Salinger, Hersey, and The New Yorker

Salinger on the cover of Time, 1961

A new biography of J. D. Salinger has just been published. Given Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness and his hostility to biographers, that’s a big deal, and the biography (which is admired by some critics and seen more ambivalently by others) appears to provide an illuminating account of Salinger’s early years in New York and the period, after his terrible experience in World War II, when he established the style and the preoccupations for which he became famous.

In some respects, that history makes Salinger a comparable figure to John Hersey.

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“Rainbow-colored lights”

Cornell Capa, Russell Williams and Connie Hill dancing the Lindy Hop, circa 1939 (NY Times)

Music and entertainment play a minor, yet significant role in Petry’s The Street–where, as Lutie notes, they provide a world of “rainbow-colored lights.” They were also, of course, a major part of Harlem social and business life in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s

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Harlem Photography–DeCarava, Levitt, Parks, Siskind

Aaron Siskind, “Harlem” (1940)

As the career of Ann Petry indicates, Harlem in the 1940s was a center of civil rights activism. As her novel suggests, it was also a breeding ground for musical innovation. During the same years, the ghetto life that Petry depicted attracted a number of great photographers.

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“A fairy tale, a myth of the streets of New York”

That’s what the movie’s screenwriter, Abraham Polonsky, called Body and Soul.

No telling at this point whether campus will be open and we’ll have class to discuss this tomorrow. But we will talk about Body and Soul at some point. In the meantime, you may wish make comments or raise questions about the film here.

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The Urban Intellectual Roots of Folk Music

The Weavers at Carnegie Hall in 1948 (Getty Images)


Today, the New York Times runs a book review of a new biography of the remarkable and strange Alan Lomax–the son of the pioneering folklorist John Lomax and himself a man responsible for recording thousands and thousands of hours of folk music from the U.S. and around the globe. Working first with his father and then independently, Alan Lomax was responsible for introducing a great deal of folk music and many artists–most famously Leadbelly–to popular audiences. As the review suggests, he was a bit of an obsessive.

Lomax’s life and work makes for a fascinating story. It’s a reminder, too, of the very interesting phenomenon of the folk music revival that began in New York City in the 1940s.

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