On this episode of Arts & Letters, we’ll be featuring biographer Ben Johnson. His biography, Fierce Solitude, published by the University of Arkansas Press, remembers to tumultuous life of Arkansas Pulitzer Prize winning poet, John Gould Fletcher.
Though not widely know today, Fletcher was very influential in mid-twentieth centery literary circles--one of the shock troops for free-verse imagist lyric; a fervent Agrarian and a paradox--a man filled with contradictions that have baffled scholars and deepened his obscurity.
“Throughout his life Arkansas poet and critic, John Gould Fletcher fitfully retained the hope that a truth-telling creative personality would not merely conjure a perfect world inside the transparent eye of a poem but redeem a modern society bereft of identity and mission. . . In 1938, he garnered the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and in 1949 he was installed in the American Institute of Arts and Letters.”
Fletcher was the first Southerner to win the Pulitzer Prize and was involved in major literary movements of the twentieth century, including Agrarianism, Imagism, and Modernism. He moved in literary circles with Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, T.S. Elliot, John Crowe, Donald Davidson, and Allen Tate.
He was married twice, first to Florence Emily "Daisy" Arbuthnot, and finally to author Charlie May Simon. Through his adult life, Fletcher struggled with bouts of depression, ocassionally requiring hospitalization. He committed suicide in 1950 by drowning himself in a pond near his home in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Biographer Dr. Ben F. Johnson III earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Arkansas and has taught in higher education for more than 33 years. He served as Dean of the College of Liberal and Performing Arts at Southern Arkansas University from 2007 to 2011 and was promoted to professor of history in 2010.
In addition to Fierce Solitude, he has written two additional books on Arkansas history. He is currently the vice-chair of the State Review Board of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and has served as vice president of the Arkansas Historical Association. He is also on the board of editors of the Arkansas Historic Quarterly. He and his wife, Sherrel Johnson, reside in El Dorado, Ark.
Thank you to musicians, singers and songwriters the Ted Ludwig Trio, Ethan Young, Zakk and Big Papa Binns, Grace Askew, Starr Mitchell, Silas Hite, Joseph Fuller and Drew Defrance, Mike Montgomery, the Rad Trads, Josiah Simpson, Hosty, Handmade Moments, Ryan Sauders, Griffin Buckley, and Ted Russell Kamp.
Thank you to actor Ricco Ardemagni for the poetry readings.
Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.
A special thank you to Kaye Lundgren of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture for creating a digital exhibit on John Gould Fletcher. To visit the exhibit click John Gould Fletcher.
Listen to the song "Tossin 'n' Turning " by Grace Askew
Listen to the song "Where Out West" by Ted Russell Kamp
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Producer: Mary Ellen Kubit
Recorded by: Christopher Hickey
Interns: Kaitlin Strain & Josh Enloe