Why Computers Will Never Write Good Novels

If it were possible to build a digital novelist or poetry analyst, then computers would be far more powerful than they are now. They would in fact be the most powerful beings in the history of Earth. Their power would be the power of literature, which although it seems now, in today’s glittering silicon age, to be a rather unimpressive old thing, springs from the same neural root that enables human brains to create, to imagine, to dream up tomorrows. It was the literary fictions of H.G. Wells that sparked Robert Goddard to devise the liquid-fueled rocket, launching the space…

Nellie Bly: A Race Against Time | Heinz History Center

On Nov. 14, 1889, Bly waved goodbye to family and friends from the New Jersey Hoboken Pier aboard the Augusta Victoria steamer. Traveling by steamships and trains, her journey sent her around the world from America to England, France, Italy, Egypt, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, and back to a port in San Francisco. She then traveled by train across the U.S., with four major stops including Harrisburg, Pa., before arriving back in New Jersey on Jan. 25, 1890.

King Hedley II ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 9 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1999; Broadway 2001 Setting: 1985; backyard of row houses; Pittsburgh Hill District Prologue (starry night) Stool Pigeon, clicking ham bones, monologues to an offstage cat (which belongs to Aunt Ester). “The story’s been written. All that’s left now is the playing out.” I.i King (30s), ex-con with scarred face, plants seeds; his mother Ruby (60) asks him about getting a phone hooked up; he is out of work; she says Elmore is coming; says this dirt is no good, he needs better dirt; she says he’s stubborn like his father Hedley…

Jitney ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 8 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1982; Broadway 2017 Setting: 1977; Becker’s cab station, Pittsburgh Act I.i (morning?) Youngblood accuses “old man” Turbo of cheating in checkers; Turbo accuses Fielding of drinking his gas money; Youngblood turns down a grocery run, which Turbo takes; Youngblood gets defensive at Doub’s silent look; Shealy the numbers runner describes seeing the face of the one woman he loves in all the other women; Philmore (customer) asks for ride home after being out late; Turnbo (nebby) tells story about driving a teen customer who stole a TV from his (the teen’s)…

Two Trains Running ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 7 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1990 (Broadway 1992) Setting: 1969; Memphis’s small restaurant, Pittsburgh Act I.i Memphis (hard-working and honest) complains that Wolf (notorious numbers runner) is tying up his phone; Risa (waitress with self-scarred legs) doles out sugar at Wolf’s request; Memphis complains his “old lady” left him and wouldn’t even shake his hand; Holloway (whose anger at injustice draws him to the supernatural) describes big crowed for Prophet Saumel at West’s funeral home (across the street). Risa supports Samuel as truth-teller; others focus on his popularity and wealth. Memphis describes his youthful recklessness, but…

Fences ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 6 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1985 Setting: 1957; 1965; Troy Maxon’s lived-in backyard, Pittsburgh A prose prologue contrasts the experience of European immigrants who were embraced by cities, with the opposition faced by the descendants of African slaves. I.i. (Friday evening) Troy (large man) and Bono (his “follower”) “engage in a ritual of talk and drink.” Troy is hoping his union will back his push to be promoted from garbage collector to driver; Troy is dismissive of co-worker Brownie, who Bono mentions is interested in “that Alberta gal,” and Troy admits he’s bought her a drink,…

1

Seven Guitars ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 5 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1995 Setting: 1948, backyard of a house, Pittsburgh I.i. (Sunday; right after Floyd’s funeral) Louise sings a “bawdy song” as Red Carter and Canewell squabble over pie; Canewell admire’s the preacher’s sermon, and Vera reports seeing six angels that came out of the sky; Canewell and Red Carter confirm they saw the group and spoke to a man from the group; Louise challenges their story, but Hedley confirms seeing them; Vera says they carried Floyd into the sky; Vera goes inside, and soon we hear Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton singing his hit…

1

The Piano Lesson ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 4 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1987;  Broadway & Pulitzer Prize 1990 Setting: 1930s, Doaker’s house, Pittsburgh Scene description mentions an old upright piano with legs carved in African style. I.i. (5am) Offstage Boy Willie calls, waking Doaker (severe, settled railroad cook). BW introduces Lymon, from “back home.” He asks for Bernice. They have driven from Mississipi in Lymon’s truck, full of watermelons to sell. He tells her  “the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog got Sutter.” (Son of the man who enslaved their mother fell down a well; we learn Stovall (down South) is looking for Lymon;…

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom ( #AugustWilson #CenturyCycle, 3 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1984. Setting: a recording studio in Chicago, 1927. 10 characters An opening note describes the context of the city and the significance of blues music. Act I Money-man Sturdyvant orders manager Irvin to keep “her” in line. To Sturdyvant, this is all just business. When band leader Cutler, bassist Slow Drag, and pianist Toledo enter, Sturdyvant is annoyed that Ma isn’t with them. Neither is the trumpet player Levee. Irvin hands Cutler a list of songs that’s different from what Ma told the band to rehearse. With money he won from…

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (August Wilson’s Century Cycle, 2 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle >  Spoiler-free scene breakdown Premiered: 1988. Setting: The Hollys’ boarding house, Pittsburgh. 1911. 11 characters (a fairly large cast for a drama, including 2 children who would typically be double-cast; not an easy play to produce) Long stage directions before the first scene describe the children of freed slaves moving north. I.1 (morning) Ornery Seth describes to his long-suffering wife Bertha the “heebie-jeebie” pidgeon-blood ritual that “conjure man” Bynum performs outside. Seth discusses starting his own shop rather than working nights for Mr. Orlowski. Recent Southern transplant Jeremy has been arrested for drunkenness. Selig (from Gem…

Gem of the Ocean (August Wilson’s Century Cycle, 1 of 10)

August Wilson’s Century Cycle > Spoiler-free scene breakdown. Premiere: 2003 Setting: Aunt Ester’s parlor, 1839 Wylie, Pittsburgh. 1904. Prologue (late at night) Troubled Citizen Barlow arrives, seeking Aunt Ester. Eli (handyman and “gatekeeper”) tells him to come back Tuesday. Citizen tries to push past him; they tussle, upsetting a lamp. Ester picks up Citizen’s hat and hands it to him, gently telling him to come back Tuesday. Act I.1 (next morning) Eli tells Black Mary (Ester’s housekeeper and “protègè”) the man, wearing “clodhoppers” (work boots that mark him as a recent arrival from the south) is still out there waiting.…

Robot wars: 100 years on, it’s time to reboot Karel Čapek’s RUR

I was honored to play Alquist in Artistic Prosperity’s virtual production of RUR over the summer. I’m glad to see Čapek’s play is getting some attention in the Guardian. Not many plays introduce a new word to the language. One that did was Karel Čapek’s RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots that had its premiere in Prague 100 years ago this month. Every time we use the word “robot” to denote a humanoid machine, it derives from Čapek’s play, which coined the term from the Czech “robota” meaning forced labour. But a play that was hugely popular in its time – its…

My J-Term course on August Wilson doesn’t actually start until tomorrow, but the first assignments are already coming in. Sixteen weekdays to cover Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle.

We’ll cover all 10 plays, but each student will only be responsible for reading an overlapping list of six plays. The movie adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opens on Netflix this weekend, and we’ll be covering that play on Monday.

Motivation Amid Crisis (Autotrophic Bat)

As part of an independent study project, a graduating Seton Hill student wrote a blog about self-publishing her original collection of fairy-tale adaptations. She’s a double-major in creative writing and graphic design, and she freely adapted each story and illustrated each one in a different style. (She’ll be self-publishing her anthology soon, and I’ll certainly post about it.) Here is a reflection she wrote on staying motivated during the pandemic: Writing during a pandemic is nothing new. Neither is writing during a civil rights movement. And of course, the image of a depressed writer writing depressed writery things depressingly is…

It started with a ride down an escalator and ended with a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Earlier today Trump tweeted that his campaign would hold a “Lawyers Press Conference at Four Seasons, Philadelphia.” He later specified that he didn’t mean the prestigious Four Seasons hotel, but rather an unrelated business “Four Seasons Landscaping,” which happens to be located next to an adult bookstore and near a cremation company. One imagines that a staff member hastily booked the wrong venue, but it’s not likely we’ll get a straight answer from club covfefe. https://twitter.com/avarey2009/…/1325190634114703361/photo/1 https://slate.com/…/four-seasons-total-landscaping-trump-te… CNN’s Seth Fiegerman tweeted, “When the history books look back at this period, the first sentence should be: “It started with a ride…

R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) Artistic Prosperity 2020
1

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) Full Play (via Zoom)

All 3 acts and the epilogue to R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) are now available on YouTube. I’ve loved this quirky play for almost 30 years. I’m thrilled that I got the chance to play Alquist, a humble builder who witnesses the Robot rebellion and its surprising aftermath. (I also designed the set backdrops in Blender 3D.) A story about a robot uprising is cliche now, but this Czech play coined the word “Robot” so it was the first time that plot ever happened. The reason why it’s a cliche now is because this play captured the attention of the public…

Daughter is in 2 theatrical productions opening this weekend

The daughter plays Laertes in Seton Hill’s free, live Zoom production of Hamlet (with a film noir theme) which opens tonight at 8. (The first half will be performed tonight and next Friday; the next half will be performed Saturday and next Saturday.) Free tickets to Seton Hill’s livestreaming video production of Hamlet Through the magic of recorded audio (not live), the daughter is also part of PICT Classic Theatre’s brand new audio production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll, the first Actors Equity Association project in Pittsburgh since the pandemic closed all the theatres. PICT is the first…

The false link between Amy Coney Barrett and The Handmaid’s Tale, explained

One of the weirder ways this debate has played out since Barrett was first discussed as a potential Supreme Court nominee is the fight over whether or not People of Praise, the group of which she is a member, is also one of the inspirations for The Handmaid’s Tale. In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel (and its recent TV adaptation), fertile women are forced to live as childbearing slaves called handmaids. The book isn’t an established inspiration — but the story has developed legs anyway.