The Big Read will get you, if you don't watch out!
For many centuries, people have struggled and fought over the right of individuals to be educated: to get the tools necessary to make themselves successful in the world.
We in the United States sometimes stun the rest of the world because we have the right to education, and a great many of us not only choose not to accept it, we pride ourselves on our lack of it. Every time we have an election, we have politicians lining up to demand that our children aren't being given spoonsful of learning, crammed into their noggins, whether they make any effort to hold it there or not.
Contemporary films “Tell Tale” and “The House of Usher” are examples of modern creations, inspired by the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
For 13 years, the National Endowment for the Arts has accepted the challenge to try to attract all of us, especially our young people, to pick up the tools of learning and use them, by sponsoring a nationwide event called The Big Read.
Individual communities are encouraged to choose one of the many works of literature on the NEA's list, and to sponsor a number of diverse events centered around the chosen book. Dinners, parades, athletic competitions, parties, discussions, lectures and a seemingly endless list of activities are sponsored, hoping to attract people to attend and to think about and talk about the central book. Oh, and of course, to read it as well.
For the past several years, local efforts at the Big Read have been sponsored by the Research Foundation, on Behalf of Reed Library at the State University of New York at Fredonia. The university library has worked as partners with the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, which sponsors many of the events outside of Fredonia itself, to do our share of the work in creating the Big Read.
This year, the Big Read will be held from mid-October to the end of this month. My challenge each year is to inform the public early enough that they can make plans to attend a variety of the coming events, without sending out the news so early that either it slips people's minds in the period between the announcement and the events, or the dates, times, and other information need to be changed after the announcement is prepared.
According to the calendar attached to the National Endowment's website, the first event in Chautauqua County will be Friday of the coming week, so I can't wait any longer or the column will appear in print after the opening ceremony is over. At the same time, many of the Big Read's events are still in the planning phases, and the planners are too busy begging speakers to come to their locations or donors to provide food for celebrations to have shared them with the friendly neighborhood arts columnist.
My solution to this ''Catch-22'' is to tell you that events are coming, and to encourage you to look for printed announcements and to contact your local libraries and see what they have scheduled to do for the Big Read.
And if you get a litany of ''We're too poor! Our staffing has been cut! We're already stretched too thin,'' go right in and volunteer and/or donate, so they won't be left out of making a reasonable effort for this important national effort.
This week, I'm going to tell you a bit more about specific efforts in the Jamestown-Dunkirk area, and then I'll tell you a bit about the author of this year's book and about some of the ways in which modern filmmakers and writers have borrowed his material in the hope of communicating with today's audiences.
Local organizations all across the nation have chosen literary works which they believe will attract their local folks' attention, will entertain and inspire, and will serve as the basis for the parties, the dinners, etc.
This year, instead of a single book, the Research Foundation has chosen the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. It has been one of the most popular choices from the list of possibilities, nationwide, and soon people from Maine to Hawaii will be holding blood drives in the author's honor, several of which have been named ''The Big Bleed.''
Reed Library has been organizing a poetry contest for area bards, and will be celebrating the winners.
The first Jamestown-area event on the NEA's calendar will be an opening ceremony at the James Prendergast Public Library, on Cherry Street in Jamestown on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Come and see displays of books and films inspired by Poe, and see a colorized film of ''The Tell-Tale Heart'' by Poe, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. Rumor has it that the author himself might be present.
Friday night, there will also be an Open Mic Event at the 21 East Second Street Bookstore in Dunkirk from 5:30 to 7 p.m..
Next Saturday, enjoy a Young POEts Open Mic, for writers in grades K-8, at the Fredonia Farmer's Market, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Oct. 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the Prendergast Library will be showing a 34-minute documentary film titled ''Edgar Allan Poe: A Journey in Verse,'' which zeroes in on his poems, including ''Anabell Lee'' and ''The Raven.''
Also on the 20th, Fredonia poet Clair Walton will be appearing at 12 E. Fourth St. in Jamestown, dressed as Poe, to lead a reading and a discussion of both Poe's poetry and hers.
Oct. 25, see a showing of the film ''Tell Tale,'' as described below, at the Prendergast Library. The film begins at 6:30 p.m. and is rated R.
On Oct. 27, from 7:30 to 8 p.m. at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House, Mat Johnson will be making a presentation called ''Pym: Poe's Gauntlet."
The Children's Department of the Prendergast Library will also be holding events focusing on Poe. There will be a film showing Oct. 22 at 2 p.m., and a craft night, inviting children to decorate their own mask on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m.
Dr. Robert Ungerer, representing the Audubon Society, will be making a presentation on ravens, at 7 p.m. on the 24th.
That's all the information I have at this time. I know that the Prendergast Library is home to so many events, throughout the year, that the weeks of the Big Read will also see the library present the opening of a new photography exhibit in their art gallery, having an author read and discuss his recent publication, and have the annual Murray L. Bob Memorial Lecture, which will present words by The Post-Journal columnist and national commentator Connie Schultz, among many more.
As I said before, check with your local library about what they're going to do for the event. Maybe some day learning will be as ''cool'' as other activities. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Evermore!
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor, journalist and literary critic. He was born in Boston in 1809.
He was one of the earliest writers of short stories, and is considered by most as the inventor of detective fiction. Much of his poetry and most of his prose are centered around themes of horror, violence, death, and the supernatural. Terms such as ''outre'' and ''Gothic'' are often associated with his writings.
Poe lived a life as an outsider, usually dressed all in black and given to wearing dramatic capes and the like. He found that being a figure of mystery made him of great interest to readers of his poems and stories. During his lifetime, he was believed to be a heavy user of both alcohol and such drugs as were available in the first half of the 19th century, including opium. However, well after his death, it was discovered that an editor named Griswald, who had a grudge against Poe, had manufactured much of the evidence against him, and colored the rest in as negative a light as was possible.
At the age of 26, Poe married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was 13 years old at the time. She died of tuberculosis, which developed only seven years after their marriage. She is often associated with several of his fictional characters, including Annabel Lee, from the poem of the same name, who is portrayed as being slain by the angels out of envy, and the Lady Ligeia, who loved her husband so much that when he remarried, following her death, her spirit took over the living body of his second wife and returned to life in it.
Poe's writings show influences from a wide variety of societal and intellectual elements, and they continue to be alluded to or re-written today as novels, short stories, and film scripts. His story ''The Tell-Tale Heart,'' for example, was considered to have inspired Sigmund Freud, who was born 10 years after Poe's death.
His story ''The Murders in the Rue Morgue'' is the first of a number of detective stories which are usually considered the first in that now very popular genre.
The major literary trend of his time was transcendentalism. Poe always claimed to hold that philosophy in contempt, yet elements of it are to be found in various of his writings.
In 1849, at the age of 40, Poe was discovered at 5 a.m. one day, wandering the streets of Baltimore, Md., incoherent and dazed. He was taken to a hospital, where he died. After his death, it was discovered that the clothes he was wearing did not belong to him.
To this day, there is controversy over whether his death was natural, and exactly what was its cause.
Poe's ''The Tell-Tale Heart'' is a short story which first appeared in 1843, in a magazine called ''The Pioneer.''
It is narrated by a younger man, who lives in a house with an older man. Various experts have offered opinions that the narrator is the old man's son, or that he is a paid servant in the old man's house. Their relationship is never stated.
The old man of the story has one eye which is unusual in appearance, a fact which increasingly upsets the narrator. Eventually, the narrator murders the old man, and hides the body by ripping up the floorboards inside the house, dismembering the corpse and concealing the body parts under the floorboards.
When a policeman eventually comes to investigate the old man's disappearance, the murderer is at first confident, but suddenly he begins to hear the beating of the dead man's heart, and leaves him certain that the policeman hears it as well, but is remaining silent to mock the killer. The sound upsets him so much that he confesses the crime and shows the policeman where the body is hidden.
The database lists nine feature films which have been made based on this story, and more than 30 adaptations of it, ranging from cartoons to episodes of the television series ''CSI.''
In 2009, director Michael Cuesta created a version of the plot, updated to make it a medical mystery by screenwriter David Callaham.
The central figure in the film is a young man, portrayed by actor Josh Lucas, whose life is in serious disarray. He is the father of a young girl who suffers from a disfiguring disease, which makes her the object of strangers' attention and suggests that her life will be short and painful. If that's not enough, he has a damaged heart, and when we first see him, he is in early recovery from a heart transplant.
We learn that his wife has been unable to cope with the stress of her family's needs, and has abandoned them. We quickly learn that he is a loving and attentive parent, and he has won the love and support of his daughter's principal physician, portrayed by beautiful Lena Headey.
In this version, it isn't the murderer who begins to hear the mystical heart beats, it is the innocent transplant recipient, who begins to hear the frantic beating when he comes into the presence of certain people, who are associated to the donor's murder.
It turns out that there is a ring of medical staffers who have made a fortune by preying upon people who have terminal conditions, and murdering them, to harvest those organs which are not afflicted by their ailments. Lucas finds his own mind and body being overpowered by the thoughts and intended actions of the original victim. He begins to take vigilante justice on the murderers of his donor, and is soon shocked when the policeman who is investigating the killings of the organ harvesters offers to help him commit the crimes and even to cover them up.
The action could have benefited from a bit of adjustment to make the events more believable, but it's entertaining, the actors are attractive and talented, and it does bring Poe's work effectively into the modern era. The investigation of the thinking of an insane man is replaced by a scary tale made somewhat believable.
It's rated R, because of one brief scene between the young man and the lady doctor. If that doesn't put you off, you can rent it or buy it, or sign it out of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library system.
I find it teaches me a great deal to watch adaptations of classic plots and to see what makes them more relevant to the contemporary audience and which tweaks have made it less valid than the original.