Happy birthday, Kurt Vonnegut
The legendary author, who passed away in 2007, would have turned 91 years old today. And what better way to remember him than to pick up a copy of his work, as David L. Ulin did a few years ago, to rediscover why “Slaughterhouse-Five” meant so much during his youth.
I first read the novel, after all, in this very house, when I was 12 or 13. To return to it 36 years later was to confront viscerally the central point of the book, which is that time is not a continuum but a collection of simultaneous moments, that everything we have ever done and everything we will ever do co-exists within us all at once.
Photos: Jill Krementz / Associated Press, Jennifer S. Altman / For the Times, Frank Espich / The Indianapolis Star
Orson Welles: Obituary writer
The last written work from the man known for revolutionizing film with features such as “Citizen Kane” and “The Third Man,” wasn’t a script, but an obituary published by the Los Angeles Times back in 1979 for his friend, and legendary director in his own right, Jean Renoir.
The story behind Welles’ foray into posthumous reporting was recently recounted by former deputy editor of the Sunday Opinions section, Steve Wasserman, in a piece for the L.A. Review of Books, which we 100% recommend reading.
A snippet of Welles’ obituary, as it ran in the Sunday paper, is seen below:
As for his conclusion to the piece:
I have not spoken here of the man who I was proud to count as a friend. His friends were without number and we all loved him as Shakespeare was loved, “this side idolatry.” Let’s give him the last word: “To the question ‘Is the cinema an art?’ my answer is ‘What does it matter?’ … You can make films or you can cultivate a garden.
Both have as much claim to being called an art as a poem by Verlaine or a painting by Delacroix… . Art is ‘making.’ The art of love is the art of making love… . My father never talked to me about art. He could not bear the word.”
Photo: Steve Wasserman / L.A. Review of Books
Made-to-order poetry in Los Angeles
Jacqueline Suskin, a writer and former vegetable gardener, has taken to the Hollywood Farmers Market for her latest venture: The Poem Store.
Sitting with her typewriter, Suskin takes requests from curious passersby and regulars, taking requests for poems on back pain to making verse fit the title “Since Wednesday.”
As for the most popular request?
"Everyone is always asking for love poems," she says. "We are all obsessed with love."But love, as a topic, is deeply unspecific. When someone asks her to write a poem about love, she responds by asking what kind of love. That usually leads to a story about a girlfriend living far away, or a person new to Los Angeles desperately missing her family, or the love a mother has for her new baby.
She thinks people ask for poems that help them understand their path or direction in life.
"They want hope, or confidence, or they just need someone to see who they are," she says. "Half the time I feel like I am a therapist or a psychic."
Photos: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times
An NPR host’s tweeted bereavement
"Weekend Edition Saturday" host Scott Simon lost his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Monday night, but not before spending, and sharing, many hours at her side.
His more than 1.2 million Twitter followers have, over the course of the month, witnessed Simon documenting her struggles in the ICU, and his own difficulties in seeing his mother’s life ebb away before him.
Simon’s tweets show just how social media allows for new ways of coping with the inevitability of death, and the weight of the final moments spent with loved ones:
Many followers praised Simon’s openness for giving them the sense that they were not suffering alone. As one user put it, “comforting to know others are going through the same thing as my fam. May your mom pass peacefully, as I hope my father will.”
For just a sample of Simon’s poignant messages (more can be found via NPR):
Mother asks, “Will this go on forever?” She means pain, dread. “No.” She says, “But we’ll go on forever. You & me.” Yes.— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon)
I love holding my mother’s hand. Haven’t held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap.— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon)
Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles
“Michael Hastings did not write to make friends, but if you were his friend, he was an inspiring and exciting and original and deeply lovable guy.” - Rachel Maddow, who paid moving tribute to Michael Hastings last night on MSNBC.
Select work by Hastings:
The Runaway General: the 2010 profile that took down General Stanley McChrystal.
Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview: Hastings’ 2012 interview where the WikiLeaks founder talks about the future of journalism.
The Rise of the Killer Drones: Hastings’ 2012 piece on how killing by remote control has changed the way we fight.
America’s Last Prisoner of War: Hastings’ 2012 investigative piece on a soldier that became a crucial pawn in negotiations to end the Iraq War.
Hastings, whose story on McChrystal prompted the general’s exit from leadership, reportedly passed away in a solo-car accident in Hollywood early Tuesday morning.
Though he has been eulogized, particularly in a moving piece by Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, police have yet to confirm that the body recovered from the wreckage was indeed Hastings. Police are still working to determine the cause of the crash.
Read more on the tragedy over at L.A. Now.
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Remembering Anne Frank, who would have been 84 today
Eighty-four years ago, the celebrated diarist and tragic victim of the Holocaust Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany. During the peak of the war, when her German-Jewish family was forced into hiding in Amsterdam, she kept track of her thoughts, trials and revelations in her diary.
Eventually, her family was discovered and all save for her father Otto died in Nazi concentration camps. In 1947, Otto worked to have her diary published as a book, and since then her words have been read across the world.
Her lasting legacy may be her persistent optimism in the face of overwhelming despair. As she wrote in her diary:
It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical.
Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace and tranquility will return once again.
Read more over at Jacket Copy.
Photo: Associated Press
Happy Birthday, Maurice Sendak!Thanks for all the stories and showing us that a little imagination can go a long way! To celebrate, you must do three things today:
1. Check out today’s Google Doodle
2. Learn about Sendak’s life
3. Listen to Sendak read ‘Where the Wild Things Are’
Also check out the touring exhibition “Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons,” which is currently hosted by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco until July 7.
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Remembering Robert F. Kennedy
Today marks the 45th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s death in Los Angeles, one of a number of politically-motivated killings and clashes that came to define the chaotic summer of 1968.
L.A. Times writer Patt Morrisson stumbled across the diary of a Kansas college student named Nancy Perry years ago in a thrift store, discovering the then-19-year-old’s passion for politics, and support for Kennedy.
From a March 18, 1968 entry after Kennedy spoke at Kansas State University:
"I was very impressed by RFK … he’s very dynamic — a wonderful person to listen to…. It seems to me that RFK offers the dynamic, ‘let’s-get-something-done’ type of presidential candidate I’ve been looking for."
But her enthusiasm for Kennedy came to a tragic end:
“I’m still very sad & will be for a long, long time. Seems as though all reasons for trying are gone now — I don’t know what I’ll do in political life now. Wait & work for Kennedy — Ted — later? One newspaper said Bob knew an attempt would be made on his life — Oh God — WHY??”
Read more from Perry, who passed away in L.A. in 1997, here.
Photos: Associated Press, Rolando Otero / Los Angeles Times
Transitioning from L.A. Times reporter to fruit picker
Hector Becerra set his reporting notebook aside, laced up his boots and strode out into the strawberry fields of Santa Maria, Calif. to see firsthand what it was like to be a fieldworker.
About an hour into the picking, my upper and lower back were beginning to tighten and my legs began to burn a little from the stooping.
As the other workers pulled ahead, Becerra gained a new appreciation for their daily struggle, and for the little things about the agricultural assembly line that often go unnoticed when you’re browsing through the aisles.
You might think strawberries are carefully sorted — possibly by a machine — into the clamshells you buy at the supermarket after being washed at some facility. They’re not. The strawberries are picked by fieldworkers and placed directly into those containers.
Read his compelling account in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.”
By EMILY DERUY
The Los Angeles Times will no longer use the terms “illegal immigrant” or “undocumented immigrant,” the paper announced Wednesday. While the Times has generally avoided such terms for some time, the new guidelines make the policy official.
It’s true! Readers’ Rep Deidre Edgar has the full details on why we ultimately made the decision.
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Longreads just celebrated its fourth birthday, and it’s been a thrill to watch this community grow since we introduced this service and Twitter hashtag in 2009. Thank you to everyone who participates, whether it’s as a reader, a publisher, a writer—or all three. And thanks to the …
In case you were in need of some more long reads to add to your queue…
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Shakespeare: Profiteer and tax dodger?
British researchers are now claiming that the most famous of all playwrights, William Shakespeare, was repeatedly fined for illegally hoarding grain so that he could hike up the prices during food shortages and even threatened jail for avoiding taxes.
From the report from researchers at Aberystwyth University in Wales:
“By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. His profits — minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion — meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”