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The Roaring Fitzgeralds Are On the Way!

Tue, 02/18/2020

Come get your “Gatsby” on, and relive the “Roaring 20s” in all their glory! With several programs in March and April 2020, the Waccamaw Library will celebrate in grand style the life and work of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the married couple who became American literary icons of the 1920s and quintessential figures of the “Jazz Age,” a term coined by Scott Fitzgerald. The main event will be a “Great Gatsby Gala” dance concert on Friday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m., exactly one hundred years to the day Scott and Zelda married in 1920, thereby rewriting literary and cultural history. Throughout March and April, a special exhibit of 1920s dresses, hats, and accessories from the collection of Melissa Levey will be on display at the Library. All F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald 100th Anniversary Celebration programs are sponsored by the Friends of the Waccamaw Library (FOWL), and are free and open to all. The Library is located at 41 St. Paul Place, Pawleys Island.

Back in April 1920, Scott Fitzgerald, an aspiring Princeton-educated writer from Minnesota, and Zelda Sayre, a precocious Southern belle from Alabama who also harbored literary ambitions, decided to tie the knot, one week after the publication of Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). Scott would follow his debut book with two further novels in quick succession, The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and The Great Gatsby (1925). A glamourous and talented—if tempestuous—young couple, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald rose to cultural celebrity. The Fitzgeralds were among the “Lost Generation” writers in Paris and the French Riviera during the 1920s, alongside fellow expatriate artists including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Cole Porter. Several of Scott’s works, including The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night (1934), reflect their wild lifestyle and tumultuous marriage, which further emerges in Zelda’s lone novel Save Me the Waltz (1932).

The Library will kick off its F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald 100th Anniversary Celebration on Monday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m., with a talk on “Jazz Age Jazz” by Lloyd Kaplan, Professor Emeritus at the Community College of Rhode Island. Kaplan will discuss the brilliant music that sprang up in the 1920s and inspired the Fitzgeralds’ life and work. What was so unique about jazz and its improvisational style? Why did the Fitzgeralds and other writers find jazz so energizing? How was jazz viewed by critics at the time? Professor Kaplan is also a skilled musician who is the leader of The Aristocats, a longtime favorite among area jazz fans. 

On Tuesday, March 24 at 10:00 a.m., Deno Trakas, Ph.D. will explore what makes The Great Gatsby great in a talk about “The Perennial Appeal of The Great Gatsby.” Why does this novel published in 1925 continue to resonate so deeply with readers almost a century later? Dr. Trakas studied with preeminent F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli and teaches a course on “F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age, and The Depression” at Wofford College, where he serves as Laura and Winston Hoy Professor of American Literature. Trakas has authored three books to date, including a novel, a poetry collection, and a nonfiction book.

On Monday, March 30 at 10:00 a.m., expert collector Melissa Levey will describe her collection of dazzling Jazz Age dresses, hats, Art Deco jewelry, accessories, and other items that she is generously allowing the Library to put on display throughout March and April. These lovely artifacts capture the spirit of the era and provide community members with a sense of living history. While earning her degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Levey had access to costume exhibits at museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was a children’s wear designer, until leaving the garment industry to raise her own children, when she began designing and making costumes for local school drama programs, using her knowledge of vintage to lend a more professional look to productions. Today, her collections number in the thousands of pieces, spanning from 1910 through 1965.

On Thursday, April 2 at 5:30 p.m., the Library will screen the 1974 classic film version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford as nouveau-riche millionaire Jay Gatsby and Mia Farrow as his beloved Daisy Buchanan. This adaptation comes closest to capturing onscreen the essence of Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel.

Sometimes lost in the drama and allure of the Fitzgeralds’ lives is the fact that Zelda was a serious writer in her own right. On Friday, April 3 at 2:30 p.m., Celeste McMaster, Ph.D. will remember Zelda’s voice. Dr. McMaster will read her prize-winning short story, “Zelda, Burning,” which offers an original, compelling account of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s tragic fate in her final days at Highland Hospital, poignantly presented from Zelda’s view. The short story won the 2016 Great American Fiction Contest from the Saturday Evening Post. Dr. McMaster is Professor of English at Charleston Southern University and earned the 2017 Coker Fellowship for Fiction from the South Carolina Academy of Authors.

Dr. McMaster’s dramatic reading of “Zelda, Burning” will lead into the crowning event of the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald 100th Anniversary Celebration: the “Great Gatsby Gala” on Friday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. One hundred years later, to the day, the “Great Gatsby Gala” concert honors Scott and Zelda’s wedding day, a day that launched this famous couple as well as modern literary history. The ever-popular Island Jazz Quintet will help us relive the Jazz Age in proper style by recreating the upbeat music of Scott and Zelda’s prime. The event recalls the vivid, extravagant soirees hosted by Jay Gatsby…all to win back the attentions of his lost love, Daisy Buchanan. If you’d like, come dressed as a flapper in pearls or as a clubman in a fedora, and kick up your heels to the same jazz that Scott and Zelda adored. A prosecco toast will be offered to celebrate Scott and Zelda.

Given their love of jazz and gin, Scott and Zelda were no strangers to speakeasies in their heyday. On Thursday, April 9 at 10:00 a.m., J.R. Fennell, Ph.D., Director of the Lexington County Museum, will deliver a presentation on bootlegging and Prohibition in the Roaring 20s. During Prohibition, how did one go about getting some alcohol? What sort of life did bootleggers lead? What was it like inside a speakeasy? Dr. Fennell will provide fascinating facts from the history of Prohibition and bootlegging during the Jazz Age.  

Sadly, like their best-known tales, the Fitzgeralds’ life-story does not end happily. As the booming 1920s came to a grinding halt with the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression, the Fitzgeralds’ personal world also began to dissipate. Scott’s drinking became prolific; Zelda’s behavior became erratic. In April 1930, Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and from then on, she would spent the brunt of her days institutionalized at various mental hospitals. Scott moved away to write screenplays in Hollywood, where he would die young from the effects of long-term alcohol abuse in 1940 at age forty four. In 1948, Zelda perished, along with eight other patients, in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Nevertheless, both Scott and Zelda saw with piercing clarity their own failings, even if they seem ultimately doomed by these. And they were unquestionably a visionary pair, who loved, perhaps not wisely, but too well. It is their deep-hearted imagination that we look to celebration, one hundred years on: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”