I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy Parker this week. The weather last weekend tickled a memory of a Parker poem called Indian Summer. I looked it up and was hooked by her rapier humor all over again. I devoured The Portable Dorothy Parker when I was young, but have found upon rereading her work that age has given me a greater appreciation for poems like Indian Summer.
In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!
Dorothy Parker is best known, of course, for her razor-sharp wit. During her long writing career, she worked as a journalist, book reviewer for The New Yorker, and drama critic for Vanity Fair. In addition to writing hundreds of poems, she wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays (she received Oscar nominations for her screenwriting in A Star is Born and The Little Foxes).
While she is well-known for her “flapper verse” and as a member of the Algonquin Roundtable in the 1920s, fewer know about her commitment to social justice. During the 1930s and 1940s, Parker became an increasingly vocal advocate of civil rights and a host of other human rights issues in the U.S. and internationally. She was blacklisted as a Communist in the McCarthy era, ending her screenwriting career, but she continued to speak out in support of civil rights.
Parker died in 1967 at the age of 73. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She had never met him, but admired him. When King was assassinated shortly thereafter, her estate was passed on to the NAACP (which still receives royalties on all Parker publications and productions). Her will was contested by her executor, Lillian Hellman, so for years Parker’s cremated remains were kept in her lawyer’s filing cabinet. When the NAACP finally was able to claim her remains in 1988, they designed a memorial garden outside their Baltimore headquarters as Dorothy Parker’s final resting place. A plaque in the garden reads (in part):
Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights.
For her epitaph she suggested, “Excuse my dust”*.
*Some biographies say that she had suggested that when she was buried, her tombstone inscription should read “This is on me”.
Either way, you gotta love this brilliant pioneer for social justice who once said,
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it is just common.”
What’s YOUR favorite Dorothy Parker poem or quote?