This Week in Literary History: March 1-7
Recognizing the birthdays of Tom Wolfe, Gabriel García Márquez, and more
Welcome to March, which is Women’s History Month, and a new issue of This Week in Literary History. Stories and a list of notable literary events and births for March 1-7 are below. Enjoy!
Tom Wolfe Forever Changed How We Tell Nonfiction Stories
By Corinne Weaver
Journalist, author, and national wit Tom Wolfe wrote prolifically about the upper classes in urban environments. But he also wanted to refine journalism into the art of the nonfiction novel.
“The newspaper is, in fact, very bad for one’s prose style,” Wolfe complained in an interview with The Paris Review. “It becomes a form of laziness.”
No one could ever accuse Wolfe of being lazy: after all, he became known as the champion of New Journalism (a journalism style mixed with literary techniques), an author, and a prolific essayist. “I wouldn’t give anything for the years I spent on newspapers because it forces you, it immerses you, in so many different sides of life,” he admitted.
This sentiment played out in the rest of his work. Wolfe spent time waxing about the structure of a social hierarchy to commenting on class as a whole. Building “an actual map of the town” required looking at all angles of everyday life, including the darkest parts of society. Mocking the rich, said Wolfe, “has its advantages.”
Nonfiction novels gave Wolfe hope for the future of literature. “Nonfiction remains the most important literary genre in American literature of the past 60 years,” Wolfe said. “I’d be happy to return to it. My novels are based on the same kind of reporting. Any other type of novel’s days are numbered if you ask me.”
For his book, The Right Stuff, Wolfe spent hours interviewing astronauts like John Glenn and cultural figures like Ken Kesey. And while working on The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe tried LSD to understand better Kesey and his “Merry Pranksters,” the group that mentored the Grateful Dead.
Wolfe considered the rise of New Journalism and the rise of realism in literature as a lower class coming into power. “We are watching a group of writers coming along, working in a genre regarded as Lower Class who discover the joys of detailed realism and its strange powers,” he wrote in an essay for Esquire, which published many Wolfe articles.
Today, some of Wolfe’s criticisms from the 1970s and 1980s seem outdated. For example, he claimed the internet would go out of style, saying the monks in medieval times hated scrolls. But Wolfe’s contributions to realism and New Journalism helped change the way many tell nonfiction stories.
Born on March 2, 1930, in Richmond, Va.
Died on May 14, 2018, in New York City.
The Early 20th-Century Writer Who Built a Bridge Between the Old and New Worlds
By Emily Quiles
“The Portrait of Enrique Larreta,” painted by Ignacio Zuloaga in Paris in 1912, depicts the mustached Argentinian writer wrapped in a black Spanish cape, traditionally worn by priests and conventional Christians. Lost in thought and unaware of the audience, Larreta clenches his chin in one hand and a wooden cane in the other, symbolizing authority. He sits on rocks with a view of Avila, Spain, to the left of the frame. Clouds of light pink and purple eminent warm hues above the medieval city’s walls and buildings.
Located on the rolling hills, about 55 miles northwest of Madrid, Avila is known for its large number of churches per capita within the city’s Romanesque style walls. In 1902, Laretta first set his eyes on the town that “symbolized proud feudal destinies, which began to decline with the leveling, ‘modern’ politics,” Adelia Lupi explains in Latin American Writers.
“The enthusiasm and emotion he felt for Avila during his trip through Old Castile inspired the theme of his historical novel: La Gloria de Don Ramiro (The Glory of Don Ramiro) – to evoke the Spain of the Golden Age,” continued Lupi.
In a speech Laretta delivered in Avila in 1943, he spoke ofhis novel, The Glory of Don Ramiro, as a “libro esencialmente religioso, verdadero teorema católi (essentially a religious book, of true Catholic theorem).” The book, published in 1908, established Larreta as part of the Hispanic Modernism movement, or Modernismo. It tells the story of Don Ramiro de Alcántara, the descendant of a noble family during Philip II of Spain’s reign (1556 - 1598). Ramiro, a soldier, is searching for a more spiritual life and must choose between their dualities.
Larreta spent five years in Spain researching for The Glory of Don Ramiro. During this time, Larreta received mentorship from visitors from Paris’s art scene. These mentors included Anatole France, Edmond Rostand, Henri de Régnier, Remy de Gourmont, and the Basque painter who painted him, Ignacio Zuloaga.
Almost 20 years passed between The Glory of Don Ramiro and Larreta’s second novel, Zogoibi. During his time, many accredited the Argentian writer for his in-depth research and documentation of the Spanish conquests of the Americas. Hundreds of years after those events, Larreta united the Spanish and Spanish-American communities across the Atlantic through his writing.
Born on March 4, 1875, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Died on July 6, 1961, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Unlikely Friendship of Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro
By Christine Kingery
Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez is best known for his magically realistic books, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His novels have inspired many contemporary writers with his literary prowess, including Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, and Toni Morrison. García Márquez influenced and helped bring to light the important writing of many Latin American writers, including Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.
Even the most ardent García Márquez superfans may not know something about this Nobel Prize-winning writer. The author had an unofficial editor for his works: Fidel Castro.
The unlikely friendship between Castro and García Márquez started in 1959, just after Castro's revolution triumphed over Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro was due to hold a press conference to talk about the campaign's success, but instead, Castro detoured to Hotel Nacíonal de Cuba, where García Márquez was staying while covering the Batista regime’s trials for the news service, Prensa Latina. Gabo wasn't expecting a visit from the nation's new president.
Gabo was a prolific journalist at the time, and his pro-communist sentiments were well-known. Gabo supported the revolution and the administration's goals to stop the lower economic classes' suffering and close the power and wealth gap between the privileged and the poor. And so Castro must have been relatively sure that he would get a sympathetic ear from García Márquez.
At Hotel Nacíonal, Castro and Gabo struck up an easy camaraderie, talking about food, a favorite topic of Castro's. Gabo later quipped that he never knew anyone who knew more about seafood than Castro.
The pair's next encounter happened in 1977 after Marquez had made his presence known on the literary scene. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, followed by The Autumn of the Patriarch in 1975. Solitude was an instant success and catapulted Gabo to the world stage. As it turned out, Castro was very well-read; he had read García Márquez's popular works and admired Gabo's writing.
Dr. Stéphanie Panichelli-Batalla, a lecturer in Latin American studies at Aston University, told the Guardian, "They had several conversations about literature, and eventually Fidel offered to read his manuscripts because he had a good eye for detail."
For example, García Márquez told a tale of Castro's reading of "The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor." Castro pointed out a miscalculation in the speed of a boat described in the story. There seems to be some discrepancy in whether Gabo asked Castro for help or whether Castro offered; regardless, Castro ended up being a first reader/reviewer of Gabo's literary works. Most scholars agree that the two forged a friendship over the years.
"He's such a good reader that before publishing a book, I bring him the original manuscripts," said García Márquez.
Anna Hevre, a publishing editorial manager, commented on the author's unique qualities and statesman's friendship. "Most great artists define themselves in opposition to the elite in the modern era," Hevre said. "And dictators have notoriously poor taste, as a rule."
To be sure, the ensuing friendship and editorial services provided by Castro did not mean that García Márquez agreed with the dictator's regime. However, he was unwilling to criticize Castro publicly, much to the ire of his peers. As a result of this hesitancy, governments worldwide held the friendship against García Márquez, including the United States, which withheld travel visas to Gabo and his family for 30 years. And Mario Vargas Llosa once punched Gabo in the face at a public event, presumably due to the former's anger at Gabo's refusal to denounce Castro.
It wasn't easy for Gabo to balance working with Castro and maintaining his international literary community's integrity. Gabo was sometimes defensive with the press when they confronted him with their pointed questions. García Márquez had a quieter, more private way of standing against Castro, such as helping to fund and organize political groups and philanthropic organizations contrary to Castro's regime. García Márquez also used his influence with Castro to help dissidents leave the island and smooth some of Castro's rough edges with foreign leaders.
"It is clear that García Márquez was one of the few people who could speak freely with Castro, to criticize the revolution privately and constructively," Latin American scholar Patrick Iber said. "If he had broken with Castro publicly, he would have lost that power."
After García Márquez's passing in 2014, family members found a book in the author's library. Inside was a note inscribed by Castro. Addressed to Gabo, using his affectionate nickname, Castro wrote, "Your book Yo No Vengo a Decir un Discorso is disturbing. Enslaved by other obligations, I abandoned my duty and started reading. I missed your stories."
Questions remain decades after Castro and Gabo started an unlikely friendship. Did García Márquez use his stories to subtly influence Castro, knowing that the dictator would be the first to read his stories? How far did Gabo's influence with Castro go? Scholars can only speculate, but with thawing relations between Cuba and other countries, perhaps some of these questions will receive answers.
Garbiel García Márquez
Born on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, Colombia.
Died on Apr. 17, 2014, in Mexico City, Mexico.
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“Tom Wolfe, The Art of Fiction No. 123.” George Plimpton. The Paris Review. Spring, 1991.
“Sitting Up With Tom Wolfe — A 1974 Interview.” Joe David Bellamy. Writer’s Digest. 1974.
“Interview with Tom Wolfe.” Chicago Public Library. 2008.
“Why They Aren’t Writing the Great American Novel Anymore.” Tom Wolfe. Esquire. 1972.
“Argentine writer Enrique Larreta reading from his prose and poems.” Enrique Larreta. Library of Congress: Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. 1958.
“Enrique Larreta.” The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.
“Latin American Writers.” Adelia Lupi. Scribner. 1989.
“Museo de Arte Español Enrique Larreta.” Allie Lazar. Condé Nast Traveler.
“Nietzschean Antagonism, Self-Sacrifice and Redemption in Enrique Larreta’s La gloria de Don Ramiro.” Cheryll Saylor-Javaheria. Hispanic Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1. 1993.
“Retrato de Enrique Larreta, 1912.” Buenos Aires Ciudad.
Garbiel García Márquez
“Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro: A complex and nuanced camraderie.” Joel Whitney. Aljazeera America. Apr. 19, 2014.
“The public and private faces of the friendship between Fidel Castro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” Stéphanie Panichelli-Batalla. The Conversation. Dec. 12, 2016.
“Fidel Castro worked on Gabriel García Márquez’s manuscripts.” Danuta Kean. The Guardian. Dec. 6, 2016.
“Fidel Castro, a giant influence in Latin American literature, once edited Gabriel García Márquez.” Ana Campoy. Quartz. Nov. 30, 2016.
Notable Literary Births & Events for March 1-7
William Dean Howells
Richard Wright's Native Son is published (1940)
John Jay Chapman
Jan Howard Finder
TIME Magazine releases its first issue (1923)
Barbara Newhall Follett
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Thomas Sigismund Stribling
Richard B. Wright
Johann Rudolf Wyss
Leslie Marmon Silko
Constance Fenimore Woolson
Gabriel García Márquez
Bret Easton Ellis
E. L. James