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Hogarth judge

December 2017

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I won't be forced to breed children!

America's greatest author turns 200

And no doubt you think it's presumptuous of me to talk about America's "greatest" author. How would you measure greatness? International reputation? Being one of the major originators or precursors of a major literary movement? Originating a major new fictional genre? Or just finding willing readers from one generation to the next?

Fortunately, there really isn't much to debate here. Each of these criteria point toward a single solution. Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809, is America's greatest author.

He has an international reputation - in fact, he tends to be somewhat undervalued in the United States, and is more appreciated abroad. His works were foundational texts for the Symbolist movement, a major international literary phenomenon that spanned decades and nations. He inspired Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Debussy. He invented detective fiction. And he finds willing readers, other than students, and spawns imitators even at the present.

I think it is galling to a certain type of academic critic in the U.S. to think that the dark romanticism of Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Cabell, Conrad Aiken, and Faulkner is really our greatest gift to world literature, rather than some kind of naturalistic or social-realist tale. They'd rather that America's stories be about the Dust Bowl than about Usher's mansion. But Poe begat Symbolism, which begat Surrealism and Expressionism, which begat Magic Realism once more back in the Americas. This is the great river that finds its headwater in Boston and Richmond, where Poe was born and grew up.

Comments

If I wasn't feeling so crappy, I had planned on heading down to the Poe's Birthday Bash today at the Poe Museum, but alas, I couldn't make it. A friend of mine was releasing her book on Poe in Richmond, and I wanted to congratulate her.

Kudos to you for mentioning Cabell too!
We give praise to the Saints!