Matthew Pearl, “What Writers Can Learn From Dante—Seriously, From Dante”

matthew-pearl-what-writers-can-learn-from-dante“As a reader and writer, I was always drawn to historical fiction; later, I added writing narrative nonfiction to my interests, often with a historical bent. Dante’s Comedy projects a variety of lessons in those arenas. Dante recruits mythological and historical figures and mixes them into a high stakes story filled with danger and risk, much like we often do in historical fiction. In the process, Dante sometimes reshapes our perspective on those figures. Ulysses, for example, appears during Dante’s trek through hell, and Ulysses’s brief monologue marks one of the most striking versions of that character outside of Homer. Dante, of course, was not perfect, and his refashioning of his own persona through the course of the poem conceals some of his questionable life choices, including his failure to try to reunite with his wife and family after his political exile. As modern readers, we also have to contend with the fact that Dante’s attitudes toward other religions (outside of Catholicism, and an idiosyncratic version of Catholicism, at that) is very problematic.

“Purgatory is the middle child of Dante’s poem, sandwiched between the terrors of hell’s punishments and the heights of salvation in heavenly paradise. But Purgatory was always my personal favorite canticle (Dante’s term for each of the three sections). This canticle contains the most dramatic storytelling structure, in which Dante must carve out an independent track from his mentor Virgil (one of the historical and literary figures recruited into the story), and must rediscover his lost love, Beatrice (another historical figure). Beatrice’s appearance is one of the more surprising moments of the whole poem. I still have the first copy of Purgatory I read in college, and I remember reading the scene in which we finally meet Beatrice while on the edge of my seat.” [. . .]    –Matthew Pearl, Crime Reads, September 16, 2019.

Check out more of Matthew Pearl’s work here.

“Sin’s Entertainment: On Dante’s Inferno”

“Dante’s descriptions of his imagined underworld creep right into that part of the mind which simply cannot shake off the willies. Children know that the scariest things are those we dream up in response to a few well-placed hints—and Dante is nothing if not a master of the beautifully dropped, deeply unnerving suggestion.
“Dante’s Inferno is far better known to most American readers than Purgatorio and Paradiso, the other two canticles of his immense Commedia Divina or Divine Comedy. And for good reason: sin’s more entertaining than grace. L’Inferno has been widely and variously translated into English, and weighing in on the results has become, over the years, a kind of literary sport. Fierce admirers and equally fierce detractors of John Ciardi, C.S. Singleton, and Robert Pinsky (among others) have tossed the football of judgment up and down the field; no one wins the game, but it’s lively and fun to watch.”   –Martha Cooley, AWP, 2009

Read the full article here.

“Writing/Righting Your Life the Dante Way,” a Coffee & Cocktails podcast episode (2020)

Podcast-Writing-Righting-your-life-the-Dante-Way“‘Writing/Righting Your Life the Dante Way,’ Or ‘How to awaken your potential, pin-point your goals, and discover a way forward in tough times’ with Dr. Kristin Stasiowski of Kent State University.

“This incredible talk by Dr. Stasiowski speaks to the importance of learning from our past and how historical literature can be a source of inspiration and motivation especially during dark times.”   —The Coffee & Cocktails Podcast with Dr. Ann Wand (November 23, 2020)

“What Happens When a Writer Hates the Heroine of Her New Book?” Excerpt from Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories

“In her second week at the library, she was choked. Somewhere in this building, she had been told, is an actual manuscript of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri had not sat around in the 1300s writing coy shit. Somewhere near here, Arun Kolatkar had written Jejuri and the Kala Ghoda poems. Somewhere near here, Kolatkar had died. Where in her writing was the blood, the grime, the puking on the streets and the deep stuff?”    –Nisha Susan, excerpt from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, Huffington Post, August 10, 2020

“Knowledge is Power” – Andrew Adom

“Knowledge is Power,” a literacy narrative by Andrew Adom in the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, in which Andrew recounts his experience in first reading literary classics, such as Dante’s Inferno.

“How long will I be on Submission? (they sob)”

“The Wait haunts all stages of writing for publication. There are different levels of waiting, a bit like Dante’s circles of hell. Waiting for critique, waiting to hear from agents, waiting to receive edits, waiting for feedback on edits, waiting waiting waiting W A I T I N G.”    –Lindsay Galvin, LindsayGalvin.com, October 5, 2017

“Writer’s Block: Dante Alighieri”

“His Divine Comedy, originally called Comedìa and later christened ‘Divina’ by Boccaccio, is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

[. . .]

“Writer’s Blocks are handmade odes to history’s greatest writers. Each 2″ x 2″ x 2″ solid wood block features the portrait, signature, and famous works of a particular author.”    –Literature Lodge, Etsy

Nine Circles of Writing Hell

9-circles-of-writing-hell“Today I don my Debbie Downer hat to discuss the circles of Writing Hell. Not surprising, the circle is an apt descriptor of the writing process because our thoughts go ’round and ’round…and ’round some more. The bad news: There is no escape for writers. The good news: There is no escape for writers.” — L.Z. Marie, L.Z. Marie, June 13, 2015

Read the full article here.

“Lines of Fire: Dante’s Vision of Hell still has an Afterlife”

“The world has a handful of supreme poets. Homer, Shakespeare and Goethe are up there. I’m sure you have your own suggestions. All of these writers – even Homer, with his Trojan war epic The Iliad – can be made contemporary to us, made to approximate our world-view. Yet the greatest and most universal poet of all is the least ‘modern’ and at times the most obscure. He is Dante Alighieri.

“The world-view Dante unfolds in mesmerizing images in the three books of his Divine Comedy – Hell, Purgatory and Paradise – is truly medieval. No wonder: he lived most of his life in the 13th century before completing his masterpiece in the early 14th. But it is the relentless Gothic-style Christianity of Dante’s vision that makes it so unnerving: the profound sense of sin behind his biting portraits of the damned in Hell, and the equally absolute faith in a machine-accurate divine justice the poet finally glimpses in Paradise. The Divine Comedy is a dogmatic, cruel work that haunts the imagination like no other. Paradoxically, no ‘modern’ poet has been so frequently illustrated by modern artists; only Byron excites comparable interest. [. . .]

“My own first experience of Dante was a translation of just one part of the Inferno by Seamus Heaney. Ugolino is in Heaney’s collection Field Work, which is a moving response to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Dante’s tale of Ugolino, who was cruelly treated and took bitter revenge in eternity, fits into the landscape of reprisal Heaney depicts. In other words, one reason for Dante’s enduring power is that we have not really left the middle ages. Vendetta still rules. Entire foreign policies, not to mention civil wars and terror campaigns, are based on ideas of revenge and polarities of good and evil just as primitive as anything in Dante.

“Another reason the great Italian challenges us is that he proposes a morally absolute vision of life that cuts through modern relativism like a knight’s broadsword. So the world is ambiguous and our own actions impossible to morally judge? Dante menaces us with the alternative possibility that every act is scrutinized, that every moment of our lives is weighed in the balance.” [. . .]    –Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, May 5, 2011.

The Nine Circles of Writing Hell

“With apologies to Dante Alighieri…

“We have all probably started ill-fated novels that, shall we say, did not go where we wanted them to go. For one reason or another, either our will or our preparation or the idea failed us, and sure enough, they ended up in novel hell.

“Based on the Nine Circles of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, here are the nine circles of writing hell.

“Save your novel from these sins, my fellow writers! Repent before it is too late!” [. . .]    –Nathan Bransford, on his blog, November 23, 2010