Good evening, literature lovers. It is my honor to introduce the famed authors who will read their work tonight in an evening unique in the annals of annals.
Our first reader, WALT WHITMAN, is the poet of the body and the soul, and what is in them is as much in him: the stevedore with his hearty “Heave ‘e’ yo!”…the wagoner with his bulging biceps…the spinster in her chamber, penning poems by the oil lamp’s glow; as well as the whale that rendered the oil; and the harpoonist with his mighty thighs; and the krill swirling in the leviathan’s gut; and also the gut. The krill, the oil, the gut, the harpoonist, all spill out of me — wait, how did I get here? That’s him, not me! He, Walt Whitman, is the poet of the body and soul! Of each several body and each several soul! Sing glory hallelujah, world without end!
EDGAR ALLAN POE, our second reader, must not be thought mad, though his pen drips with fantastic terrors never seen before, severally induced by the Fiend Intemperance, the spirit of Perverseness, and the demon that preys on the melancholic soul. Edgar loathes neither black cats nor ravens, but, frankly, that egomaniac Whitman gives him the fantods.
emily dickinson is at Home tonight, yet far from Home — and has “consented” — better, in Truth, to say “relented” — to her Poetry being read by a bolder Spirit here in her stead, one whose Constitution can abide the Presence of the Abominable Poe.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN has written innumerable spoken-word pieces that charitable commentators have hiked up as “orations.” One of these was a flash hybrid piece that Abe read at a Pennsylvania battlefield to honor the Union war dead. Though Abe is amused by the legend that he penned the piece on the back of an envelope, he thinks postcard prose could well be a thing. A melancholy optimist, Abe seeks through his writing — against the odds, it seems — to arouse the better angels of our nature.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS is the author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. That’s slave, people! He hasn’t the time to write dandified bios!
HARPER LEE wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. She also, it would seem, wrote Go Set a Watchman, or a draft that she left in a drawer somewhere with some dried-up Jujubes and a spelling medal. Where’s my water! I can’t swallow this horse pill! Who are you? Sign what? What sequel? What mockingbird? If you see a mockingbird, shut the damn window! Atticus who? What Scout? I’m not in the Scouts! Oh, why can’t everyone leave me alone!
That summer RAYMOND CARVER rented a little house on the north coast with a drinking buddy named Gus. Ray, Gus said. You should write now. Right now? said Ray. Well, Gus said, I mean, write. Write now, or write later. Ray said, Write what? The window was cracked and a breeze came in. It tasted like salt. I don’t know what, said Gus, and waved his hand like he was shooing a fly. Gus had a box of old dry Hydrox cookies from the Safeway. Eat one, he said. Alright, said Ray. It’s a small, good thing.
Where J.D. SALINGER lives or what he does besides writing are none of your damn business.
ARTHUR MILLER married Marilyn Monroe. Have you seen a picture of Miller? Have you seen her? In scaling such prodigious matrimonial heights, the scrawny bespectacled playwright foreshadowed the dreck film Revenge of the Nerds by thirty years. MILLER also wrote The Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, which won major awards, he supposes — but good god, Marilyn!
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD distilled the incomparable milk of wonder into words in The Great Gatsby. He drinks incomparable-milk-of-wonder laced with bootleg bourbon nightly.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY writes lean, supple prose and drinks whiskey straight, unlike that Ivy League pantywaist Fitzgerald.
NORMAN MAILER wrote The Armies of the Night and The Naked and the Dead. He’ll knock Hemingway’s block off if the drunken bastard drops his left.