Literary Rediscoveries of 2016

About this time last year, I brought you a list of previously-unknown or lost works that were found/published in 2015. With such geniuses as Dylan Thomas, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charlotte Brontë on that list, I was afraid this year’s installment would seem a little lackluster by comparison.

No danger of that.

So, in the order that these pieces were found or published, here are 13 old works that the world got a new look at in 2016.

1: “New York to San Fran” (et. al.) by Allen Ginsberg

This poem, published for the first time in the February 2016 issue of Poetry magazine, is taken from a new Ginsberg collection titled Wait till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems. It’s actually just one of over 100 of Ginsberg’s poems that, over the years, either were lost or never published in the first place, and are now seeing the light of day once more thanks to this collection.

2 & 3: “The Shadow Man” and “Noel” by J. R. R. Tolkien

For the second year in a row, Tolkien makes it onto the “Rediscovered Works” list, this time with a pair of poems published in a school magazine in 1936. (It appears the initial discovery was actually made in 2013 by Tolkien scholars Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, but for some reason, the press didn’t catch wind of it until February of this year.) Of these two poems, only “The Shadow Man,” an early version of what would later become the poem “Shadow-Bride,” was previously known to exist. “Noel,” a retelling of the story of Christ’s birth, was a completely unexpected find, even to the Tolkien experts. No word yet on when or where these poems will be reprinted, but for now, you can read “The Shadow Man” here.

4: Recordings of Robert Frost reading his poetry

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Frost in or around 1910.

In March of this year, PennSound, the University of Pennsylvania’s online archive for poetry recordings by poets, announced the release of twenty-one unpublished recordings of Frost’s poetry. The recordings were made at Columbia University between 1933 and 1934 and include, among other poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” and “On the Heart’s Beginning to Cloud the Mind,” which Frost composed in place of an acceptance speech after he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.

5: A letter Walt Whitman wrote for a Union soldier

This isn’t so much a “literary work,” but it provides an interesting glimpse into Whitman’s life: during the Civil War, Whitman was known to visit Union army hospitals, where he would hand out food and sometimes money to the patients. He also wrote letters for those who were too badly hurt to do it themselves, or, in the case of this letter, for those who were illiterate. This previously-unknown letter, discovered in the National Archives by a volunteer archivist, was written for a Private Robert Jabo to send to his wife and six children. A brief P.S. at the end mentions that the letter was written by Whitman, and several Whitman experts have authenticated the handwriting. It’s the real deal!

6: Aeneid, Book VI translated by Seamus Heaney

For years, Heaney, a lifelong lover of Latin poetry, had been planning to translate the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid and publish it as a standalone work. He even had a finished manuscript of the translation ready for his editor when he died suddenly in 2013. That manuscript was then discovered in 2015 on one of Heaney’s old computers by his daughter Catherine, who published it in March of this year. This story becomes even more amazing and slightly eerie when you find out that Book VI of the Aeneid is about Aeneas going to the underworld to speak with his dead father.

7: Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda by Pablo Neruda (translated by Forrest Gander)

On the same day that Heaney’s Aeneid translation was published in the US, we also got this book of poems by the great Chilean master, including twenty poems being published for the first time in English. It seems that some archivists at the Pablo Neruda Foundation in Chile discovered these poems while sorting some of the late author’s papers. The non-profit publisher Copper Canyon Press then went to Kickstarter to raise the necessary $50,000 to get this book in print, where they raised more than twice that amount.

8: “Seven People Dancing” by Langston Hughes

Hughes in 1936. Photo by Carl van Vechten.
Hughes in 1936. Photo by Carl van Vechten.

This short story, written around 1961 and never published, was found in Yale University’s collection of Hughes’s papers by Arnold Rampersand, Hughes’s biographer. Hughes was experimenting with modernist prose in the sixties and this story is one such experiment. The story was published in the June 6 issue of The New Yorker, but you can also read it here at The New Yorker‘s website.

9: The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter

This story, concerning a little black cat who likes sling her shotgun over her shoulder and go hunting, was first written around 1914. 100 years later in 2014, a reference to the story in some of Beatrix Potter’s letters led Jo Hanks, the children’s editor at Penguin Random House, to go looking through the archive of Potter’s papers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she found three drafts of this story. The finished book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, was published this September.

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Wells, in an undated photograph.

10: “The Haunted Ceiling” by H. G. Wells

Remember Andrew Gulli? The magazine editor who, last year, found and published a previously-unseen short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? He and his magazine The Strand are back again, this time with an unpublished short story by the science fiction master H. G. Wells. “The Haunted Ceiling,” the story of a man whose study is haunted by a young woman’s ghost, was discovered at the University of Illinois, which hosts a huge archive of Wells’s papers. The story was published in the October-January issue of The Strand.

11: “Poem” by A. A. Milne

Though today he’s known almost exclusively as the author of the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh books, Milne wrote across multiple genres, including drama, crime fiction, and poetry. This particular poem was written in 1918 to be read at a fundraiser for the Tank Corps Prisoners of War Fund. Appropriately, it’s a propaganda piece extolling the virtues of Britain’s brand new tanks and their role in the First World War.

12: The oldest known audiobook, Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon”

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Conrad in 1916.

Recorded by England’s Royal National Institute for Blind People in about 1935, this set of four shellac discs is believed to be the oldest full-length audiobook in existence. Its discovery was announced in November by Matthew Rubery, a literature professor at London’s Queen Mary University. Rubery was researching the history of audiobooks when he was contacted by a record collector in Canada saying he had acquired a copy of the “Typhoon” audiobook. Shellac records are infamously delicate, so it’s amazing that the entire set has survived this long. You can also listen to a portion of this long-lost book here.

13: A lot of documents belonging to a lot of authors

In 2014, Mary Innes-Kerr, Duchess of Roxburghe, passed away, leaving the enormous library she inherited from her father to Cambridge University’s Trinity College. Besides gaining more than 7,000 new books, the university also received a cache of letters and other papers belong to famous authors that the Duchess’s father and grandfather had collected over the years, many of them previously unknown. I haven’t been able to find the full list of goodies yet, but the BBC reports that among the papers Duchess Roxburghe owned were a letter from Charles Dickens (squirreled away in a first edition copy of Hard Times), a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray with an inscription from Wilde, and a letter that Henry James wrote to the duchess’s grandfather, in response to a fan letter he wrote to him. So, all in all, a pretty impressive lot.

Let me know in the comments if I missed anything and Happy New Year!


All images are from Wikimedia Commons.

A Lost J. R. R. Tolkien Interview Will Air This Saturday

Great news! Almost fifty years after it was recorded, a BBC interview with J. R. R. Tolkien is finally going to be broadcast.

According to The Tolkien Society, the interview was recorded in 1968 as part of a BBC documentary titled Tolkien in Oxford. In the end, only a small portion of the interview appeared in the documentary and the rest was thought to be lost, until the film’s producer, Leslie Megahey, found a copy of it on a video tape. He then combed the BBC archives for the original recording, which is set to be aired on BBC Radio 4 this Saturday, August 6, at 8:00 PM GMT.

If you’re not in the UK or not near a radio, you can listen to the program online: Radio 4 posts all of their programs on their website soon after they air and usually keeps them there for thirty days, if not longer. When the Tolkien interview does become available, it will be posted to this page.

Ian McKellen Reads Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid Book VI

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McKellen in 2013. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

UPDATE: This program is no longer available, as the BBC has removed it from their website. Sorry ’bout that.

If, like me, you’ve been impatiently awaiting the release of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book Six of the Aeneid, you’re in luck: all this week, BBC Radio 4’s “Book of the Week” program will feature Sir Ian McKellen reading from the newly-published book[!].

If you don’t live in the UK (or if you do and missed the first episode), never fear! All five episodes are available to listen to online right now from anywhere in the world (here’s the link). Just don’t bookmark the page and forget about it, because each episode is only available for a month after it airs.

Aeneid, Book VI, if you’re interested, was published in the UK by Faber & Faber on March 3. It will be released in the US by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux on May 3, 2016.

R.I.P. Harper Lee

Harper Lee, 1962
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Where do I even begin? If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time (or if you happen to know me), you probably know already that To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite novel and that its author Harper Lee is one of my favorite writers. Lee has had a bigger influence on me than perhaps any other author I’ve ever read, so I take her death very personally. I know this post will just be one of hundreds in the coming weeks eulogizing Lee, but right now, while I’m thinking about her and how much her work means to me, I’d like to finally write that Harper Lee tribute that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for so long.

I might never have read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first place if it hadn’t been assigned to me in my eleventh grade English class. Going into it, I had no idea what to expect, but it didn’t take long for me to find out that I had a treasure on my hands. Maybe it was because Mockingbird is so much better than 95% of the books that I had read previously, or maybe I was just at an age where I could better appreciate a good book, but however it happened, Mockingbird is what finally convinced me there’s something to this literature business after all. Reading it, I suddenly got all of the things I had been taught before about theme, characterization, symbolism, and how they all tie together to make a great work of art. I started noticing traces of this novel in the way I thought about the world, about other people, and even about myself. In other words, this book proved to me what the written word is capable of, showing me the great power that is held by the person who tells a story, and tells it well. While researching the book’s history for some school assignments, I got a sense of just how much of an impact this book had on other people too. I thought, This is incredible. The things a single good book can do! To Kill a Mockingbird marks the beginning of my love affair with literature, and for granting me that introduction, I will always be grateful to Miss Lee.

I’m also grateful for the characters Lee created. Jem, Scout, and Dill seem sort of like family now, and as for Atticus, I’ll probably go to my grave with lines like this and this still ringing in my mind’s ear. Messy “sequels” aside, I still admire Atticus and try to conduct myself in such a way that, if I were Scout, he would never have to give me that look that Gregory Peck gives to Mary Badham after she draws attention to Walter Cunningham Jr.’s unusual choice of condiments. I suppose it sounds silly to be so attached to fictional people, but these people have had an effect on me, and I think that effect has been for the better.

In a way, I’m almost relieved too to hear that Lee is gone: last I heard about her, she was frail and suffering from dementia, hearing loss, and near-total blindness. I’m glad she’s not hurting anymore, but just the same, it’s sad to see another good soul go.

But of course, this isn’t the end entirely. Another of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, used to say that he wanted to “Live forever,” and that writing was his way of beating death. I like to think that, through her writing and the numberless people it has enlightened and inspired, Harper Lee will live forever too.

“Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent”

It’s here.

After years of waiting, hoping, and praying, it’s here.

My copy of Go Set a Watchman came in the mail today.

IMG_0332I know I promised reviews of Pendragon’s Heir and My Name Is Asher Lev, neither of which I have finished yet, but I’m sure you will understand if I take a bit of a break from those two books and dive headlong into this one.

Before you flood the comments section with questions, yes, I have heard the reports of how Atticus appears far more prejudiced in this novel than he did in To Kill a Mockingbird. Nevertheless, I’m excited to read this one: if nothing else, it will be interesting to compare this book with TKAM and use them to trace both Harper Lee’s evolution as a writer and how the character of Atticus changed in her mind over time.

I’ll see you after 278 pages.

The First Chapter of Go Set a Watchman Will Be Released 4 Days Early(!)

This is a short post just to let you know that this Friday, July 10, The Guardian will publish the first chapter of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman on their website. The chapter will also appear in print in the July 11th issue of The Guardian Weekend, in case any of you in the UK want to pick that up. More at The Bookseller.

Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

I’m unreasonably excited about this. 🙂

Qwiklit

The 2015 winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced today in New York City, with Anthony Doerr taking home the top prize in fiction, Stephen Adly Guirgis in Drama, and Gregory Pardlo in Poetry.

The Pulitzer Prize is unofficially considered to be one of the top prizes of letters in the United States. The committee operates out of Columbia University, and has been selecting the prize since 1917. In 1980, shortlisted nominees were also included on the list.

Last year’s prize for fiction was actually considered a draw and no award was given, as neither David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! took a high enough amount of votes.

Board members who presided over the decision include Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her. Diaz won the prize for the…

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I’m Just a Little Excited Today . . .

Harper Lee accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Harper Lee accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. Via Wikimedia Commons.

. . . because today, the publishing house Harper announced that Harper Lee is publishing a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.

Excuse me while I flail.

As you probably know if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, I am a massive fan of Harper Lee and her masterpiece novel. I was lamenting to my sister just this morning that, with the exception of Lee, all of my favorite authors are dead and the only one who isn’t hasn’t published a book in fifty-five years! At last! “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus!”

According to The New York Times, Lee’s new novel, titled Go Set a Watchman, was actually completed before To Kill a Mockingbird, but, acting on the advice of her editor, Lee set it aside to pursue Mockingbird instead. Though it was written before Mockingbird, this novel actually takes place in the years after Jem and Scout’s childhood, when an grown-up Scout goes back to Maycomb to visit her elderly father.

I just had a terrible thought: what if Atticus dies at the end of this book? I don’t think I’m ready for that. But I certainly am ready for July 14th (that’s Go Set a Watchman‘s release date, only three days after Mockingbird‘s fifty-fifth anniversary). I’m thinking of a line from Ray Bradbury’s “No Particular Night or Morning”: “My God, it’s a resurrection. ” Why yes, I suppose it is.

The Tolkien-Lewis Friendship Hits The Big Screen

Aren’t you excited?!! I just hope it turns out well.

101 Books

It’s a dream come true for a love of LOTR and Narnia fans—that is, if the movie turns out to be good.

That movie is an upcoming drama called Tolkien & Lewis. The film will cost around $18 million to make and will be a “drama fantasy set in war torn Britain in 1941 revealing the faith, friendship and rivalry between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.”

The film will be directed by Simon West, who also directed The Expendables 2 and Con Air. Um, what? How many explosions will be in this film? Let’s just hope he doesn’t cast Nicolas Cage.

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