Unless you are an English Major or a Writer or reader with a voracious appetite, the above names may mean nothing to you. In 1939 they represented the vanguard of established writers in the world community – one which, in May of 1939 was in danger of being uprooted by the coming war.
But if you are familiar with these writers, have read their work and know a thing or two about the world they came from, you will know this is a style of writing (and even speech-making) that has become all but extinct. In some cases for the better, but in other cases represents babies tossed out with bathwater.
It was not writing that was abrupt and cut to the chase, was sparse in its description, had an edge of suspicion and irony to it. It was writing that lingered, took its time to unfold – maybe went out of its way to describe a scene, luxuriated in detail, with dialog that appeared quaint and unfamiliar to the ear today.
But it was also a time when writing was treasured – good writing was plentiful and cutting-edge writing was celebrated – maybe not to the degree it was accepted, but given its forum and place in what was a fairly all-embracing tent. And reading was a given because sources were also plentiful. We had literary magazines, even back then. But we also had a strong weekly and monthly Magazine community, which regularly featured fiction within their pages; it was a tradition that spanned as far back as the beginnings of periodicals as an integral part of our culture. Many writers cut their literary teeth by way of magazine writing.
But magazines as a place of creative exposure have long since left – the few remaining which do feature fiction are relegated to Literary Quarterlies, and even those are dwindling. Blog writing has taken much of the place of Magazines today, and even the style of writing of most blogs have roots (unconscious, I suspect) in older forms of creative writing. Articles are long and often wordy, as if the writer were being paid by the word.
This broadcast featured some of the best known writers of the day – unfortunately, the constraints of time brought the program to an early end, with many highly regarded authors left out of the on-air celebrations.
Featured in this broadcast are Dorothy Thompson, Carl Van Doren, Pearl S. Buck and Lu Yintang, who speak at the closing dinner of the World Congress of Writers, hosted by PEN and part of the New York World’s Fair of 1939.