This page is about some people I admire a great deal for their insight in writing (or other art forms) or for their political or personal struggles in the world. I am also collecting memorial links to interesting obituaries.
Stephen Jay Gould
Sondra Spatt Olsen
Sondra Spatt Olsen, who died in September 2013, was the author of Lauren's Line and Traps as well as dozens of short stories in literary journals. She taught English at Queens College for 25 years.
Irene McKinney, Poet Laureate of West Virginia,
Until her death in 2012
Gail Adams, Irene, MSW at a party at WV Wesleyan in 2006 or so.
Chinua Achebe (1930 -2013)
Jo Carson, Tennessee
writer and filmmaker
Jose Saramago, Portuguese Nobelist,
Communist, Surrealist and All-Around Wonderful Writer
There's an obituary of George Schneeman the artist in the New York Times . He did the cover art for two of my books, Personal Fiction Writing and Blazing Pencils.
Bill Higginson, poet and haiku guru died on October 11, 2008. See obituary and one of his websites. There are several obituaries on various blogs if you Google his name. I didn't know him well, but he was an important member of the New Jersey literary community for many years, and a teacher with the New Jersey Writers project. Lovely man, contributed to my newsletter a few months ago, just because I asked.
Tillie Olsen , a great working class voice
A life of literature and anti-war activism.
See her obituary.
Read an excellent piece by Suzanne McConnell
on Kurt Vonnegut as a teacher.
"But this imperfectly-taught woman, whose phrases and habits were an odd patchwork, had a loyal spirit within her. The man whose prosperity she had shared through nearly half a life, and who had unvaryingly cherished her -- now that punishment had befallen him it was not possible to her in any sense to forsake him. There is a forsaking which still sits at the same board and lies on the same couch with the foresaken soul, withering it the more by unloving proximity. She knew, when she locked her door, that she should unlock it ready to go down to her unhappy husband and spouse his sorrow, and say of his guilt, I will mourn and not reproach. But she needed time to gather up her strength; she needed to sob out her farewell to all the gladness and pride of her life. When she had resolved to go down, she prepared herself by some little acts which might seem mere folly to a hard onlooker; they were her way of expressing to all spectators visible or invisible that she had begun a new life in which she embraced humiliation. She took off all her ornaments and put on a plain black gown, and instead of wearing her much-adorned cap and large bows of hair, she brushed her hair down and put on a plain bonnet-cap, which made her look suddenly like an early Methodist."
-- from Middlemarch, Chapter 74– near end
See Shelley Ettinger's comments on Zinn at Workers World.
Howard Zinn wrote in his memoir You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Boston, Beacon Press: 1994, p. 208) :
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
Also, see Zinn's piece "Finishing School for Pickets."
" Stereotyped terms like "reactionary" or "progressive" still mean little in art. Dostoevsky, especially in his later writings, is an avowed reactionary, a canting mystic and hater of socialists. His portraits of Russian revolutionaries are malicious caricatures. Tolstoy's mystic teachings at least only play around with reactionary tendencies. And yet the works of both these writers have a rousing, edifying, and liberating effect on us. The conclusion is: it is not that their starting-point is reactionary; it is not that social hate, narrow-mindedness, caste-conscious egoism, and adherence to the existing order dominate their thoughts and feelings; but rather the contrary: they are motivated by a boundless love of humanity and a deep-seated feeling of responsibility for social injustice....Indeed, for a true artist the social medicine that he prescribes is of secondary importance: it is the source of his art, its animating spirit, not the aim which he consciously sets for himself, which is of paramount importance.
– Rosa Luxemburg, introduction to Wladimir Korolenki
"She had found a jewel down inside herself and she had wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around. But she had been set in the market-place to sell. Been set for still bait. When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks made them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine."
-- From Their Eyes Were Watching God
Jorge Luis Borges
"He ordered a cup of coffee, slowly spooned sugar into it, tasted it (a pleasure that had been forbidden him in the clinic), and thought, while he stroked the cat's black fur, that this contact was illusory, that he and the cat were separated as though by a pane of glass, because man lives in time, in successiveness, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant."
-- from "The South"
Poet Jack Gilbert died late in 2012: Read one of his poems.
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