Friday, March 9, 2012

Stephen Greenblatt

Last night I went to the local bookstore to hear Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World and editor of the Norton Shakespeare, speak about his latest book. This new bit of genius is called The Swerve, and it is the fascinating tale of a poem that was thought to have been lost, but was unexpectedly found.

First, I think I have mentioned a few hundred times before that I love Shakespeare...I love him as a writer, as a playwright, as a poet, and as a person who uniquely understood the human race. When I read Stephen Greenblatt's stunning biography, called Will in the World, I was blown away by both the writer from London so many years ago, and the writer who made it his mission to discover all he could about someone who is viewed as one of the greatest writers of all time. Greenblatt's prose is academic, but strikingly relatable and easy to read. He weaves a nonfiction story with the ease of a poet, and manages to keep you interested through every chapter and every page. Anyway, Will in the World is an incredible piece of work, and I was so happy to have gotten it as a Christmas present and had the opportunity to read it.

When I heard that Mr. Greenblatt was coming to speak at the bookstore in town, I was incredibly excited. Here was a larger than life character, someone so knowledgable that he was asked to edit one of the most popular Shakespeare editions, and he was coming to talk at our small bookstore. I counted the days, the hours until he came.

Stephen was no stuffy or  condescending academic. He was an older gentleman with a slightly scratchy voice and head of thinning hair, but when he spoke, everyone listened. Here was the man who had written many other books, taught classes, and knew so much about history. He was incredibly genuine, nervously shuffling notecards before he started to speak, and stuttering occasionally, but the audience, including me, were under a spell.

Mr. Greenblatt told us the story of an Italian scribe and obsessive book collector, who found in Germany in the early 1400's a piece of poetry that was thought to have been lost. His tale was one of books and scribes, poets and philosophers, and after the brief talk, only about an hour or even less, we felt connected not only to him, but to the Roman poet Lucretius and the German text collector.

At the end, Mr. Greenblatt signed my copy of Will in the World with a warm smile and questions about my life. When I told him it had been my favorite Christmas present, he patted my shoulder and said thank you, leaving me to stagger away, wondering how much of the evening had been real.

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