New Haven locations in The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman.
We’re proud to be sponsoring a local literature book club called Get Lit in New Haven with the New Haven Free Public Library. Our first book will be The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman by Alice Mattison. The book club kicks off July 15 at the library where we’ll discuss the locations around town that are featured in Alice’s book. Two weeks later we’ll lead a discussion about murder in New Haven–a prominent theme in the novel. And Alice herself will come read and discuss her book with us on August 12.
There are limited spots left, so make sure you sign up for Get Lit in New Haven today.
Not in the area? Feel free to contact me at info[at]placingliterature.com to discuss how to organize a local literature book club in your city.
Last Sunday we led a literary bus tour of New Haven with RJ Julia’s Booksellers and the New Haven Museum, transporting 22 literary fanatics around town to visit sites from famous (and not so famous) works of literature.
We started in Union Station, a great example of Beaux-Arts style that was designed by the same architect that did the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. There we read a passage from JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey about a Yale undergrad waiting for his girlfriend on the train platform. She arrives and both teenagers get an empty feeling–reflected in Salinger’s prose by the vast emptiness of the expansive main terminal.
From there we toured Yale University where Tom Perrotta, once an undergrad at the prestigious university, uses the unique architecture of the campus (tall castle walls, oaken doors, metal gates, actual moats surrounding the dormitories) to capture the frosty relationship between the townies and gownies.
A block away on the Green, our docent Chris Arnott, a theater critic and expert on local literature, read a quote from Charles Dickens who called New Haven “a fine town.”
Then it was off to Fair Haven, the center of industry in New Haven throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. We read a passage from True Confections, a mystery set in a candy factory by Katharine Weber, that described the old, worn-down manufacturing equipment still in use–an analogy for the neighborhood that was past its prime.
Randall Beach, a columnist with the New Haven Register, was also on the bus, and despite throwing me under the bus (pun intended) for mispronouncing two New Haven institutions, he wrote a great article about the tour--one that will be pinned up on the bulletin board at Placing Literature headquarters for years to come.
Please contact us if you are interested in using Placing Literature data to create a literary tour in your hometown. Or don’t. Just put the tour together and send me a link. I’d love to come along.
I had the pleasure of attending an excellent lecture last week on New Haven poet and short story author Joseph Payne Brennan. Focusing on horror, mysteries and the combination of the two, Brennan was a regular contributor to Weird Tales in the 1950s until publishing his own literary magazine called Macabre. His most well-known short story, “Slime”, was the inspiration for the classic B-horror flick The Blob. Later in life, Brennan ended up working at Sterling Library at Yale, where the largest collection of the author’s works is still housed. The lecturer, local arts reporter Christopher Arnott, is a huge Brennan fan and is on a crusade to re-introduce the late author to new audiences.
What struck me is Brennan’s use of place in his writings. A lot of horror authors set their stories in real locations because the “realness” adds a bit of titillation for the reader through recognizable details. I’ve mentioned before that a story about a vampire is much more exciting if the vampire hunts in an area that is recognizable to the reader or close to the reader’s heart.
What’s fascinating about Brennan is that the villain in his stories is often the misguided urban renewal policies that were rampant in cities throughout the country in the Fifties and Sixties and especially in his hometown of New Haven. Many of his stories lament the loss of charming neighborhoods and historic homes that are being razed for redevelopment, gentrification and highway construction. Often, a character or apparition crumbles to dust as a cherished building is demolished. Scary stuff, indeed!
Brennan’s poems and stories rely on the spiritual connection that people have to places—whether it’s a colonial home on historic State Street where multiple generations of the same families have grown up or public spaces like the New Haven Green that have seen communities spawned and evolved around them. And he uses real places in an effort to make a political statement about the loss of these places around him—he’s talking directly to the politicians that are making these policies.
The connection between literature and place goes both ways in Brennan’s writings. The stories give us a greater appreciation for places he writes about, and the places give his stories a realistic component that helps send chills up the reader’s spine. A master craftsman, Brennan knew that this connection is vital to both communities.
Check out a place that Arnott mapped for Brennan’s short story, The House at 1248.