will smith biography

BESSIE SMITH 1894–1937

One of the greatest American singers of the 20s and 30s, known for her powerful delivery and often called “The Empress of the Blues.” Her parents had both died by the time she was a teenager, and to earn money, Smith began performing on the streets of Chattanooga with her brother. In 1912, she joined a traveling troupe that boasted the successful blues singer Ma Rainey—Rainey would become her good friend and mentor. Though she started as a chorus dancer, Smith soon developed her own act, and in 1923 she signed a record deal with Columbia, releasing the first album on their new “race records” series. With the popularity of her song “Downhearted Blues,” she became the most successful blues singer of the time, earning enough to live lavishly and travel town to town in her own private train. She married her husband Jack Gee around the time her first album was released, but it was a rocky relationship, with affairs on both sides. Most of Smith’s infidelities were with other women in her troupe, which sparked frequent fights, and when Smith discovered her husband had been sleeping with another singer, they separated. During the Great Depression, the recording industry took a hit, as did Smith’s career. She started to make a comeback by transitioning into swing music, but it was cut short when she was killed in a car accident. For years her grave was left unmarked, until Janis Joplin bought her a tombstone in 1970.

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From Beacon Press, a charming history of devotion: Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden History of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples, by Rodger Streitmatter.   Among the couples featured: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, and James Ivory and Ismail Merchant.

Patti Smith, 1976, by Lynn Goldsmith. 

“I don’t consider writing a quiet, closet act: I consider it a real physical act. When I’m home writing on a typewriter, I go crazy. I move like a monkey. I’ve wet myself. I’ve come in my pants writing….Instead of shooting smack, I masturbate – fourteen times in a row…I start seeing Aztec mountains…I see weird things. I see temples, underground temples, with the doors opening, sliding door after sliding door, Pharaoh revealed – this bound-up Pharaoh with ropes of gold. That’s how I write a lot of my poetry.”

~ Patti Smith in 1971, from Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography, by Victor Bockris and Roberta Bayley 

A–Z Book Recs

@macrolit’s A–Z book recommendations seemed like a challenge and like a lot of fun, so here we go! I thought it would be hard to find each letter, but honestly it turned out to be more difficult to narrow it down for some of them. Where it was contentious, I chose the lesser-known, under-appreciated of the books up for each letter.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman – for people who loved American Gods, read this semi-sequel about the sons of Mr. Nancy. 

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – a story about memory and love set in a foggy, post-Arthur England. 

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino – a collection of trippy, speculative fiction short stories. 

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić – for lovers of twisty, magical realist, tales who love Borges and are willing to put in some work.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – a quick novella with excellent world building.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges – my favorite short story collection of all time—the inventor’s spec fic and magical realist tales.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – fans of The Night Circus and American Gods will enjoy this fantastical romance set in New York City.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh – hilarious and so relatable, especially for anyone who’s been through depression.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine – a magnificent, fun alternative world about the power of books and the danger of centralizing knowledge.

Just Kids by Patti Smith – a dark tale of artists falling in love in the artistic backchannels of the Village.

The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich – a magical realist tale by an own voices author.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer – rough, but vital—Krakauer picks apart rape culture by telling the stories of women who tried to get justice.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – probably my favorite book of all time. an urban fantasy set in the underground of London.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf – in the 1920s, Woolf wrote a magical realist tale about with a gender-fluid MC. iconic. 

Paradise by Toni Morrison – one of morrison’s most underrated novels. a masterpiece about women sticking together.

Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda I struggled to find a Q ahaha, but I loved these books when I was younger!

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente – interconnected short stories about the women whose stories are refrigerated to further those of men in a comic books setting.

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr – short stories that changed the way i think about writing. they’re beautiful, magical realist, and haunting.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez – I didn’t sleep for days after reading these translated gothic horror tales.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – a magical standalone about female friendship and an ancient power.

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith – a magnificent biography that speaks to the genius and madness of the artist.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – brilliant, and was just optioned to become an HBO show!

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – this was a fun and funny memoir by Poehler that encourages the reader to be unabashedly themselves.

Zombies vs. Unicorns ed. by Holly Black – this book was fun. the title says it all: it’s full of stories about either zombies or unicorns. 

i’m not mormon by the way i just got really overinvested in hbo’s big love and the book of mormon when i was 17 and that developed into me reading joseph smith biographies and books on the jeffs and also coaxing my family into a roadtrip to see the hill cumorah pageant

It is the priceless paper. Seriously.

20 ? to Bea Arthur & her answers wrote by her.

All the questions re good, but for me there are three, i.e. 6. favourite colour (orange), favourite writer (Peter de Vires / Google ‘said’ ‘known for his satiric wit’ / I should check out his books) and… 13. favourite actress (Maggie Smith).

Bea Arthur’s favourite actress is Maggie Smith.
For me, it is the best (we can say, Dorothy likes Minerva :D (it was March 1996, though)).