We are proud to issue John Malcolm Brinnin’s Travel And The Sense Of Wonder as the second in our series of digital reproductions of obscure, hard-to-find, or just plain interesting books which have particular relevance to Key West letters (Harry Mathews’s Epithalamium was the first). The text of this 24-page staple-bound pamphlet, originally published in 1992 by the Library of Congress as part of the Center For The Book’s Viewpoint Series, reproduces Brinnin’s keynote address from our 1991 Seminar, Literature of Travel: A Sense of Place, and includes an introduction by KWLS founding member William Robertson. Brinnin’s essay is a deceptively simple discussion of the role of "the sense of wonder" in the impulse to travel, and "the spirit of investigation" required for said sense to "get off its aspirations and go to work." With characteristic good humor and disarming eloquence, Brinnin recounts his late-career transformation from a poet and literary critic ("one of those charity cases") into a chronicler of ocean liners and social change, revealing along the way a remarkable sensitivity toward the wondrous capacities of language.
John Malcolm Brinnin was a poet, biographer, critic, anthologist, and teacher. The director of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association Poetry Center (the 92nd Street Y) in New York City from 1949-1956, he became friends with many prominent 20th century poets including Elizabeth Bishop, Octavio Paz, Richard Wilbur, and Dylan Thomas. His Dylan Thomas in America recounts Brinnin’s friendship with the Welsh poet and the reading tour which ended with Thomas’s death. Brinnin also wrote several collections of poetry, biographies of Gertrude Stein (The Third Rose, 1959) and Truman Capote (Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy, 1986), a critical work on William Carlos Williams, and The Sway of the Grand Saloon: A Social History of the North Atlantic (1971). His behind-the-scenes influence on a number of writers was significant, if insufficiently recognized by the broader public. As a resident of Key West in the 1980s and 1990s, he was a crucial influence on the nascent Seminar, and was particularly responsible for the success of our tribute to Elizabeth Bishop in 1993, as he called on a lifetime of friendships to gather together the writers and friends who knew Bishop and her work best. He died in Key West in 1998.
We thank the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Brinnin’s copyright-holder, for their permission to reproduce this work; the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections Department, whose John Malcom Brinnin Papers are a resource for Brinnin scholars; and David Wolkowsky.
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