Archive for the tag 'Arthur Miller'

I Write Like…Who???

July 17th, 2010

Having read about the new website “I Write Like” (, which matches samples of one’s own prose with those of famous authors, I decided to have the site analyze some of the longer entries from my “memoir in flux,” and here are the results.

My recollection of the one time I met Arthur Miller was likened to the prose of Vladimir Nabokov. This was very flattering indeed.  I’ve read and admired everything Nabokov has ever written, most especially the novel Lolita; and, of course, his wondrous autobiography, Speak, Memory!

My account of the brief encounter I had with Kurt Vonnegut was said to be reminiscent of none other than…Kurt Vonnegut!  I’m not sure what to think about this comparison, since I am definitely not a Vonnegut fan, except perhaps for a couple of short pieces in Welcome to the Monkey House.

My story about Robert Anderson’s reply to a letter I wrote him when I was a teenager in the Philippines, asking him about possible interpretations of  his play Tea and Sympathy, was tagged as something William Gibson might have written.  Only problem is, there are at least two William Gibsons who are writers.  There’s William Gibson, the cyberpunk novelist; and there’s William Gibson, the playwright who wrote The Miracle Worker.  Surely, it must be the latter, because I’ve seen many of his plays, and because I know the former only by reputation.

One of my many entries about Sarah Palin was decoded and identified with Dan Brown, whom I’ve never read.  I did see the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, which bored me to death, so I’m baffled by the link.  But, now that I’m thinking about it, I do see some similarity between Sarah Palin’s self-satisfied smirk of a smile with that of Mona Lisa. I may be the only person in the world who thinks that Ms. Lisa looks like a balding, overweight man in drag.  I’m sure this is what Sarah Palin will look like after the 2012 election.

My retelling of what happened the night I got the long-distance telephone call from Manila that my father had died, was, to my surprise, compared to the work of Stephen King.  In truth, though, my father did have a dog once who had rabies and was Cujo-like before it had to be put down.  And, I do like Stand by Me–the novel, the movie adaptation with River Phoenix, and also the song written and originally performed by  Ben E. King.

I tried three more entries from my website—one about my mother’s laughter, and two about my various encounters with William S. Burroughs.  Remarkably, all three entries identified me as another David Foster Wallace. Unfortunately, I had no idea who David Foster Wallace was, nor what he might have written. So I looked him up on the internet.

It turns out that David Foster Wallace was a novelist, short story writer, and essayist who was also a creative writing professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California.  He was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.  The Los Angeles Times named him “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last twenty years,” and his 1996 novel Infinite Jest was included by Time magazine in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 1923-2006).

This is great.  It’ll give me a good excuse to catch up on contemporary fiction. I’ve been immersed too long in theatre and dramatic literature.

By way of trivia, I also learned that David Foster Wallace was close to his two dogs, Bella and Warner, and that he had talked frequently about opening a dog shelter.  His friends said that “he had a special predilection for dogs who had been abused and were unlikely to find other owners who were going to be patient enough for them”

It gets better and better.  I really like this guy.  I’m going to buy and read all his books, see if we really view life and approach writing the same way. And then, suddenly, his name rang a bell.

According to a September 14, 2008 article in The New York Times, David Foster Wallace “died on Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif.  He was 46.  A spokeswoman for the Claremont police said Mr. Wallace’s wife, Karen Green, returned home to find that her husband had hanged himself. Mr. Wallace’s father, James Donald Wallace, said in an interview on Sunday that his son had been severely depressed for a number of months.”

Oh, God.  Now I’m depressed.

My Arthur Miller Story

March 31st, 2010

Since Kansas isn’t exactly a beehive of playwriting activity, beginning playwrights in this neck of the woods are almost always told that, if they write about what they know, and if they choose to chronicle their small-town roots,  they could be “the next William Inge,” the playwright from Independence, KS who couldn’t leave his birthplace fast enough but who, his entire life, gave voice in his plays to the people from Kansas in plays like Picnic, Bus Stop, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and Come Back, Little Sheba—many of them people who, like himself, lived lives of quiet desperation.

In 1982, nine years after Inge committed suicide in his Hollywood home, and after his surviving relatives donated the bulk of his papers to Independence Community College in Independence, KS, the college did something wonderful by starting The William Inge Festival, celebrated every year in late April, when stars of stage and screen come to town for three or four days, to honor Inge and, more significantly, to pay tribute to the work of other living American playwrights. And so, every year in late April, Independence, KS is suddenly transformed into a mecca for playwrights, a lovefest for the written word because, truly,  “In the beginning was the Word…”

I remember attending the first Inge Festival, back in 1982, staying at the Lamplighter Inn, which had no dining facilities. For food, one had to go to Eggbert’s, within walking distance of the motel.  I remember the first time I had breakfast at Eggbert’s.  All conversation stopped when I entered the tiny diner, and everyone turned to stare at me.  Although the moment was awkward, it passed quickly, and conversation resumed. Truthfully, I think they would all have turned to stare at any stranger in their midst, not just because I looked like a foreigner, an alien, the yellow peril, the lavender mafia.  Back in his day, growing up in Independence, would a homosexual like William Inge have been comfortable at a place like Eggbert’s?

Originally, the mission of the Inge Festival was to pay tribute to American playwrights who were Inge’s contemporaries, those writers who were still living, who were ready, willing and able to spend three or four days in the heartland of America, which for Inge also turned out to be his “hurtland.”  I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told that, in the early days of the Inge Festival, scholars who submitted academic papers for presentation and discussion at the festival were told not to call undue attention to Inge’s suicide, his alcoholism and, above all, his homosexuality.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005) is one of my gods.  Death of a Salesman is the only play that makes me cry everytime I see it.  When it was announced that the Inge Festival in 1995 would be honoring Arthur Miller, I decided to bring nine of my playwriting students from the University of Kansas to meet the man.  Luckily, we managed to book rooms at the same motel where he would be staying—not the Lamplighter Inn, but the Apple Tree Inn, newer and nicer, which also offered complimentary morning coffee and doughnuts so guests didn’t have to trek to Eggbert’s.

Two incidents stand out in my mind about the 1995 Inge festival.

First, there was the Independence Community College production of Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, a play which, among other things, deals with anti-Semitism among the country club set in small-town America.  The day after we saw the production, a fancy gala dinner was held at the country club. The president of the Chamber of Commerce in his welcoming remarks told everyone that this was the same country club Inge had written about in the play, but that times have changed.  He said the country club now had some Jewish members.

And then, the next night, back in the auditorium at Independence Community College, we were treated to reenactments of “scenes” from various plays by Arthur Miller, as the man himself and his wife, photographer Inge Morath, sat and watched in the audience. At the end of the evening, when he got up on the stage to accept his award, Miller seemed genuinely moved.  He was quiet for a while, and then he cleared his throat and spoke.  This is what he said: “I did not know William Inge well in life.  Our paths did not cross often. But, whenever I saw him, in New York or in Hollywood, he seemed to be a very sad man.  I wish this town could have honored him while he was still alive.”  And then he sat down.  The audience was stunned.  There was polite applause, and then people filed out of the auditorium, into the dark at the bottom of the stairs.

The next morning, unlike all the other mornings, there were no people hovering around Arthur Miller and Inge Morath as they sat quietly by themselves, in a corner of the lobby at the Apple Tree Inn, having their complimentary coffee and doughnuts.  I had been in awe of the man all week, indeed my entire life, had not dared to approach him, had been quite content just to be in his presence.  But, somehow, on this particular morning, I needed to say something when everyone else remained awkwardly silent.  I summoned up enough courage and went up to him.  I shook his hand and thanked him for his remarks the night before.  He was Arthur Miller, the same Arthur Miller who had remained courageously silent and had refused to name names during his testimony before Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, who now could not remain silent on other matters even if it should make him persona non grata, perhaps even a pariah.   Amidst all the hoopla of the Inge Festival in 1995, Arthur Miller had now said what needed to be said about William Inge and the town that rejected him in life but embraced him in death.

Of the 31 playwrights who have been honored thus far at the Inge Festival, one is a person of color (August Wilson); three are women (Betty Comden, Tina Howe, Wendy Wasserstein); and at least nine are homosexuals (Edward Albee, Fred Ebb, Christopher Durang, Arthur Laurents, Terrence McNally, John Patrick, Peter Shaffer, Stephen Sondheim, Lanford Wilson).  The honoree for 2010 is Paula Vogel, a playwright who also happens to be a lesbian.

I don’t know if there’s any special reason why the Inge Festival is always held in late April.  William Inge was born on May 3, 1913 and he died on June 10, 1973.  It would be wonderful if his life could be celebrated in June, the same month which saw the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, which gave birth to Pride Parades not just in America but indeed all over the world, perhaps even in Independence, KS.  If William Inge were alive today, he would be astonished, and proud, to see his old hometown embracing, even if only for three or four days each year, a gaggle of gays, a legion of lesbians, a pride of playwrights.

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

November 2nd, 2009

It has been a while since I’ve updated this section of the website.  The plan, originally, was to pay tribute properly to friends and colleagues who have contributed to my own personal growth, not only as a writer but also as a human being. The list seems to grow longer every time I wake up in the morning.  Sadly, there are just not enough hours in a day for me to write and share personal stories about each and every one of them, many of whom I continue to miss fiercely, some on a daily basis.

I hope to retire soon from teaching, and will have more time to devote to these absences in my life.  Meanwhile, I am naming this entry after Jim Erdahl’s favorite song from Les Miserables, his favorite musical, which I am glad we were able to see together on Broadway before he died.  My friends…my friendsI see them all, taking their places again, one by one, the way they did in years gone by, when there were no “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

My friends…my friendsReynaldo (Ronnie) Alejandro, Robert Anderson, Sam Anderson, Nobleza Asuncion-Lande, Lyndsay Boynton, William Burroughs, Mike Cherniss, Tony Cius, Dick Colyer, Jolico Cuadra, Jack Davidson, Jed Davis, Pio de Castro, Carolyn Doty, Victorio Edades, Carroll Edwards, Jim Erdahl, Bob Findlay, Jean Gagen, Elaine Goodman, Grant K. Goodman, James Gowen, Ed Grier, Chez Haehl, Dennis Helm, Bud Hirsch, William Inge, Ken Irby, Judith Joseph, Bob Kahle, Clay Kappelman, Nick Katigbak, Paul Kendall, Eartha Kitt, Mark Knapp, Clay Kappelman, Glenn Kappelman, Tom Klavercamp, Joseph Kuo, Mandy Labayen, Carl Lande, Chuck Lown, Arthur Miller, Kaye Miller, Fusa Moos, Jack Oruch, Jim Pearce, Terry Moore, Charlie Oldfather, Maura Theresa Brennan Piekalkiewicz, Shirley Rea, John Roderick, Ed Ruhe, Amby Saricks, William T. Scott, Jim Seaver, Ken Smith, Eunice Ebert-Stallworth, Ilse Steinhardt, Andrew Tsubaki, Anne Turner, Jane Van Meter, Grace Wan, Josh Waters, George Wedge, Max Whitson, Ron Willis, Theresa Windheuser, Ed Wolfe.

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