What to do at the Jersey Shore: READ
Three great literary figures were born in Long Branch. I actually had the pleasure of meeting two of them.
I met Norman Mailer in Miami in 1972. Although I was a terrified college student, I loved his books Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, so I gathered up my courage and approached him. He asked me where I was from (Long Branch) and he told me he was born there. We had a lovely chat and I was always glad I’d had the courage to speak to him. Norman Mailer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1923, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He died in November, 2007. At the age of nine composed a 250-page science fiction story called "Invasion From Mars." An ambitious and competitive student, he graduated from Brooklyn's Boys High School in 1939 and won admission to Harvard at age 16. While still an undergraduate, he won a student fiction contest sponsored by Story magazine.
In 1967, Mailer was arrested at the Pentagon while demonstrating against the Vietnam War, an experience he recounted in his book Armies of the Night (1968), which received the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968) continued Mailer's coverage of the political conventions. His political involvement culminated in an exuberant, if ultimately unsuccessful, campaign for Mayor of New York City in 1969.
He career languished, but at the end of the seventies, Mailer made a startling comeback with The Executioner's Song (1979). As he had used the techniques of the novel to inform his journalism of the 1960s, he now adopted real life undisguised as the material for a "non-fiction novel," relating the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, whose death by firing squad in Utah was the first execution to take place in America since the 1960s. Although solidly grounded in fact, The Executioner's Song read like a thoroughly imagined work of fiction, and was recognized as such by the Pulitzer Prize Committee.
I never met the journalist, writer, and poet Dorothy Parker., although I'm sure I would have liked her if I had. Born on August 22, 1893, in the West End of Long Branch, New Jersey Dorothy Parker became a legendary literary figure, known for her sarcasm and wit. She worked on such magazines as Vogue and Vanity Fair during the late 1910s. Parker went on to work as a book reviewer for The New Yorker in the 1920s. She remained a contributor to The New Yorker for many years; the magazine also published a number of her short stories. One of her most popular stories, “Big Blonde,” won the O. Henry Award in 1929.
In addition to her writing, Dorothy Parker was a noted member of the New York literary scene in 1920s. She formed a group called the Algonquin Round Table with writer Robert Benchley and playwright Robert Sherwood. This artistic crowd also included such members as The New Yorker founder Harold Ross, comedian Harpo Marx, and playwright Edna Ferber among others. The group took its name from its hangout—the Algonquin Hotel, but also also known as the Vicious Circle for the somewhat mean-spirited remarks made by its members.
An example of her dead-on wit is the quote, “Women and elephants never forget.”
Here is Parker at her bawdy best:
I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.
I met Robert Pinsky twice and both times was impressed with his charm and graciousness. The first time I spoke with him was at a reading he did at my alma mater and his, Rutgers University. I told him we had much in common, since I had lived in Long Branch and had also attended Rutgers. Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940, in Long Branch. Even as a child, Pinsky was conscious of his love for the arts. His father, Milford Simon, was an optician. Sylvia, his mother, wanted her son to become an optician, too. Instead, Robert became the first person in his family to go to college.
His translation of The Inferno of Dante brought him fame and much acclaim. He received both The Los Angeles Times Book Review Award and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for Translation in 1995. Pinsky’s masterpiece furthered his successful career in writing, and earned him his next job: Poet Laureate of the United States.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed Robert Pinsky to be the ninth Poet Laureate and the country’s 39th Consultant in Poetry in 1997. The position of Poet Laureate requires recipients to complete an annual lecture on their poetry as well as introduce poets in the Library’s annual poetry series (among the oldest in the country). In addition, the Laureate is expected to raise public awareness of poetry through programs and country-wide projects. The energetic Pinsky was elated to receive the title of Poet Laureate for three consecutive terms; an amazing feat. Here are some of my favorite books:
The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation. (translator) New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1994.
The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1996
Jersey Rain. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 2000.
In 1997, Pinsky started “The Favorite Poem Program.” Now compiled on an internet database, the program initially invited 100 average Americans to read their favorite poetry and have it recorded for the official archives of the Library of Congress. The program was a huge success, receiving over 18,000 submissions and attracting people from all walks of life. He videotaped ordinary people of all ages reading their favorite poem. You can check it out at www.favoritepoem.org .
So not only does Long Branch have amazing places to eat, it has produced some great literary minds, as well. Must be all that sea air.