Today, my father Dr. Frederick William Seinfelt again joins me on Word Patriots. We will be discussing Shakespeare on film and which cinematic versions of the plays speak most to us and why. We talk about the first three American sound films of Shakespeare: the 1929 Pickford Corporation’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” and the 1936 Irving Thalberg produced and George Cukor directed “Romeo and Juliet.” Then we examine the strengths and shortcomings of Laurence Olivier’s and Orson Welles’ various cinematic versions of Shakespeare, John Gielgud’s many Shakespearean performances including his starring roles in two versions of “Julius Caesar,” and why most critics consider Franco Zeffirelli’s film of “Romeo and Juliet” to be the definitive cinematic version. We also examine Roman Polanski’s controversial 1971 “Macbeth.” Some feel Polanski imposed his own vision of evil and his personal despair in the face of existence upon “Macbeth” and argue, as does Charles Shattuck, that it “profits nothing to reduce Shakespeare’s tragedy to Grand Guignol, or Dachau, or the Manson murders,” but my father defends Polanski’s vision. At one point in the discussion, despite his prodigious memory, my father, who will be celebrating his eightieth birthday in August, conflates the characters of Banquo and Macduff. No doubt one reason Polanski feels Macbeth to be guilty of something akin to the crime of genocide is because the Scottish chieftain attempts to wipe out the progeny of both men. Macbeth succeeds in killing Macduff’s children. Banquo, of course, accompanies Macbeth when he meets the three witches. After first prophesying that Macbeth will become king, the witches tell Banquo that, while he will not be king himself, his descendants will rise to the crown. Macbeth in his lust for power sees Banquo as a threat and orders both Banquo and Banquo’s son Fleance murdered. Fleance, however, escapes. To conclude the program, my father recalls the high school teachers who first introduced him to Shakespeare and reads favorite passages from “The Merchant of Venice” and “Macbeth.”
Word Patriots often fall under the spell of the written word and find their vocation early in life. Several months ago, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday. Still it doesn’t seem very long ago since I was a high school student enrolled in Kay Hutton’s Nobel Prize authors and AP English classes or since I represented Indiana Area Senior High School at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts at Bucknell University in the summer of 1979, where I was enrolled in my first creative writing classes. It was at that time that I became convinced that it was my destiny to write books and that I found my essential self. Late adolescence is a pivotal, memorable time for most of us. To adopt the title of Thomas Rogers’ classic novel of love in America, we find ourselves “At the Shores.” We feel that we have arrived or that we are on the brink of arriving. Just round the corner new and decisive experiences await us. We have great expectations as we emerge from our cocoons and burst into the sunlight. The world is our oyster. We feel as potent, effective and forceful as Siegfried as he emerges from the magic fire to search for new adventures in the opening act of “Götterdämmerung” but as with Wagner’s hero disappointment and frustration may very well be our portion as well. My guests are two very talented young authors Samantha Schyuler and Stephen Urchick. Both are seniors in the International Baccalaureate Program at Palm Harbor University High School in coastal-central Florida. Samantha writes that she has learned nothing in her four years at Palm Harbor if not how to function on four hours of sleep. She is fond of hiking, painting, and books; the last of which drove her to write a 5,000 word extended essay on the topic of Updike’s “Rabbit, Run,” as well as become the president of her school’s Creative Writing Club. Through the club she was able to attend and speak at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago this year. At the podium, she presented the paper, “Decentralizing the Creative Writing Classroom,” to an audience of thirty-five professors. She presented with confidence, clarity, and poise and will be attending the University of Florida. Stephen Urchick describes himself as an 18-year-old masochist. He looks forward to graduating this June, when (in his own words) he can atone for his sins “by savoring many half-finished novels; by eating delicious, square meals each day and by steeling himself to write for one of the University of Chicago’s literary outlets.” He regularly cannibalizes his schoolwork for essay ideas and for short fiction devices. He will be attending the University of Chicago in the fall on a full scholarship. Also with us is Elisabeth Lanser Rose, a teacher in the International Baccalaureate Program at Palm Harbor and the sponsor of the Creative Writing Club there to which both Samantha and Stephen belong. Elisabeth is no stranger to Word Patriots. Her novel “Body Sharers” published by Rutgers University in 1993 was a finalist for the Pen/ Hemingway Foundation Award for first novel. She is also the author of the memoir “For the Love of a Dog,” published in 2002 by Random House. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. Please also see the webpage for Palm Harbor University High School: http://www.phuhs.org/ and the Amazon page for Elisabeth Rose’s “For the Love of a Dog”: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Dog-Memoir-Elisabeth-Rose/dp/0609606921/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1303074639&sr=1-1
Today’s program is one of our periodic shows devoted to past masters, heroic word patriots who overcame great obstacles, who wrote in new and innovative ways, or who defied convention by visiting formerly taboo topics and thereby opened new fields of exploration for literature. On this episode of Word Patriots we will be discussing the work of Flannery O’Connor. The novelist and short story writer was born and died in Georgia and studied at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. The following entry on O’Connor appears in the Avenel Companion to English and American literature: “She is usually said to be a Southern Gothic and/ or Catholic writer. Both are probably true, subject to severe qualification. Her typical characters are indeed God-ridden but not in a way that seems uniquely Catholic. Rather they seem the essence of Protestantism, seeking an individual and immediate relationship with God. They stalk him, defy him, try to trick him into some sign by doing the things ‘that people have quit doing—like boiling in oil or being a saint or walling up cats.’ Even the psychopathic murderer of ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ commits his murders in an attempt to force God to reveal himself. But grace can be arrived at only through the kind of self knowledge arrived at in ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ (1960) by Rayber, who has his eyes burned clean and is able at last to look into his own heart and recognize his real place in the world. Love, however, is not the clue to the saving communion with the world as it is with so many writers. The clue is suffering, and Hazel Motes (‘Wise Blood,’ 1952) burns out his eyes with quicklime so he can see better.” My guest today is Tawni O’Dell. She is the New York Times best-selling author of four novels. Her first, “Back Roads,” was both a Book-of-the-Month Club Main and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, and is currently in development as a major motion picture by Michael Ohoven, the producer of the Academy-Award-winning, “Capote” with a screenplay written by Tawni herself. Following the publication of “Back Roads” in 2000, Tawni has completed and published three more novels: “Coal Run,” “Sister Mine,” and “Fragile Beasts.” She is also a contributor to several anthologies including “Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female.” Her work has been translated into ten languages and been published in over forty countries. Flannery O’Connor is one of Tawni’s favorite authors, as she is also one of mine. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also Amazon’s Flannery O’Connor page: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Flannery+O%27Connorand Amazon’s author page for Tawni O’Dell: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Tawni+O%27Dell .
The late Stanley Elkin was a two-time recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award. The author of more than a dozen novels and short-story collections, including “A Bad Man,” “George Mills,” “The Rabbi of Lud” and “Mrs. Ted Bliss,” he is recognized for his humorous and satirical fiction and for the stylistic virtuosity of his ornately wrought prose. 1964 saw the publication of his first novel “Boswell: A Modern Comedy,” which relates the misfortunes of a death haunted man who lives off the reflected celebrity and fame of others, this Boswell’s Johnson a professional wrestler known as the Grim Reaper. Elkin’s second novel “A Bad Man” explores the human capacity for suffering and depicts both the absurdity and the regimentation of prison life. It established Elkin as “one of the flashiest and most exciting comic talents in view,” according to the New York Times Book Review. Department store-owner Leo Feldman’s business is illicit wish-fulfillment, but on the novel’s very first page the jig is up, and Feldman finds himself on the way to stir. Life’s manifold indignities and the human capacity for getting things wrong are subjects Elkin returns to again and again in his subsequent books. He also increasingly treats on life’s fragility. “The Franchiser” tells the tale of traveling businessman Ben Flesh who by the end of the novel creates a nationwide empire of franchises but whose body is ravaged and wracked by multiple sclerosis. “Stanley Elkin’s The Magic Kingdom” follows a group of doomed, terminally ill children on an outing to Disney World and his late novella “Her Sense of Timing” concerns a wheelchair-bound professor abandoned by his wife. As the “Cyclopedia of World Authors” points out, Elkin was an author of many facets and had “the distinction of multiple tenancy in some of the most compelling camps of contemporary fiction: He is categorized along with writers such as Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth as a prominent contributor to the postwar Jewish American renaissance; he is often compared with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Bruce Jay Friedman, and other so-called black humorists; and he was allied with Robert Coover, William Gass, and John Hawkes by virtue of his self-conscious craftsmanship and postrealist sensibilities .” My guest this week is William H. Gass, a lifelong friend of Stanley Elkin and a fellow faculty member at Washington University in Saint Louis. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also the Amazon Stanley Elkin page: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_tc_2_0?rh=i%3Astripbooks%2Ck%3AStanley+Elkin&keywords=Stanley+Elkin&ie=UTF8&qid=1331655817&sr=1-2-ent&field-contributor_id=B000APUV9U and also the Amazon page for “Life Sentences”: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Sentences-Literary-Judgments-Accounts/dp/0307595846/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331655994&sr=1-1
Since the publication of “Huckleberry Finn” in 1885, countless readers, all small-town boys-at-heart, who envied and wanted to trade places with the free-as-a-bird Huck, have drifted down the Mississippi with him and his easy to fool, credulous yet capable and levelheaded companion Jim, whose thoughts constantly turn to his family still in servitude, following them as, fast on their toes, they survive by their flexible wits, pilfering and fibbing to get by, and encountering a panoply of colorful characters as they head southward, deeper and deeper into slave territory . Sixteen -year-old Sally Werner, the heroine of this week’s guest Joanna Scott’s lyrical 2009 novel and future American classic “Follow Me”—a New York Times Notable Book of the year—also flees home, and, from her religious German immigrant parents’ farm in Pennsylvania, follows another river, the fictional Tuskee, northward. I predict that if the human race is blessed to survive so long, generations of readers will keep coming back to this book, that it will prove a sister to “Huckleberry Finn,” every bit as enduring and perennial, and that a century from now it will be fettering and entrancing readers who will continue to follow Sally as she bursts her bonds, lives by her wits, and for six decades recreates, re-conceives and re-christens herself as again and again happenstance propels Sally to run away from town after town, proceeding forever northward, keeping the first name Sally but assuming a string of new surnames: aka Sally Angel aka Sally Mole aka Sally Bliss, all the time haunted by the fact that at the start and inception of her odyssey she abandoned her infant son on her parents’ kitchen table. Her tale begins as a lark. In 1946 Sally Werner allows her cousin Daniel Werner to take her for a ride on his motorcycle and in the ride’s aftermath conceives his baby. Her fundamentalist German parents naturally blame her for the sinful act, and she, too, is full of self-incrimination. As trapped as Huck or Jim, after her boy’s birth, she impulsively makes the decision to run away, a choice which will haunt her for the remainder of her life and which will have future, gut-wrenching, consequences for those she loves. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also the Amazon page for “Follow Me”: http://www.amazon.com/Follow-Me-Novel-Joanna-Scott/dp/B005Q697GQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331074391&sr=1-1 .
From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Darryl Strawberry was one of the most feted and prolific sluggers in baseball. Fans dubbed him the Black Ted Williams. An eight-time All-Star, a four-time World Series Champion, and a National League Rookie of the Year, he played for the Mets, Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees. His dazzling achievements on the field, however, were often overshadowed by his epic struggles off it. Darryl Strawberry became the first National League player voted to the All-Star Game in each of his first four full seasons, and, during his baseball career, he hit more than three hundred home runs, but as Buster Olney, author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty” writes, he will always be remembered as much for what he didn’t accomplish as for all of the things he did. The New York Mets drafted Straw in 1980, and Darryl won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1983, but he also began to dabble with the devil. Darryl’s marriage unraveled and he and first wife Lisa eventually divorced. Stays in Rehab did not curb his substance abuse and Strawberry eventually faced jail time. But in 2006, Strawberry changed course dramatically. In Reggie Jackson’s words, in the middle innings of life, with two strikes against him, Darryl got his groove back and smashed one out of the park. Strawberry turned to God and found redemption. Darryl’s 2009 memoir “Straw: Finding My Way,” written in collaboration with John Strausbaugh, recounts both the highs and lows of Darryl’s life, and the lessons of hope and survival he learned along the way. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says, “If you’re looking for an interesting book about a chaotically interesting life, ‘Straw’ makes for good reading.” And David Cone writes, “Darryl has written a profound book on the meaning of celebrity, sports and manhood. Reading his story, you follow an incredibly talented ballplayer who fell prey to his demons off the field. This is a riveting and memorable account of one man’s pursuit of a meaningful life.” Today Darryl speaks about how he and Strausbaugh put together the book, growing up in Crenshaw, California, the pillar of strength that was his mother, and the efforts Darryl is now making on behalf of those who suffer from autism and cancer. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also the Amazon page for “Finding My Way”: http://www.amazon.com/Straw-LP-Finding-My-Way/dp/B006G8DP3O/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331070686&sr=1-1
Welcome everyone. My guest this week is David Alan Johnson, the author of “Decided on the Battlefield: Grant, Sherman, Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” which was published by Prometheus Books this past January. David is the author of many popular histories, including “Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs,” “Righteous Deception: German Officers against Hitler,” “Union: The Archives Photographs Series” and seven other books. “Decided on the Battlefield” examines a pivotal election year in U.S. history, a time of great flux and uncertainty. The fate of the United States, perhaps even the world, was at stake and things needn’t have turned out as they did. Had Jubal Early been able to successfully mount an attack on Washington D.C, had Jefferson Davis not relieved General Joseph E. Johnston of his command in Georgia, had the Democratic candidate for President campaigned more vigorously, history may have played out quite differently. Indeed, in the summer of 1864, Abraham Lincoln made a gloomy prediction about the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. He wrote: “I’m going to be beaten… and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.” The American Civil War had dragged on for over three years, and the public blamed the president for the current stalemate against the Confederacy and for the appalling numbers of killed and wounded. Without a change in the fortunes of the war, Lincoln believed that he had no chance of being elected for a second term, and that he would be defeated by the Democratic candidate George B. McClellan, the former Union general and hero of Antietam. In “Decided on the Battlefield: Grant, Sherman, Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” Johnson examines the events of a critical year in United States’ history, when the course of American history might have taken a radically different direction. If McClellan had won the election, everything would have been different: the Democrats planned to end the war immediately, grant the South its independence, and let the Confederacy keep its slaves. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also the Amazon pages for “Decided on the Battlefield”: http://www.amazon.com/Decided-Battlefield-Sherman-Lincoln-Election/dp/1616145099/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329712376&sr=1-1 .
Welcome everyone. This week’s show is our third devoted to the work of master novelist Paul West and we will be examining his historical novels and his writings of the 1990s and the 2000s. Paul will also be celebrating his 82nd birthday this week, so my guests and I will all be saluting him and sending our highest regards, thanking him for the wonderful body of work he has given us through the years. This particular show has a very crowded dance card. Novelists Dave Kress and Joanna Scott will be joining me later in the broadcast as will critic David Madden, author of the 1993 study “Understanding Paul West.” But first up, we have birthday greetings from William H. Gass. I taped Bill’s tip of the hat last November after we did a show on Bill’s forthcoming novel “Middle C.” Dave Kress and I discuss West’s opposing Apollonian and Dionysian inclinations and his aviation novel “Terrestrials.” My next guest is novelist Joanna Scott. She is the author of ten books, including “The Manikin,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Joanna and I discuss Paul’s historical novels “Lord Byron’s Doctor” and “Rat Man of Paris” and two of his more personal, autobiographical fictions “Love’s Mansion” and “Life With Swan.” Joanna also stresses how many of Paul’s protagonists are virtuoso performers and how Paul himself turns history into virtuoso artistic performance. David W. Madden is professor of American and Irish literature at California State University in Sacramento. In “Understanding Paul West,” Madden offers an analytical introduction to West’s fiction, charting the writer’s daring experiments with narrative structure and form as well as his unceasing commitment to stylistic virtuosity. Madden also examines the novelist’s longstanding themes of personal alienation and the role of the artist in an inimical society. David and I discuss how in his later works Paul continues to adopt historical figures and events as the subjects of his fictions and how he takes enormous liberties with his source material, recombining and modifying elements to suit his fictional needs. We also discuss Paul’s novel of 9.11 “The Immensity Of The Here And Now” and Paul’s memoir of his 2004 stroke, “The Shadow Factory.” If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com. See also the Amazon pages for “Terrestrials”: http://www.amazon.com/Terrestrials-Paul-West/dp/087951891X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328813398&sr=1-1and “Love’s Mansion”: http://www.amazon.com/Loves-Mansion-Paul-West/dp/0879515031/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328813482&sr=1-1 .