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Florida Feature: A Brief Biography of Flagler

December 16, 2011 in Florida Feature, Henry Flagler

American tycoons were once something we admired as a nation. They were the physical embodiment of the American Dream and represented the supremacy of the free market. Turn-of-the-century oilmen, factory owners and real estate magnates were the celebrities of their day, both beloved and envied for their success. In 2011, this is no longer true. The super-wealthy “1%” exists in the public consciousness today as a despicable, money hungry bunch, whose financial success is a testament to their ruthlessness and lack of empathy rather than the “classic” American ideals of hard work and faith.

Fortunately for him, Henry Flagler made his bones in an era when the tycoon was king. He grew up in Hopewell, New York during the 1830s, raised by his mother, Elizabeth and father, Isaac, an itinerant Presbyterian minister. Young Flagler only attended school until the eighth grade when he dropped out and moved to Bellevue, Ohio to work for his uncle. The future titan of industry began his working career at a meager salary of $5 a month plus room and board. However, as his later achievements would illustrate, Flagler was a man of formidable ambitions and by age 19, he was promoted to the company’s sales staff at an increased salary of $900 a month. Henry Flagler was on his way.

Late in his wildly successful career, Flagler was viewed by the American public as an exemplar of the “Horatio Alger myth;” a real “pulled up by his own bootstraps” story. However, as is often the case, the public’s perception of celebrity is slightly skewed: Flagler was born into a wealthy family. In fact, he was only able to found his first company in 1862 after borrowing nearly $100,000 from his mother’s side of the family and recruiting his brother-in-law, Barney York, as his business partner. Due to widespread salt shortages related to the Civil War, The Flagler and York Salt Company was initially profitable, but the recipe for success was not destined to last. In April 1865, the Civil War ended, provoking a freefall in demand for salt and the company collapsed.

After the failure of his first company, Flagler returned to Ohio and took a job with a grain company. Undeterred, and determined as ever, Flagler was also aided by an exceptionally serendipitous meeting. Through his business dealings with the grain company, Flagler became acquainted with John D. Rockefeller, a New Yorker, who was in Ohio to start an oil refinery in Cleveland, a city that was quickly becoming the center of the burgeoning oil industry. In 1866, when Rockefeller was searching for investors to get his refinery off the ground, he remembered the savvy young grain salesman he had met the previous year. The ensuing negotiation demonstrated Flagler’s impressive business acumen as he leveraged his $100,000 investment into a position as Rockefeller’s full partner. The refinery was a success and the business grew into the famous, turn-of-the-century American corporate behemoth, Standard Oil.

Although Henry Flagler’s substantial fortune would have made him a member of the 1%, were he alive today, he likely would have resented the image of selfish, unchecked excess associated with modern tycoons. He was renowned as a generous, avuncular fellow who eventually abandoned his executive duties at Standard Oil in order to focus his energy on construction and philanthropic efforts in Florida.

This biographical blog series on Henry Flagler will continue next week with posts on Henry’s first trip to Florida and the epic tale of the overseas railway and its financially bloated, hurricane battered construction!

The Key West Writers Guild: Writing Key West’s Literary Future

December 2, 2011 in Contemporary Literature, Key West Travel, New Writers, Writing Advice

From Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams to Elizabeth Bishop, Key West is steeped in literary history.  You can see Bishop’s house on White Street, have a drink at the bar where Hemingway was a regular and attend a show at the theatre named in Tennessee Williams’ honor.  Key West has as much to offer literature aficionados as it does beach bums, but, you may ask, what can Key West offer the contemporary writer?  The literary scene in Key West is far from a thing of the past.  In fact, Key West has much to lend aspiring writers hoping to follow in the footsteps of their literary predecessors who once called Key West home.  In addition to the annual Key West Literary Seminar, The Key West Writers Guild, a non-profit organization founded in 1995, has been supporting local writers since its inception.  According to their website, the Guild “provides a friendly forum for authors to share their writings and receive encouraging and helpful feedback.”  They meet twice a month and provide an inclusive community for all writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose, both published and unpublished.  In addition to providing a forum for discussing their work, the Guild also holds an annual short story contest.  The winning submissions have subsequently been compiled into anthologies, which are available for purchase locally in Key West. The latest edition, Voices from Key West, is available on Amazon.com.  In conjunction with the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, they also honor one writer annually with an award for the best work in progress.

While it is not a requirement, many members of the Guild are published, and their works run the gamut from thrillers and children’s books to romance novels and literary fiction.  Although not a prerequisite, it is no surprise that many of the Guild’s members are creatively inspired by their surroundings.  Joanna Brady Schmida, a member since 1998 and the Guild secretary, won the annual award in 2009, and her self published novel, The Woman at the Light, is praised on Amazon.com as “a wonderful ‘trip’ to Key West’s past.”

The members of the Guild come from all walks of life, bonded together through their love of writing.  The Guild president, Diana Reif, is an attorney, and the members’ day jobs cover as wide a spectrum as the genres in which they write.  Dorothy Francis, music teacher and mystery writer extraordinaire, has written books for both children and adults, and her Key West mysteries include the aptly titled Conch Shell Murder and Pier Pressure Mike Dennis, musician and professional poker player, also found inspiration in his surroundings.  His second published work Setup on Front Street is the first of a trilogy of noir novels set in Key West.  Peg Gregory, a retired nurse turned romance writer, penned Starfish, a piece of romantic fiction inspired by the city’s past.

Whether historical fiction, romance novel or psychological journey through the region’s darker side, local writers cannot help but be fascinated by the rich culture and breathtaking beauty of Key West.  I think sometime-Key West-resident Hemingway would agree. After all, his only novel set in the United States, To Have and Have Not, is set in Key West, where he began writing it. Strangely enough, although Hemingway and Tennessee Williams resided in Key West simultaneously, they reportedly only met once.  Providing a community of intellectual nourishment and mutual admiration, it is safe to say that if Key West is to ever again see the likes of two such literary greats, they will have met more than once… perhaps even twice a month at Guild meetings?

 

Hemingway’s Key West: How to Travel like a Literary Icon

December 2, 2011 in American literature, Hemingway in Key West, Key West Travel

  “Then we came to the edge of the stream and the water quit being blue and was light and greenish and inside I could see…the wireless masts at Key West and the La Concha hotel up high out of all the low houses”  – Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not

If you are planning a trip to Key West, there are plenty of hotels to choose from, but for the literary traveler the choice is easy.  Dating back to 1926, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the La Concha not only provides you with luxurious accommodations amidst the excitement of popular Duval Street, but it also gives you access to a lush history without even leaving your hotel room.  The La Concha boasts a rich past, with former guests running the gamut from Harry S. Truman to Al Capone, and of course, literary legend, Ernest Hemingway.

At only seven stories high, the La Concha is the tallest building in Key West and one of its best known features is its rooftop bar and observation deck, which offers incredible views of the infamous Key West sunsets.  It is easy to picture Hemingway tossing back a daiquiri against a backdrop of dusky island ambiance.  In fact, he started work on his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not, in a suite at the La Concha.  The novel, set in Key West, pays homage to the hotel, noting its prominence on the horizon as the protagonist, Harry Morgan, leaves Key West for Cuba.

Hemingway initially made the move to Key West with his second wife, Pauline, at the suggestion of fellow writer John Dos Passos.  In 1936 he met Martha Gellhorn at his favorite watering hole, and present day hot spot, Sloppy Joe’s.  If the walls of the La Concha could talk they would tell tales of their affair, which ultimately led to his third marriage.  For the true literary traveler, a stay in Hemingway’s suite at the La Concha is a very real possibility. While in Key West you can definitely walk a mile in his shoes, but why not kick off those shoes and spend a night in his suite?

While the literature aficionado and history buff alike will take pleasure in sitting where Hemingway sat as he penned his classics, a warning to those looking to stay in the room where he wiled away his days.  According to a chapter on the hotel in Greg Jenkin’s Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, strange and possibly otherworldly happenings have been reported in the suite, and one possible culprit is believed to be the ghost of a mischievous Hemingway playing tricks on guests who have taken over his space.  For those who enjoy a little mystery with their history, a tour of haunted Key West landmarks actually starts in the lobby of the La Concha.

For further information on Hemingway’s ties to Key West and the La Concha check out Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon’s 2008 literature themed travel guide, Novel Destinations, a very comprehensive handbook for the literary traveler that The Chicago Tribune calls “a fun read whether for armchair travelers or actual literary pilgrims.”  Now doesn’t that sound like a great book to peruse en route to Key West?  So pack your bags, find a sitter for your six-toed cats, and we will meet you on the rooftop of the La Concha for a mojito in Hemingway’s honor.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

May 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!Image via Harper Collins

  • Last Friday we sang the praises of visually-striking book covers.  Today we have an article from the Guardian book blog on the importance of cover art – and the pitfalls of a truly bad design.   Stuart Evers discusses his distaste for certain covers (which reminds me of my hatred for the hot pink-meets-high-heels formula that has become the norm for a certain type of “chick lit” novel) and the problems faced by publishers.  “While one can understand the more commercial retailers wishing to stick to a tried and tested formula, I don’t believe this is helping writers or customers.  By packaging everything in the same colours, fonts and images, we lose differentiation,” he writes.
  • Similarly, the title of a book can tell us a lot about the contents – or, conversely, it can tell us nothing at all.  Playing on this knowledge, a Twitter meme has recently cropped up, under the hashtag “Lesserbooks,” in which users create new names for old favorites.  A few examples: Of Mice, White Dentures, Dante’s Impala, and my personal favorite, The Lion, The Witch, and the Walk-in Closet.
  • Continuing on the same thread is yet another article from the Guardian on the rewriting of classics to include modern elements (like the incredibly popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).   Instead of decrying the pop-culturally influenced remakes, Jonathan Wright suggests that this could be a valuable tool for getting people to read Great Books (much like Oprah’s Book Club!).  To make things even more interesting, he nominates a few novels for revamp.  It’s an interesting idea, but part of me wonders, why remake something as classic and stimulating as Nineteen Eighty-Four?
  • Jeffrey Brown from PBS recently had the honor of sitting down to an interview with one of my favorite authors: Isabel Allende.  They discuss her new novel, Island Beneath The Sea, which is set in the Caribbean in the early 19th century.  To watch the full interview with the House of Spirits author, go here.
  • And more good news for fans of magical realism: Allende’s novel has already made it to No. 4 on the L.A. Times bestseller list. Other newcomers to the list include Rick Riordan, Douglas Preston, and author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels, Charlaine Harris.
  • And finally, two fascinating articles to begin the weekend.  First, a 16-year-old published author takes a moment to consider whether age matters in publishing, and to meditate on her own feelings of inadequacy when faced with even younger teenage prodigies.  Second, the Rumpus ponders the first person narrator and praises the fallibly infallible Nick Carraway.  Enjoy your days off, and happy reading!

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

May 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!Image via Amazon.com

  • We’ve seen a lot of interesting writing projects lately – from contests for bad poetry to a compilation of very, very short stories – but this one might just take the cake: Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager are soliciting submissions for The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature. They are asking writers to “imagine that they’ve just read the most amazing book they’ve ever encountered, and then write a brief blurb about the imagined text.”  We can hardly wait to see the results; the fruits of this mental exercise sound like they promise to be rewarding.
  • It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been following this blog that I am a little obsessed with food writing, but as it turns out, I’m not the only one.  Jessica Ferri at The Millions chronicles the various forms of food writing, from evocative passages in novels like Sophie’s Choice to more specifically-oriented food writers like Michael Pollan.  Perhaps the most interesting tidbit has to do with how food writers (and readers) are influenced by the shifting economy.  Find out more here.
  • And for another topic we’re naturally interested in, the B&N book blog takes on reading about reading. This delightfully meta activity has been covered by many different authors, but recently literary critic and “the world’s best-known reader” Alberto Manguel has gathered up a collection of his essays in a new book, A Reader on Reading.  Full of interesting quotes and observations (sample: “Karel Capek, in his wonderful book on gardens, says that the art of gardening can be reduced to one rule: you put into it more than you take out. The same can be said of libraries.”) Manguel’s compilation sounds like a must-read.
  • Our relationship with books is often shaped by hearing them read aloud.  Like most people, I was introduced to the joy of reading aurally, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve spent far more time considering the printed word than the spoken one.  However, this article, from Jacket Copy makes me reconsider the influence of the author’s voice.  Carolyn Kellogg asks the question: Is David Sedaris really that good?  Or is his popularity due in part to his abilities as a performer?  A longtime fan of Sedaris, I would have to answer (like Kellogg) both.
  • And finally, two lighthearted links to start your weekend: 1. Bookslut posted an adorable cartoon that highlights the differences between a Kindle and a “Crappy Paperback” and 2. Check out this incredibly tacky but surprisingly fun “I read banned books” necklace.  Quite the literary fashion statement, if you ask me.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book newImage via Amazon s from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • An interesting piece from the Jewish Review of Books asks the question: Why are there so few Jewish fantasy authors?  It’s something I’ve never considered, but considering the Christian allegories in Narnia and the like, it’s certainly worth thinking about.  Michael Weingrad argues, “we should begin by acknowledging that the conventional trappings of fantasy, with their feudal atmosphere and rootedness in rural Europe, are not especially welcoming to Jews, who were too often at the wrong end of the medieval sword.”  More thoughts on the relationship between religion and the fantasty world at The Second Pass.
  • Independent publisher Melville House has announced their intention to host an award ceremony for the best and worst book trailers. Book trailers, for those of you who don’t know, are short videos created to promote upcoming books.  Categories include “Best Big Budget Book Trailer,” “Best Cameo in a Book Trailer,” and hilariously, “Least Likely to Actually Sell the Book.”
  • One possible contender for the Melville House awards?  Actor Zach Galifianakis, who appeared in the trailer for John Wray’s Lowboy. Galifianakis and Wray humorously switched places in this short video, with the actor portraying the writer and the writer playing a far more chipper Zach.
  • In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love became an instant hit, a bestseller, and a defining entry in the travel writing-cum-memoir canon.  As you’ve probably heard, the story of Gilbert’s self discovery is being made into a feature film, starring (who else?) America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts.  Roberts talks to the New York Times about the film, which left her “exhausted when it was all done.”  But “I loved every second of it,” she added.
  • And finally, start this weekend off right by listening to a bit of poetry. Singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant has done something interesting with her newest album, Leave Your Sleep.  Merchant has taken her favorite poems from childhood and set them to music in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy the resulting lullabies.  She chose works by famous poets (like Robert Graves, E.E. Cummings and even  one from Mother Goose) mixed in with those of lesser-known writers, including Charles Carryl and Lydia Huntley Sigourney.

    Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

    April 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

    Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

    • Mark TwainLet’s start off with the biggest story of the week: the iPad.  Now that it’s here, what can it do for us?  Well, according to the reviewers at Salon, it offers a “serene” reading experience, perfect for getting lost in a text.  And although the iBooks store is rather anemic right now, Amazon is offering an app to download Kindle books to the iPad, which might just be the best of both worlds.
    • And for even more on e-readers, check out the series of essays on the new medium over at Critical Mass.   “I prefer paper for everything,” writes columnist Martha Cornog.
    • Also trendy: Vampires.  It seems that the blood-suckers aren’t going away any time soon, so educate yourself on the “ethical” breed of domesticated monsters with Emily Colette Wilkinson’s fascinating take on our modern vampire romance.  If that whets your appetite for blood, The Guardian has a few great book recommendations for horror fans.
    • Margaret Atwood is on Twitter!  And she is very appreciative of her followers, who have sent her “many interesting items pertaining to artificially-grown pig flesh, unusual slugs, and the like.”  She also includes one of the most flattering descriptions of Twitter we’ve ever read: “It’s something like having fairies at the bottom of your garden.”
    • Preeminent Twain scholar Laura Skandera Trombley appeared yesterday on the Leonard Lopate Show to talk about Mark Twain’s “other woman,” Isabel Lyon. “Twain in effect made her his substitute wife,” she explains.  Trombley also suggests that Lyon always hoped Twain would marry her, but she was happy to work for “the most famous man in the world.”
    • And finally, take a moment to ponder the tragedy of so-called “lost literature.” There are many great pieces that time – and the general reading public – forgot, including the works of Ukrainian writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky and Russian author Danill Kharms.   Perhaps it’s time to celebrate some of our favorite, lesser-known authors before it is too late.

      Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

      April 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

      Photo from Out of PrintEvery Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

      • Short story writers, get your pens ready (or laptops, as the case may be) for NPR’s “Three Minute Fiction Contest.”  They’re looking for pieces of original prose including the words plant, button, trick, and fly.  Submissions will be judged by Ann Patchett, and are due by April 11th.
      • Good news for independent bookstores: Obama is a fan!  Our president made a surprise stop at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City this week to pick up a couple of children’s books for his daughters.  And the LA Times even has a video!
      • In case you hadn’t heard, April is Poetry Month.  Take a moment to honor the occasion by stepping outside your normal reading zone and trying out poets from around the world.  I plan to start by reading the works of Yehuda Amichai, one of my new favorite writers and Israel’s greatest modern poet.
      • You have to respect horror author Joe Hill for his recent success, especially considering his legacy.  Hill, whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, didn’t want to write under the shadow of his father.  “I felt there was a danger – real danger – in coming out as the son of Stephen King if I couldn’t sell it under the pen name, if it wasn’t good enough,” Hill explained.  Judge for yourself by picking up a copy of his second novel, Horns.
      • Can science be used to explain literature?  Some literary theorists believe so.  University English departments are increasingly turning to the “hard” sciences to better understand the way we read, write, and think.  Interested in the intersection?  The New York Times has it covered.
      • And finally, wear your love of books on your sleeve with these wonderful literary t-shirts.  You can purchase my personal favorite  here.

      Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

      March 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

      Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  EnjoyPhoto from Amazon.com!

      • In her piece on the immensely talented American author Shirley Jackson, Joan Schenkar introduces her subject as “Stanley’s wife,” which is, unfortunately, how she was seen for much of her life.  However, as Schenkar shows, Jackson was so much more than simply a wife – she was self-professed witch, a master of manipulation, and a true artist with words.  For more insights into Jackson and the literary culture of Bennington, Vermont, check out Shenkar’s piece in it’s entirety here.
      • Harry Potter fans will flock to the new ride at University Studios in Orlando, Florida.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open on June 18th and feature a virtual trip through the magical world of Hogwarts, including a stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop and an interactive Quidditch match.  Sign me up.
      • Rest in peace Ai, award-winning poet and all-around admirable woman.  Born Florence Anthony, she changed her name to the Japanese word for love before receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and the National Book Award for her poetry collection “Vice.”  Take a moment to mourn the literary loss and read her poetry here.
      • Books can take us many places, but one of my favorite places to explore through the written word is only a few steps away: My own kitchen.  There is something truly magical about a novel that can not only transport you in space and time, but also tickle your tastebuds.  With this in mind, let’s try to recall our favorite culinary moments (mine from the children’s book series Redwall) with this article from the Guardian on food and fiction.
      • Have you been following March Madness?  No?  Well for those of us more interested in the Food Court than the basketball court, here is a fun way to participate:  Book tournaments.
      • And finally, Tim O’Brien appeared at Barnes & Noble earlier this week to discuss The Things They Carried on the twentieth anniversary of its publication.  An audio recording of the interview, in which O’Brien discusses storytelling, his most famous work, and the tragic legacy of Vietnam,  is available online.

      Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

      March 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

      Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler will gather uImage via Amazon.comp the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

      • The American Book Review asked several university professors to contribute some nominees to their list of America’s 40 Worst Books.  Some of their choices are – in our humble opinion – debatable.  They’ve included a personal favorite of mine, The Great Gatsby, on the grounds that it is “smug.”  Also on the list: Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road and Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.
      • On this day, in 1948, Jack Kerouac turned 26.  He wrote in his journal:  “Guess what?! – on my birthday today, wrote 4500-words(!) – scribbling away till six-thirty in the morning next day. A real way to celebrate another coming of age. And am I coming of age?”  Check out Barnes and Nobel Review for more reflections.
      • Dave Eggers, novelist and founder of McSweeney’s, is also blowing out the candles on his birthday cake today.  Help him celebrate (in spirit, if not in person) by checking out  this fascinating interview with Eggers about his new book, Zeitoun.
      • Is it possible to become a famous poet simply through social networking?  That’s the argument Jim Behrle made the other day when speaking to a crowd at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.  “Self promotion is the only kind of promotion left,” he said.
      • Ebooks are a little scary to many of us bibliophiles, but they may be the greenest way to access academic books and other frequently-updated texts. However, the case for the e-reader is a little more complicated than it might initially seem.
      • And finally, congratulations to author Gail Haveren, translator Dayla Bilu, and everyone at Melville House.  Haveren’s novel The Confessions of Noa Weber was just awarded the 2010 Translated Book Award For Fiction.