By Anita Raymon
Professor Joe Cuomo welcomed Peter Matthiessen, Frank McCourt, Grace Paley, and Miller himself who would read from a recent memoir, “A Line to Walk on.” Miller had some bruised ribs after falling in his Connecticut home but had made the trip to Queens. He decided to remain seated, with the microphone, but otherwise was just fine. His wife, Inge, was by his side.
Cuomo reflected on Miller's accomplishments over the last 65-plus years. He called him “one of the heroes of American Letters, and a proponent in the fight for human rights throughout the world.”
Matthiessen, a National Book Award winner for his novels and non-fiction, read from his “Watson” trilogy.
The man named “Respect,” or “Spec” Daniels, is the narrator of the third story. He and the other crazies, men and women, live and hunt alligators in the Florida Everglades. Their favorite meeting place is a dingy, shanty bar with a leaky, tin roof and a loud jukebox playing incessantly. His descriptive language and dialect described the deadly Florida swamp islands, where mangroves are difficult to penetrate by boat in the murky gloom.
There are clandestine activities going on in the 'Glades, which eventually lead to a horrible murder. “Spec” hates the National Parks Department, and all tax collectors were an anathema. They are always spying on him and his “friends,” making their lives utterly miserable!.
Also paying tribute to Arthur Miller was his neighbor in Connecticut, the effervescent, Irish memoirist, Frank McCourt. Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for “Angela's Ashes” and “Tis,” McCourt told in hi readings of the jobs that he worked when he arrived in America. He was an uneducated lad from Ireland with a strong back, but with the reddest, swollen, sorest eyes, which ran tears continuously. This had been caused by the exposure to coal dust in the mines and his job walking behind the coal wagon on the streets. Even though the docks in New York were a cruel place, he became a proud union stevedore.
McCourt also recounted his first day as an English teacher at a Staten Island vocational high school. He spoke about the 30 years he spent in education, after he graduated from college under the G.I. Bill.
Grace Paley read one of her immigrant stories with striking dialog and an ear for the sounds of 1910 New York, and the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who fled from the oppression of countries in Europe to make new lives in America. She has also produced several collections of poetry, including “Begin Again: Collected Poems.”
Finally, the honoree of the evening, Arthur Miller, strode on stage, thanked all of his many well-wishers and gave a moving reading of a recently published memoir, “A Line to Walk on,” about a modest hangout on Broadway where budding playwrights used to gather to exchange news and commiserate with one another.
The master playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner and fine storyteller, is still on top of his game.
For information on upcoming Queens College Readings, call 718-793-8080 or 718-997-4646.