Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, perfected the horror tale, and first articulated the theory of the modern short story as well as the idea of pure poetry. A hero of Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and Nabokov, Poe has never been entirely respectable to American critics because of his twin “faults”: being too eccentric, and too popular among common readers.
It’s time to say the obvious. No author stays internationally popular for 150 years by accident. Poe is one of the classic authors of American literature—a master of the short story, a magician of the short poem, and a critic of brilliance and originality. And no small part of his artistic sleight of hand is that he appeals to readers from childhood to old age. Let us underestimate him nevermore!
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Edgar Allan Poe, 1848 (Courtesy of the Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia)
An illustration from "The Fall of the House of Usher" (Courtesy of the Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia)
Edgar Allan Poe (Library of Congress)