Once again, it's Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival time here at the Library Society! While we're used to hosting some pretty impressive speakers for this thing - Anne Rivers Siddons, Bret Lott, Sue Monk Kidd, Jack Hitt, and John McCardell, to name a very few - the 2011 Festival might be the first time we'll have an author here at the CLS in the same week as they've been reviewed in The New York Times Book Review.
Joshua C. Kendall, freelance journalist and author of The Man Who Made Lists, will be discussing his brand-new The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture. Your loyal blogger couldn't be more excited for this lecture, for Mr. Kendall's new book goes someplace Webster's biographies have rarely dared: he calls out Webster for being a jerk.
Pugnacious and penurious, Webster had little trouble offending friends or making enemies. He was a follower of Rousseau, and used his Dictionary and the "Blue Backed Speller" - really, he used every outlet he could- to promote a jingoistic American nationalism for the new republic. He despised Southerners. He rewrote the Bible to take out the naughty bits.
He badmouthed Shakespeare on grammar issues.
But for all the bad things... Noah Webster was brilliant at the things he's famous for. The "Blue Backed Speller" taught generations of young Americans to read. His cutting-edge Dictionary did (eventually) succeed moulding "American english" to its strictures. He started the first daily newspaper in New York. He even founded Amherst College (alma mater of president Calvin Coolidge, librarian Melvil Dewey, frozen-food inventor Clarence Birdseye, and that guy who writes Get Fuzzy).
Pictured: Amherst College, second from right
In short, Noah Webster was a very interesting, very colourful guy, and this Saturday's LitFest lecture with Joshua Kendall should be equally entertaining. If you haven't got your tickets for it yet, get 'em here, or call 866.811.4111. And don't forget the rest of the schedule - Lockhorns cartoonist Bunny Hoest, author Jay Parini, WSJ theatre critic Ed Wilson, WSJ economics editor Alfred Malabre, and author/raconteur Pat Conroy.