Literary Stories for Dec. 12-15

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Here are your stories about notable literary birthdays and events for Dec. 12-15. Thanks for sharing it with others.

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Dec. 12

Lola Ridge

Thirty-three-year-old Rose Emily Ridge arrived in San Francisco in 1907. She was born in Ireland but moved to Australia at 13. There she married, divorced, and her mother died. Ridge also published about 40 short stories and poems in The Land Down Under.

But she came to America for a fresh beginning. She changed her name to Lola Ridge and told people she was 23. Within a year, Ridge had poems in the periodicals Overland Monthly and Gunter’s Magazine. Then she headed to New York City.

At first, Ridge supported herself by writing popular fiction and advertising copy. But she soon left this work behind because it didn’t fit her values. Ridge was, after all, taken with the plight of working-class people. She published a poem in Emma Goldman’s radical journal Mother Earth in April 1909. Ridge remarried in 1919. Though they could afford better, she and her husband lived in poverty in New York’s Jewish ghetto.

Ridge’s experience there inspired her to write a series of poems published in The New Republic. Titled “The Ghetto,” the verses drew attention to life for Jewish immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. Ridge included “The Ghetto” in a book, The Ghetto and Other Poems. The work focused on the challenges faced by the poor and minorities in America.

It’s a cause that Ridge continued to champion through the 1920s and 1930s. She published in 1927 Red Flag, a poetry collection celebrating the Russian Revolution. That same year Ridge got arrested for protesting the execution of Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

Ridge died in 1941. In its obituary, The New York Times called her “one of the leading contemporary American poets.” Poet and New York politician Samuel DeWitt endowed an annual award at the Poetry Society of America (PSA) in Ridge’s honor. The Lola Ridge Memorial Prize awarded a poet each year between 1942-1952.

And then there's no more record of anyone winning the award. Some suspect that in the era of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Ridge’s politics caused the PSA to stop the Lola Ridge Memorial Prize.

Terese Svoboda wrote a biography of Ridge titled Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet. I contacted her to see if she knew the reason behind the cessation of the Ridge Prize. Despite her efforts, Svoboda wasn’t able to find out before today’s email arrived in your inbox. I’ll update this article on BidwellHollow.Substack.com if we learn why the Ridge Prize terminated.

Lola Ridge was born on Dec. 12, 1873, in Dublin, Ireland. She wrote, “Man is no mere puppet of destiny, and he alone can extricate himself from chaos. We may come forth, for a period, into the time of light.”

Dec. 14

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was on the hunt. She searched postcards, newspaper clippings, and drove around North Bennington, Vt. She asked her parents in California to help.  Jackson was looking for the perfect house. Not for her and her family to live in, but for inspiration. She wanted to write a haunted house story. And she needed a home to stimulate her imagination.

Jackson’s mother, Geraldine, sent her a brochure of the former home of Sarah Winchester. The Winchester house was in San Jose, Calif. It contained in its 24,000 square feet 10,000 windows, 160 rooms, and 40 staircases, one of which ended at a ceiling. 

Winchester was the widow of Will Winchester, heir to the Winchester gun maker fortune. Sarah’s and Will’s daughter died as an infant. Then Will died at 44. Sarah started believing a curse plagued the family. She thought the souls of those killed by Winchester rifles haunted her. To confuse and dissuade the haunting spirits, Sarah kept building and expanding her home.

Between 1886 and her death in 1922, Winchester employed carpenters around the clock. She sketched on scraps of paper rooms, doors, stairways, and turrets for workers to build. Sometimes as soon as workers made something, Winchester had them tear it down or cover it up. 

Shirley Jackson became enthralled with the Winchester house. It fit what she needed to develop her ghost story. But Jackson still lacked something in pulling it all together. Then she and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, took a trip to New York City in 1957. While there, Jackson caught a glimpse of a building. She later said the moment was the closest supernatural experience she’d ever had. 

According to Jackson, what she’d seen was the site of a fire in Harlem that killed nine people. There’s no record of an event as described by Jackson, though. The closest is a Harlem house fire in which three people died. Still, the encounter gave Jackson the momentum she needed for her story.

She wrote for months and sketched on scraps of paper her imaginary house. She reworked her main character. Many times, she tossed large sections of her manuscript in the trash. Her aim, she said, was to write “the kind of novel you really can’t read alone in a dark house at night.”

The story Jackson wrote came out in October 1959, titled The Haunting of Hill House. Readers and critics loved it. Edmund Fuller wrote in The New York Times, “With her ‘conceit’ of Hill House, whether pretty be the word for it or not, Shirley Jackson proves again that she is the finest master currently practicing in the genre of the cryptic, haunted tale.” And, more recently, Stephen King called the work “as nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read.” 

The Haunting of Hill House became the first book by Shirley Jackson to turn a profit. With it, she earned back her advance and then some. And she sold the movie rights for $67,500, that’s about $579,000 today. 

Jackson was born Dec. 14, 1916 in San Francisco. She died of a heart attack at 49 in 1965.

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Dec. 15

Donald Goines

Donald Goines wanted out of Detroit. Donnie, as his family and friends called him, grew up in a middle class black American family. But he was rowdy. And his dad kept pestering him to work in the family dry cleaning business. Donnie wanted nothing to do with the cleaners. He needed to getaway.

To do so, the 15-year-old Goines doctored a fake birth certificate to become 17 years old. He then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. It was 1951, and the Korean War was underway. Soon, Goines was in Japan, then Korea, serving as a military police officer. 

Despite his job as a rule enforcer, Goines developed some bad habits while in the service. He enjoyed prostitutes and heroin. He never saw combat, but Goines’s time in the Korean War still left him scarred.

After the war, Goines received an honorable discharge and returned to Detroit. He was a 17-year-old heroin addict. His addiction cost as much as $100 a day to support, roughly $1,055 today. Goines turned to crime to pay for his addiction. He worked as a pimp, stole cars, committed armed robbery, and bootlegged liquor. And by the mid-1960s, Goines was in and out of prison.

Goines experienced a life-changing event during a 1969 stint in Michigan’s Jackson State Prison. He read Iceberg Slim’s autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Goines recognized some similarities between himself and slim. Both worked as pimps. And both knew the seedy side of urban life. 

Goines had started writing a few years earlier. His first tried writing Westerns. But Slim’s autobiography triggered something in Goines. He realized he could write about what he knew, life in the hood.

His mother, Myrtle, brought him a typewriter. He used it to write his first manuscript. Another inmate read and praised the draft, so Goines submitted it to Holloway House. It was the publishing company that had released Iceberg Slim’s book. 

Holloway House accepted Goines’s manuscript. It became the novel Whorseon, The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, which came out in 1972. The year before, Holloway House released the second novel Goines wrote, Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie.

Goines’s books portrayed the crime, drugs, sex, and violence of his environment. Because of their content, bookstores and libraries didn’t stock the author’s novels. Instead, people bought them in liquor stores or passed them among friends. 

Despite the obstacles to getting their hands on Goines’s work, people read the books. The stories novels helped secure a black, urban readership for Holloway House. And the publisher continued extending contracts to Goines. But they did so on a by-book basis, meaning Goines only got paid once he produced manuscripts.

Goines was still an addict but determined to give up his life of crime. He wanted to support himself, and his addiction, as a writer. To do so, Goines churned out many books in rapid succession. He wrote 16 books over five years.

Goines produced so many books in such a short amount of time that Holloway House was afraid the novelist was saturating the marketplace. So they released his last nine novels under a pen name, Al C. Clark. Four of those books comprise Goines’s Kenyatta series. 

The Kenyatta novels feature Jomo Kenyatta, who leads a militant black organization. The group retaliates against white, racist police officers. And they work to clean up their neighborhood by fighting drug dealers and other criminals.

Goines lived to see only three of his four Kenyatta novels in print. In Oct. 1974, someone gunned down him and his common-law wife in their house in Highland Park, Mich. To date, there have been no arrests and no motive identified for the crime. 

In his short time as a published author, Goines made a significant impact. Many of today’s hip-hop artists cite him as an influence in their work — musicians such as Nas and 2Pac reference Goines in their song lyrics.

Goines was born Dec. 15, 1936 in Chicago, Ill. About 10 million copies of his books have sold.

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Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser achieved a great deal in her 67 years. She got arrested at 19 while covering the trial of falsely accused black men, known as the Scottsboro Boys, in Alabama. She won the Yale Younger Poets Award at 21 for her first collection, Theory of Flight. And Rukeyser was the youngest poet in Louis Untermeyer’s acclaimed poetry anthology, Modern American Poetry. 

Rukeyser also accrued a 121-page FBI file. The poet spent her life agitating authorities and fighting for her beliefs. She published in her second book, U.S. 1, a long poem about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster. Hundreds of miners fell ill or died from silicosis while digging the tunnel. Rukeyser’s piece, “The Book of the Dead,” shares their story.

She got arrested protesting the Vietnam War in Washington, DC, in 1972. Three years later, Rukeyser traveled to South Korea to contest the imprisonment of poet Kim Chi-Ha. She wrote about that experience, too. It’s the last poem of her final book, The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser.

Rukeyser was born Dec. 15, 1913, in New York City. When she was seven, her parents needed to make room for Rukeyser’s little sister. So they got rid of all the books in their home, except the Bible and those of Shakespeare. Still, Rukeyser found her way to poetry, an art form she often used to advocate for her beliefs. As she wrote in her poem, “Käthe Kollwitz:”

I am in the world
to change the world

Sources

Significant effort goes into ensuring the information shared in literary stories is factual and accurate. However, errors can occur. If you see a factual error, please let me know by emailing nick@bidwellhollow.com. I'll make every effort to verify and correct any factual inaccuracies. Thank you.

Lola Ridge

  • Lola Ridge: 1873-1941.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed on Dec. 2, 2019.

  • Lola Ridge.” Poets.org. Accessed on Dec. 2, 2019.

  • "Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet." Terese Svoboda. Schaffner Press, Inc. Feb. 15, 2016.

  • "Carrying Flame: A Look2 Essay on Lola Ridge." Terese Svoboda. Ploughshares. Issue 132, Spring 2017. Accessed on Dec. 2, 2019.

  • "Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle." Caroline Maun. University of South Carolina Press. Jan. 23, 2013.

  • "Lola Ridge, Poet, Dies in Brooklyn." The New York Times. May 21, 1941. Accessed on Dec. 2, 2019.

Shirley Jackson

Donald Goines

  • "Donald Goines." African American Literature Book Club. Accessed on Dec. 9, 2019.

  • "The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature." Valerie N. Matthews. Oxford University Press. Feb. 15, 2001.

  • "Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Literature." Edited by Tarshia L. Stanley. ABC-CLIO. Dec. 30, 2008.

  • "Donald Writes No More: A Biography of Donald Goines." Eddie Stone. Holloway House Publishing. 2001.

  • "Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines." Eddie B. Allen, Jr. St. Martin's Publishing Group. May 13, 2008.

  • "Reading the Street: Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and the Rise of Black Pulp Fiction." Kinohi Nishikawa. Duke University. April 1, 2010.

  • "Donald Goines and the Birth of Black Pulp Fiction." Kinohi Nishikawa. CrimeReads. May 22, 2019. Accessed on Dec. 9, 2019.

  • Donald Goines lives on through hip-hop.” Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur. NBCNews.com. March 26, 2004. Accessed on Dec. 9, 2019.

  • "Detroit-sploi-tation." Eddie B. Allen, Jr. Detroit MetroTimes. March 24, 2004. Accessed on Dec. 9, 2019.

Muriel Rukeyser

  • "Modern American Poetry, Fifth Revised Edition." Edited by Louis Untermeyer. Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1936.

  • "Muriel Rukeyser: 1913-1980." Michael J. Schwartz. Jewish Women's Archive. Accessed on Dec. 9, 2019.

  • "Muriel Rukeyser's the Book of the Dead." Tim Dayton. University of Missouri Press. July 7, 2003.

  • "The Scottsboro Boys." National Museum of African American History & Culture. Accessed on Dec. 11, 2019.

  • "Muriel Rukeyser 101." Benjamin Voigt. Poetry Foundation. March 16, 2017. Accessed on Dec. 11 2019.

  • "Muriel Rukeyser, journalist." American Literature in the World. Aug. 21, 2013. Accessed on Dec. 11, 2019.