The word soup in Thomas Wolfe’s refrigerator

If you have ever met me or read my blog, you know that I am not a tall person. And I’m okay with that. Thomas Wolfe, on the other hand, was not a small person. I assume he was okay with that. Tall people come across with a sense of authority and power to us shorties. I am 5′ 0″. Wolfe was 6′ 6″.

Tom and me
Due to budget constraints, the “life size” Wolfe is only 6′ 0″. The actual life size me is 5′ 0″. Add 6 more inches difference. He was really tall; just sayin’.

 

I’ve always kind of known about Thomas Wolfe, mostly from the book title You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously in 1940) and the romanticized view of Southern writers that an avid reader who spent her childhood in Georgia can’t escape.

EGcoverCan'tGoHome

 

After watching the film Genius, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer A. Scott Berg book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978)  and writing about it, I have continued reading and researching into the life of Thomas Wolfe.

 

I loved the film, but after my recent sojourn to Indianapolis for the 39th Annual Meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society, I have even more questions. (And I’m buying yet more books. Running out of places to put them all!).

 

What was interesting to me is that so many dedicated Wolfe scholars and readers had some negative reactions to the film, which we watched together at the Indianapolis Public Library as a part of the weekend. Author Berg, on the other hand, who spoke to us to a standing ovation at our closing banquet, was pleased with the film. And I still love it.

 

genius poster

 

 

One of the complaints from the group about the film was the casting of Jude Law as Wolfe. Law, in my opinion, did a wonderful job, but he’s not anywhere close to 6′ 6″ and 250 plus pounds. But what actor would be close to that without being some former wrestler or football player of dubious acting ability? Law is better looking than Wolfe, but it’s a movie. I can look past that!

tom and jude

 

The book had been considered for films for many years, according to Berg. At one time, Paul Newman was slated to play Max Perkins. And at another, Tim Robbins wanted to play Wolfe. That I can see, in his younger days.

tim-robbins-2
A young Tim Robbins, who is 6′ 5″.

One thing to keep in mind is that the film is based on a book about Max Perkins, the editor who wrangled with Wolfe and served as a father figure to him in many ways. In the book, next on my to-read list, Perkin’s relationships with 2 of his other writers, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are also featured. It’s not a biography of Wolfe.

perkins writers

In speaking about the casting of Jude Law, Berg said that in the interviews he did for the Perkins book, it was mentioned that when Wolfe first appeared in Perkins’s doorway at Scribner’s, Perkins saw, in his mind, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Berg sees Shelley in Law’s countenance. Of course, we don’t have photos of Shelley to get an accurate idea, but there are portraits.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

My imagination was totally captured by the images in the film of Wolfe writing as fast he could, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk, sheets of paper flying through the air as he filled them with words. I imagine the inside of his head as a swirling word soup. Mine often is like that, but my word soup tends to stay soupy and muddled, whereas Wolfe was able to put the words into such beautiful creations. If we were working in a restaurant, I would be the dishwasher and Wolfe would be the executive chef, the genius who I admire and emulate. Or maybe Wolfe would be the Chef de Cuisine, doing the work of making the delicious soup, and Perkins would be the executive chef, at the pass making sure the plates are perfect before they go out.

word soup 1
Word soup ingredients.

 

This leads to the burning question, can a refrigerator be used as a desk? Remember that Wolfe was 6′ 6″ tall. A typical 1920s-1930s refrigerator was probably just over 5″.

 

You can buy such a vintage refrigerator today if you think it will help you become a writer.

ebay ad.jpg

 

Being who I am, I had to test this out. My home refrigerator is 5′ 10″ tall. For me to use it as a desk, I have to stand on the kitchen counter next to it.

fridge writing 7
No worries; I sanitized the counter after I was done.

 

fridge writing 4
At 6′ 6″, Wolfe could probably even use a modern day refrigerator as a desk if he really wanted to. It wouldn’t be a good ergonomic choice.

 

One of my favorite papers presented at the meeting was by Paula Gallant Eckard of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She is the author of the recently published Thomas Wolfe and Lost Children in Southern Literature (2016).

 

There is a common thread of a sense of “lostness” in much Southern literature, especially in regard to children. Eckard discussed, among other contemporary writers, Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster, 1987) and Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011).

 

salvage and jes.jpg

 

Other highlights: the charming performance by the Indiana University Kokomo Players of “Wolfe’s Wanderlust: Scenes and Music from His Life and Fiction”

and the amazing table centerpieces created for the banquet, each based on a theme in Wolfe’s life.

 

Everyone I met was warm and welcoming. I arrived a bit anxious about going into a meeting of scholars with relatively little knowledge. I needn’t have been. They are all eager to share Wolfe with the world and bring him back into the canon of American literature alongside his contemporaries Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He died so young; who knows what legacy he might have left behind.

Speaking of young, the first person I encountered going to register for the conference was my new friend Savannah Wade, from Asheville, North Carolina. Pay attention to that name, she has a bright future ahead of her. I was so impressed with her varied interests and thirst for knowledge. When I was 23 years old, I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to get on a Greyhound bus alone and head to an unknown city to meet with anyone! I felt so grown up doing this at age 55. Savannah, now, I can picture writing a work of genius using a refrigerator as a desk. And I can see that she has ways with word soup that I can only dream of.

Savannah
Savannah

And now I must go and dust off the top of my refrigerator. It’s the first time I’ve seen the top of it in a while!

You CAN Change the World (and Have Fun in the Process)

(Note: This is for an assignment in Humane Education 640: Culture and Change at Valparaiso University.)

The Emperor Ashoka (died 232 BCE), third monarch of the Indian Mauryan Dynasty1, is quoted to have said: “No society can prosper if it aims at making things easier. Instead, it should aim at making people stronger.”

Ashoka Statue

Ashoka statue, Kanaganahalli, Gulbarga, Karnataka, India (photo by Alene Devasia)2

In this spirit, Bill Drayton founded the organization Ashoka, in 1980, with the mission: “To support social entrepreneurs who are leading and collaborating with changemakers, in a team of teams model that addresses the fluidity of a rapidly evolving society. Ashoka believes that anyone can learn and apply the critical skills of empathy, team work, leadership and changemaking to be successful in the modern world. “3

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Ashoka is a global network with Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries. Fellows are divided into the six broad categories of

  • Civic Engagement
  • Economic Development
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Learning/Education

Learn more about Ashoka

Drayton, an assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Carter Administration in the 1970s, began searching for people to bring about change in areas he saw as critical human needs.

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Bill Drayton, photo from ashoka.org

As described in a 1998 profile in The Atlantic, Ashoka “looks for people who will become references in their field, who will set or change patterns at the national level or, in the case of a small country, at a larger regional level. Ashoka searches for people who, in Drayton’s words, will leave their “scratch on history.” When the foundation finds a bona fide social entrepreneur, it elects him or her to a fellowship, provides financial and professional support to help launch the fellow’s idea, and connects the fellow with other social entrepreneurs working on similar problems. Like a venture-capital group, Ashoka seeks high yields from modest, well-targeted investments. It seeks returns not in profits but in advances in education, environmental protection, rural development, poverty alleviation, human rights, health care, care for the disabled, care for children at risk, and other fields.”4

If you don’t meet the stringent criteria or no one has had the sense to nominate you as a Fellow, you can volunteer with Ashoka through its Everyone a ChangemakerTM program.

Volunteer-Share-Image

What makes a successful social entrepreneur? According to Adnan Mahmud, founder and CEO of LiveStories and Co-Founder of the non-profit organization Jolkona, which works with students and young adults to build a new generation of philanthropists, “successful social entrepreneurs lead by example and have fun at the same time” (i.e., “love what you do”). 5

Adnan Mahmud, photo from https://twitter.com/adnanmahmud

How do social enterprise ideas differ from traditional business ones?

“Social enterprise ideas, unlike conventional business ideas, typically result from a desire to solve a social need; similar to how many non-profit and charity organizations find their beginning. Traditional business ideas can also come from identifying a social need. But, the difference between a social enterprise idea and a traditional business idea is the motivation of the entrepreneur. The primary motivation for a traditional entrepreneur is more-often-than-not a desire to make money; a social entrepreneur is driven more by a passion to solve a social problem, and only chooses to use business as a mechanism to solve these problems.”6

One successful example was begun more than 60 years ago by Pennsylvania Mennonite Edna Ruth Byler (1904-1976), who on a trip in 1946 to Puerto Rico was struck by the poverty she witnessed. She believed market opportunities in North America would provide economic opportunities for artisans in developing countries. She started by selling handcrafted items out of the trunk of her car, and eventually the fair trade organization Ten Thousand Villages was established.7

 

 

One of the most famous examples (and famous founders) of a social enterprise is the company Newman’s Own, founded by the late actor Paul Newman in 1982. All royalties and profits from the sales of its food products go to the Newman’s Own Foundation, which has granted over $450 million to thousands of charities.8

 Newman's_Own_logo

You can also eat well for a good cause by supporting social enterprise restaurants and cafes, many of which provide job training and skills for people with barriers to employments as well as raising money to support social missions. An example in the Bay Area is the Delancey Street Restaurant on The Embarcadero at Brannan. The Delancey Restaurant opened in 1991 and was built by the Delancey Street Foundation’s residents, former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless, and others in need of help to live in mainstream society.9

Delancey Street

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I also found examples of animal-minded social enterprises. Twelve of these companies were profiled by Trend Hunter in 2013.10

Animal-minded enterprises on Trend Hunter

 

My particular favorite is Rescue Chocolate (no surprise, again). Who can resist the slogan “the sweetest way to save a life”?11 The chocolates are all vegan and 100% of the net profits go to animal rescue organizations around the United States. They also incorporate educational messages in the names and labeling of the chocolates, with:

  • Peanut Butter Pit Bull (crispy peanut butter and chocolate, countering the negative public image of the pit bull-type dogs)
  • Pick Me! Pepper (sweet ’n spicy dark chocolate with peppers, highlighting the advantages of choosing pets from animal shelters instead of breeders or pet stores)
  • Foster-iffic Peppermint (dark chocolate with peppermint, highlighting the need for people to provide foster care for shelter animals as they await their forever homes)
  • The Fix (plain 66%, highlighting the importance of spay and neuter)
  • Mission Feral Fig (fig, cranberry, almond, and spices, highlighting the humane solution for feral cats, TNR)
  • Fakin’ Bacon (smoky, sweet and salty, a salute to farm animal sanctuaries and compassionate gourmands)
  • Forever Mocha (hazelnut praline and coffee, highlighting ways to help people make and honor a lifetime commitment to their pets)

Learn More About Rescue Chocolate

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If your interest is at all piqued, I recommend for further reading How to change the world: Social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas by David Bornstein (2007, Oxford University Press).

I’ll end with the two quotes that open Bornstein’s book:

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.—Thomas Edison

References

  1. Dhammika, V. S. (1993). The Edicts of King Ashoka. DharmaNet Edition. Retrived from https://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/ashoka.html
  2. (2014). Asoka statue, Kanaganahalli. Retrieved from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/113022477
  3. Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. (n.d.). Vision and Mission. Ashok Retrieved from https://www.ashoka.org/visionmission
  4. Bornstein, D. (1998). Changing the world on a shoestring. Atlantic Monthly January 1998. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/01/changing-the-world-on-a-shoestring/377042/
  5. Mahmud, A. (27 September 2013). Do good & do well: 3 tips for social entrpreneurs at home and abroad. Huffpost Impact. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adnan-mahmud/do-good-do-well_b_3998875.html
  1. The Sedge. (17 January 2014). 22 Awesome social enterprise business ideas. The Sedge.org: Where social enterprise works. Retrieved from http://www.thesedge.org/whats-new/22-awesome-social-enterprise-business-ideas
  2. Ten Thousand Villages. (n.d.) Our story: A pioneering businesswoman. Ten Thousand Villages. Retrieved from http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/about-history/
  3. Newman’s own Inc. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.newmansown.com/charity/
  4. Delancey Street Foundation. (2007). Delancey Street Restaurant, San Francisco. Retrieved from http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/enterrestaurant.php
  5. Reid, T. (25 January 2013). 12 animal-minded social enterprises: from holistic farming companies to altruistic pet beds. Trend Hunter. Retrieved from http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/animalminded-social-enterprises
  6. Rescue Chocolate. (2016). About us. Retrieved from http://www.rescuechocolate.com/pages/about-us