Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Library Way: Isak Dinesen and Shadows on the Grass

 photo © Mark Butkus 2011
And then in the end, the Liberation came.

Isak Dinesen. Tania Blixen. Osceola. Pierre Andrézel. Four of the names that the Danish author Karen Blixen (1885-1962) used in her literary career. Best known for her 1937 book Out of Africa, Blixen is remembered on Library Way with a quote from the last published work during her lifetime, Shadows on the Grass, which itself serves as an end to Out of Africa.


People work much in order to
 secure the future; I gave my
  mind much work and trouble,
   trying to secure the past.


— Isak Dinesen


Published more than two decades after Out of Africa, Shadows on the Grass consists of four stories with the titular story focusing on the life of her Somali servant, Farah Aden. Farah's story was one that Dinesen/Blixen had related in other publications — under other titles — and in other media including a radio broadcast in 1950.

The quote on Library Way is in reference to Blixen's servants, to Blixen's dreams. Of how, years later, three of her servants from Africa would come to visit her while she slept and of the different animal forms they would take when they came to her in her dreams. Kamanti came to her as a dwarf elephant or bat, Farah as a leopard and Sirunga as a jackal.

In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Today, on the anniversary of her birth in 1885, we celebrate the author Karen Blixen — or as she is memorialized on Library Way, Isak Dinesen. Whether it be a birthday, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited Langston Hughes.