Literary daybook, Aug. 5

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published August 5, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On August 5, Glen and Julia's planned wedding date.
-- "The Wedding Singer" (1998)
by Frank Coraci, Director

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1884 the cornerstone was laid for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Much of the rest of the money needed would be raised by Joseph Pulitzer through his campaign in the New York World for the penny donations of the poor, but one of the most historic fundraisers was an upper-crust affair with a more literary slant. This was the Pedestal Art Loan Exhibition, to which Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and others had donated manuscripts for auction, and for which poet Emma Lazarus wrote "The New Colossus." Lazarus died in 1887, a year after the Statue was erected; her poem fetched $1,500 but gathered dust for years until being discovered in an old portfolio of exhibition contributions. Lobbying by the poem's admirers had the more famous last five lines ("Give me your tired, your poor ...") inscribed in a second-story landing by the turn of the century, and in 1945 the entire poem was installed at the base.

Lazarus was enthusiastic about American opportunity, and eagerly championed "the colossal experiment" of the homegrown literary tradition against "the miniature standard of Europe." She was also feminist-minded. When her friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson omitted her "late-born and woman-souled" verse from his poetry anthology, she chewed him out for playing the patriarch. Her "New Colossus" envisions the old Colossus of Rhodes as full of male swagger; she would have been glad to know of its "conquering limbs astride from land to land" collapsed into pieces by an earthquake. As she would have liked to see what Pliny described two centuries after the event, male tourists scrambling over the ruins full of "wonder and admiration" that they could not "clasp the thumb in their arms." As she would have been glad to hear from Sylvia Plath, struggling with her own patriarchy and pieces in her 1960 poem "The Colossus":

"I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It's worse than a barnyard.

Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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