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Spoon River Anthology

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
By: (1868-1950)

Two hundred and twelve residents of a small town tell their stories without fear of recrimination or ridicule. The only difference is that they're all dead! The two hundred and forty-four poems that form the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters is really a series of epitaphs about the citizens of a fictional town called Spoon River and deals with the “plain and simple annals” of small town America.

Edgar Lee Masters grew up in a small town in Illinois. His father's financial problems forced the young Masters to abandon ideas of college and take up a job instead. Though he continued to study privately, he was compelled to work on a series of dull and uninspiring jobs. Finally, he completed his education in law and set up a law practice in Chicago. His firm did extremely well. For nearly a decade, one of his partners was the legendary lawyer, Clarence Darrow. However, Masters secretly nursed literary ambitions and his first book of verse and several essays were published under the pseudonym of Dexter Wallace. He initially considered writing a novel about his early experiences, but soon gave up the idea.

From 1914, he began publishing a series of poems based on his experiences in Lewistown, Illinois, where he spent his childhood. These were published in a St Louis magazine, under another fictitious name, Webster Ford. Finally, in 1915, the entire collection was compiled into a single volume entitled the Spoon River Anthology. In 1930, Masters wrote The Genesis of Spoon River, in which he describes the book's background, its concerns, the conditions in which he wrote and also how it was received by readers. This autobiographical companion piece provides wonderful insight into the workings of the creative mind and is itself a document of great human interest. It allows the reader to have a glimpse of the great humane thinker and compassionate mind that created the Spoon River Anthology.

The book was an instant bestseller and found an immediate echo in the hearts of millions of readers from small rural towns and remote little settlements all over America. The poems provide a rare and unconventional view of small town life and shatter quite a few myths that romanticize such an existence. The poems are in free style and the brilliant imagery and evocative turns of phrase make each one of them memorable. Another interesting thing about Spoon River Anthology is that the poems are like separate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and the reader can put events together to make up the larger picture.

Though Masters wrote several more poems, novels and biographies, none became so popular or well-known as the Spoon River Anthology.

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