Art Works Blog

The Iconic Items of Big Read Authors

It goes without saying that we know an author or poet first and foremost by their words. But what were the places and passions, the people and objects that inspired and shaped the stories and verses we know so well? Below are five well-known items associated with Big Read writers, and a look how these entities influenced—either directly or indirectly—some of the greatest works of American literature.

Hemingway’s Boat

Anyone who’s read The Old Man and the Sea can glean that Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about fishing. Many of his prized catches—including a record-breaking seven marlins in a single day—were hooked aboard the 38" Pilar, the beloved boat Hemingway purchased in 1934. The author sailed Pilar until his death in 1961, a continual source of passion and pleasure in his frequently turbulent life. As Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway’s Boat, has said, “He lovingly possessed her, rode her, fished her through three wives, the Nobel Prize, and all his ruin.” Today the boat is on display at the Museo Ernest Hemingway in Finca Vigía, Cuba.

Bradbury’s Typewriter

Some authors need to remove themselves to a quiet, isolated spot in order to channel their creativity. Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of UCLA's Lawrence Clark Powell Library on a typewriter he rented for ten cents a half-hour. The clicking and clacking of other typists must have stimulated Bradbury’s brain, because he wrote an early version of Fahrenheit in just nine days, for a total of $9.80. Typewriters remained Bradbury’s preferred means of writing, and despite his futuristic tales, he himself never used a computer.

Dickinson’s House

For Emily Dickinson, domestic life wasn’t just a function of hearth and home; it was her entire world. Famously reclusive, the poet rarely left her family’s estate in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she was born and spent most of her life. As she grew older, Dickinson associated with few people beyond the family members who also lived on the estate, which was aptly called the Homestead. Despite the physical confinement Dickinson imposed on herself, her well of inspiration knew no such boundaries, and she came to write nearly 1,800 poems over her 55 years.

Steinbeck’s Dog

Few canine companions have been immortalized in literature quite like John Steinbeck’s dog Charley (full name: Charles le Chien). The French standard poodle became a star thanks to Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley: In Search of America, which chronicles the author’s road trip across the country with his dog. Of course, Charley was only one of Steinbeck’s dogs through the years—the author was a noted dog-lover. At least one other of the writer’s pooches has a direct link with Steinbeck’s work: it’s reported that his English Setter Toby once ate a manuscript of Of Mice and Men.

Jeffers’ Landscape

If ever there was a poet tied to a particular landscape, it was Robinson Jeffers. Though born in Pittsburgh, Jeffers’ adopted home of Carmel, California, was what he called his “inevitable place.” Many of his poems were love letters to the area’s wild, ­­magnificent coastline, whose granite cliffs, sea winds, honking seals, and lonely stars all fell under the poet’s umbrella of “divinely superfluous beauty.” Though the area is more densely populated than it was during Jeffers’ time—a number of his poems were lamentations against suburban encroachment—“Jeffers Country” remains as poetically stunning as ever.



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