Happy Father’s Day! — Who is your Favorite Literary Father Figure?

June 14, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Series, children's literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Leo Tolstoy, Special Events, Staff Wishlist, Uncategorized

In honor of Father’s Day, the Literary Traveler staff has decided to pay homage to some fatherly favorites. We initially thought that this would not be an easy task, since many of the parental relationships in literature are represented as difficult, complicated, and neurosis-producing catalysts.  Yet, we learned that while much literature includes vivid portrayals of father/child relationships, and many of them are difficult and complicated, sometimes literature gives us strong bonds, unconditional love, and cherished role models who are figures to be admired. And, even the difficult and less-than-perfect relationships often offer very human representations of family.

Some of these characters may not be “fathers” in the biological sense.  They may be grandfathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers, friends — sometimes they are not male at all. Sometimes they are even anthropomorphic bears.  But, in honor of these very important people in all of our lives, we’d like to say “Thank You” with our literary tribute to Father’s Day.

Melissa Mapes, Social Media Coordinator – Papa Bear, The Berenstain Bears – I am a big fan of bear hugs, and remember learning so many lessons about family from the happy group of bears that live in a tree house.

Amanda Festa, Managing Editor – Carson Drew, The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories — Raised in a family where I could barely cross the street before I was 11, I appreciate Attorney Drew letting his daughter help out on his criminal cases. The relationship between Mr. Drew and his daughter is one of mutual respect and admiration — which is refreshing for a series that began as early as 1930.  Mr. Drew trusts Nancy’s judgment and skill, turning to her often for help.  She’s even come to his rescue on more than one occasion.  As someone who grew up by flashlight with the Drews, I always enjoyed their dynamic and looked forward to Carson’s telegrams and the occasional phone call, when Nancy could drop a case and get to town to use a phone, of course.  And there seems worse places to be reared than the charming suburban town of River Heights. Sure, the crime rate is high, but I’d surely outrun evildoers in my smart little roadster, a pretty sweet birthday present from Papa Drew. And all expense paid trips with my two best friends?  I’ll pack my magnifying glass and be there in a jiff.

Jessica Monk, Contributing Editor —  Mr. Tom, Goodnight Mister Tom– It’s been years since I read the children’s book Goodnight Mister Tom, and even just re-reading the basics of the story on Wikipedia (ahem), I found myself welling up again. It’s hard to distill the plot down to a paragraph, but it goes something like this: In wartime Britain, William is evacuated with other children to the countryside, as London prepares for the battle of Britain and a heavy bout of bombing. He is elected to stay with the reclusive, crabby Mr. Tom, who, it turns out, lost his wife and son years ago, causing him to retreat from society. William is an awkward, shy boy, who was raised by an abusive, god-fearing mother. Away from his mother, he thrives under Tom’s care, and it becomes clear that he and Tom represent a second chance for each other as an oddball father and son duo. Goodnight Mister Tom is one of those kids’ books that tackles tough issues – so tough that it’s difficult to believe that you were confronted with them at such a tender age. But it’s a wonderful story of unconventional fatherhood; Mr. Tom is not only moved, but tested by love, and challenged to act out of his own comfort zone on behalf of William. He acts with courage, providing a good example to William, but also with tenderness and caring. In this way, he ends up becoming both father and mother to the boy, and the story shows that there are second chances, and that parenting is a relationship that both father and son can grow into.

Antoinette Weil, Marketing Coordinator – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird —  My literary ‘Father of the Year Century’ would have to be Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s classic novel reads like a literary handbook for justice, and famed father and lawyer Atticus believes in it with his whole heart.  A widower, Atticus takes on the task (much more bravely than many in the 20th century) of raising his two children alone. He instills in his children a sense of morality and a sense of justice that is seldom seen in fictional portrayals of lawyers. He doesn’t allow his children to take the easy way out — a standard he also holds himself to. He speaks to them like he speaks to his peers — big words, lawyer-lingo, and all. But he is never impatient and will explain and re-explain what he means. And Atticus always says what he means. He never lies. Defending a black man puts Mr. Finch in the hot seat with the rest of the town. But he takes it as a learning tool, explaining to his children the principles of equality and of not judging a book by its cover. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch teaches his children exactly what he taught all of us in the classroom. And for millions of people around the world, myself included, those lessons have remained intact and Mr. Atticus Finch enshrined.

Caitlin O’Hara, Editorial Intern – Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind — So, perhaps it’s all in a name, but I would choose Mr. O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as my favorite literary father figure.  As a young Caitlin, unable to fathom why on earth my parents didn’t name me Scarlett, the fiery southern belle was to me the epitome of gutsy beauty.  As an adult though, one sees easily how flawed she is, how careless and juvenile.  She might have failed altogether if not for the lessons she learned from her father. Mr. O’Hara instills in Scarlett the love of the land that ultimately saves her. He loves his wife and daughters with great fidelity and patience. True, he falters when he begins to lose it all, when his beloved slave-holding society falls to pieces, but his values of respect for the land and love of family are at the core of the book; they are the strength that ultimately redeems Scarlett, for all of her faults.  In real life, however, I will always choose the real Mr. O’Hara — my dad.

Tatsiana Litvinskaya, Editorial InternNikolai Bolkonsky, War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy’s novel is one of the greatest Russian works of all time.  I first read it when I was 15 years old, and I fell in love with Andrei Bolkonsky, a young, handsome, and courageous man, who loves his country and is ready to fight and die in the War. But who raised him and made him such a strong man? The answer is simple: his father Nikolai Bolkonsky, a man who lived his life according to moral principles.  Nikolai raised his children to be noble, kind, hard-working, and not divide people by class, even though Bolkonsky’s family belongs to high society. When the father sends his son to the War, he tells him that he will cry if Andrei is killed, but if he learns that Andrei acted not as his son, it will be a shame to him as his father. These words show how important it was for Nikolai to be proud of his son’s sense of honor.

Katie Stack, Editorial Intern – Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter series – Wise, kind, mysterious, famous, knowledgeable…The complex Dumbledore was a father to Harry when he had none. Not all of these adjectives are what one might want or expect in a father, which is why Dumbledore is such a valuable example of a flawed and oh-so-human father (wizard or muggle). In his efforts to shield Harry from the difficult realities of adult life, Dumbledore often caused further hardship. This, in essence, is what fatherhood is: a constant struggle between facilitating a magical and care-free childhood and raising your child to be an independent and resourceful adult.

Jamie Worcester, Editorial InternRex Walls, The Glass Castle – My favorite literary father figure would have to be from Jeanette Wall’s memoir, The Glass Castle. Although he is not the protagonist of the story, I find him to be the most compelling. The story starts off with Jeanette reflecting back to her childhood where her incredibly intelligent father, Rex, and free-spirited mother move the family around to various locations, even spending some time in the desert. There in the desert, Rex teaches his three children about different plant species, encourages them to play in the dirt, and allows them to pick out stars as Christmas presents. Readers will often find themselves enchanted by his intellectual nature and childish curiosity. However, as the story unfolds, the reader becomes disillusioned, and the reality of the family’s unstable lifestyle sets in. Although Rex is indeed deeply flawed, his adventurous spirit and charm are what make him my favorite.

Ali Pinero, Editorial Intern – Mr. Emerson, A Room with a View – Mr. Emerson stands by his son George and urges him to put passion and love before convention, even when everyone else warns George to do otherwise. He is the reason Lucy Honeychurch realizes that she loves George after rejecting him multiple times due to his social status, as Mr. Emerson urges her to follow her soul. I think it would be the greatest comfort to know that my father holds his heart higher than his head and would insist that I strive for the impossible. He also constantly offends people and disregards proper social conventions through his blatant honesty, which would be great fun to watch, as long as it doesn’t get to the point where I am too embarrassed. I’d have to fill him in on where to draw the line. Plus, if I ever fell victim to unreciprocated love like George, he could easily convince my crush otherwise, and we would elope like George and Lucy! Can’t go wrong there!

Who’s your favorite literary father figure?  The Literary Traveler team shared their choices, now share your own in the comments section.

Thank You for your Continued Support!

June 14, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Kickstarter, Literary News, Television

We wanted to thank you for supporting Literary Traveler’s Kickstarter. Unfortunately we did not meet our short-term goal of raising $12,000.

But using Kickstarter as a way to launch our funding drive for the television series has been a success. Through the Kickstarter community, our campaign for the Literary Traveler television series has enabled us to reach out to funders, partners, and supporters and move our project forward towards our goal of a fully-funded series.

Kickstarter was phase one of our funding drive, and our fundraising efforts will continue over the summer as we continue to work with individual donors while we research and shoot additional locations for the pilot. For Literary Traveler it will be the “Summer of Gatsby,” as we continue to explore where Fitzgerald roamed and found inspiration for The Great Gatsby.

Here’s how you can help. Please continue to tell your friends about the project, submit your ideas for additional episodes and get involved! In order to hold on to our Kickstarter funds we need anyone who has already supported to re-donate here. If you didn’t donate to the Kickstarter, with the thought that you would give at the end, once we were close to our goal, we will be able to keep and use all funds donated directly through our website.

We’re asking you to stay with our fundraising effort for the long haul – If you subscribe to Literary Traveler or follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll receive updates about the project. If you are just finding us now, please visit our website, check out our Kickstarter page, and take a look at our new fundraising page to see how you can donate to this exciting project.

As anyone who has taken on a project of this scope surely knows, it’s an exciting learning curve. What it boils down to is this: we have too many ideas to stop now.  There is plenty of great stuff on the brew – from exploring the origins of Gatsby this summer to the chance for readers to get personally involved with upcoming episodes.  Stay tuned for more!

We are so grateful for all your support!

Sincerely, Francis & the Literary Traveler Team

We’re Hosting a Party, Old Sport! — How to Throw a Gatsby Summer Soiree

June 9, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Food, Music, Summer Fun

So you want to throw a party, old sport? A fabulous soiree that those on the East Egg would envy from across the bay? Now, I’m no Jay Gatsby, but I think we can put something together that’s pretty spectacular.

SETTING:

The ideal way to create a decadent party-going atmosphere would be to find yourself a mansion on the water as close as possible to old money (Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps?). Surround yourself with well-manicured gardens, and extravagant sunset views are a must!

Barring the many years necessary to acquire the funds (and the availability of appropriate historic mansions), it is possible to create an almost-as-good environment in your own home. Dim lighting is a necessity, and tastefully hung strings of white lights can foster an intimate setting. Your daily household clutter will, of course, be hidden away, and simple table cloths will add a feeling of elegance.

ENTERTAINMENT

Scrounging up an orchestra complete with oboes, trombones and saxophones would be for the best, but a playlist chock-full of speakeasy-flavor jazz music will do the trick as well. Duke Ellington would be a great place to start, but you can also find lengthy 1920s playlists already compiled on music sharing services such as Spotify.

COSTUME

A dress code, of course, will get all attendees in the right mood. If men do not own “white flannels” akin to Nick Carroway’s threads, elegant dress in the form of bowties, fedoras, and pastels of all types will be considered acceptable. Women should plan on sticking to the 1920s flapper style of loose dresses, long pearls, extravagant broaches, and flowered and/or beaded hair pieces. Oh, and shawls! Shawls of all types!

Fortunately, with the recent Gatsby film release, your party has plenty of inspiration. Create a ‘lookbook’ of preferred dress using images from the film adaptation to inform. Brooks Brothers also has created a fabulous line of menswear called (unsurprisingly) “The Great Gatsby Collection”.

FOOD

A buffet table laden with appetizers is the best way to encourage mingling and social levity. Gatsby himself served pastry pigs (today’s oh-so-delicious pigs in a blanket work just fine), as well as spiced ham and roasted turkey. To maintain an hors-d’oeuvres only rule, you should slice up the meat before rolling and anchoring with a toothpick. Throw a cherry tomato or olive on top for a flashy garnish.

Molded salads (jello, anyone?) were popular in the ‘20s; lemon cakes were served in Gatsby, as was fried chicken. Add in citrus delights where you can — nothing screams 1920s wealth like fresh fruit. I also don’t think any guests would object to a few anachronistic (yet delectable) contemporary dips added to the menu, but that’s up to you as the host.

DRINK

The most important part of a Prohibition-era party: the drinks. Keep the alcohol flowing and your party is bound to be a smashing success. Gin and whiskey were popular liquors at the time. Champagne aplenty is a must, and fresh orange juice on hand will lead to thirst-quenching mimosas once the party extends to the early morning hours. While Gatsby was partial to lemons and lemonades, I don’t think your guests will object to a little lime included in some of the following drinks.

  • Gin Rickey: A refreshing libation perfect for those warm summer nights. Gin, lime juice, and club soda in a Collins glass will get any party started.
  • Mint Julep: Whiskey, mint and a dash of sugar will make any lady (or gentleman) swoon with pleasure.
  • Highball: This simple drink was popular during the 1920s. Bourbon is the spirit of choice mixed with craft ginger beer right in the highball glass (perfect for speakeasy-level secrecy).
  • The Royal Highball: Popular among the upper-echelons of New York society, this classy beverage demands fresh strawberries, champagne, and Cognac.
  • Sidecar: This gem is made of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, in a 4-2-1 ratio that’s best served in a standard cocktail glass garnished with a lemon rind.

Remember to stock ice in abundance to guarantee maximum drink freshness!

GUEST LIST

Send out your formal invitations about one week in advance to create an air of exclusivity, but make sure to inform your guests that they are free to bring whomever! Because large parties are really so much more intimate, don’t you think, old sport?

Enjoy!

 

Book Bound! (Two Weeks Remaining!)

May 29, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter, Literary News

Derby Square Bookstore, Salem, MA

By Antoinette Weil and Amanda Festa

Books are not obsolete and reading isn’t dead.  It seems that everything is tech this and i-something or other and YouTube and Vine and Twitter. We love our social media connections as much as the next person, but we can’t lose touch with the tangible. People still read, people still love their favorite books from childhood and from adulthood, and people, although they may not have all the time in the world, still want to get that reading fix. We think that THIS is what sets us and our project apart. We are going back to books, back to great authors, taking the time for you to get to know these stories and places. Promoting reading, promoting travel, promoting exploration, the sharing of ideas. There are many, many people in today’s society who are tired of the constant surge of technology taking over everyday life. Sick of their beloved bookstores closing. We are doing this for them, for people like us who enjoy the story behind our beloved literature. We’re bringing books to life, and that’s something.

We have two weeks left to reach our funding goal on Kickstarter.  Please support our project and, in turn, our passion.  Every dollar helps us get closer to our goal, and every dollar shows that there are people out there who would like to see this project be made.  If you are a reader, if you enjoy the feeling of a creased and worn book in your hands or the smell of a library or independent bookstore, then this project is for you.  If you have the travel bug, and you treat it with long doses of wandering, whether it is done on the road or from the comfort of an armchair, then this project is for you.  SO take a look at our Kickstarter page, explore the posts written by contributors whose excitement and enthusiasm for this project is incredible, and if you enjoy what you see, please get involved, donate what you can, and spread the word to all kindred literary travelers.

Gatsby: Under the Red, White, and Blue

May 28, 2013 in American History, American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald was distantly related to the man who composed “The Star-Spangled Banner?” That, in fact, he was named after him?

I didn’t – Though, of course, Fitzgerald geeks are probably way ahead of me. Since beginning research for our latest project, the Literary Traveler team has closely followed the media attention that the Fitzgeralds attract even from beyond the grave. This sounds both melodramatic and macabre – but the Fitzgeralds are among those writers  – like Sylvia Plath – who attract the kind of personal, possessive fan attention that most celebrities only endure while they’re alive. Jumping in a fountain at The Plaza, or curled up asleep after a party, it seems as if they belong to us, American sweethearts in disgrace.

At Literary Traveler, however, we have been gearing up, not for the glamour of the movie or for dirt on the Fitzgeralds’ personal lives, but the real-life ingredients that went into The Great Gatsby. The main ingredient for us, since we’re a travel website, is place. We don’t only want to know why and how it happened — we want to know where, and we want to show where.

Many associate The Great Gatsby with the archetypal mansion or resort setting. But we think it’s crucial that readers understand the connection Fitzgerald himself made in the novel, between origin and destination, between starting out and success. That, after all, is the essence of the American dream: the difference between the two, and the near impossible journeys of those who made it to the top.

Readers of Gatsby will notice how the novel is structured along the arc of the journey east, from humble Midwestern origins, to glitzy palatial homes on the Gold Coast.  When Nick Carraway picks his Midwest, he rejects the wheat fields and lazy prairies. Instead, he relishes the sharp air of homecoming at Christmas, the bite of the bone-dry, wintry weather and of the bittersweet feeling of homecoming itself. Gatsby is a novel about heart as well as heartlessness – it is a book about how the heart experiences a wrenching journey from what’s familiar to what’s extraordinary – and ends up pining for the thing it cannot have.

Through the virtual travel of my research, I found myself at the grave of Scott and Zelda. Fitzgerald chose to be buried with his Maryland family members, one of whom was the famous author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Francis Scott Key), who gave Fitzgerald part of his name. But Scott and Zelda had to wait to settle down in their final resting place until the 70s – Fitzgerald, having married a protestant, was barred from being buried in his ancestral plot at St. Mary’s in Rockville, Maryland.

One of Fitzgerald’s preferred titles for The Great Gatsby was “Under the Red, White, and Blue.” And the other place I found myself investigating (again virtually) was an ostentatious Long Island Dwelling. A New York Times article from June 30th, 1918 reports that Clarence H. Mackay had a dinner for forty guests and a reception for several hundred people at his mansion, Harbor Hill.

“A large American flag done in colored electric lights topped the house and, as Harbor Hill is the highest point on Long Island, it could be seen for miles around,” the article tells us.

The Fitzgeralds were in Paris by this time, but they had attended a party there the year previously. They may have heard about this blow-out event and drawn on its legendary parties for inspiration. For the one night that this glittering flag was flying over Long Island, everything there was “Under the Red, White and Blue.” But what about the family connection with the star-spangled banner?

Naming your son or daughter after a famous family member is an aspirational gesture. Similar to naming your child after a celebrity, it’s a blueprint for a green light, imparting a fatedness and limitlessness to the child’s future – whether they asked for it or not.

It’s very likely that when it came to mapping the red white and the blue of an American success story, Fitzgerald felt that he was expected to go far. There are more connections between Jay Gatsby and the humble James Gatz than you might expect, and the clues are found both between the pages of the novel and in Fitzgerald’s life – in the places Gatsby aspired to and the places he left behind.

At Literary Traveler, we want to visit those places and show you the real roots of the Gatsby myth. We’ve done a lot of reading, we’ve plotted our mental maps – the next step is to talk to the experts and get filming!

Check out our Kickstarter page for more information on what is to come.

Exploring the Origins of the Charleston

May 21, 2013 in American History, American literature, Classic Literature, Dance, Kickstarter, Literary News, Music

Frank Farnum coaching Pauline Starke in the Charleston for a film role.

My recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina was incredible.  I have wanted to visit the city for years and I was delighted to partake in historical tours, hearing tales of the American Revolution and the Civil War, leisurely strolls and an abundance of incredible food and drink. The week-long getaway was exactly what the doctor ordered to cure the stresses, anxieties, and routine of day-to-day life.

But despite the feeling of freedom and blissful contentment at having no responsibilities, I found myself falling victim to that same sneaky trap that so many American travelers fall into: I was preoccupied with work.

Now let me say, for the record, that I love working with Literary Traveler. It’s a great company with great people and often when I’m working there it doesn’t feel like work at all.  This preoccupation may have been due, in part, to the knowledge that our Kickstarter was going live while I was away. It was weighing on my mind that if we were successful in meeting our funding goal we would be shooting our TV pilot and, that if we weren’t, we would be back to square one. The pilot episode and the Kickstarter campaign were just too big to put out of my mind.

Now, Charleston is a city rich with history and old-world elegance. One of the most preserved cities in the U.S., it looks today much as it did one-hundred years ago (besides the paved streets, upscale shopping boutiques and foodie hotspots). Meandering past war monuments, hotels and houses dating back as far as the 1800s, it was easy to imagine a world long ago and far away. But my mind wasn’t on war and it wasn’t going back that far. What I kept finding myself thinking about was The Great Gatsby, Nick, Daisy and Jordan, and of the roaring twenties.

Specifically, what I was wondering was whether that flapper-essential dance, the Charleston, was in fact named for my destination city. After digging up a little research, I found that the light and carefree dance had some dark history behind it.

Yes, the dance is named after the coastal landmark city. To be more precise, it is named for the show tune it was first danced to, “The Charleston,” by James P. Johnson, which premiered in the 1923 Broadway show Runnin’ Wild. The show was one of the most popular of the decade and created widespread love of the Charleston dance by women around the country who wanted to kick up their heels, flap their arms and let loose.

But long before the glamorized show-dance ever made its Broadway debut, it was being performed, though in a far less choreographed fashion, by African and African-American slaves. The Charleston, you see, is said to be based on the “Juba” dance, which originated in West Africa and was brought to America during one of our most shameful times in history.

The city of Charleston was a hub in the slave trade, housing an abundance of plantations for which slave labor was used and Ryan’s Mart, one of the most well-known slave auction centers ever to exist. Enslaved Africans and African-Americans have passed a number of our cultural treasures along including gospel, blues, and jazz music and the dancing to go with them. The Juba, sometimes called the “Hambone” or “Pattin’ Juba,” was usually danced in groups and consisted of slapping, clapping, and stomping in rhythm while rotating in a counterclockwise circle. The slaves were not allowed to use drums or other rhythmic instruments for fear that they were communicating with each other through the music, so they made their own rhythm using their bodies. This may not sound like the Charleston you have seen, but much of what has become jazz and tap dance originated from these steps.

Similarly, the women of the 1920s were using dance to express ideals that had once been forbidden and taboo: freedom, fun, carelessness and independence. As a matter of fact, the Charleston was outlawed in many places during the 20s because it was seen as crude and scandalous. It is interesting to see how these two groups of people, the slaves in the direst of circumstances and American flappers, many of whom were privileged monetarily and lived seemingly happy and easy lives, do relate to one another. Their environments were so ostensibly different, and yet, the feeling of being stifled, caged, confined, existed inside them all.  The dances of the day, the Juba and the Charleston, helped each group to cope with their circumstances and feelings and enabled genuine creative expression.

I wonder if Daisy ever thought about this.

Taking a Look at the Big Picture (23 Days Remaining!)

May 20, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Kickstarter

It seems like The Great Gatsby is everywhere you look these days.  Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation has brought F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece to the mainstream once again and we are psyched to see Gatsby fever take hold.  While our Kickstarter project is coinciding with the release of the film, our project has been in the works for some time.  Our conception for a television series based on Literary Traveler’s website is much bigger than one book or one author alone.  We are starting with The Great Gatsby because it is one of the best, what has often been called “the great American novel.”  What better place to start our literary exploration than at the top?

We want to get inside the novel, explore the places important to the novel and important to Fitzgerald.  From Long Island to Louisville, New York City and Minnesota, we want to pay homage to Fitzgerald and take viewers on a tour of the places that influenced him both personally and professionally.  We will talk to experts, do our own investigating, and explore the highlights of each destination so that others can ultimately emulate our experience, or tailor-make their own.

The Great Gatsby serves as an entryway into this literary travel experience, but once the door is open it will provide an unending amount of possibilities. Each episode of Literary Traveler will be unique, taking viewers to different locations, viewing destinations through the lens of different authors and texts.  View the California coast from Jack Kerouac’s rearview mirror one week, see New Orleans from Tennessee William’s streetcar the next, and round out your month by exploring Maine through the work of Stephen King. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

Literary Traveler has been telling these fascinating stories online since 1998 and, with your help, we look forward to bringing our passion for literary travel to television.

We have done small-scale video projects in the past, exploring a variety of literary locals, from Thoreau’s Walden Pond to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West.  Check out these past excursions on our YouTube channel and please support us on Kickstarter.

We are so grateful and thankful to all of our generous backers during our first week. We appreciate every contribution and all of the efforts made by our supporters to spread awareness for our project. This week we are making a push to get some more press and additional visibility for the project, but we could use your help.

If you are interested in this project, but are unable to donate, there are plenty of ways to get involved.  Please help create visibility for this project by sharing it through personal connections or social media.  We are also looking for any press opportunities that could help us get the word out there to others as excited by literature and travel as we are.

A New Take on Dramatic Adaptation: The Great Gatsby Opera

May 17, 2013 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter, Literary News, Literature

Gone are the days when literature fans were ranting traditionalists, decrying other media besides quill and parchment.  These days we’re as much dependent on the screen to feed our reading habits as anyone else.

So how do we feel about an adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby, that makes the transition backward – to an older medium, from the page to the live action world of the stage? And how does a composer map out Gatsby’s world in the static setting of a theatre, without special effects, while mediating the characters’ sentences through the flowing notes of a score?

First performed in 1999, John Harbison was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write an operatic adaptation of Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece in 1997.  A daunting task, but Harbison was up for the challenge.  In tandem with the release of the latest film adaptation, Harbison’s opera recently came to Boston, with a performance by the orchestra and chorus of Emmanuel Music.

One of the first things Harbison did when writing his opera was to take note of when everything was happening in Gatsby. He had to build the novel’s timeline in order to deconstruct it, and this was more difficult than you’d imagine, because, as Nick Carraway himself puts it, Gatsby is basically the contracted story of “the events of three nights,” big, dramatic parties that got snagged away from the stream of ordinary happenings.

It’s one of those things peculiar to youth, to remember long stretches of time in terms of dramatic parties and social events, celebrations and disasters.  Gatsby, the opera, may have sacrificed the fluid, romantic garden and water scenes for a closed-in stage, but it had the advantage of opera’s gripping musical crescendos to represent the heightened emotional drama of these scenes.

And perhaps in some ways, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby adaptation is as much an opera as it is a movie. Luhrmann, like Harbison, has previously reworked a classic (Romeo and Juliet), and his movies have been heavily dependent on spectacle and song. Perhaps the only way you can approach the classics is with bravado – and the whole brass section of an orchestra.

Harbison, for his part, ignored advice heard at Princeton that “you don’t set Shakespeare,” and wrote an opera for A Winter’s Tale anyway.  He ignored the traditional path of getting someone else to write the libretto – Gatsby’s libretto is his own, based in large part on scenes from the book.

At the pre-concert talk with Emmanuel Music, Harbison explains that his librettist editors told him: “You blew The Plaza scene. It was a complete disaster. I’m going to have to rewrite it for you.”

The scene was not rewritten, and The Plaza scene was riveting.  Alex Richardson’s Tom lashed out at Myrtle for mentioning Daisy’s name and, while you knew it was coming, it was still a shock. The opera setting provided the fireworks to incite that shock  – Richardson’s Tom was a barrel-chested guy with a deep booming baritone, and his outbursts were underlined heavily by the restive, melodrama of the score.

“People who remember everything and remember nothing have the best time,” said Harbison, of his opera, at his pre-concert talk. Like memory, a classic like Gatsby becomes a container and receptacle for associations that are personal and subjective – so Harbison explains that scholars with an objective viewpoint, or people who know nothing about the book, enjoy the opera. “I went into this piece thinking this was this little novel that I slipped into my pocket”, said one of Harbison’s librettists, with mystification at the expandable nature of Gatsby. Likewise, with the character of Gatsby himself, who Harbison describes as “transparent and opaque at the same time,” a man who could make people feel important, while he himself disappeared.

I have to admit that it was tough going watching the mobile, youthful characters of the book confined to the stage. But the opera’s ingenious score and 1920s-style faux pop songs (written by Murray Horwitz) went a long way to producing the sense of atmosphere that pervades the book.

The Great Gatsby, it seems, has given the ‘green-light’ for many interpretations of its nature. You get the sense that the difficulty of setting it for opera encouraged Harbison rather than put him off. For new artists adapting this work, if you can’t change the past, then the message is, don’t look back!

Luckily, at Literary Traveler, it’s not our job to worry about changing Gatsby. We will be looking back though, as we research Gatsby’s origins for our upcoming pilot –  Stay tuned and be sure to check out our Kickstarter page for more on Gatsby and our exciting project.

Kickstarting your Wanderlust (27 Days Remaining!)

May 16, 2013 in American Authors, Classic Writers, Contemporary Literature, Kickstarter, Literary News, Travel

There are 27 days remaining for us to reach our Kickstarter goal.  We are excited by the process and all that is on the horizon for Literary Traveler.  We are really enthusiastic about this project and dedicated to making it happen, but we need your help. Check out our Kickstarter page and be sure to watch our video, featuring Literary Traveler’s own Francis McGovern, Antoinette Weil and myself.  We had a lot of fun shooting the video in Somerville, MA.  We filmed in our office, as well as at the Prohibition-style bar, Saloon, in nearby Davis Square.

For the video, we hoped to capture a day in the LT office, where we often have collaborative brainstorming sessions and discuss future projects.  You may not be able to tell what we are talking about during some of the shots, but we are deep in conversation about our vision for the pilot episode of our literary travel series. There is something about travel that meshes so well with literature and I can’t believe that there is not already a show like ours on mainstream television.

I have been a long-time fan of the Travel Channel. I will watch almost anything, from Samantha Brown to Ghost Adventures.  Whatever the hook, I enjoy travel shows because they take you on a journey to someplace you haven’t been, allow you to experience the sites, smells and tastes of a place very different from where you are.

Travel inspires, sparks new ideas, surrounds us in new experiences — literature does the same.  Literature can have such an amazing sense of place, with settings chosen purposefully by an author who found inspiration there.  How interesting is it to consider how location impacts writers, how their own personal journeys influence their work and, ultimately, how we can traverse the same journey on a unique trip of our own.

I’ve had the travel bug for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I never played house or planned fake weddings.  Instead,  I played travel agent.  I would fill out the postcard inserts from my parents’ travel magazines, check off all the boxes, and send away for travel brochures for everywhere in the continental United States.  My parents were often confused why they received multiple mailings for Mississippi river boat cruises, but I just smuggled them into my bedroom and hoarded them away in a desk drawer that almost didn’t close.

As an adult, I travel every chance I can and when I am not traveling I still enjoy watching travel shows on television, constantly planning dream adventures, most of which I will someday take.  In the meantime, I’ve been known to pass an afternoon living vicariously through the Travel Channel. But, as much as I enjoy watching Adam Richman go up against the world’s biggest burger, or watching historic haunted locations through night vision, I think there is a place for literary travelers in the genre as well.  There are so many amazing literary journeys to take and Literary Traveler has the passion, the drive and the wanderlust to be your guide.

Literary Traveler is LIVE on Kickstarter! (29 Days Remaining!)

May 14, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Kickstarter, Literary News, Special Events, Television, Travel to New York City

Dear Literary Travelers,

We are very excited to announce that we are officially LIVE on Kickstarter! Check out our Kickstarter page and be sure to watch our video for more information on this project.  It is sure to be an exciting month for us and we are so happy to have our loyal readers involved in the process.  We urge you to share the project with friends, family and anyone that you think might be interested in learning more about us!

Please check back here for updates on the project.  Throughout the next month, this blog will be Kickstarter central — a place for us to share our progress, ideas, project news and information on the future of the Literary Traveler series.

We are offering some incredible rewards to backers, including Literary Traveler t-shirts and an original art print by our own contributor, Jessica Monk.  We are also offering advanced access to the finished episode, before it becomes available to the general public.  Also, if you have your own blog or social media account, we are offering backers a special opportunity to be featured on LiteraryTraveler.com.  Check out the Kickstarter page for more on these rewards and other amazing incentives.