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Finding Poe’s Mystery Lover

Author John May gives us a glimpse at a new side of Edgar.


Set in 1844 when Poe worked as an editor and reviewer for the magazine trade in New York, May’s novel focuses on the love affair between Poe and a famous poet of the time, Mrs. Fanny Osgood. While most Poe biographers deny that the affair ever occurred, May uses the poetry of both writers to show their romantic connection.

Strangely enough, May began work on the book not as homage to Poe but to the relatively unknown Osgood. In graduate school, May took a poetry course that introduced him to poets of the 19th century as well as familiarizing him with the reviews they received in local journals.

“What fascinated me about Fanny Osgood was that she seemingly disappeared,” May says. “Poe called her one of the finest living woman poets in America, and it was strange because I’d never even heard of her. So I got really interested in her, and I began to think that perhaps she’d been forgotten because of her relationship with Poe. So I wanted my book to tell Fanny’s side of the story rather than Poe’s.”

During the course of his research, May read as much as he possibly could about Poe’s New York years. “While there is no defining proof that the affair happened,” May says, “the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.” One of the earliest biographies on Poe hints at the author’s romantic involvement with someone from Providence, R.I., where Fanny lived. Poe was also in Providence at the time that Fanny conceived her child.

May also describes the poetry written at the time by each author. When the works are compared, there are hints and connections that link the two. Some of Poe’s word choices are repeated by Fanny, and many of her poems seem to be responses to things that he’d written.

Looking at this link between the two famous poets allowed May to appreciate the power of Fanny’s prose, as well as see how ahead of her time she really was. “Because all the editors at the time were men, most women could only get sentimental poetry published during this time,” May says. “Many of Fanny’s best poems she probably couldn’t get published. But most of her poems are defiant and independent with a very feminist undertone. I feel like in writing this book that I became her champion. I want other people to know about her. I think her poetry’s terrific.” S

John May will be appearing Sunday, May 2, at the Poe Museum to read from and sign copies of his book. He will also be at the Junior League’s 59th Annual Book & Author Dinner on May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel downtown [see sidebar]. Tickets cost $55, call Julie Cole at 278-9618.

Bon Appetit, Book Worms

John May will be also appearing at the Junior League’s 59th annual Book & Author Dinner, a fund-raiser that gives book lovers a chance to meet writers. The proceeds go to support the league’s community programs and leadership development here in Richmond. Paul Duke will serve as moderator for the event, and after dinner, he will introduce each of the authors who will give brief talks about their books.

Also appearing at this year’s event will be Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Mears, author of “Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning: A Reporter’s Story.” Mears’ book details the 11 presidential elections he covered from 1960 –2000. Laurence Leamer will talk about “Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty.” Leamer, best-selling author of two other Kennedy biographies, will discuss his latest, which details the sons and grandsons in the aftermath of J.F.K.’s assassination.

Marian Keyes’ novel “The Other Side of the Story” is set in the cutthroat world of publishing where love and loyalty vie for control. Kate White, former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief turned mystery writer, will discuss “Til Death Do Us Part,” in which a true crime writer must discover the killer of two bridesmaids before she turns into the headline of the next true crime story. Finally, Vyvyane Loh presents “Breaking the Tongue,” about the fall of Singapore to the Japanese during World War II. The dinner takes place May 6 at 7 p.m. at the downtown Marriott Hotel. Tickets cost $55; call Julie Cole at 278-9618. — F.W.D.

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