I recently had the opportunity to listen to author Orson Scott Card at the 2012 Teen Book Con in Houston, Texas. While the audience streamed into the auditorium before the keynote speech, Mr. Card intimated to the young adult crowd that Nathaniel Hawthorne was quite terrible as a American novelist (regardless of what teachers were teaching them). He further explained that the reason was due to a shortage of great writers in early America, and Americans put Hawthorne on a pedestal because they didn’t have anyone better.
According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Edgar was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809, the son of two actors. He was briefly left in Baltimore, Maryland with his grandparents, then later taken in by John Allan following the untimely death of Poe’s mother and father in 1811 (this is the origin of Poe’s middle name ‘Allan’). After a childhood traveling to Scotland and London, England, it was 1820 when Edgar returned to America and was enrolled into the Richmond, Virginia school system. Young Edgar was discouraged from publishing his first book of poems while in school, although Poe was described as “a born poet” with “no love of mathematics.”
In 1831, Edgar was dismissed from West Point (for failing to follow orders and being genuinely disenchanted about receiving them) and eventually returned to Baltimore, moving in with his aunt in the Spring of 1833. By this time, Edgar had published three books of poems and numerous others in local periodicals but had received very little money in return. Poe was living poorly when he wrote what is generally accepted as his first tale of horror, an award-winning short story called “Berenice.”
Poe lived and wrote in other places (Philadelphia, for example), but it was in Baltimore that his known career began to emerge and, sadly, where he later died at the age of forty “after he was found in a tavern delirious and in distress, two years after the death of his young wife, Virginia, from tuberculosis.” (NY Times) The Baltimore Poe House was nearly destroyed seventy years ago when homes in the old neighborhood were being renovated, but it has since been declared a national landmark. While it is in no danger of being torn down, it may no longer remain open to the public since the Baltimore housing authority pulled their $85,000 annual operating budget; reserve funds may run out as early as this summer.
Why bring light to this now? The Raven, a film starring John Cusack as Poe himself, opens this weekend (and will likely be completely forgotten about by the time The Avengers comes out the following weekend). Could there be a more perfect time or event to call attention to the creator of the detective fiction genre, American gothic literature, and the namesake for the Edgar Allen Poe Awards of the Mystery Writers of America? I don’t think so.
What can you do about it? Glad you asked:
- Make a donation to the Poe Bicentennial (The Baltimore Poe House Museum) Website
- Sign the petition to ask the Mayor of Baltimore to keep the Poe House & Museum open and restore funding!
- Read the Baltimore Sun article “Poe’s legacy in Baltimore at risk”
- Read the NY Times Article About the Baltimore Poe House Closing
Any other ideas? Let’s hear ’em!