Prestigious writers and literary critics were mainstays of the Chautauqua rosters. Historians will find the collection useful in gauging the impact of literature upon the general American populace during the first half of the twentieth century. Moreover, the collection affords the unique opportunity to explore how early twentieth century writers were marketed to the general public and how Chautauqua impacted American literature.
A search on Subject Index heading, Poets, results in more than a hundred documents. Fred Emerson Brooks the "poet and humorist," Marshall Louis Mertins "the poet of the commonplace," and Anne Campbell "the poet of the home" are but a few examples of the more or less forgotten poets who appeared on Chautauqua platforms.
Also accessible under Subject Index heading, Poets, are materials relating to Roscoe Gilmore Scott's 1918 lecture and workshop "Do Your Poems Limp?: If Editors Refuse Them They Need Critical Attention."
- What relationship does the piece establish between critic and poet?
- What differences are assumed to exist between the "scholarly" and "practical" angles?
- Why would the critic be able to perceive things that an intimate friend could not? What does this say about the role of the critic in society?
- In what ways does the piece detail the commercialization of art?
Carl Sandburg first appeared on a Chautauqua program in 1907 under the name Charles Sandburg. The poet returned at irregular intervals to deliver discourses and to read from selected works. One of his more popular early talks, "An American Vagabond" dealt with Walt Whitman. His press materials observe:
All that was striking, dramatic, and significant in his career has been grasped by Mr. Sandburg and marshaled into a lecture that ripples and glistens with human interest. About no other American writer is opinion so varied and extreme as about Walt Whitman . . . "An American Vagabond," as given by Mr. Sandburg, will put you close to, not an angel or a demi-god, but a great, warm, throbbing, very human personality.
- Why would celebrating a historical figure's humanity be edifying to Chautauqua audiences?
- What other literary figures and topics might be particularly suited to Chautauqua audiences? What topics would not be suited to Chautauqua and why?
- Why would a researcher working with Sandburg's later work be interested in these materials?
- How might Sandburg's Chautauqua experiences have influenced his craft?
- Do contemporary artists seek employment in similar ways to Mr. Sandburg and his generation?
The Subject Index heading, Literature, yields numerous documents pertaining to dramatic readers of authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare. One of the several hundred documents resulting from a search under the Subject Index heading, Authors, are the 1899 promotional materials for Charlotte Perkins Stetson, author of the famous short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." The materials laud Mrs. Stetson's literary achievements and then state:
But, brilliant and helpful writer though she is, it is perhaps, as a public speaker that Mrs. Stetson makes her most effective appeal. Sprung from the celebrated Beecher stock (a great-grand-daughter of Lyman Beecher and a grand-niece, therefore, of Mrs. Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher) . . . her gift of ready and eloquent speech seems inborn and almost more characteristic of her genius than is her writing. She speaks as she thinks, clearly, quietly, and in a perfectly straightforward and simple manner, but with something in her utterance so magnetic and out of the common that she wins a unique attention from all her hearers.
- By what means does this passage extol Mrs. Stetson's virtues as a speaker? Is the passage effective?
- How would Mrs. Stetson's lineage diminish her popularity with certain audiences? What audiences?
- How have methods of promoting authors changed in the century since these materials were published?
- What benefits did Chautauqua provide writers and literary critics?