the personal assisstant to a high ranking diplomat, Sir William Temple. After several years, which included being introduced to King William III, Swift returned to Ireland, only to come back to England on account of ill-health - now known to be Meniere's Disease.
From then on, Swift barely settled in either, before uprooting to the other. As well as becoming ordained, Swfit attempted to establish his literary career, and formed part of the Scriblerus Club, alongisde names such as Alexander Pope. Although Swift's themes became increasingly morose, his most famous work is undoubtably 'Gulliver's Travel'.
Monday, 18 October 2010
Last week saw author Howard Jacobson shoot to the top of the literary pile as he became the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize. The oldest winner at 68, since William Golding in 1980, Jacobson was honoured for his comic novel 'The Finkler Question', deemed by Andrew Motion a 'completely worthy winner'. In this video, Jacobson gives his reaction to receiving the prestigious award.
Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull' premiered in St. Petersburg in 1896. Although he admitted during its creation that he was 'flagrantly disregarding the basic tenets of the stage', Chekhov did not expect the play to flop in the manner in which it did. The hostile audience intimidated Vera Komissarzhevskaya, widely regarded as one of the best actresses in Russia, and she lost her voice.
By Act Two, in a desperate attempt to escape from the booing and jeering, Chekhov was hiding backstage and when he emerged at the end of the play, he declared, 'not if I live to be seven hundred will I write another play'. Yet in spite of its disastrous opening, 'The Seagull' soon became a resounding success, being performed at the Moscow Art Theatre, and receiving praise from names such as Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Maxim Gorky. The image of a seagull is now among one of the most famous literary avian motifs, joining Coleridge's albatross, Keat's nightingale, and Poe's raven.
Monday, 11 October 2010
The season for literary awards is fully underway, with the Nobel Prize winner announced on Thursday, and the Man Booker to be revealed tomorrow. In this podcast, the winner of the Guardian's Children's Prize for Fiction, Michelle Paver, and Seamus Heaney among others, discuss their celebrated works.
American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard was born in 1925. The son of a General Motors worker, Leonard lived a nomadic childhood, but settled in Detroit at the age of 9, later earning him the nickname, 'the Dickens of Detroit'. After graduating from university, Leonard joined the Navy, serving for three years in the South Pacific before deciding to pursue a literary career and returning to education. He began with entering short story competitions, specialising in Westerns, and his first success came in 1951 with 'Argosy'. Called the 'great American writer' by Stephen King, Leonard's best known works include, 'Hombre', '3:10 to Yuma', and 'Mr. Majestyk'.
Friday, 8 October 2010
His books have been the source of religious controversy, uprisings, and even death threats, yet Salman Rushdie's latest novel is inspired by seemingly innocuous video games. Comparing the written and computer generated formats, Rushdie said, 'video games are often based on a classical quest format. That fits well with a fable. The book is about the value of life, and in video games you can have a thousand lives. So I contrasted those two things'. However, although he enjoyed writing children's books, Rushdie is clear that it is something he does not want to pursue full time. 'Luka and the Fire of Life', a present for his 13-year-old son, was published last week. Here is an interview about the new release.
Virginia Woolf's 'The Waves' was published in 1931. Considered the last of her major works, it is Woolf's most experimental novel, asserted by her nephew to be 'the culminating point in her career as an artist'. As with Woolf's other writings, 'The Waves' pursues a detailed examination of character, as the six voices weave a narrative through soliloquies, interrupted by occasional third-person interludes. As the novel follows the characters from childhood through to adulthood, many have seen glimpses of Woolf's friends and family, including her brother, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, and T.S. Eliot.
Such was the brilliance of the work, that French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, said, 'I do not believe I am committing an error, however, when I put Virginia Woolf among the four or five great virtuosos of the English language and among the rare contemporary novelists whose work stands some chance of lasting more than ten years'.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. The first South American winner of the prize since 1982, Vargas Llosa first thought the announcement was a joke. His career has not been easy, but following book burnings and a bitter personal feud with a fellow writer, Vargas Llosa has published 30 plays, novels and essays, translated into 31 languages - the best known of which include, 'The Time of he Hero', and 'The Green House'. Hailed for his 'cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat', Vargas Llosa will receive a 10 million kroner reward.
English poet and playwright John Marston, was born in 1576. The son of a lawyer, Marston followed his father's footsteps to Middle Temple, having completed his education at Oxford. Yet despite a censure for such activities in his father's will, Marston retained a passion for writing. Beginning with an imitation of the classics, Marston's short literary career stared with satire and epics, including the 'Scourge of Villanie', which some believe to have influenced some of Shakespeare's more unstable characters.
He soon entered the theatrical fray, working for Henslowe in 1599 and producing his debut work, 'Histriomastix'. Thus began the 'War of the Theatres', with Marston and Dekker on one side, and Jonson on the other. Both playwrights were frequently satirised in each other's works, and Jonson claimed to have beaten Marston, yet they were seemingly reconciled in later years. Having offended the king with a play, and cut short his writing career, Marston died in 1634 at the age of 57. Although not as well known as some contemporaries, Marston's most famous works include 'Antonio's Revenge', 'The Dutch Courtesan', and 'The Malcontent'.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
It is one of the most famous literary relationships, and now a poem in which Ted Hughes describes the night his first wife Sylvia Plath took her own life in 1963, has been published for the first time. Beginning with 'What happened that night? Your final night', 'Last Letter' details the events of Plath's final weekend. The poem was discovered by the guest editor of the 'New Statesman' Melvyn Bragg, who was directed to the piece by Hughes' second wife Carol.
Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson died in 1892, at the age of 83. A descendent of King Edward III, Tennyson was the fourth of twelve children, all of whom received an excellent supplementary education from their father, a rector. Tennyson first published poetry at 17, yet it was at Cambridge University where his literary career blossomed, as he won the Chancellor's Gold Medal, and came to the attention of Samuel Taylor Coleridge with his first solo collection of poems, 'Poems Chiefly Lyrical'.
It was there that Tennyson met someone who was to become a major influence on his works - best friend Arthur Hallam. Hallam's sudden death at the age of 22 devestated the young Tennyson, who composed elegy 'In Memoriam A.H.H' and referenced him in many other poems, even naming his own son Hallam. Tennyson, a favourite of Queen Victoria, became Poet Laureate in 1850, following the death of William Wordsworth, becoming the man to hold the longest tenure before or since. One of Britain's most well loved poets, Tennyson has written many notable works, with the most famous including, 'The Lady of Shalott', 'Idylls of a King', 'Ulysses', and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Leona Lewis was punched, Tony Blair had eggs thrown at him, but author Jonathan Franzen had his glasses stolen at his latest book signing. Two men approached him, one handing him a ransom note for £100,000 before jumping into the Serpentine Lake in London. The writer, whose novel 'Freedom' had to have thousands of copies recalled earlier this week due to printing errors, was said to be 'shocked'.
Polish-born American author Isaac Bashevis Singer, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. A Jewish writer, Singer wrote the majority of his works in Yiddish, even delivering the first part of his Nobel Prize speech in his favoured language.
Singer had suffered tragedy during the war, losing both his mother and brother to the Nazis; an experience which was expressed clearly in his writings, as the Swedish Academy recognised him for 'his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life'. His best known works include, 'The Family Moskat', 'The Manor' and 'The Estate'.
Monday, 4 October 2010
They have filled the newspapers for weeks and pitted brother against brother, but the party conference season is finally drawing to a close. However, the end does not seem in sight for the political memoirs which have been pouring out of Westminster this summer. Here, the Guardian examines the influence of these books, and uncovers some new reads
The first complete English Bible was published in 1535. Printed in Antwerp, the Coverdale Bible used translations from William Tyndale for the New Testament, whilst Myles Coverdale himself translated the Old, mainly from Latin editions. It was subsequently re-edited and re-published, with the 1539 folio edition carrying the royal licence and therefore becoming the first officially approved Bible translation in English.
Friday, 1 October 2010
Bestselling 'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling, has hinted that more installments might be in the offing. Speaking to Oprah Winfrey, Rowling said that she 'could definitely' write more books as the characters were still all in her head. Also speaking about the disappointments she suffered whilst trying to get her first book published, Rowling finished the interview by stating, 'I'm not going to say I won't'.
American writer E.B. White died in 1985, at the age of 86. The youngest child of a piano manufacturer, White served in the army before going to Cornell University and working as editor of the student newspaper. After graduating, White went on to write for the national press, becoming a sports journalist for 'The New York Times', before turning his hand to children's fiction on behalf of his neice.
White did not produce many famous works, yet the two he did, are widely considered classics. 'Stuart Little' was published in 1945, and 'Charlotte's Web' was written 7 years later, the two jointly receiving the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1970 for lasting contributions to children's literature. White was given further recognition for his works, winning an honorary Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.