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Book news: a spark of literariness

April 16, 2009 |  9:17 am

Was it accidentally setting a wildfire that sparked Henry David Thoreau's commitment to the woods? The Boston Globe reports:

On April 30, 1844, Thoreau started a blaze in the Concord Woods, scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber, and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau's reputation. For years afterward, Thoreau could hardly walk the streets of his hometown without hearing the epithet "woods burner."

That the father of American environmentalism could have been the scourge of the Concord Woods may seem too ironic to be true. Yet, not only did this unlikely event actually occur, but it seems quite possible that, given Thoreau's general lack of direction at the time, as well as his growing interest in pursuing a career as a civil engineer, America's first great naturalist might not have undertaken his Walden experiment at all, had it not been for the forest fire he sparked a year earlier.

Chicago activist and writer Franklin Rosemont has died at age 65. The editor of the radical Chicago publishing house Charles H. Kerr, Rosemont, who liked to pass out inflammatory leaflets, once called for a second Chicago fire. He was the author of "Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture."

Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick, a pioneer of queer literary studies, has died of breast cancer. She was 58. In its obituary, the New York Times writes that her best-known work was "'Epistemology of the Closet" (1990), which argued that Western culture could be understood only by critically dissecting the socially constructed concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality. There are also personal and academic memorials popping up online, including one that notes her students were on fire with Sedgewick's vision.

— Carolyn Kellogg

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