One of my favorite podcasts is “Books on the Nightstand,” by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, sales reps from Random House. One of their listeners suggested the topic: Who would be on your literary Mount Rushmore? He specified “No qualifiers.”
Since it is Mount Rushmore, I decided that my list of four authors would be limited to Americans, and I’ve come up with the following: (1) Mark Twain–who chronicled 19th century America when we still had a wilderness with wit and satire, and for creating Huckleberry Finn, a boy who smoked a pipe, cussed, narrowly escaped death at the hand of a drunken father, and risked eternal damnation by following his own ethics, by recognizing the humanity of Jim, the escaped slave.
(2) Louisa May Alcott: “Little Women” has been read avidly by generations of girls, and I hope it is read by contemporary girls. Jo was the character who many of us identified with, the no nonsense tom boy who wanted to be a writer, didn’t marry the one we thought she would, but instead a bear of a man with whom she would have a school for wayward boys. As a young girl, I loved “Little Men,” with the boys who were more rambunctious than the March girls. “Little Women” is also significant because it depicted a Northern family who suffered deprivation while their father was away in the Civil War. This aspect of the Civil War is usually shown in literature about the Southern.
(3) W. E. B. DuBois: “Souls of Black Folk” states that the issue of the 20th century is the color line. DuBois traveled through Georgia showing the impact of Reconstruction and Jim Crow on the lives of Blacks and on the ruin of white Southerners. His tale of the death of his baby son is some of the most lyrical writing on such a loss. In addition to his and his wife’s grief, he writes of how the young boy didn’t know color and responded to white and black people equally, and he escaped ever having to bow down due to his color.
(4) Flannery O’Connor: Our Anton Chekhov, the marvelous short story writer, writing as an outsider, a Catholic in the Bible Belt of Protestantism; an educated woman who lived in New York amongst folks who never left home. One of my favorite characters is Hulga, who changed her name from Joy, wore a faded Roy Rogers sweat shirt and lost her leg to a traveling Bible salesman who believed in nothing. Knowing she had a limited lifetime to write, she finished a tremendous amount of fiction, essays, book reviews for Catholic magazines, and had a lively correspondence with other writers, many of whom found their way through back roads to Millegeville, Georgia to visit the ailing O’Connor.
Who would be on your literary Mount Rushmore?