Listen to James Baldwin’s Record Collection in a 478-track, 32-Hour Spotify Playlist

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Each writer’s process is a personal relationship between them and the page—and the desk, room, chair, pens or pencils, typewriter or laptop, turntable, CD player, streaming audio… you get the idea. The kind of music suitable for listening to while writing (I, for one, cannot write to music with lyrics) varies so widely that it encompasses everything and nothing. Silence can be a kind of music, too, if you listen closely.

Far more interesting than trying to make general rules is to examine specific cases: to learn the music a writer hears when they compose, to divine the rhythms that animated their prose.




There are almost always clues. Favorite albums left behind in writing rooms or written about with high praise. Sometimes the music enters into the novel, becomes a character itself. In James Baldwin’s Another Country, music is a powerful procreative force:

The beat: hands, feet, tambourines, drums, pianos, laughter, curses, razor blades: the man stiffening with a laugh and a growl and a purr and the woman moistening and softening with a whisper and a sigh and a cry. The beat—in Harlem in the summertime one could almost see it, shaking above the pavements and the roof.

Baldwin finished his first novel, 1953’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, not in Harlem but in the Swiss Alps, where he moved “with two Bessie Smith records and a typewriter under his arm,” writes Valentina Di Liscia at Hyperallergic. He “largely attributes” the novel “to Smith’s bluesy intonations.” As he told Studs Terkel in 1961, “Bessie had the beat. In that icy wilderness, as far removed from Harlem as anything you can imagine, with Bessie and me… I began…”

Ikechúkwú Onyewuenyi, a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, has gone much further, digging through all the deep cuts in Baldwin’s collection while living in Provence and trying to recapture the atmosphere of Baldwin’s home, “those boisterous and tender convos when guests like Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder… Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison” stopped by for dinner and debates. He first encountered the records in a photograph posted by La Maison Baldwin, the organization that preserves his house in Saint-Paul de Vence in the South of France. “I latched onto his records, their sonic ambience,” Onyewuenyi says.

“In addition to reading the books and essays” that Baldwin wrote while living in France, Onyewuenyi discovered “listening to the records was something that could transport me there.” He has compiled Baldwin’s collection into a 478-track, 32-hour Spotify playlist, Chez Baldwin. Only two records couldn’t be found on the streaming platform, Lou Rawls’ When the Night Comes (1983) and Ray Charles’s Sweet & Sour Tears (1964). Listen to the full playlist above, preferably while reading Baldwin, or composing your own works of prose, verse, drama, and email.

“The playlist is a balm of sorts when one is writing,” Onyewuenyi told Hyperallergic. “Baldwin referred to his office as a ‘torture chamber.’ We’ve all encountered those moments of writers’ block, where the process of putting pen to paper feels like bloodletting. That process of torture for Baldwin was negotiated with these records.”

via Hyperallergic

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Why James Baldwin’s Writing Stays Powerful: An Artfully Animated Introduction to the Author of Notes of a Native Son

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The Best Music to Write By, Part II: Your Favorites Brought Together in a Special Playlist

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

Jeff Koons and Salman Rushdie Teach New Courses on Art, Creativity & Storytelling for MasterClass

If MasterClass comes calling, you know you’ve made it. In the five years since its launch, the online learning platform has brought on such instructors as Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Annie Leibovitz, and Malcolm Gladwell, all of whom bring not just knowledge and experience of a craft, but the glow of high-profile success as well. Though MasterClass’ lineup has expanded to include more writers, filmmakers, and performers (as well as chefs, designers, CEOs, and poker players) it’s long been light on visual artists. But it may signal a change that the site has just released a course taught by Jeff Koons, promoted by its trailer as the most original and controversial American artist — as well as the most expensive one.

Just last year, Koons’ sculpture Rabbit set a new record auction price for a work by a living artist: $91.1 million, which breaks the previous record of $58.4 million that happened to be held by another Koons, Balloon Dog (Orange). This came as the culmination of a career that began, writes critic Blake Gopnik, with “taking store-bought vacuum cleaners and presenting them as sculpture,” then creating  “full-size replicas of rubber dinghies and aqualungs, cast in Old Master-ish bronze” and later “giant hard-core photos of himself having sex with his wife, the famous Italian porn star known as La Cicciolina (“Chubby Chick”)” and “simulacra of shiny blow-up toys and Christmas ornaments and gems, enlarged to monumental size in gleaming stainless steel.”

With such work, Gopnik argues, Koons has “rewritten all the rules of art — all the traditions and conventions that usually give art order and meaning”; his elevation of kitsch allows us to “see our world, and art, as profoundly other than it usually is.” Not that the artist himself puts it in quite those words. In his well-known manner — “like a space alien who has spent long years studying how to be the perfect, harmless Earthling, but can’t quite get it right” — Koons uses his MasterClass to tell the story of his artistic development, which began in the showroom of his father’s Pennsylvania furniture store and continued into a reverence for the avant-garde in general and Salvador Dalí in particular. From his life he draws lessons on turning everyday objects into art, using size and scale, and living life with “the confidence in yourself to follow your interests.”

Also new for this holiday season is a MasterClass on storytelling and writing taught by no less renowned a storyteller and writer than Salman Rushdie. The author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses thus joins on the site a group of novelists as varied as Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and Judy Blume, but he brings with him a much different body of work and life story. “I’ve been writing, now, for over 50 years,” he says in the course‘s trailer just above. “There’s all this stuff about three-act structure, exactly how you must allow a story to unfold. My view is it’s all nonsense.” Indeed, by this point in his celebrated career, Rushdie has narrowed the rules of his craft down to just one: Be interesting.

Easier said than done, of course, which is why Rushdie’s MasterClass comes structured in nineteen practically themed lessons. In these he deals with such lessons as building a story’s structure, opening with powerful lines, drawing from old storytelling traditions, and rewriting — which, he argues, all writing is. To make these fiction-writing concepts concrete, Rushdie offers exercises for you, the student, to work through, and he also takes a critical look back at the failed work he produced in his early twenties. But though his techniques and process have greatly improved since then, his resolve to create, and to do so using his own distinctive sets of interests and experiences, has wavered no less than Koons’. At the moment you can learn from both of them (and MasterClass’ 100+ other instructors) if you take advantage of MasterClass’ holiday 2-for-1 deal. For $180, you can buy an annual subscription for yourself, and give one to a friend/family member for free. Sign up here.

Note: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Polygraph: The Proto-Photocopy Machine Machine Invented in 1803 That Changed Thomas Jefferson’s Life

Today we associate the word polygraph mainly with the devices we call “lie detectors.” The unhidden Greek terms from which it originates simply mean “multiple writing,” which seems apt enough in light of all those movie interrogation scenes with their juddering parallel needles. But the first “polygraph machine” meriting the name long predates such cinematic clichés, and indeed cinema itself. Patented in 1803 by an Englishman named John Isaac Hawkins, it consisted essentially of twin pens, mounted side-by-side and connected by means of levers and springs so as always to move in unison. The result, in theory, was that it would make an identical copy of a letter even as the writer wrote it.

“The polygraph was pushing technology to the absolute limit,” but for years “it was nearly impossible to make it work correctly.” So says Charles Morrill, a guide at Thomas Jefferson’s estate Monticello, in the video above.




Despite the prolonged technical difficulties, the third president of the United States of America fell in love with the polygraph, “a device to duplicate letters, just the thing if you’re carrying on multiple conversations with different people all over the world. You want to keep a copy of the letter to catch yourself up, to see what you had written to cause a response” — and, of special concern to a national politician, to check on the exact degree to which the press was misquoting you.

Image by the Smithsonian, via Wikimedia Commons

Jefferson wrote nearly 20,000 letters, one of them a complaint to John Adams about suffering “under the persecution of Letters,” a condition ensuring that “from sun-rise to one or two o’clock, I am drudging at the writing table.” That the polygraph reduced this drudgery somewhat made it, in Jefferson’s words, “the finest invention of the present age.” Like technological early adopters today, Jefferson acquired each new model as it came out, the device having been continually retooled by American rights-holder Charles Willson Peale. By 1809 Peale had improved the polygraph to the point that Jefferson could write that it “has spoiled me for the old copying press the copies of which are hardly ever legible … I could not, now therefore, live without the Polygraph.” Imagine how he would’ve felt had Monticello been wired for e-mail.

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Discover Friedrich Nietzsche’s Curious Typewriter, the “Malling-Hansen Writing Ball” (Circa 1881)

The First Music Streaming Service Was Invented in 1881: Discover the Théâtrophone

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Ray Bradbury Wrote the First Draft of Fahrenheit 451 on Coin-Operated Typewriters, for a Total of $9.80

Image by Alan Light, via Wikimedia Commons

It sounds like a third grade math problem: “If Ray Bradbury wrote the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 (1953) on a coin-operated typewriter that charged 10 cents for every 30 minutes, and he spent a total of $9.80, how many hours did it take Ray to write his story?” (If you’re doing the math, that’s great, but you might be in the wrong class.)

Bradbury’s composition of Fahrenheit 451 demonstrates two of the prolific writer’s most insistent demands among his many practical nuggets of writing advice: 1. Always write, all the time; a short story a week, as he told a writer’s symposium in 2001. And, as he told the same group, 2. “Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your goddamn computer and the internet and all that crap.”




Granted, the library—and the school, and the office, and all the rest of it—now lives in the “goddamn computer” for many of us. But Bradbury’s elaboration of why he ended up in the library in the early 1950s, specifically the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library, will be relatable to any working parent. As he wrote in 1982, he found himself “twice driven; by children to leave at home, and by a typewriter timing device…. Time was indeed money.”

This was a different time, so you’ll need to adjust the currency for 21st century inflation. Also, Bradbury had the 50s’ writer-husband’s prerogative to beg off the childcare. As he explains:

In all the years from 1941 to that time, I had done most of my typing in the family garages… behind the tract house where my wife, Marguerite, and I raised our family. I was driven out of the garage by my loving children, who insisted on coming around to the window and singing and tapping on the panes. 

Devoted father Bradbury “had to choose between finishing a story or playing with the girls. I chose to play, of course, which endangered the family income. An office had to be found. We couldn’t afford one.” Bradbury did not write all of Fahrenheit 451 in the library basement. “He ended up with the novella version,” notes UCLA Magazine, “originally called The Fireman and did not come back to it until a publishing company asked if he could add more to the story.”

The speed at which Bradbury wrote, both to save money and to get home to his children, did not cause him to get careless. He looked back on the book 22 years later with pride. “I have changed not one thought or word,” wrote Bradbury in his introduction. He didn’t notice until later that he had named main characters after a paper company, Montag, and pencil company, Faber.

Bradbury told the magazine in 2002, “It was a passionate and exciting time for me. Imagine what it was like to be writing a book about book burning and doing it in a library where the passions of all those authors, living and dead, surrounded me.” When it came to finding the book’s title, however, supposedly the temperature at which books burn, not only did the library fail him, but so too did the university’s chemistry department. To learn the answer, and finish the book, Bradbury finally had to call the fire department.

Related Content: 

Ray Bradbury Reveals the True Meaning of Fahrenheit 451: It’s Not About Censorship, But People “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

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Ray Bradbury Gives 12 Pieces of Writing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

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

The Craft of Writing Effectively: Essential Lessons from the Longtime Director of UChicago’s Writing Program

Academic writing has a bad reputation. “When a scholar’s vanity/insecurity leads him to write primarily to communicate and reinforce his own status as an Intellectual,” as David Foster Wallace diagnosed the problem nearly two decades ago, “his English is deformed by pleonasm and pretentious diction (whose function is to signal the writer’s erudition) and by opaque abstraction (whose function is to keep anybody from pinning the writer down to a definite assertion that can maybe be refuted or shown to be silly).” Indeed. But the disorders behind the kind of prose that inspires provocations like Philosophy and Literature‘s “Bad Writing Contest” are, if you believe University of Chicago Writing Programs director Larry McEnerney, even more basic than that.

“You think that writing is communicating your ideas to your readers,” McEnerney declares to a roomful of academics in the video above. “It is not.” In this 80-minute talk, titled “The Craft of Writing Effectively,” he identifies the core misconceptions that cause academic writing to be bad — or more to the point, uninteresting, uninfluential, unread. Most all of us grow up learning to write in school, where we need not give much consideration to our audience: a teacher, or in college perhaps a teaching assistant, who’s paid to read what we’ve written. But when nobody’s next meal is coming from reading our papers anymore, we come face to face with an essential mismatch between our assumed goals as a writer and the desires of an unpaid reader.




“I got no problem with somebody writing an essay because they want to think,” says McEnerney. “What I have a problem with is when they come to my office and say, ‘My readers don’t appreciate me.'” But “they don’t owe you their appreciation,” nor even their attention — not if you neglect your core task as a writer, “to change the way your readers think.” This has little to do with the task of writing back in school, which involved the presentation of your ideas and knowledge in exchange for a grade. To produce “clear, organized, persuasive, and valuable” writing, to McEnerney’s mind, you must “identify the people with power in your community and give them what they want,” which necessitates mastering the “code” of that community.

This doesn’t simply mean sucking up to the higher-ups. While you should, of course, demonstrate familiarity with the work already accomplished in your field, you’ve also got to tell those higher-ups — who, like most anyone else, read to have their ideas changed — that something they know is wrong. This requires saving the explanation of your subject for later, after first setting up a problem with the language of instability (words like “but,” “however,” “inconsistent,” and “anomaly”), then offering your own solution. You can see these and other techniques in use, as well as examples of what not to do, in the lecture’s PDF handout. Are there valid objections to McEnerney’s view of writing?  He acknowledges that there are, such as as the moral critique mounted by critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha, then a professor at the University of Chicago — and also, as it happens, a second-placer in the Bad Writing Contest.

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Steven Pinker Uses Theories from Evolutionary Biology to Explain Why Academic Writing is So Bad

Martin Amis Explains His Method for Writing Great Sentences

Why the University of Chicago Rejected Kurt Vonnegut’s Master’s Thesis (and How a Novel Got Him His Degree 27 Years Later)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

There Are Only 37 Possible Stories, According to This 1919 Manual for Screenwriters

“Great literature is one of two stories,” we often quote Leo Tolstoy as saying: “a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” That’s all well and good for the author of War and Peace, but what about the thousands of screenwriters struggling to come up with the next hit movie, the next hit television series, the next hit platform-specific web and/or mobile series? Some, of course, have found in that aphorism a fruitful starting point, but others opt for different premises that number the basic plots at three (William Foster-Harris), six (researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab), twenty (Ronald Tobias), 36 (George Polti) — or, as some struggling screenwriters of a century ago read, 37.

The year was 1919. America’s biggest blockbusters included D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, Cecil B. DeMille’s Male and Female, and The Miracle Man, which made Lon Chaney into a silver-screen icon. The many aspirants looking to write their way into the ever more celebrated and lucrative movie business could turn to a newly published manual called Ten Million Photoplay Plots by Wycliff Aber Hill. “Hill, who published more than one aid to struggling ‘scenarists,’ positioned himself as an authority on the types of stories that would work well onscreen,” writes Slate’s Rebecca Onion. In this book he provides a “taxonomy of possible types of dramatic ‘situations,’ first running them down in outline form, then describing each more completely and offering possible variations.”




Hill’s 37 basic dramatic situations include such “happy situations” as “rescue,” “loved ones lost and recovered,” and “a miracle of God”; such “pathetic situations” as “love’s obstacles,” “rivalry between unequals,” and “a mystery”; and such “disastrous situations precipitated without criminal intent” as “possessed of an ambition,” “enmity between kinsmen,” and “vengeance.” (Naturally, Hill also includes a separate category involving criminal intent.) These dramatic concepts then break down into more specific scenarios like “rescue by strangers who are grateful for favors given them by the unfortunate one,” “an appeal for refuge by the shipwrecked,” “the sacrifice of happiness for the sake of a loved one where the sacrifice is caused by unjust laws,” and “congenial relations between husband and wife made impossible by the parents-in-law.”

Already more than a few films new and old come to mind whose stories proceed from such dramatic concepts. Indeed, one could think of examples from not just cinema but literature, television, theater, comics, and other forms of narrative art besides. Situations we all know from real life may also follow similar contours, which plays no small part in giving them their impact when properly translated to the screen. Clearly aiming for timelessness, Hill enumerates plots that could have been employed in stories centuries before his time, and will continue to be long after ours. But what, exactly, is the relationship between plot and story? We now quote E.M. Forster on the matter, specifically a line from his Aspects of the Novel — a book for which Ten Million Photoplay Plots‘ first readers would have to wait eight more years.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Winston Churchill Praises the Virtue of “Brevity” in Memos to His Staff: Concise Writing Leads to Clearer Thinking

George Orwell and Winston Churchill didn’t agree on much. For example, while Orwell wrote with deep sympathy about coal miners in The Road to Wigan Pier, Churchill, as home secretary, brutally crushed a miner’s strike in Wales. Orwell’s early years as “an apparatchik in the last days of the empire… left him with a hatred of authority and imperialism,” writes Richard Eilers. Churchill was a committed imperialist all his life, instrumental in prolonging a famine in British India that killed “at least three million people.”

Importantly for history’s sake, they agreed on the need to confront, rather than appease, the Nazis, against both the British left and right of the 1930s. “At a time not unlike today,” says journalist Tom Ricks, “when people were wondering whether democracy was sustainable, when a lot of people thought you needed authoritarian rule, either from the right or the left, Orwell and Churchill, from their very different perspectives, come together on a key point. We don’t have to have authoritarian government.”




Maybe somewhat less important—but strenuously agreed upon nonetheless by these two figures—was the need for clear, concise prose that avoids obfuscation. In Politics and the English Language—an essay routinely taught in college composition classes—Orwell describes politically misleading writing as overstuffed with “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words.” These are, he writes, signs of a “decadent… civilization.” Churchill has had at least as much influence as Orwell on a certain kind of political writing, though not the kind most of us read often.

In 1940, Churchill issued a memo to his staff titled “Brevity.” He did not express concerns about creeping fascism in bureaucratic communiques, but decried the problem of wasted time, “while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.” He ends up, however, saying some of the same things as Orwell, in fewer words.

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

  1. The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
  2. If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
  3. Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
  4. Let us have an end of such phrases as these: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…,” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect….” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.

Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

The message “cascaded through the civil service,” writes Laura Cowdry at the UK National Archives. A 1940 article in the Times picked up the story. But the problem persisted, as it does today and maybe will till the end of time (or until machines start to do all our writing for us). Frustrated, Churchill issued another admonition, shorter even than the first, in 1951.

Official papers are too long and too diffuse. In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do so again. I ask my colleagues to read what I wrote then… and to make my wishes known to their staffs.

These memos, Cowdry notes, “may shed some light onto government communications work of the past,” and on the Churchillian style that may have taken hold for decades in government documents, as well as—of course—far beyond them. His emphatic statements also articulate “key elements of good communication that would resonate with the thinking of any modern communicator,” whether Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, or Cormac McCarthy, who has become a sought-after scientific editor for his strict minimalism.

Churchill did not seem overly concerned with wordiness as a political problem. Orwell did not approach the problem philosophically. That task fell to the Logical Positivists of the early 20th century. In his attempt to explain the wordiness of both undergraduates and world-renowned thinkers, “neo-Positivist” philosopher David Stove goes so far as to ascribe overwriting to “defects of character… such things as an inability to shut up; determination to be thought deep; hunger for power; fear, especially the fear of an indifferent universe….”

Something to consider, maybe, when you’re looking at your next draft email, Facebook comment, or Slack message, and wondering whether it actually needs to be an essay….

via Bob Rae

Related Comment:

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

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Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”

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

Roald Dahl Gives a Tour of the Small Backyard Hut Where He Wrote All of His Beloved Children’s Books

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe BFGThe WitchesMatilda: Roald Dahl wrote these and all his other beloved children’s books in a hut. Just fifteen feet long and ten feet wide, it served him for 35 years as an office in which no meetings were held and no calls taken. For four hours a day, broken into two-hour morning and afternoon sessions, it was just Dahl in there — Dahl and his paper, his pencils, his sharpener, his coffee, his cigarettes, his increasingly eccentric collection of artifacts from his own life, and here and there the occasional spider web and goat dropping. It was all part of an effort, explains Dahl’s biographer Jeremy Treglown, “not only to recreate his own early childhood but to improve on it.”

“As a boy in the 1920s,” Treglown writes, “Roald used to hide up in a tree in order to write his diary.” But the hut, constructed right behind his Buckinghamshire home, “was a more substantial place to work, where he could commemorate, and fantasize about, his past.”




On his side were items like “his father’s silver and tortoiseshell paper knife,” a “tablet fragment with a cuneiform inscription found in Babylon” — a souvenir from his time in the King’s African Rifles — and, “saved from operations,” pieces of his own femur and spine. In his hut, Dahl wrote “surrounded by these fetishes, snugly wrapped in a sleeping bag, sitting in an old armchair, his feet on a trunk which was filled with blocks and tied to a leg of the chair, to prevent it from slipping.”

“I couldn’t possibly work in the house, especially when there used to be a lot of children around,” says Dahl in the 1982 clip at the top of the post as he approaches his hut. “Even when there aren’t children, there are vacuum cleaners and people bustling about.” He then goes in to demonstrate his writing routine, which involves the pouring of coffee, sharpening of precisely six pencils “to a fierce point” (a step that had its own procrastination value), the brushing away of the previous day’s eraser dust (onto the floor, where it has remained ever since), and the situation with the armchair and sleeping bag. “Finally you get settled, you get into a sort of nest, you get really comfortable,” Dahl says. “And then you’re away.”

The footage also includes views of Dahl’s much more traditionally well-appointed main house, including its billiards table around which he and his local friends would gather for a twice-weekly session. The game had its influence on Dahl’s writing life, and indeed his writing hut. Among his “snooker pals” was builder Wally Saunders, whom Dahl hired to put it up in the first place (and whose formidable stature and ear size would, nearly thirty later, inspire the title character of The BFG). As he explains on the British Children’s program Going Live, he even covered his handmade wooden writing surfaces, which he placed across the armrests of his chair, with green baize, a material he found easy on the eyes.

When Dahl died in 1990, his writing hut went untouched for two decades. But eventually, as explained in this ITV News clip, the simple building couldn’t withstand further exposure to the elements. So began the project to move the interior of the hut, eraser dust and all, to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire. Luckily for Wes Anderson, this happened after he came to Dahl’s home to seek permission to adapt The Fantastic Mr. Fox from the writer’s widow Felicity. So compelling did she find Anderson’s vision that she even allowed him into the “hallowed writing hut,” the ideal space in which to commune with Dahl’s spirit. The hut may now no longer be whole, but that same spirit continues to course through the imaginations of generation after generation of young readers.

Related Content:

Read a Never Published, “Subversive” Chapter from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

When Roald Dahl Hosted His Own Creepy TV Show Way Out, a Companion to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone (1961)

The Recipes of Iconic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Marquis de Sade & More

Roald Dahl, Who Lost His Daughter to Measles, Writes a Heartbreaking Letter about Vaccinations: “It Is Almost a Crime to Allow Your Child to Go Unimmunised”

The Daily Habits of Famous Writers: Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King & More

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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