4-3-21: Counting down the days to Washington Irving’s Birthday

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BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. October and April are our busiest months because of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” during Halloween and because of Irving’s birthday on April 3. So I stepped away from blogging in November until now.

Several times, I thought about posting comments concerning the presidential election, comments about racial protests, more comments about Covid, and comments about vaccines. I drafted a number of blogs, but every single time I came to this space, it didn’t seem appropriate to post anything. Listening seemed appropriate.

This semester, one particular comment about Washington Irving caught my attention on Twitter. On February 5, 2021, Sid Howard @sidhowardokc tweeted: “When I took Oklahoma history in Jr High we were told the significance of Crutcho Creek. It’s where Washington Irving fell off his horse while touring the territory. Not one word was said about the Tulsa race massacre.”

By February, I had already lectured on Washington Irving. We didn’t talk about Irving falling off a horse, and I’m not teaching in Oklahoma. But I do recall talking about Sam Houston, the gigantic statue of him in Texas off I-45, and Irving meeting Houston. Unfortunately, I mentioned very little about my research regarding race and Irving.

We did spend quite a bit of time talking about Native-American culture early in the semester, and this subject came up briefly with Irving, too. But I failed to go beyond Native-American culture and Dutch culture with Irving. Yes, Dutch culture comes up when we talk about “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

During Black History Month, we experienced Snowmageddon in Texas, so my plans to talk about Phillis Wheatley and her legacy in African-American literature was postponed. When we finally got back to the classroom and to Wheatley, I shared the Oklahoma tweet from Sid Howard, reiterated the significance of the Tulsa Massacre, and apologized for not sharing more pertinent information about my research regarding race and Irving.

I teach Toni Morrison and other contemporary writers later in the semester. I told my classes about how Irving brought me to read more Morrison because of her novel Paradise, set in Oklahoma. I shared with them about my trips to the Fort Gibson area investigating Madam Bradley, a woman Irving writes about in A Tour on the Prairies. And I spoke a few minutes about miscegenation laws in America at the time since Bradley was a black woman married to a white man living in Oklahoma Territory in the 1830s. Chances are, they moved there so they could be together.

In the fall, my Washington Irving lecture will be revamped to cover Bradley, Morrison, and other research relevant to current concerns about race. And my Black History Month lectures in 2022 will be much better after taking some time to listen best I can. I began investigating Irving because of the various cultures represented in his texts, and it saddens me to think that I haven’t fully communicated this richness to my students.

And my inability to demonstrate the fullness of Irving’s writing goes beyond my sphere at Baylor. People are understandably upset about many concerns in America right now, and my comments have unintentionally hit the wrong buttons.

In October, I posted a blog about why Irving shouldn’t be blamed for Christopher Columbus, with the intent of posting another blog outlining reasons why he should be blamed for Columbus. The big idea floating through my head was to eventually put together a short book about Irving’s research on Columbus. I never made it to the second blog.

The fierce feedback stopped me in my tracks. “I didn’t sign up for this,” kept coming to mind. The Washington Irving Society is here to encourage Irving scholarship, not to argue with people on Twitter. In case you’re searching for the blog, I took it down, though I do hope to put together a short book about the issue.

So, on this Wednesday in March 2021, I’m back to blog after a much-needed respite to think, to listen, and to work behind the scenes on behalf of the Washington Irving Society.

We aren’t sponsoring panels at this summer’s American Literature Conference in Boston, but we plan to be back for May 2022 in Chicago. Because we won’t have an annual meeting at ALA in July, I’ll be sure to post our 2021 report on the website.

I’ll also do my best to report back on the birthday celebration. If you’re interested in the Zoom birthday celebration next weekend, here’s the announcement.

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION: April 3, 2021. The City of Irving’s Heritage Society will be hosting a happy hour on April 3 at 5 p.m. to celebrate Washington Irving’s birthday. Please contact the Heritage Society for the invitation and link: irvingheritagesociety@yahoo.com

In truth, I’ve been counting the days since I last blogged, waiting for the right moment to begin again, and the brink of Irving’s birthday seemed like the last possible moment. I plan to have guest bloggers on board for the summer. If you’re interested, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu, and we’ll get you slotted for an upcoming Washington Irving Wednesday. Until next time, stay healthy and happy, and don’t quit.

Please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, and/or on this page. Comments are very much welcomed.

Published in: on March 24, 2021 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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