The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest. The Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. Find out more here.
Big Read: Paul Collins on the Life of Edgar Allan Poe
Thursday October 30, 2014
As part of our BigRead program, author and historian Paul Collins discussed the life of the legendary Edgar Allan Poe.
About Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living
Looming large in the popular imagination as a serious poet and lively drunk who died in penury, Edgar Allan Poe was also the most celebrated and notorious writer of his day. He died broke and alone at the age of forty, but not before he had written some of the greatest works in the English language, from the chilling “The Tell-Tale Heart” to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”—the first modern detective story—to the iconic poem “The Raven.” Poe’s life was one of unremitting hardship. His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was three. Poe was thrown out of West Point, and married his beloved thirteen-year-old cousin, who died of tuberculosis at twenty-four. He was so poor that he burned furniture to stay warm. He was a scourge to other poets, but more so to himself. In the hands of
Paul Collins, one of our liveliest historians, this mysteriously conflicted figure emerges as a genius both driven and undone by his artistic ambitions. Collins illuminates Poe’s huge successes and greatest flop (a 143-page prose poem titled "Eureka"), and even tracks down what may be Poe’s first published fiction, long hidden under an enigmatic byline. Clear-eyed and sympathetic, Edgar Allan Poe is a spellbinding story about the man once hailed as “the Shakespeare of America.”
Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His seven books have been translated into eleven languages, and include Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery (2013), and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). He is the 2009 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction. Collins's recent freelance work includes pieces for The New Yorker, Slate, and New Scientist. In addition to appearing on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday as its resident “literary detective,” he also runs the Collins Library imprint of McSweeney's Books. Collins lives in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches creative nonfiction as an associate professor in the MFA program at Portland State University.