Meet the Poets: Carl Sandburg – 1919 and 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History

“I make it clear why I write as I do and why other poets write as they do. After hundreds of experiments, I decided to go my own way in style and see what would happen.” – Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He received three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and another for his history, a biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Sandburg was almost unknown to the literary world when, in 1914, a group of his poems appeared in the nationally circulated Poetry magazine.

Two years later his book Chicago Poems was published, and the thirty-eight-year-old author found himself on the brink of a career that would bring him international acclaim.

Sandburg published another volume of poems, Cornhuskers, in 1918, and wrote a searching analysis of the 1919 Chicago race riots.

More poetry followed, along with Rootabaga Stories (1922), a book of fanciful children’s tales. That book prompted Sandburg’s publisher, Alfred Harcourt, to suggest a biography of Abraham Lincoln for children. Sandburg researched and wrote for three years, producing not a children’s book, but a two-volume biography for adults. His Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, published in 1926, was Sandburg’s first financial success.

With the financial success, he moved to a new home on the Michigan dunes and devoted the next several years to completing four more volumes, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.

Sandburg continued his prolific writing, publishing more poems, a novel, Remembrance Rock, a second volume of folk songs, and an autobiography, Always the Young Strangers.

In 1945 the Sandburg family moved with their herd of prize-winning goats and thousands of books to Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Sandburg’s Complete Poems won him a second Pulitzer Prize in 1951. Sandburg died at his North Carolina home July 22, 1967. His ashes were returned, as he had requested, to his Galesburg birthplace. In the small Carl Sandburg Park behind the house, his ashes were placed beneath Remembrance Rock, a red granite boulder. Ten years later the ashes of his wife were placed there.

Source:  Pulitzer Awards 1919, Pulitzer Awards 1940, and Pulitzer Awards 1951

For more on Carl Sandburg see:

Characters in Fiction Writing (An Outline)


  1. A character is the representation of a person. My guess is you knew that.
  2. The reader should be able to identify with and care about the characters in the sense  that  the characters seem real to the reader.
  3. The characters must do something, and what they do must seem reasonable for them to have done it.


Introduction of Characters

  1. Characters should be introduced early in the story.
  2. The more often a character is mentioned or appears, the more significance the reader will attach to the character.
  3. The main character should be introduced before setting so that the setting can be introduced from the point of view of the character.


Nature of Characters

  1. The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters.
  2. The writer should allow the reader to make judgments about the characters; the writer should avoid making the judgments for the reader.
  3. The feelings of the character should be demonstrated rather than told by the narrator.


Closing thoughts and Rules

  1. The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters
  2. The one rule about writing is that there are no rules. If it works, it works.


Sidebar – Cardboard characters: What they are and how to avoid them.

  • Cardboard characters.
    • A cardboard character is one who’s a stereotype.
    • They are a character whose every action or reaction is exactly what the reader would have guessed for the situation.
  • How to Avoid Cardboard Characters
    • Avoid them by inventing lives, backgrounds, attitudes, quirks, moods, etc. for all characters.
    • The bigger the character is, the more depth he or she gets.
    • Even the barista whose only scene is taking other characters’ order and bringing the coffee has a unique personality which needs to come out, however briefly.

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Characters in Fiction Writing by Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Muse, Transformational Grammar, and Writing

Example of Transformational Grammar
Example of Transformational Grammar

Have you ever had a muse, or a muse-like experience where you felt so passionate, or “taken over” by a creative spirit or compulsion to express and create? This is more than just “in the zone” … it’s almost as if someone or something takes over and writes for you.

Four examples of a muse in my life are shared below.

One – I was taking a senior level English course with the ominous title “Transformational Grammar and Advanced Creative Writing”. The course was exactly as the title … a writing class that made sure you dissected the grammar. Remember diagramming sentences? This was far more interesting as it dismembered each sentence to parts of speech, syllables, suffixes/prefixes and even lower in structure. You could get credit for the class as a senior level English or Linguistics course. The professor was my first muse. She believed in and encouraged my writing. She was the first to point out the value of reading regularly, journaling, and submitting what you wrote. She helped get me published the first time in a university publication and then a historical article in a military magazine. She told me I should embrace a bohemian lifestyle and write full-time. She turned me on to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.

Two – I was motivated to the point of being driven – me driven, can you imagine? Anyway, I wanted to get into a doctoral program and needed to start getting published in my chosen discipline – religious education. I went to the right conferences, met the right people, and paid the price. This wasn’t a once and done thing. It was getting one then two then three then four then five then six a year published. Sheer vanity … I wrote some very good articles like “What I Learned when a Church Member Died”, an article about preaching my first funeral and the shortcomings of the religious education curriculum to prepare the associate minister in this critical area is an example.

Three – Nancy Karen Vandiver Garrison … I know her from high school. We also went to the same university. We did prose interpretation and literary criticism together in University Interscholastic League competition way back 45 years ago. Thanks to social media and email we converse almost every day for years and still do, as recently as in the last few seconds. She holds me accountable to keep on writing and never give up. More than anything, she encourages me to not give up or listen to the rejections. She also says what’s next when I get an acceptance. She is a darn good poet and supporter of the arts. Plus, we both love The Monkees!

Four – In 1992, I wrote 275 pages in one night for a nonfiction book I was working on. The damn broke, and it just flowed. I was on prescriptions that powered my writing. I was taking Seldane. Remember it? It  wasthe first non-sedating antihistamine. It was later taken off the market in 1998. It fueled me as it is about 80% amphetamine. It taken with Celebrex we now know were causes of my first TIA (commonly known as a mini-stroke) as per the cardiologist and neurologist. I have had some 50 to 75 page experiences in writing that happen the same way without drugs to energize me. Sometimes the poems bounce around in my head and won’t quit talking until I relocate them to paper. It can be very surreal. I’ve had several magazine articles I wrote that I have sold to publications like Children’s Leadership and Preschool Leadership that just flowed almost perfectly.

I find the muse magically appears when I put my behind in the chair and write.

Background on Muses: The Muses, the personification of knowledge and the arts, especially literature, dance and music, are the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory personified). Hesiod’s account and description of the Muses was the one generally followed by the writers of antiquity. It was not until Roman times that the following functions were assigned to them, and even then there was some variation in both their names and their attributes:
• Calliope -epic poetry;
• Clio -history;
• Euterpe -flutes and lyric poetry;
• Thalia -comedy and pastoral poetry;
• Melpomene -tragedy;
• Terpsichore -dance;
• Erato -love poetry;
• Polyhymnia -sacred poetry;
• Urania -astronomy.

Why I Write is Thursday March 21, 2013. 

In 1946, George Orwell (his real name was Eric Arthur Blair) wrote an essay titled “Why I Write”. It detailed his personal journey to becoming a writer. Orwell lists “four great motives for writing” which he feels exist in every writer. He explains that all are present, but in different proportions, and also that these proportions vary from time to time. They are as follows:

1. Sheer egoism – Orwell argues that many people write simply to feel clever, to “be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups in childhood, etc.” He says that this is a great motive, although most of humanity is not “acutely selfish”, and that this motive exists mainly in younger writers. He also says that it exists more in serious writers than journalists, though serious writers are “less interested in money”.
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm – Orwell explains that present in writing is the desire to make one’s writing look and sound good, having “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.” He says that this motive is “very feeble in a lot of writers” but still present in all works of writing.
3. Historical impulse – He sums this up by simply stating this motive is the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”
4. Political purpose – Orwell writes, “No book is genuinely free from political bias”, and further explains that this motive is used very commonly in all forms of writing in the broadest sense, citing a “desire to push the world in a certain direction” in every person. He concludes by saying that “the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

After reading the essay, I came up with my list. They are as follows:

1. Ego/Hubris – I love to see my name listed as the author. I enjoy when my name appears on the cover of a magazine and in the table of comments of a magazine. I wish to see my name on the spine of a traditionally published book.
2. Educating People – I have loved when I have published a magazine article then get a telephone call, letter, or email asking for more information on the subject. Sometimes because of my writing, I have received job offers and speaking engagements. I enjoy informing people about historical events, writer’s lives, and the backgrounds of people and events.
3. Desire to influence others and be held in esteem by others – Maybe this goes with number one – Hubris. I recall the pride my oldest son had when he went to college and found several of my traditionally published magazine articles while doing research. He said it was somewhat cool to quote his father’s published work in a research paper. He said some of what I wrote for journals would be in the library forever.
4. Sharing my faith – I remember reading the late musician and former Beatles guitarist George Harrison’s memoir, “I, Me, Mine”. In the book, he says he purposefully wrote songs to share his beliefs and faith in Hare Krishna. I do the same to share my faith and belief in Jesus Christ. I try to do it in the normal flow of life as opposed to clobbering someone with the Bible.

If you write, why do you write?

Encourage your friends, keep reading and write.
Jimmie A. Keple

Photo credits: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. English: George Orwell in Hampstead On the corner of Pond Street and South End Road, opposite the Royal Free Hospital. The bookshop has long gone. Date: 11 May 2007. Source: From

Review: A Christmas Carol: In Prose, A Ghost Story of Christmas

300px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman & Hall on 19 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim.

The book was written and published in early Victorian era Britain when it was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions, and at the time when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were being introduced. Dickens’ sources for the tale appear to be many and varied but are principally the humiliating experiences of his childhood, his sympathy for the poor, and various Christmas stories and fairy tales.

The tale has been viewed by critics like T.A. Jackson and Paul Benjamin Davis as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism, and was adapted several times to the stage. It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media.


In the middle 19th century, a nostalgic interest in pre-Cromwell Christmas traditions swept Victorian England following the publications of Davies Gilbert’s Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1822), William B. Sandys’s Selection of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833), and Thomas K. Hervey’s The Book of Christmas (1837). That interest was further stimulated by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, who popularized the German Christmas tree in Britain after their marriage in 1841, the first Christmas card in 1843, and a revival in carol singing. Hervey’s study of Christmas customs attributed their passing to regrettable social change and the urbanization of England.

Dickens’ Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death.[7] Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, and, just as winter is followed by spring and the renewal of life, so too is Scrooge’s cold, pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth.


Dickens divides the book into five chapters, which he labels “staves”, that is, “(song) stanzas” in keeping with the title of the book. (He uses a similar device in his next two Christmas books, titling the four divisions of The Chimes, “quarters”, after the quarter-hour tolling of clock chimes, and naming the parts of The Cricket on the Hearth “chirps”.)

The tale begins on a Christmas Eve in 1843 exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first stave as a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence, rudely turning away two gentlemen who seek a donation from him. He hates Christmas, calling it “humbug”, and refuses his nephew Fred’s dinner invitation; his only “Christmas gift” is allowing his overworked, underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off with pay (which he does only to keep with social custom, Scrooge considering it like being pickpocketed annually).

Returning home, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost, who warns him to change his ways (lest he undergo the same miserable afterlife as himself). Scrooge is then visited by three additional ghosts – each in its turn, and each visit detailed in a separate stave – who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.

The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to Christmas scenes of his boyhood and youth, which stir the old miser’s gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. They also show what made Scrooge the miser that he is, and why he dislikes Christmas.

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge’s near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit including his youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is seriously ill but cannot receive treatment due to Scrooge’s unwillingness to pay Cratchit a decent wage, a miner’s cottage, and a lighthouse, among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man.

The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed (including Tiny Tim’s death). Scrooge’s own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these “shadows of what may be.”

In the fifth and final stave, Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew’s family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness and permanence of Scrooge’s transformation.

Sources: My knowledge of the book.

Review: The Sound and The Fury

William Faulkner’s birthday was this past Sunday, September 25. In honor of his birthday I reread The Sound and The Fury. I read it 40 years ago while in college. I wondered if it was as great as I remembered. I must admit I struggled through the first 100 plus pages.

I discovered the look at life through the eyes of the “retarded” Benjamin is still all there. It is a vivid reminder that the past forever influences the present, the decay, and the destiny. The Sound and the Fury is one of the icons of American Literature.

This book is not for the novice reader. Some people may just not get it, but if you love to read, like Faulkner and southern literature, or are just reading through the Nobel winners, it is worth the struggle to dip into this classic.

Summary: Light in August – Chapters Twenty and Twenty-one

As with the second part of the novel, Hightower’s narration stands between the central story involving Joe Christmas and the outer frame story about Lena Grove.

By aiding with the birth of Lena’s child and then by attempting to save Joe Christmas, Hightower has re-entered the stream of life. And even though Hightower failed Christmas, he has achieved a type of salvation for himself. He does not realize this until later on in the evening when he begins to review his whole life. Never before had Hightower examined his own motivations. But suddenly the meaning of his life evolves in front of him.

The use of the wheel image re-emphasizes the essential structure of the novel. The novel itself is seen in terms of circular images, and it is through this wheel image that Hightower sees man cannot isolate himself from the faces surrounding the wheel. Man must become part of the community and must assume responsibility not only for his own actions but for the actions of his fellow-man.

Until the last pages of the novel, Hightower can never bring into a complete unity the two divergent accounts of his grandfather’s death. He delights in the account of his grandfather being shot from a horse while brandishing his sword during Van Dorn’s cavalry raid, but in the more realistic account, he realizes that his grandfather was killed by a shotgun while stealing chickens, and moreover, probably killed by some frightened woman. This last account, given by Cinthy, the Negro slave, finally succeeds in becoming the realistic view as Hightower attains a more rational grasp of life.

In both the opening and closing chapters, Lena is seen on the road. The only difference is that in between these chapters, Lena has acquired a baby and Bryon Bunch.

Since the novel closes with the emphasis on Lena, the reader is gently led away from the horrifying tragedy of Joe Christmas, and the final emphasis is on the renewal and continuance of life in the person of Lena’s baby.

And that concludes the reviews of the twenty-one chapters in William Faulkner’s Light in August.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Nineteen

Chapter nineteen’s narration from the viewpoint of the town. After the last chapter, in which Joe found a certain peace within himself, he then returns to the community and apparently allows himself to be captured. Since none of the action is from Joe’s point of view, the reader must speculate about what caused him to make a break after he had apparently given himself up and decided to accept his punishment.

The first explanation is offered by Gavin Stevens, a new character who functions as a type of commentator on the action. This character, Gavin Stevens, will appear often in some of Faulkner’s later novels, but what the reader should remember is that any new commentator can give only partial reasons and partial motivations for the actions. However, Stevens’ view that Christmas’ actions were a result of the conflicting elements in his blood is to a large degree the correct interpretation. But Stevens is closer to the truth when he speaks of the role played by Mrs. Hines and how she and her husband, old Doc Hines, set peaceful elements into conflict.

In the preceding chapter Joe had realized that he could gain peace only in isolation and could never be accepted by the society as part white and part Negro. Joe no longer rebels against the conflicting elements in his blood until the arrival of old Doc Hines, and then the grandfather’s wild rantings and ravings cause Joe to despair, especially since his own grandfather is the chief person demanding Joe’s immediate death.

It has also been developed throughout the novel that women function as a type of destruction to Joe’s sense of order. Thus, having accepted his destined place in life and having accepted his death, the visit of Mrs. Hines probably set warring elements into conflict again. We must assume that she told him of the Reverend Gail Hightower, since Joe did go there when he escaped from the sheriff. Through Mrs. Hines, Hightower’s house functions as a type of haven for Joe where he can find some type of sanctuary from the influence of women.

Whether Joe knows of Hightower’s past tragedy with women is not important, since Joe does feel drawn toward this man who has also suffered at the hands of the community. At Hightower’s, Joe’s failure to fire the pistol and his submitting to the horrible atrocity show that he accepts his death in Hightower’s house as an escape from the destructive forces of the society and of women. It is as though Joe wills his own death in a sanctuary away from the influence of women.

Hightower’s attempt to help Joe Christmas by saying that Joe was with him on the night of the murder represents High-tower’s re-entry into life. Previously, he had rejected life and wished to live in total solitude. But he has just delivered Lena’s baby that day and has seen how great life can be, even for an old man; thus, his attempt to save Joe is his recognition of his responsibility to life and is also his hope to help another isolated person (Joe) discover the same thing.

Even this close to the end of the novel, Faulkner introduces a new character in the person of Percy Grimm. In later years, Faulkner commented that he did not realize at the time that he was creating a little Nazi Hitler. But the way Faulkner develops these secondary characters attests to his greatness. Grimm, as his name suggests, represents the horrible atrocities which man can commit against his fellow-man.

But Grimm is also another person who stands outside the mainstream of the community. Even though he was able to get some men to follow him, no one seems to be as cruel as he. His enthusiasm for his perverted aims far exceeds any normal reaction. After his castration of Joe, one of the men with him becomes sick and vomits, suggesting that even the average man who condescends to follow Grimm cannot withstand the brutality of his last act.

Summary: Light in August – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen

This is a “two-for” as I have included two chapters, seventeen and eighteen. Earlier in his life, Hightower thought that he had won for himself the freedom of remaining uninvolved in life. But gradually, since the appearance of Lena, he has slowly been drifting back into the stream of life. His re-entry into life is seen through the activity of Byron. Even though in chapter sixteen he rejected Mrs. Hines’ pleas to help Joe Christmas, he does allow himself to go out to help Lena with the birth of her child.

The act of giving life to Lena’s child becomes symbolic of Hightower’s return to life. Immediately after this act, he walks back to town thinking that he will be unable to sleep. This is still an unconscious bitterness of being drawn back into the stream of life, even though the aid that he gave to Lena was voluntary. Thus, when Hightower does sleep peacefully, we can view this as being symbolic of Hightower’s regeneration as a human being. This is also seen in the fact that he notices for the first time the peaceful serenity of the August morning. He even realizes his own reawakening when he recognizes that life and involvement are still possible. He views the birth as a good sign and as an omen of goodwill. Therefore, this act of involvement and responsibility has restored Hightower to the human race. Another connection between Lena and Joe is presented when Joe’s grandmother aids Lena during childbirth. Lena even becomes confused as to the paternity of the child and begins to think that Joe Christmas is the child’s father.

Chapter Eighteen acts as a type of comic interlude with Byron arranging for Lena to meet Brown. In the midst of a novel dealing with Joe Christmas’ tragic plight, this chapter reminds us of the basic incongruity of humankind. It shows Byron’s dedication and love for Lena and prepares us for his last action of following Lena. Yet the action is detached and comic partly because of Lena’s dogged determination to follow Brown when he leaves, and because of Byron’s absurd behavior. In juxtaposition to the comic are the tragic implications at the end of the chapter when Byron hears that Christmas has been killed.

Only three chapters are left.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen presents Joe’s birth and the death of his mother. But whether he actually has Negro blood is left undecided. It was thought that his father had Mexican blood, but old Doc Hines and the circus owner both assert that the father actually had Negro blood.

We also find out that it was the dietitian who found and gave Christmas his name. This is ironic, since later his episode with the dietitian formulated his actions throughout the rest of his life.

Again those looking for the religious symbolism could view old Doc Hines as the Godhead. If so, then his rejection of Christmas makes man the complete victim of a hostile force. This analogy carries through with God demanding, requiring, or allowing the death or sacrifice of Christ.

We must remember that part of Joe’s conflict came from his wish to escape the emasculating influence of the woman. He had always felt that the woman had tried to destroy his individuality. Here then we see another woman, Mrs. Hines, attempting in some way to change Joe’s decision to face the responsibility of his own actions. Mrs. Hines’ interference will become a motivating force in Joe’s attempt to escape in a later chapter.

Hightower’s refusal to help Mrs. Hines is not merely a refusal to utter the lie she requests, but more important, it is a refusal to become an active participant in the community and thus become involved in responsibility again. Thus, his impassioned refusal is his last futile but passionate effort to retain his isolation.