Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Library Walk: The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

"Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you'll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you'll be in as much trouble as I am." So speaks the titular character in Robert Edwin Lee and Jerome Lawrence's The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.

The two-act play debuted at their alma mater during the height of the Viet Nam War in 1969 and was one of the most popular college productions of the time appearing on campuses coast-to-coast.

The play is based on the events that led to the arrest of Henry David Thoreau and a night spent in the Concord jail. Thoreau's crime — or act of civil disobedience? He had refused to pay a poll tax on the grounds that the money could fund the Mexican-American War, a war which Thoreau was against.

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is in the same vein of many of Lawrence and Lee's plays in that they draw on historical events to address the issues of the day. In all, Robert Edwin Lee and Jerome Lawrence collaborated on 39 original works over their illustrious partnership including another play that draws on history and current events — Inherit the Wind.

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.

Whether it be a birth day, 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 poet William Carlos Williams.

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