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Friday, September 25, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe at 200

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe as part of the Fall for the Book Festival. He was born in 1809, but you will be hard-pressed to find a consistent birth date, since as one of the panelists said “Poe was a piece of fiction himself.” He was well-known for embellishing and confusing his life story, telling friends and colleagues different versions.

Panelists included Louis Bayard, whose The Pale Blue Eye is a fictionalized account of Poe’s six-month stint at West Point and Daniel Stashower, whose The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Rogers and the Invention of Murder, explores the true crime that became the basis for one of Poe’s most famous stories. You can listen to interviews with both of them as part of the library’s BookCast series.

While one well-known contemporary writer has called Poe “the best of our bad writers,” Bayard and Stashower believe that whatever one thinks of his work, he is probably one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. He invented the detective story, contributed to the science fiction and horror genres and mastered the short story form.

Writers as varied as Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray Bradbury and Jules Verne have all been influenced by Poe.

If you want to sample Poe again, try these short stories: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Black Cat,” “The Gold-Bug” and his detective tale, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Should you wish to join in the bicentennial celebration, you can attend a reenactment of his funeral and other events the weekend 0f October 9-11 up in Baltimore.


Rob Velella said...

I have yet to hear that it's difficult to find a consistent birth date for Poe. He was born January 19, 1809. Though Poe fictionalized some of the elements of his life - including his age - there has never been any dispute of his actual birthday.

If you don't mind, I'll offer my own list of recommendations if you really want a full sampling of Poe's works (and not just his "pop" tales). Try "The Balloon-Hoax," "X-ing a Paragrab," and "A Descent into the Maelstrom." I also prefer "The Purloined Letter" over "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

Pat said...

Thanks for your comments and clarifications. I understood some of the Poe panelists to say that his year of birth was sometimes reported differently.

Thanks also for the lesser-known works. I'll definitely try to track them down.

Mary said...

Thanks for the recommendations on Poe. I had never heard of "X-ing a Paragraph." Sounds like I need to revisit Poe's "other" works.