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Author quotes: Discrimination, discovery, and freedom.

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As I said last week, when you’ve set out to share great quotes from wonderful authors with the world, then it’s nice to be doing so from a library, where there is never a shortage of such unique and talented voices, with such wisdom to share. And today I didn’t want to limit myself to just one voice, so today we are going to hear from three of American literature’s finest…

First we have a nice perspective from one of the writers at the center of the Harlem Renaissance:

“Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.”

-Zora Neale Hurston, from “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” an essay which appeared in The World Tomorrow in May, 1928.

Next we have a quote from a novel that not only changed what people could expect from an African American protagonist, but also from an African American novelist:

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

-Ralph Ellison, from his famous 1952 novel, Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953.

Our last quote for today comes from a writer who only wrote one novel in her lifetime, but it was an amazing novel:

“I think there’s just one kind of folks: folks.”

-Harper Lee, from her famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1960. Lee is, of course, pictured above, with her friend, Truman Capote, her childhood schoolmate, neighbor, and best friend.

Elsewhere on the internet:

It’s important to note that both Invisible Man and To Kill A Mockingbird are on The Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels, a nice list of the best novels written in the English language in the twentieth century.

It’s also important to note that Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Their Eyes Were Watching God are all on Time magazine’s list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

The New York Times’ review of Invisible Man.

Saul Bellow’s review of Invisible Man.

A podcast about Ralph Ellison, and how his works are still being taught today, from Voices Of America.

An interview with Ralph Ellison in The Paris Review.

To Kill A Mockingbird: A historical perspective.

Harper Lee was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

To Kill A Mockingbird was named the UK’s most beloved book last year.

The mystery of Harper Lee.

Harper Lee made a rare written appearance in 2006, writing an open letter to Oprah Winfrey in O magazine.

The official website of Zora Neale Hurston.

Study guides for Their Eyes Were Watching God at both Grade Saver and Shmoop.

An interview with Zora Neale Hurston about her research into actual zombies in Haiti.

An in depth biography of Zora Neale Hurston from Gale.

At the library we have quite a few books both by Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Harper Lee, and about them. To Kill A Mockingbird and Their Eyes Were Watching God are always popular, partially because students get assignments involving them every year, so I’m glad that we have those books, as well as quite a few volumes of literary criticism about their authors, but I wish more people would come in asking about Ralph Ellison. Either way, there’s a reason that all three of these authors and their works are considered classics and I hope you’ll come and check them out.

Author quotes: The needs of a society.

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When you decide to do a regular feature on your blog where you share interesting quotes from authors, well… it’s nice to work in a library when that’s the assignment you’ve set out for yourself. Because in a library there’s never a shortage of amazing stories and personalities in the library, no fear of ever running out of funny anecdotes, inspiring tales, or brilliant nuggets of wisdom.

And then when you do single out a particular author that you’d like to share the words of, it can be hard because part of the reason you picked them in the first place is that they’ve said so many wonderful things. But then again, it’s nice to be cursed with options, isn’t it?

Today’s author that I’d like to share the words of with you is Dr. Maya Angelou, the poet, memoirist, actress, director, raconteur, and civil rights activist. And rather than just a single quote, I’m going to indulge myself and treat you, and share a few…

One of my favorites:

“If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you. And so you can try to stretch, stretch, stretch yourself so you can internalize, ‘Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto. I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’ That’s one thing I’m learning.”

from Oprah Presents Master Class, featuring Dr. Maya Angelou, which aired 01/16/2011.

from here.

One of her most famous quotes:

“The needs of a society determine its ethics.”

from her first autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, 1969. It’s often misquoted as “The needs of society determine its ethics,” which makes a little bit of a difference, but the quote in all of its context is: “The needs of a society determine its ethics, and in the Black American ghettos the hero is that man who is offered only the crumbs from his country’s table but by ingenuity and courage is able to take for himself a Lucullan feast.”

The title of Angelou’s book comes Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “Sympathy.”

from here.

And this is a quote I think most people need to hear:

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

from Worth Repeating: More Than 5,000 Classic And Contemporary Quotes, edited by Bob Kelly, 2003.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Maya Angelou’s official website.

Maya Angelou’s twitter.

An oral history of Maya Angelou, via the National Visionary Leadership Project.

Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on this day last year.

An interview with Angelou in The Paris Review.

Maya Angelou’s Black History Month special.

A video of Maya Angelou reading her poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993.

A conversation with Maya Angelou at age 75.

The Schomburg Center in Harlem has acquired the Maya Angelou archives.

Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou at the Academy of American Poets.

At the library we have quite a few books both by Angelou and about her life and work, including classics like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and The Heart Of A Woman, and I’ll hope you’ll come and check them out. We also have her poetry collection, And Still I Rise, and I’m going to leave you with a stanza from the title poem from that collection…

You may write me down in history

with your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Author quotes: Burning books.

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said, “We must be careful what we pretend to be,”  which is one of my favorite quotes of all time, but Vonnegut was a highly opinionated and prolific author and essayist, and he was always a good source for a good quote or a witty turn of phrase.

The other day I got into a conversation with a few patrons not just about the need for intellectual curiosity in people, especially in this day and age, but the need for constant access to the tools that could inspire and grow that curiosity in these modern times, and it reminded me of something Vonnegut had said a few years before his death (in 2007):

“While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what’s really going on.”

-from A Man Without A Country, his 2005 memoir/essay collection.

You can find an excerpt from the book over at The Guardian, which includes the portion the above text comes from. Much of this book, and in particular this excerpt, are very political with Vonnegut discussing his disappointment in the then-current political climate of the country. Whether you agree with Vonnegut’s politics there or not, you have to admire that there are some nuggets of common sense true for all people, and that he always maintained a strong humanistic outlook on life.

Also, on a side note, in the paragraph preceding the above quote Vonnegut references Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, his documentary about the September 11 attacks and everything after, and reminds us that the title of the documentary is a reference/parody of Ray Bradbury’s great, classic science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. That novel refers to the fact that 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, at which paper and the information on it will burn.

The gist of it is this: Not to toot our own horn (too much) but libraries curate and cultivate information, and with information comes intelligence, which is never a bad thing and always in short supply. The library is a resource that you should never let go to waste.

by Eddie Campbell, from here.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Vonnegut’s obituary in The New York Times.

15 things Vonnegut said better than anyone else ever has or will.

Venus On The Half-Shell by Philip José Farmer under the name “Kilgore Trout.”

Vonnegut’s advice for writers.

Vonnegut’s story diagrams.

Harrison Bergeron,” Vonnegut’s classic short story.

An interview with Vonnegut in The Paris Review.

2BR02B,” a 1962 short story that appeared in Vonnegut’s third collection, Bagombo Snuff Box.

The Big Trip Up Yonder,” a short story that appeared in Vonnegut’s first two collections under different names.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis.

Dave Eggers reviews Vonnegut’s first collection of unpublished fiction.

At the library we have quite a few books both by Vonnegut and about his life and work, including When Mortals Sleep, a posthumous release of previously unpublished short fiction by the author, as well as And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, a new biography of the author by Charles J. Shields, and…

Vonnegut And Hemingway: Writers At War by Lawrence Broer, which draws interesting parallels between these two literary artists, who previously might have been only been coupled together by how vastly different they were. Both were born under the spectre of hereditary insanity, forged in wartime experiences, and used their writing as a means of therapy and survival. And how much more fitting to see them linked, since Hemingway was our quoted author last week? I hope you’ll come and check them out.

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