Edgar Lee Masters Author of the Spoon River Anthology

(Deb) Welcome back folks. When I was growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we were pretty far back in the hills we had the Barter Theater, very famous theater in Abingdon, Virginia. Their theater troupe would go around, they probably had a grant to take culture to disadvantaged hillbillies like us. But they were a wonderful professional theater troupe and Barter Theater got its name because they survived the depression. The actors survived because people would trade chicken and eggs and produce to keep the theater going and pay the actors, so a very prestigious theater. But they came to our high school and staged Spoon River Anthology and I think that it’s changed my life. I will never forget what it felt like to sit in that theater and watch this very professional staging of what I then studied in literature class and Spoon River Anthology is just one of my all time favorites. I love it and love Edgar Lee Masters and imagine my surprise when I found out Edgar Lee Masters was born in Kansas. You can’t make this stuff up Frank. (Frank) No, a lot of talent here. (Deb) It’s just like weeds, we just grow it like weeds or like sunflowers, that’s it we grow talent like sunflowers in Kansas. And so Edgar Lee Masters if you haven’t dusted off your old literature book from high school lately, get it out because I know he’s in there. We all had snippets to memorize so take it out and read it in. (Frank) Spoon River Anthology. (Deb) It is difficult to find a more boring subject: a small town, a rural cemetery, the Midwest. Yet in the hands of playwright Edgar Lee Masters, it became one of the most enduring of America’s stories — Spoon River Anthology. Included in virtually every high school textbook, and staged by nearly every civic theater in the nation, Spoon River Anthology insured that Masters would never be forgotten. He is certainly remembered in his hometown of Garnett. When the town celebrated its 150th anniversary a few years ago, along with its favorite son, Senator/Governor Arthur Capper, and his father-in-law, General/Governor Sam Crawford, Garnett honored Masters with costumed readings from his works. Masters was born in Garnett in 1868, only three years after Capper. Soon afterwards, however, his family moved to Illinois and it was in small town Lewiston, Illinois, that he found Oak Hill Cemetery and the nearby Spoon River. Masters worked in his father’s law office before being admitted to the bar himself. In Chicago, he eventually became a law partner to Clarence Darrow, yes, the Clarence Darrow from the Scopes Monkey Trial. He wrote poetry and biography, including a biography of Illinois’s most famous son, Abraham Lincoln. Spoon River Anthology was originally a series of poems and was collected and published as a volume in 1915. It is a series of epitaphs, with each of the small town’s residents speaking from the grave. An anniversary edition was recently released and a reviewer on Amazon wrote: What I found was a book that was written in 1915, but that brings to life the voices of humanity louder than anything I’ve read in recent years. This book is more poetry than prose, but the stories of the residents of Spoon River that are collected within the pages are stories that are not soon forgotten. This book has moved me more than anything else I’ve read in recent years, and I highly recommend that others read this outstanding work of art.

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