Stanley Blair, associate professor of English, recently participated in a program commemorating the 151st anniversary of the birth of Stephen Crane, author of “The Red Badge of Courage.” The event took place in a house on Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park, now known as the Stephen Crane House, where Crane resided from 1883 to 1892. The program was co-sponsored by the Asbury Park Historical Society and the Asbury Book Cooperative, with proceeds to benefit the nonprofit Society to Protect Journalists.
The event featured award-winning novelist Paul Auster, who recently published an acclaimed biography of Crane, “Burning Boy: The Life and Times of Stephen Crane” (Henry Holt, 2021). Auster read sections of his biography that focused on Crane’s years in Asbury Park. “Auster’s biography includes many biographical and bibliographical details while still making the story of Crane’s life and works engaging and accessible to a general audience,” Blair said.
After the reading, Blair facilitated a question-and-answer session with Auster, and led a panel discussion of Crane and his works. Crane House Writer-in-Residence Tom Chesek remarked that the questions for Auster came from “an engaged full-capacity audience of old friends and newcomers alike,” and that the discussion that followed was “illuminating.” Fellow panelist Michael Newton, a creative writer who manages the Used Book Department at the Asbury Book Co-op, remarked that “Auster convincingly argued the case for Crane’s literary genius, describing him as one of the first modernists, and urging wider consideration and study of his work.”
During the discussion, Blair called attention to the important role of one of Crane’s early mentors, Hamlin Garland, who lectured on literary realism at a hotel south of Monmouth’s campus, in Avon-by-the-Sea, in the summer of 1891. Crane’s older brother Townley, a New York Tribune journalist, asked his younger brother Stephen to cover the lecture for him. Crane attended, drafted his news report on the lecture, and met with Garland the next day. “This local lecture was a turning point in the history of American fiction,” Blair said, “a meeting of -isms. Crane, the future proto-modernist poet and future author of the first naturalist novel (“Maggie”), met with the originator of veritism (Garland) regarding his lecture on the aesthetic philosophy of William Dean Howells, the chief American proponent of realism.” Garland later brought Crane’s writing to Howells’s attention, Blair said, helping Crane’s meteoric rise to fame.
This was Blair’s third event at the Crane House, the previous two having been public presentations/charity fundraisers featuring undergraduates from his Stephen Crane seminar and his New Jersey Literature course. In his American literature courses, he often directs students to the Crane House for extra-credit field research. Blair said he most recently taught Crane’s story “The Pace of Youth” last semester. The story’s setting appears to be based on Crane’s knowledge of the Asbury Park boardwalk and carousel.
After the program, there was a signing with Auster, informal conversation about Crane, and refreshments. Chesek concluded, “The event represented The Stephen Crane House at its best…as a true literary landmark that attracts Crane aficionados from literally all around the world; a living/breathing place where friends gather to hear history come vividly ALIVE; a house of ideas and learning; a community resource that partners with, promotes and supports positive endeavors within the local neighborhood and the big world beyond.”
Blair said, “It was an honor to meet and spend time with Mr. Auster, his wife the novelist Siri Hustvedt, and their family. And it was wonderful to hear him discuss the interrelationship of Stephen Crane and Asbury Park, how biographically Crane was influenced by living at the Jersey Shore, and how in turn literarily Crane’s writing reflects those influences.” He added that it was great to see people from the Asbury Book Co-op, the Asbury Park Historical Society, and Monmouth University come together to welcome Auster and to share information and insights with so many Crane admirers.
The Stephen Crane House, a state and national historic site located at 508 Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park, offers drop-in open house tour hours for individual visitors and small groups, Sundays from 12 to 2 p.m. or by appointment.