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Levy Lecture: Spoon River Anthology presented by Paddy and Jon Lynn

“Everyone, everyone sleeps on the hill. … Everyone, everyone sleeps, sleeps, sleeps on the hill. “

These gloomy sentences are repeated several times in the opening minutes of Spoon River Anthology, a spoken word poetry performance presented on Tuesday November 16 as part of the Levy Lecture Series. Paddy and Jon Lynn, who both had successful careers combining theater and teaching, shared the screen in costume as they recited the lines that brought the author Edgar Lee Masters fame and shame.

Actors and storytellers Paddy and Jon Lynn. (Photo courtesy of the Lynns)

He grew up in Petersburg, Illinois, a small town northwest of Springfield. He observed many of the details contained in the verses as a young boy, working after school, exhibiting newspapers, working in his father’s law firm, overhearing conversations between his father and townspeople (his father served four terms as mayor ) and hearing local gossip from friends or family.

His poems exposed the hypocrisy of living in a seemingly idyllic small town in the Midwest, the fictional Spoon River, as all 244 characters one after another tell their stories from their graves in the city’s cemetery.

Masters wrote the verses as free poetry in 1915 at the age of 47. He was trained and practiced as a lawyer in Chicago for nearly 30 years, but he had literary ambitions. “Spoon River Anthology” was not his first published work, because he had been sending poems to literary magazines for years and had them printed, always under a pseudonym, so as not to impair or influence his legal practice. He eventually stopped practicing as a lawyer to focus on his writing career and published nearly 50 works including poems, dramas, essays, biographies and novels. Nothing else he wrote surpassed “Spoon River Anthology” in recognition, approval, or approval from the literary community, a fact that haunted him for the rest of his life.

When asked if Masters is vengeful, Jon Lynn nods and says a resounding “Yes!” He explains: “You can almost look at the book, 244 different epitaphs. Almost all of his youth in Petersburg are treated in a very favorable light. And then when he was growing up he could see all the bad and the bad and the bad side of people and that was what impressed him the most. Most of Lewiston when he was an older man are very dark and sad. He blames the people. He tells stories that it is that person’s fault that that person committed suicide, died, or left home. It was very vengeful. “

The complete “anthology” would take two hours. Jon and Paddy Lynn have chosen their favorite characters to give the audience a 45 minute overview for this Levy Lecture webinar.

The Lynns, who have been married for 44 years, met at Illinois Wesleyan University college and married shortly after graduating. Jon taught drama and English in high schools for 35 years; He taught his students the “anthology” three times. Twice, in 1981 and 2021, the production was selected for the state festival, the highest award (prizes are not awarded).

The couple has been performing the “Anthology” together for years. Before the pandemic, they also performed with a musician friend who interspersed the verses with historically appropriate melodies.

Paddy has written children’s books, has appeared in over 100 plays, and was Artistic Director of the Kirk Players Community Theater for 16 years. Her main business, Paddy Lynn Storyacting, brings storytelling programs to schools for children of all ages. Levy Lecture Series followers may remember seeing her fascinating historical portrayals of Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Lynns raised two daughters together and now enjoy being grandparents.

“Spoon River Anthology” is a classic in American literature and is brought to life by the Lynns. One viewer commented, “The interaction between the two added a dimension that you don’t get when reading the text.” Another added, “I enjoyed the Spoon River Anthology when I originally read it many years ago. The Lynns did an excellent job of conveying the mood and drama of the entire work, especially in the zoom format. ”

Readers can watch the video on the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel.

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