Rhode Island authors and such

Published 3:41 pm Friday, March 13, 2009

Here follows my continuing assignment to write about Rhode Island authors as we celebrate this state as part of Riverside Artsfest.

Let the festivities begin.

In researching who has been writing what from Rhode Island, an Internet inquiry revealed about 43 pages containing a distinguished list of authors, about 12 names per page. Rhode Island speaks through a wide diversity of famous and infamous pens.

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Take Edgar Allan Poe, for example.

He lived briefly in Providence about 1848 while he pursued the hand of Sarah Helen Whitman. But alas her family broke up the engagement. A distraught Poe vacated Rhode Island, but he gave literature two famous poems directly attributed to his lost love: To Helen and Annabelle Lee. It has not been revealed to whom The Raven immortalizes.

You may remember Edith Wharton of Newport, 1862-1937, for her novel Ethan Frome plus House of Mirth. Her novel, Age of Innocence, won a Pulitzer Prize. Her daughter, Maud Howe Elliott, 1854-1948, also won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography, Lord Byron.

And who could get through a history class without one of the 25 books by Samuel Eliot Morrison, 1887-1976 of Newport, remembered mostly for his Oxford History of the American People.

If you didn’t read the books, you probably saw the movies from author Edwin O-Connor, 1918-1958. The Rhode Island native lived in Woonsocket and penned The Last Hurrah, All in the Family, and Edge of Sadness, which won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize.

Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, was a busy bee during revolutionary days in Rhode Island. Ben, as you may know, learned the printing trade from brother James. While Ben flew kites into the clouds in Philadelphia, James was founding newspapers in Rhode Island. He is credited with introducing the printing press to Newport where he printed Poor Robin’s Almanac, then founded the Newport Mercury in 1758, the New England Courant in 1721 and the Rhode Island Gazette, the first newspaper in the state.

Today’s ladies who are regular readers of romance novels will recognize mass market pulp fiction author Barbara Delinsky, who has several of her books set in Newport and Providence.

Rhode Island claims James Fenimore Cooper, a resident of Providence, known for his Leather Stocking Tales of Natty Bumpo. Cooper also is remembered for Deerslayer and Last of the Mohicans.

I bet you didn’t know that Julia Ward Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was also active in the woman’s rights movement particularly gaining voting rights. She was a writer and poet, a Unitarian and part of the larger circle of Trancendentalists.

When it was too hot to live anywhere else, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took up summer residence in Newport, where if he had lived long enough he might have been able to acquaint himself with Carol Maso, author of American Woman in the Chinese Hat, 1993, or Oliver LaFarge, 1901-1963, for his stirring 1934 novel, Hoxie Sells His Acres.

Those of us who were regular watchers of the nightly NBC news years ago may remember the bow-tied correspondent Irving R. Levine. When he wasn’t on camera, Levine was writing Main Street USSR, Main Street Italy and The New Worker in the Soviet Union.

The father of the American school of education, Horace Mann, was born, lived and died in Providence.

While he wasn’t writing books criticizing the American media, Ben Bagdikian was writing for the Providence Journal. He wrote about media monopolies, conglomerates gobbling up smaller newspapers putting more and more media into fewer hands.

If you remember Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, it was to Bagdikian that Ellsberg gave the highly classified papers revealing Vietnam war secrets. Ben then gave them to Sen. Mike Gravel, who read them into the Congressional record.

In the 1930s and 1940s, author Hugh Cave was creating about 800 pulp fiction stories of the horror and supernatural. Some of his books include Cross on the Drum, Witching Commands, Corpse Maker plus PT Boat Warfare and We Build, We Fight.

There are other more modern writers who have contributed to the literary scene, notably:

• John Schneider, resident of Westerly, who gave us, The Golden Kazoo;

• Suzanna Strempek Shea of Providence, a Polish American writer, penning Hoopi Shoopi Donna;

• Then there’s Mary Lubbock Laswell leaving with us Suds in Your Eye and Let’s Go For Broke;

• Oliver LaFarge for Man with Calabash Pipe;

• And finally Rebecca Zurier, a Ph.D. from Yale, an art historian, who compiled a book in 1982 on the architectural and social history of The American Firehouse.

Well, happy Artsfest everyone.

The lineup looks great. Avail yourselves.

Thanks Lynda.