The Japanese Fairy Tale Series: The Illustrated Books That Introduced Western Readers to Japanese Tales (1885–1922)

Every­one in Japan knows the sto­ry of Momo­taro, the boy born from a peach who goes on to defeat the maraud­ing ogres known as oni. The old­est known writ­ten ver­sions of Momo­taro’s adven­tures date back to the 17th cen­tu­ry, but even then the tale almost cer­tain­ly had a long his­to­ry of pas­sage through oral tra­di­tion. And though Momo­taro may well be the best-known Japan­ese folk hero, his sto­ry is just one in a body of folk­lore vast enough that few, even among avid enthu­si­asts, can claim to have mas­tered it in its entire­ty.

That vast body of Japan­ese folk­lore has pro­vid­ed no small amount of inspi­ra­tion to comics, ani­ma­tion, and the oth­er mod­ern forms of sto­ry­telling that have brought many of these folk­tales to wider audi­ences — even glob­al audi­ences, a project that began in the late 19th cen­tu­ry.

Their West­ern pop­u­lar­iza­tion has no greater fig­ure­head than Laf­ca­dio Hearn. A Greek-British writer who moved to Japan in 1890, Hearn lat­er became a nat­u­ral­ized Japan­ese cit­i­zen and wrote such books as Japan­ese Fairy Tales, Kwaidan: Sto­ries and Stud­ies of Strange Things, and The Boy Who Drew Cats.

That last title, an Eng­lish ver­sion of a Japan­ese folk­tale about a child who van­quish­es a gob­lin rat in a monastery by draw­ing its nat­ur­al ene­mies on the monastery walls, was also adapt­ed in a series of beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed crêpe-paper chil­dren’s books put out by an enter­pris­ing Japan­ese pub­lish­er named Take­jiro Hasegawa. “In twen­ty vol­umes, pub­lished between 1885 and 1922, the Fairy Tale series intro­duced tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese folk tales, first to read­ers of Eng­lish and French, and lat­er to read­ers of Ger­man, Span­ish, Por­tuguese, Dutch, and Russ­ian,” writes the Pub­lic Domain Review’s Christo­pher DeCou.

Want­i­ng to mod­el the books on Japan­ese antholo­gies pub­lished in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry, Hasegawa hired tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese wood­block print­ers like Kobyashi EitakuSuzu­ki Kason, and Chikanobu to illus­trate them. And, for the trans­la­tion work, he drew on the local mis­sion­ary com­mu­ni­ty to which his own Eng­lish edu­ca­tion had put him in con­tact. “The ear­li­est vol­umes in the Japan­ese Fairy Tale Series real­ly were very much a prod­uct of Tokyo’s close-knit expat com­mu­ni­ty,” DeCou writes. A grow­ing West­ern inter­est in Japon­isme, as well as “Hasewaga’s wheel­ing and deal­ing at World’s Fairs” and the good sense to bring the famous Hearn aboard the project, made the Japan­ese Fairy Tale Series into an endur­ing inter­na­tion­al suc­cess.

“At a time when pub­lish­ing hous­es in Lon­don and New York dom­i­nat­ed the mar­ket,” DeCou writes, “Hasegawa’s press in Tokyo was pro­duc­ing equal­ly beau­ti­ful vol­umes using tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese craft­work and broad­cast­ing Japan’s cul­ture to the world.” You can see more pages of the Japan­ese Fairy Tale Books at the Pub­lic Domain Review, and com­plete dig­i­ti­za­tions at the site of book deal­er George Bax­ley as well as at the Pub­lic Library of Cincin­nati and Hamil­ton Coun­ty and the Inter­net Archive. Like Hearn, Hasegawa under­stood that Japan­ese folk­lore had the appeal to cross tem­po­ral and cul­tur­al bound­aries. But could even he have imag­ined that the very books in which he pub­lished them would still draw such fas­ci­na­tion more than a cen­tu­ry lat­er?

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

Splen­did Hand-Scroll Illus­tra­tions of The Tale of Gen­jii, The First Nov­el Ever Writ­ten (Cir­ca 1120)

A Won­der­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed 1925 Japan­ese Edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables by Leg­endary Children’s Book Illus­tra­tor Takeo Takei

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

The First Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Japan­ese Folk­lore Mon­sters Is Now Open

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Robert Johnson Finally Gets an Obituary in The New York Times 81 Years After His Death

Whether you see it as a good faith effort to cor­rect past mis­takes or a bid to dis­tract from more recent fumbles—the New York Times’Over­looked” obit­u­ary series has done its read­ers a ser­vice by recov­er­ing the bios of “remark­able peo­ple whose deaths… went unre­port­ed in The Times.” Most of the pro­files are of peo­ple who were pub­lic fig­ures at the time of their death. Some had achieved inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion, like Alan Tur­ing, and oth­ers were roy­al­ty, like Rani, queen of the king­dom of Jhan­si in North­ern India and one of the lead­ers of a revolt against the British in 1857.

The lat­est “Over­looked” is an odd­i­ty. Its sub­ject may be the most famous per­son of all to get the belat­ed Times obit since the series began. Robert Johnson’s alleged deal with the dev­il at the cross­roads has become as foun­da­tion­al to U.S. mythol­o­gy as John Henry’s ham­mer or George Washington’s cher­ry tree.

At the very same time, John­son may be the most obscure fig­ure to appear in “Over­looked.” And the per­son about whom the least is known. “What is known” about him, writes the Times, “can be sum­ma­rized on a post­card.”

He is thought to have been born out of wed­lock in May 1911 in Mis­sis­sip­pi and raised there. School and cen­sus records indi­cat­ed he lived for stretch­es in Ten­nessee and Arkansas. He took up gui­tar at a young age and became a trav­el­ing musi­cian, even­tu­al­ly glimps­ing the bus­tle of New York City. But he died in Mis­sis­sip­pi [in 1938], with just over two dozen lit­tle-noticed record­ed songs to his name.

There’s more to the sto­ry, but it gets hard to tell where the his­tor­i­cal record ends and the mythol­o­gy begins. Still, the paper of record can be for­giv­en for over­look­ing John­son the first time around. Aside from a small num­ber of Delta blues fans, most of whom actu­al­ly lived in the Delta, hard­ly any­one knew who Robert John­son was in life. By the time news of his mojo start­ed to spread out­side Mis­sis­sip­pi, it was too late. John Ham­mond sought to bring him Carnegie Hall in 1938, the year of his death. Alan Lomax looked to record him 1941, only to find out he was gone.

His fame spread in the 1960s when British Blues inva­sion­ists picked up on his genius, cit­ed him as a pri­ma­ry influ­ence, and cov­ered and adapt­ed his songs. Bob Dylan wrote in his mem­oir Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One that “hun­dreds of lines” of his derive from Johnson’s influ­ence. The “advent of rock ’n’ roll would turn John­son into a fig­ure of leg­end,” among blues and rock and roll fans in the know. The leg­end, and recog­ni­tion of John­son’s great­ness, explod­ed in sub­se­quent decades.

John­son was induct­ed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first cer­e­mo­ny in 1986. His posthu­mous Com­plete Record­ings won a Gram­my in 1991. Many more hon­ors fol­lowed, includ­ing a Gram­my life­time achieve­ment award. By 2003, Rolling Stone could call John­son “the undis­put­ed king of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta blues” and place him at #5 on their list of 100 great­est gui­tarists of all time. How is it pos­si­ble that an obscure­ly minor fig­ure in blues his­to­ry became a found­ing grand­fa­ther of rock and roll?

“The chasm between the man John­son was and the myth he became,” the Times admits “has marooned his­to­ri­ans and con­sci­en­tious lis­ten­ers for more than a half-cen­tu­ry.” John­son’s sto­ry “is no more or less than the hand­i­work of the coun­try in which it was writ­ten; a coun­try where the lega­cy of African-Amer­i­cans has often been shaped by oth­ers.” But those oth­ers have had good rea­son for appro­pri­at­ing John­son’s infer­nal sto­ry and unique musi­cal sig­na­tures.

A new Net­flix doc­u­men­tary ReMas­tered: Dev­il at the Cross­roads (see the trail­er above) explores in inter­views with rock and blues greats how John­son became for­ev­er linked to a myth that stood in for the real cir­cum­stances of his short, dif­fi­cult life. (He can be thought of as the found­ing mem­ber of rock­’s trag­i­cal­ly elite “27 club.”) Actu­al deal with the dev­il or no, “there was cer­tain­ly a lot of dare­dev­il­ry in his flout­ing of stan­dard tem­pos and har­mon­ics,” writes Rolling Stone. “His records are breath­tak­ing dis­plays of melod­ic devel­op­ment and acute brawn.”

While the Times, and most every­one else, passed over him in life, in death, he has more than received his due from musi­cians and fans. John­son has not been over­looked so much as maybe over­rep­re­sent­ed in the his­to­ry of the blues. Find out why in his belat­ed Times obit­u­ary, in the hun­dreds of trib­utes to him writ­ten and record­ed since his death 81 years ago, and by immers­ing your­self in his own haunt­ing record­ings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of Blues­man Robert Johnson’s Famous Deal With the Dev­il Retold in Three Ani­ma­tions

The His­to­ry of the Blues in 50 Riffs: From Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son (1928) to Joe Bona­mas­sa (2009)

The Leg­end of Blues­man Robert John­son Ani­mat­ed

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch Composer Wendy Carlos Demo an Original Moog Synthesizer (1989)

She’s worked with Stan­ley Kubrick *and* “Weird Al” Yankovic, and helped Robert Moog in the devel­op­ment of his epony­mous syn­the­siz­er. Wendy Car­los is also one of the first high pro­file trans­gen­der artists–credited as Wal­ter Car­los for Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange but hav­ing tran­si­tioned to Wendy by the time of The Shin­ing, in which only a few of her pieces were used.

In this brief clip from a 1989 BBC episode of Hori­zon, Car­los, accom­pa­nied by her two cats, explains how she uses ana­log synths to cre­ate elec­tron­ic fac­sim­i­les of real instruments–in this case cre­at­ing an approx­i­ma­tion of a xylo­phone, sculpt­ing a sine wave until it sounds like a mal­let on wood.

The seg­ment also shows Car­los oper­at­ing one of the orig­i­nal Moog synths, about the size of a fridge and look­ing like an old tele­phone switch­board with a key­board attached. By plug­ging and unplug­ging a series of cables, she demon­strates, the sine wave is decon­struct­ed from its orig­i­nal “pure” but harsh sound. Lat­er ana­log synths were addi­tive, not sub­trac­tive, she explains. (It’s one of the few times I’ve seen old tech explained so well and so quick­ly.)

Along with work­ing with Bob Moog, Car­los stud­ied at Colum­bia-Prince­ton Elec­tron­ic Music Cen­ter along­side two pio­neers of ear­ly elec­tron­ic music: Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luen­ing, both of whom would make very chal­leng­ing com­po­si­tions and musique con­crete.

But Wendy chose both the clas­si­cal and pop­u­lar path, cre­at­ing the Switched on Bach series that fea­tured 18th cen­tu­ry music played on the Moog synth and oth­ers. It would lead her to Kubrick and A Clock­work Orange’s idio­syn­crat­ic score and even more suc­cess. Apart from her score for Disney’s Tron, now very much beloved by fans, Car­los turned to more per­son­al, sound­scape work lat­er. And in 2005, if you can find a copy, she put out a mul­ti­ple-CD set of all her sound­track work that Kubrick nev­er used for The Shin­ing and oth­ers.

The descrip­tion of the entire Hori­zon episode has a tech­nofear theme: “In Paris, Xavier Rodet has taught a com­put­er to sing Mozart; in Green­wich Vil­lage, Wendy Car­los syn­the­sis­es a clas­si­cal con­cer­to from elec­tron­ic tones…In Aus­tralia, Man­fred Clynes reck­ons he has dis­cov­ered a uni­ver­sal human lan­guage of emo­tion. To prove it he cre­ates feel­ings on tape. What’s left for human per­form­ers to con­tribute?”

This pro­gram was at least a decade after the first sam­pling key­board, so the anx­i­ety is either late or over­hyped. But it also sounds famil­iar to our cur­rent con­cerns over AI (as seen in these very web pages!). Synths nev­er replaced human instru­ments, but it did cre­ate more synth play­ers. AI won’t replace human deci­sion mak­ing (prob­a­bly), but it will cer­tain­ly cre­ate more AI pro­gram­mers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Glenn Gould Sing the Praise of the Moog Syn­the­siz­er and Wendy Car­los’ Switched-On Bach, the “Record of the Decade” (1968)

Wendy Car­los’ Switched on Bach Turns 50 This Month: Learn How the Clas­si­cal Synth Record Intro­duced the World to the Moog

The Scores That Elec­tron­ic Music Pio­neer Wendy Car­los Com­posed for Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange and The Shin­ing

What the Future Sound­ed Like: Doc­u­men­tary Tells the For­got­ten 1960s His­to­ry of Britain’s Avant-Garde Elec­tron­ic Musi­cians

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

The Beatles Release the First Ever Video for “Here Comes the Sun”

It took a half cen­tu­ry. But bet­ter late than nev­er. Exact­ly 50 years after the release of Abbey Road, the Bea­t­les have released the first offi­cial video of “Here Comes the Sun.” The clip, writes NME, “set to a new stereo mix of the George Har­ri­son com­po­si­tion, cap­tures a gor­geous sun­rise illu­mi­nat­ing Abbey Road Stu­dios’ Stu­dio Two, where the Fab Four record­ed most of the leg­endary album.” Lat­er today, the Bea­t­les will release the 50th anniver­sary reis­sue of Abbey Road. It comes in CD and CD/Blu Ray ver­sions.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Lost Gui­tar Solo for “Here Comes the Sun” by George Har­ri­son, Dis­cov­ered by George Mar­tin

Flash­mob Per­forms The Bea­t­les’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in Madrid Unem­ploy­ment Office

A Short Film on the Famous Cross­walk From the Bea­t­les’ Abbey Road Album Cov­er

Free: A Professionally-Read Version of the Ukraine Whistleblower Complaint, Released by Penguin Random House Audio

Lis­ten to the Whistle­blow­er Com­plaint released by the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, as read by Sask­ia Maar­leveld. Stream or down­load it above. Find more of Maar­leveld’s nar­rat­ed books on Audi­ble.

This record­ing will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

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What’s the Key to American Gothic’s Enduring Fame? An Introduction to the Iconic American Painting

The Last Sup­per

The Birth of Venus

The Mona Lisa

Amer­i­can Goth­ic, Grant Wood’s cel­e­brat­ed depic­tion of two Depres­sion-era Iowa farm­ers, holds its own against those icon­ic Euro­pean works as one of the world’s most par­o­died art­works.

Vox’s Phil Edwards dis­pens­es with that sta­tus quick­ly in the above video for Over­rat­ed, a series that unpacks the rea­sons behind icon­ic works’ last­ing fame.

By his reck­on­ing, Amer­i­can Goth­ic’s suc­cess hinges on the dual nature of its cre­ator, a native Iowan who trav­eled exten­sive­ly in Europe, grav­i­tat­ing to such sophis­ti­cat­ed fare as Impres­sion­ism, Pointil­lism, and the work of Flem­ish mas­ter Jan van Eyck.

While he didn’t express satirist and cul­tur­al crit­ic H. L. Menck­en’s overt dis­dain for his rur­al-dwelling sub­jects, his ren­der­ing sug­gests that he per­ceived them inca­pable of under­stand­ing the appeal of his own rar­i­fied plea­sures.

As Kar­al Ann Mar­ling, pro­fes­sor of art his­to­ry and Amer­i­can stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, writes in The Annals of Iowa:

In the ear­ly 1930s, many Iowa farm­ers sus­pect­ed that Wood was mak­ing fun of them in Amer­i­can Goth­ic, that he was a pic­to­r­i­al H. L. Menck­en cas­ti­gat­ing a Mid­west­ern “booboisie.” (He had, after all, lived in Paris briefly and even grew a beard there!) But by 1933, when Amer­i­can Goth­ic was exhib­it­ed in con­junc­tion with the Chica­go Cen­tu­ry of Progress Fair, the paint­ing had become a beloved nation­al sym­bol, sec­ond only to Whistler’s por­trait of his moth­er in the affec­tions of the pub­lic.

Wood, who staged the paint­ing using his sis­ter, his den­tist and a “card­boardy frame house” typ­i­cal of Iowa farms as mod­els, admit­ted that his inten­tions weren’t entire­ly noble:

There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any real­is­tic state­ment. These are types of peo­ple I have known all my life. I tried to char­ac­ter­ize them truthfully—to make them more like them­selves than they were in actu­al life.

As the Art Insti­tute of Chicago’s Judith Barter observes in an audio guide accom­pa­ny­ing the paint­ing, the dour, over­all-clad farmer betrays a bit of van­i­ty, gussy­ing up in a dress shirt and Sun­day-Go-To-Meet­ing jack­et while his female companion—Wood nev­er revealed if she was sis­ter, wife, or daughter—accessorizes her tidy apron with a cameo brooch in antic­i­pa­tion of hav­ing their like­ness cap­tured.

Author Christo­pher Mor­ley, who first saw Amer­i­can Goth­ic in 1930, when it won the Nor­man Wait Har­ris Bronze Medal at the forty-third Art Insti­tute of Chica­go Annu­al Exhi­bi­tion of Amer­i­can Paint­ings and Sculp­ture, lat­er wrote:

In those sad and yet fanat­i­cal faces may be read much of what is Right and what is Wrong with Amer­i­ca.

Per­haps we are drawn to the reflec­tion of our own foibles, whether we’re ascetic every­day folks or big-for-our-britch­es coun­try-born city slick­ers…

The paint­ing con­tin­ues to delight the mass­es in the Art Insti­tute of Chicago’s Gallery 263.

And when in Eldon, Iowa be sure to pose in front of the his­toric Amer­i­can Goth­ic House, with props kind­ly sup­plied by the adja­cent Amer­i­can Goth­ic House Cen­ter.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mod­els for “Amer­i­can Goth­ic” Pose in Front of the Icon­ic Paint­ing (1942)

The Art Insti­tute of Chica­go Puts 44,000+ Works of Art Online: View Them in High Res­o­lu­tion

Was Jack­son Pol­lock Over­rat­ed? Behind Every Artist There’s an Art Crit­ic, and Behind Pol­lock There Was Clement Green­berg

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 7 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domaincel­e­brates the art of Aubrey Beard­s­ley. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Libraries & Archivists Are Digitizing 480,000 Books Published in 20th Century That Are Secretly in the Public Domain

Image by Jason “Textfiles” Scott, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

All books in the pub­lic domain are free. Most books in the pub­lic domain are, by def­i­n­i­tion, on the old side, and a great many aren’t easy to find in any case. But the books now being scanned and uploaded by libraries aren’t quite so old, and they’ll soon get much eas­i­er to find. They’ve fall­en through a loop­hole because their copy­right-hold­ers nev­er renewed their copy­right, but until recent­ly the tech­nol­o­gy was­n’t quite in place to reli­ably iden­ti­fy and dig­i­tal­ly store them.

Now, though, as Vice’s Karl Bode writes, “a coali­tion of archivists, activists, and libraries are work­ing over­time to make it eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy the many books that are secret­ly in the pub­lic domain, dig­i­tize them, and make them freely avail­able online to every­one.” These were pub­lished between 1923 and 1964, and the goal of this dig­i­ti­za­tion project is to upload all of these sur­pris­ing­ly out-of-copy­right books to the Inter­net Archive, a glimpse of whose book-scan­ning oper­a­tion appears above.

“His­tor­i­cal­ly, it’s been fair­ly easy to tell whether a book pub­lished between 1923 and 1964 had its copy­right renewed, because the renew­al records were already dig­i­tized,” writes Bode. “But prov­ing that a book hadn’t had its copy­right renewed has his­tor­i­cal­ly been more dif­fi­cult.” You can learn more about what it takes to do that from this blog post by New York Pub­lic Library Senior Prod­uct Man­ag­er Sean Red­mond, who first crunched the num­bers and esti­mat­ed that 70 per­cent of the titles pub­lished over those 41 years may now be out of copy­right: “around 480,000 pub­lic domain books, in oth­er words.”

The first impor­tant stage is the con­ver­sion of copy­right records into the XML for­mat, a large part of which the New York Pub­lic Library has recent­ly com­plet­ed. Bode also men­tions a soft­ware devel­op­er and sci­ence fic­tion author named Leonard Richard­son who has writ­ten Python scripts to expe­dite the process (includ­ing a match­ing script to iden­ti­fy poten­tial­ly non-renewed copy­rights in the Inter­net Archive col­lec­tion) and a bot that iden­ti­fies new­ly dis­cov­ered secret­ly pub­lic-domain books dai­ly. Richard­son him­self under­scores the neces­si­ty of vol­un­teers to take on tasks like seek­ing out a copy of each such book, “scan­ning it, proof­ing it, then putting out HTML and plain-text edi­tions.”

This work is now hap­pen­ing at Amer­i­can libraries and among vol­un­teers from orga­ni­za­tions like Project Guten­berg. The Inter­net Archive’s Jason Scott has also pitched in with his own resources, recent­ly putting out a call for more help on the “very bor­ing, VERY BORING (did I men­tion bor­ing)” project of deter­min­ing “which books are actu­al­ly in the pub­lic domain to either sur­face them on or help make a hitlist.” Of course, many more obvi­ous­ly stim­u­lat­ing tasks exist even in the realm of dig­i­tal archiv­ing. But then, each secret­ly pub­lic-domain book iden­ti­fied, found, scanned, and uploaded brings human­i­ty’s print and dig­i­tal civ­i­liza­tions one step clos­er togeth­er. What­ev­er comes out of that union, it cer­tain­ly won’t be bor­ing.

via Vice

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pub­lic Domain Day Is Final­ly Here!: Copy­right­ed Works Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

11,000 Dig­i­tized Books From 1923 Are Now Avail­able Online at the Inter­net Archive

British Library to Offer 65,000 Free eBooks

Down­load for Free 2.6 Mil­lion Images from Books Pub­lished Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

Free: You Can Now Read Clas­sic Books by MIT Press on

The Library of Con­gress Launch­es the Nation­al Screen­ing Room, Putting Online Hun­dreds of His­toric Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A New Kurt Vonnegut Museum Opens in Indianapolis … Right in Time for Banned Books Week

“All my jokes are Indi­anapo­lis,” Kurt Von­negut once said. “All my atti­tudes are Indi­anapo­lis. My ade­noids are Indi­anapo­lis. If I ever sev­ered myself from Indi­anapo­lis, I would be out of busi­ness. What peo­ple like about me is Indi­anapo­lis.” He deliv­ered those words to a high-school audi­ence in his home­town of Indi­anapo­lis in 1986, and a decade lat­er he made his feel­ings even clear­er in a com­mence­ment speech at But­ler Uni­ver­si­ty: “If I had to do it all over, I would choose to be born again in a hos­pi­tal in Indi­anapo­lis. I would choose to spend my child­hood again at 4365 North Illi­nois Street, about 10 blocks from here, and to again be a prod­uct of that city’s pub­lic schools.” Now, at 543 Indi­ana Avenue, we can expe­ri­ence the lega­cy of the man who wrote Slaugh­ter­house-FiveCat’s Cra­dle, and Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons at the new­ly per­ma­nent Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library.

The muse­um’s founder and CEO Julia White­head “con­ceived the idea for a Von­negut muse­um in Novem­ber of 2008, a year and a half after the author’s death, writes Atlas Obscu­ra’s Susan Salaz. “The phys­i­cal muse­um opened in a donat­ed store­front in 2011, dis­play­ing items donat­ed by friends or on loan from the Von­negut fam­i­ly” — his Pall Malls, his draw­ings, a repli­ca of his type­writer, his Pur­ple Heart.

But the col­lec­tion “has been home­less since Jan­u­ary 2019.” A fundrais­ing cam­paign this past spring raised $1.5 mil­lion in dona­tions, putting the muse­um in a posi­tion to pur­chase the Indi­ana Avenue build­ing, one capa­cious enough for vis­i­tors to, accord­ing to the muse­um’s about page, “view pho­tos from fam­i­ly, friends, and fans that reveal Von­negut as he lived; “pon­der rejec­tion let­ters Von­negut received from edi­tors”; and “rest a spell and lis­ten to what friends and col­leagues have to say about Von­negut and his work.”

The new­ly re-opened Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library will also pay trib­ute to the jazz-lov­ing, cen­sor­ship-loathing vet­er­an of the Sec­ond World War with an out­door tun­nel play­ing the music of Wes Mont­gomery and oth­er Indi­anapo­lis jazz greats, a “free­dom of expres­sion exhi­bi­tion” that Salaz describes as fea­tur­ing “the 100 books most fre­quent­ly banned in libraries and schools across the nation,” and vet­er­an-ori­ent­ed book clubs, writ­ing work­shops, and art exhi­bi­tions. In the muse­um’s peri­od of absence, Von­negut pil­grims in Indi­anapo­lis had no place to go (apart from the town land­marks designed by the writer’s archi­tect father and grand­fa­ther), but the 38-foot-tall mur­al on Mass­a­chu­setts Avenue by artist Pamela Bliss. Hav­ing known noth­ing of Von­negut’s work before, she fell in love with it after first vis­it­ing the muse­um her­self, she’ll soon use its Indi­ana Avenue build­ing as a can­vas on which to triple the city’s num­ber of Von­negut murals.

You can see more of the new Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library, which opened its doors for a sneak pre­view this past Banned Books Week, in the video at the top of the post, as well as in this four-part local news report. Though Von­negut expressed appre­ci­a­tion for Indi­anapo­lis all through­out his life, he also left the place for­ev­er when he head­ed east to Cor­nell. He also satir­i­cal­ly repur­posed it as Mid­land City, the sur­re­al­ly flat and pro­sa­ic Mid­west­ern set­ting of Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons whose cit­i­zens only speak seri­ous­ly of “mon­ey or struc­tures or trav­el or machin­ery,” their imag­i­na­tions “fly­wheels on the ram­shackle machin­ery of awful truth.” I hap­pen to be plan­ning a great Amer­i­can road trip that will take me through Indi­anapo­lis, and what with the pres­ence of an insti­tu­tion like the Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library — as well as all the cul­tur­al spots revealed by the Indi­anapo­lis-based The Art Assign­ment — it has become one of the cities I’m most excit­ed to vis­it. Von­negut, of all Indi­anapoli­tans, would sure­ly appre­ci­ate the irony.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Should We Read Kurt Von­negut? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Kurt Von­negut Cre­ates a Report Card for His Nov­els, Rank­ing Them From A+ to D

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Kurt Von­negut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Dis­gust with Civ­i­liza­tion

Behold Kurt Vonnegut’s Draw­ings: Writ­ing is Hard. Art is Pure Plea­sure

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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