Monday, August 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51.3 (Gertrude Stein)

How to Write
Stein, Gertrude
How to Write

I am not sure where or even when I acquired this. I have had it for a long time. I may even have had it long enough that I bought it thinking it might "teach" me something about writing. I don't recall that it did teach me anything about writing, although I have always liked the statement she makes in the heading for chapter two: "A sentence is not emotional a paragraph is."

I can't say I agree with this statement and I don't think that is really the point. A paragraph is by nature no more emotional than a sentence. Likewise, a sentence is no less emotional than a paragraph. The statement is metaphorical. It is talking more about emotions than about the structure of writing. An emotion is like a paragraph, that is, an aggregation of urges and drives whose meaning (like that of a sentence) cannot be well understood until these urges and drives are grouped together in a body with a mind, at which point they become emotions, thus forming the basis of a personality.

 How the hell did I get on this subject?

Anyhow, today is the last day with Ms. Gertrude Stein. I feel her presence hovering about me every day, as my new employer houses her archive. From her portrait staring down at the reading room to the small Picassos from her collection on the wall of Nancy Kuhl's office, right down to the genealogy that leads to my job, there is Gertrude Stein.

The story goes like this. Carl van Vechten was Stein's literary executor. Bruce Kellner, later an English professor and executor of the van Vechten estate, also housed at the Beinecke, joined the Navy during the Korean War. He'd discovered Stein as a teen and while on board his navy ship spent half a month's pay on a new edition of Stein that had just been released. The publisher, a friend of van Vechten's, told him about this, so along with the new book he sent an additional book as well as a personal note to the young sailor, who was grateful. Thus began a friendship.

After the war, Kellner moved to New York and lived down the street from van Vechten. At various parties, he met a gay couple, a writer and an actor, named Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell. They knew each other socially for a few years, but when Bruce left the city their acquaintance ended. Later, while researching a book on Stein, Kellner put an ad in the NY Times asking did anyone have any photos or letters by Alice B. Toklas. Donald and Sandy, who'd known Toklas and published a book of her letters to them, wrote that they had quite a lot.

Thus began another friendship. At that time, Donald had just donated some of his papers and parts of Sandy's library to the the University of Georgia. The relationship had soured and it was Bruce who introduced Donald and Sandy to the director of the Beinecke at the time, Donald Gallup.

Thus began yet another friendship that led to the donation of Donald's papers to the Beinecke. This eventually evolved into a massive posthumous donation to establish a new set of literature prizes.

Nancy Kuhl, an old friend, now the curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Poetry, suggested first to Yale that they needed to hire someone full-time to run this prize, and second to me that I should apply for the job.

And so here I am.

from How to Write

Now that is something not to think but to link. A little there. I lost a piece of my cuff button and I found it. That is not a sentence because they remain behind.

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