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Neruda, Zukofsky, Singer, and Seuss: A Slew of Centennial Celebrations

Daily News

Online Only, posted 6.10.04

This year marks the centennial of the births of several renowned literary writers, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Pablo Neruda, Louis Zukofsky, and Graham Greene. Readers across the country are honoring their works with special conferences, tributes, publications, readings, and other celebrations.

The most extensive centennial celebration commemorates the short story writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish immigrant born in 1904. The Nobel Laureate wrote his stories about Nazi-era life in Eastern Europe and the immigrant experience in the U.S. in Yiddish, but after Saul Bellow translated “Gimpel the Fool” into English in 1953, Singer rose to prominence throughout the world. He collaborated with a variety of translators to produce English versions, what he called “second originals,” of the vast majority of his work.

In July, the Library of America will publish Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories, a three volume collection that includes all the English versions of his published stories as well as a selection of previously uncollected stories. The LOA is also publishing Isaac Bashevis Singer: An Album, an illustrated introduction to the life and works of the author. Although Singer’s date of birth is disputed (he insisted that he was born in late November of 1904), the publication of these editions on July 14, 2004, is set to coincide with what many traditionally recognize as his birthday.

Many public readings, panels, exhibitions, and workshops exploring Singer and the immigrant literary experience will be held across the country in the coming months. The traveling exhibition “Becoming an American Writer: The Life and Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer” recently opened at the National Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. It will travel to Boca Raton, Florida, and New York City later this year. Two plays based on Singer’s works, The Slave and Shosha, will be performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in the John Jay Theater in New York City from July 20 to July 25. The Slave will be performed in both Hebrew and Russian, with English translation available via headset. A full listing of Singer centennial events is available at www.singer100.org.

Chilean poet, political activist, and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, who was born on July 12, 1904, will also be honored this year. Ilan Stavans, who edited the LOA Singer collection, is apparently not satisfied with heading up the centennial ceremonies for just one Nobel Prize winner; he recently edited a new collection of Neruda’s poems, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), and moderated a centennial panel discussion on Neruda in March.

Two other poetry collections were recently published to commemorate Neruda’s centennial. On the Blue Shore of Silence, a new selection of Neruda’s poems about the sea, translated into English by Alastair Reid, was published by HarperCollins in early 2004. And Mark Eisner’s new edition of Neruda translations, Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, was published by City Lights in April. Eisner is currently filming a documentary, !Neruda! !Presente!, in conjunction with Red Poppy, an organization dedicated to honoring the life and art of the poet, that he hopes to complete in time for Neruda’s birthday on July 12.

The poet Louis Zukofsky is best known as the author of the long poem A and as a founder of the Objectivist movement. In honor of Zukofsky’s centennial, the biennial summer conference hosted by the National Poetry Foundation at the University of Maine in Orono will begin with “Tribute to Louis Zukofsky, on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth” on June 23. Zukofsky’s work will figure prominently at this years’ conference, titled “Poetries of the 1940s.”

Slightly further south, “The Louis Zukofsky Centennial Conference” will be held at Columbia University and Barnard College from September 17 through September 19. The schedule for this conference has yet to be finalized; for updates visit writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/zukofsky/100. And at the University of Chicago, “Around Zukofsky: A Poetry and Poetics Conference,” will be held on November 12 and November 13.

For the centennial of the birth of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, the author of such children’s classics as Green Eggs and Ham is getting a statue, a postage stamp, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. A variety of events, including a deluxe version of the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” program, which takes place annually on Dr. Seuss’ March 2 birthday, are ongoing as part of the “Seussentennial.” Random House has published two new biographies of Geisel: The Boy of Fairfield Street (January, 2004) and The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography (February, 2004).

Centennial celebrations were recently held to honor Graham Greene, the author of The End of the Affair who was born on October 2, 1904. In addition to a five-day program in Spain and a smaller conference hosted by the Alliance of Literary Societies in the UK, Greene’s centennial was celebrated with the publication of Neil Sinyard’s Graham Green: A Literary Life (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Other 2004 centennial figures include surrealist painter and writer Salvador Dali (1904-1989), fiction writer and playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), and fiction writer Kate Chopin (1851-1904), author of The Awakening.

Henry David Thoreau’s monumental Walden, or Life in the Woods was originally published in 1854, making 2004 its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary. The Thoreau Society is heading up “Walden: Of Its Time, For Our Time, a Sesquicentennial Celebration” in Concord, Massachusetts, from July 8 to July 11.

Several anniversary editions of Thoreau’s books are forthcoming. Princeton University Press is publishing five books—Walden, Cape Cod, The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform, The Maine Woods, and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers—on June 30. In July, Beacon will publish Walden with an updated introduction and annotations by Bill McKibben. And Houghton Mifflin will release Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic, with photographs from Scott Miller, in August.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of such classic novels as The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, was born on July 4, 1804. To celebrate his bicentennial, Minute Man National Historical Park is sponsoring a Hawthorne symposium at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, Massachusetts, on June 25 and June 26. The Nathaniel Hawthorne Society will host a conference in Salem, Massachusetts, over the July 4 weekend. And Shakespeare & Company will sponsor a gala celebrating Hawthorne on October 9 at Tangelwood’s Ozawa Hall in the Berkshires.

—Jeremy Schmidt

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