Ever wonder who wrote the first play in the North American colonies? Or who was the first published African American poet? Or what year it was when an Arab American first published a novel in the United States? Or who wrote the first published gay-themed poetry in America? The answers to all of the above might surprise you – sometimes because they’re earlier than you expected, and sometimes because they’re later. Sometimes the “first” comes from a famous writer, and sometimes the authors have been completely overlooked or forgotten. But in every case, seeing what a “first” looks like expands our understanding of what came before, what came after, and what it means for us today.
In this episode, Jacke talks to Ulrich Baer and Smaran Dayal, editors of an exciting new anthology Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts, which focuses on the literary pioneers who broke barriers, inaugurated new traditions, and proved that the diverse imagination and creative efforts of a wide range of individuals helped forge a nation.
In 1984, the literary scholar Harold Bloom had this to say about Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Emerson is the mind of our climate, the principal source of the American difference in poetry, criticism and pragmatic post-philosophy…. Emerson, by no means the greatest American writer… is the inescapable theorist of all subsequent American writing. From his moment to ours, American authors either are in his tradition, or else in a counter-tradition originating in opposition to him.” Who was Emerson? How did he become so influential? What did he unlock in American literature? And what can we take from his works today?
It’s a heavy-hearted weekend for the world. All of our very best wishes for peace, love, and safety to our friends in Paris. Let’s hope we somehow learn to end the madness of hatred and violence.
This week on the History of Literature Podcast, we’ll take a deeper look at the passage in which Odysseus leaves the goddess Calypso. On Thursday, we’ll be back with another Restless Mind Show. In this episode, we update the world on our interaction with Bryan Cranston’s agent, whose feedback has inspired an exciting new Jacke Wilson project.
Literature has been many things to many people over the years. A comfort, an escape… and a way to remind ourselves in humanity’s brightest sides as well as its darkest. I hope you and your loved ones find a way to connect this weekend, and that the world finds a way to see ourselves out of this dark tunnel we currently find ourselves in.