Authors and scholars talk about Poe's influence

READ STREET

January 18, 2009|By dave rosenthal and nancy johnston | dave rosenthal and nancy johnston,dave.rosenthal@baltsun.com and nancy.johnston@baltsun.com

Happy birthday, Edgar! Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the great writer who for a time called Baltimore home.

He was a true genius. Some call him America's first literary critic. Some say he wrote the first detective story (and established sleuthing characteristics made famous by Sherlock Holmes). Some credit him with creating the horror genre.

We asked authors, scholars and others to describe Poe's influence on them - and on the world. What was the source of his genius? Why do his works seem so timeless?

We'll publish these guest posts all week on Read Street. John Astin, the actor featured in Poe tribute shows at Westminster Hall, will weigh in. So will author Marilynne Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Gilead.

Some excerpts:

Robinson: Poe made me think about words. Which is the loveliest word, the loveliest letter? I believe I may have known that these are the kinds of almost idle questions one poses to oneself when a night seems to be unending, when the weight of sorrow is so great as to be dangerous.

Stuart Kaminsky, a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America: Things we know about Poe and often say and hear include the assertion that, in his forty years of life, he created the short story, the detective story, the modern horror story. As far as I am concerned, it does not matter if he was first or if he created any literary genre. What matters is that he had the power to send me into a near syncope with his stories and poetry.

Charles and Caroline Todd (A Matter of Justice): I think if Charles and I had to pin down books that sparked our creative instincts as youngsters, it was Poe's "Gold Bug" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"/ "The Purloined Letter," Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Why? Because they speak to a child's imagination and these are the stories that set your tastes in reading early on. Stories that are exciting and suspenseful and a feast for a young reader just discovering the magic of words on a page.

To read the complete posts - and see many more - visit Read Street, which features daily book news and opinion. We'll feature Poe all week - including The Sun's 1849 front-page article on his death. Four measly sentences!

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