Do You Know Poe?

Pizza and Poe Trivia Party

I tend to avoid trivia games. It has always been that way. Name that tune was naught but an embarrassment for me. Yet, I have a knack for remembering stories, characters and their author’s biographical information so the idea of a Pizza and Poe Trivia Party in the maker’s room at the Modesto Library was tempting.

My daughters came with me. We studied the timeline of a children’s biography of Poe in the car. We were ready to win.

Author trivia is so challenging when you’ve read a tiny fraction of the author’s works. Nevertheless, we ended in 4th place, respectable considering I sat beside a mathematician and a woman from a Shakespeare non-profit was in the room. The best moments were when my 9-year-old made guesses that were absolutely correct. How did she know Rue Morgue was a street in Paris? I’m so proud. Those Portuguese classes and Latin lessons must be paying off.

The take away, beyond the competition and camaraderie, was that Poe is not who I thought Poe was.

Do you know Poe?

I knew him from Tiny Tunes’ rendition of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

But Poe? I do not know Poe.

I thought he was a tortured soul, torturing readers with his tales of terror.

Not Poe.

Poe was a poet.

Poe was an editor.

Poe was a literary critic.

Poe also has a fan base of people who like to wear black, read spooky things and cosplay with Victorian steam punk attire. But beyond the black, that is not me.

Hillari DeSchane, co-chair for the upcoming PoeCon recognized this gothic attraction. In looking to expand the Story into Song Literacy Initiative’s January production into another conference to rival 2020’s JaneCon, DeSchane knew Poe fit the bill.

But is he just for the goth at heart?

No. DeSchane explains, “Poe has broad appeal across age groups, educational levels, gender and life experience. He’s a perennial favorite for personal reading, and look at the myriad of adaptations into other formats, including pop art and culture! … in the last several decades Poe has been undergoing a critical reappraisal, of both his work and his life. He is increasingly acknowledged as a consummate craftsman, an incisive critic, a prolific practitioner of multiple genres, is almost unanimously acknowledged as the father of the modern detective genre, and—he’s wittily and wickedly funny, too! In his personal life, his reputation as a drink- and drug-addled wreck is now known to have been the smear campaign of a jealous contemporary. This is an author who’s been resurrected, if you will.”

For all his macabre, Poe it still relevant today.

DeSchane explains, “EAP’s fiction examines the core fears and crises of the human existence: love, loss, fear, pain. He also, I believe, explores the consequences of unbridled, undisciplined emotion, of living as if one’s own needs are the only consideration. The battle between ‘I want’ and ‘others need’ is certainly current, and the consequences of selfism—alienation, unhappiness, disfunction, disintegration—are current too.”

It sounds heady, but as I saw with the Launch Party and Trivia, the events are family-friendly, which means I can immerse my children in a study of something that has become part of our American cultural canon. They can meet others who love to read just as much as they.

Poe knew sadness.

His father abandoned the family when he was one, his mother died when he was two. His foster father never really showed love to him and his foster mother died when he was still young. He was deeply devoted to the mother of a friend and she also died. He married and his wife, Virginia, died, too. Times were tough in the 1800s. Times are tough, in their own way, always.

Poe explains in his essay “On the Philosophy of Composition,” that his creative process was intelligible. David Gosselin writes in The Imaginative Conservative, “He begins by recognizing the universal sentiment, the “immortal instinct” found in each individual. From that universal, he then details what themes, subjects, and images he thought would be most conductive to affect the desired outcome on a reader.”

Death was the answer. And what was the most melancholy topic that was likewise be the most poetic? The death of a beautiful woman. A melancholy Poe knew inside and out.

So there we have it.

There is more to know about Poe than the reputation that precedes him.

Check him out at PoeCon January 13-15, 2023. For more info, visit

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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