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.