Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dem dat plants 'em is soon forgotten

My friends over at Nextbook are featuring an essay I wrote some time ago on the early 20th century's superstar fiction writer, Edna Ferber. Her name may be familiar to you theatre fans; she was a playwright (she collaborated with George S. Kaufman on Dinner at Eight and others), and we have her to thank for Show Boat's source material. Or you might know one of the movies based on her novels: Giant, Cimarron, Saratoga Trunk... the list goes on and on. Ferber didn't think too highly of those commercial adaptations of her work; she didn't mind the money, of course, but she wanted people to remember she was an artist, first and foremost. She had reason to believe that her impressive literary output would guarantee her immortality, because in her day she was as popular, and as prolific, as a novelist can be. But somehow her novels weren't passed down as popular diversions, and she seldom pops up on academic reading lists. In all honesty -- and speaking as someone who has read through an impressive stack of Edna Ferber volumes -- I can't say it's unjust that we've set Ferber's books aside. But it is a little surprising, if only because she was so very popular at one time. I thought often, as I was working on that piece, how horrified she would be if she could see what has become of her legacy.

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