scholars and rogues

What fresh hell is this? Our newest scholar/rogue…

By Rori Black

The Scholar and Rogue on our masthead is Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967).

Dorothy Parker is best known for her caustic wit as a writer, poet, critic, and a founding member of The Algonquin Round Table.

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

Parker’s critiques, short stories, poems, and screenplays make up the majority of her life’s work. Her acerbic wit as drama critic for Vanity Fair eventually led to her dismissal as readers became more and more offended. She landed at The New Yorker as a literary critic writing under the by-line “Constant Reader,” where some of her most infamous, vicious critiques were penned. She won the O Henry Most Outstanding Short Story Award for “Big Blonde” in 1929. Of the handful of screenplays she helped write, A Star is Born brought the most acclaim, winning an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. Later in life, she contributed to Esquire as a literary critic but her alcoholism made for erratic writing.

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.
— Résumé

Parker’s seven volumes of short stories and poetry, compiled into The Portable Dorothy Parker, are considered by some to be a mini-autobiography of her failed relationships and suicidal thoughts.

A longtime civil libertarian and civil rights advocate, she helped found the Anti-Nazi League in Hollywood in 1936. At one point she declared herself a Communist but never joined the Communist Party. Regardless, she fell victim to to McCarthyism, was investigated by the FBI, and was blacklisted in Hollywood as a Communist sympathizer.

Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) Humorist, writer, critic, defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested “Excuse My Dust.” This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people.

Parker died in 1967, bequeathing her small estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Upon his death, her estate was rolled over the NAACP, which retains rights to her works to this day. Sadly, the executor of her will, Lillian Hellman, allowed her cremains to languish in various places, including her lawyer’s filing cabinet, for 21 years until the NAACP stepped in and took possession of them. On Oct. 20, 1988, the president of the NAACP, Benjamin Hooks, dedicated a memorial garden to her on the office property with a bronze plaque with the above quote.

Her written works can be found at Gutenberg Project.

3 replies »

  1. At a presentation of the American Horticultural Society:

    “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.”

    Yeah, one of my favourites 😉

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