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The Big Read: Shades of Poe

April 2, 2012 1:08 p.m.


Walter Ritter, Executive Director of Write Out Loud

Veronica Murphy, Artistic Director of Write Out Loud

Related Story: The Big Read: Shades of Poe


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: Fictional tales of mystery and terror to know top the best seller lists around the world. If you'd like to trace where all that dark intrigue got it its start, you'd only have to open one of the works of Poe. Write out loud is celebrating the original master of mayhem with music, acting, and evocative readings that explore the shades of Poe. Veronica Murphy and Walter Ritter. Welcome.

MURPHY: Thank you so much for having us.

RITTER: Thank you. Very nice to see you.

CAVANAUGH: Have did you decide -- why did this focus land itself on Poe?

MURPHY: Well, the big read gives you many options of books to choose, and their goal is to encourage reading with a target market age 12-24. And we felt like Poe and his macab would fit well with that age group. And to read literature aloud, mostly poems and short stories, and that's mostly what Poe wrote. So it just was a manufacture fit for us.

CAVANAUGH: Thinking of Poe, this 19th century American writer who didn't make a lot of money when he was Alive, although these works were very popular in his lifetime, what is it about his writing that you think would make it popular even today?

RITTER: He was in his day, and in his way, a supreme psychologist. He wrote about the mind and how it works. Or how it doesn't work.

RITTER: Depending on your viewpoint, and the outcomes. And that's what a lot of people then and to this very day find so fascinating.

CAVANAUGH: Let us hear a little snippet from one of Poe's most famous poems. It's the raven. And David Myers reads a collection from that poem. New new straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of the bird and bust door, then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore, what this grim ungainly ghastly gaunt and ominous bird of yore meant! In croaking nevermore. This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing, to the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core.

CAVANAUGH: David Myers reading a selection from the raven. I'd like you both to in on this. What have you learned in preparing for this month-long event about the life of Poe?

MURPHY: Well, I didn't really know very much about his life. I knew the poem pan Ana belly, and the raven everyone knows. We learned a lot about why I think he became who he did, why he wrote the way he did. He suffered a lot of lots. He was orphaned at a very young aiming. He lived with a very wealthy family, the Allenes, in Virginia, and he was very close to the mother, the father was very strict. Edgar ended up at west point, where it's hard to imagine someone with the kind of mind he must have had to be in that kind of structured place. As a young man, he fell in love with a young woman, and her parents would not let them be together. He ultimately married a very young cousin and lived with her and her mother. But she also died very young. And after that time, he actually was engaged to the earlier lover.

CAVANAUGH: And he had this shade of tuberculosis, sort of haunting him through his entire life

RITTER: Yes, he did. One of the things about Poe that I'm fascinated with, he was a fearless experimenting. And you mentioned he didn't appreciate a lot of money from his works. They were also disliked by many. Many of those detractors were jealous other writers. I think that one of the reason enforce that is that he refused to settle on a single vain and mine it. He was forever inventing new things to test, and then thrusting them on his publishers. But they were businessmen who most likely said no! No. You write great mystery stories! Right another one of those, would you!

CAVANAUGH: Now, you're working with the San Diego library on this. What are you doing with them?

MURPHY: Well, the library has been key to this whole activity. We displays of student artwork, some of the readings we're doing are at the libraries, and they've just been fabulous partners. They hooked us up with other partners in fact.

CAVANAUGH: Let's hear a little bit more of Poe's works. This is from the tell tale heart, and here it's read by high-tech middle media arts drama teacher, Linda Liddy. New true.

Audio Clip: Nervous, very, very dread flee nervous I had been and am. But why will you say that I am mad! The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing Aculate. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then and am I mad! Has beeningen and observe how calm lie I can tell you the whole story.

CAVANAUGH: That's a section of the tell tale heart. Poe is credited with inventing detective fiction, and that genre is still going strong. Are people still borrowing plot lines from Poe?

RITTER: They do it and they don't even know they are! If they give credit to Arthur conn Doyle, for example, he may owe the same debt to Poe.

CAVANAUGH: Write. He is also credited with inventing detective fiction. Is that so?

RITTER: He was 50 years after Poe. And Poe is rightly credited as being his progenitor.

CAVANAUGH: Not only is this month the big read, shades of Poe, going on, there's a new MOVIE being released, John Cusack portrays Poe trying to track down a serial killer. Do you think people will like this movie?

MURPHY: I think people who love reading Poe will probably like it because it's an adventure story, and they'll probably be drawn to that. I would assume that Poe scholars would find it kind of ridiculous.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I read some of the comments on the trailer on YouTube, and they're shaking in their boots over it!

MURPHY: It's interesting because Poe's life, his whole life and especially his life is all such a mystery.


>> And so for people to make up a fiction about it seems very logical to me. In fact, one of the young writer who is won one of our prizes wrote a story called the cast of lots that is a fiction of the last three days of Poe's life.

CAVANAUGH: Which is a huge mystery. He died young.


CAVANAUGH: Right. And possibly he died of being kidnapped in some sort of voting scam; is that correct?

RITTER: Yes, at the time in early American politics it was not unknown for people to shanghai someone, particularly if he had susceptibility as Poe did to alcohol, and turned him into what was call a repeater. They would take him around to every voting station in the region and have him vote repeatedly. That is one of the more credible theories of what happened to him and ultimately killed him.

CAVANAUGH: This Friday will be the first reading you're having at an MTS station.

MURPHY: Well, it's actually on Saturday, and we're doing four of them. And we will have two readers for a few hours at four different stations. And they will be reading Poe, passing out bookmarks, encouraging people to read Poe. And we will have a giant puppet with them on each of those days.

CAVANAUGH: That's great. I'm glad people will know this is not just some strange person.

RITTER: Well, this Edgar is 14 feet tall.

MURPHY: And Edgar won't be speaking. He'll just be there.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And tonight is the big launch of Shades of Poe at the lyceum. What's planned?

RITTER: It's going to be a very happy evening just celebrating particularly all the student involvement with shades of Poe that began last September. That's when we first started having workshops with teachers. Then in October, we went into classrooms, although there was a decline for students for the computation. So we have them in literary arts and graphic arts and performance, all of which are going to be recognized tonight.

>> And the two readers that you heard earlier both be there, reading those pieces in their entirety. We'll also be having a student-written opera based on the Cask of Amantiato. And we have a young man from La Mesa who write an entire musical based on Poe using his poetry, and his language in the lyrics, and in the dialogue. We will only be doing two songs from that. Not the whole thing. But it's quite exciting.

CAVANAUGH: And we're not going to let you leave here without reading something from the fall of the house of usher.

RITTER: My pleasure. From that chamber, and that mansion I fled aghast. The storm was still applaud in all its wrath. And I found myself crossing the old causeway, suddenly there shot across the path a wild light. For the vast house in its shadows were alone behind me. Radiance of that of the full setting blood red moon, which now shone vividly through that once pearl discernible fissure of which I've spoken before, extending from the building in a zig-zag direction to the base.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that a lot of this is aimed toward getting children or young people excited about Poe, but he's rather an author that develops like a fine wine with aiming, as you read and reread him?

RITTER: You certainly see more and more in the stories and poems.

MURPHY: Certainly. Mystery writers in particular are still influenced by him.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone again that tonight is the opening night of the big read, shades of Poe at the lyceum theatre in Horton Plaza. It features that student-written opera, and the event begins at 7:00 PM. Can you find a complete list of events as well as more readings of Poe, including a student poem influenced by Poe on our website at

MURPHY: Thank you so much for having us.

RITTER: Thanks, Maureen.