While talking to his class and their parents on Parents’ Day, Max explains that they will be spending the next two weeks on a creative writing assignment. However, that doesn’t mean they will stop reading, as writers find inspiration reading other writers that they admire. He mentions several writers during his short speech.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. Highly influential, he is often called “the father of free verse”. His major work is his poetry collection Leaves of Grass (1855), originally self-published and very controversial at the time. The class must have just finished studying Walt Whitman, as their assignment on him is due the next day.
Homer is the name the ancient Greeks gave to the traditional author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of ancient Greek literature. Walt Whitman first read Homer as a teenager, read his works frequently, and regarded Homer as the ideal to which all poets should aspire.
Dante, born Durante Alighieri (c1265-1321) was a major medieval Italian poet. His epic poem The Divine Comedy is considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language. Walt Whitman greatly admired Dane’s economy of language, and re-read The Inferno (the section of The Divine Comedy devoted to Hell) as part of his preparation for becoming a nurse during the American Civil War.
William Shakespeare was another of Walt Whitman’s literary idols. He believed that Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible were the pinnacle of poetic vision.
Edna O’Brien (born 1930) is an award-winning Irish author, regarded as changing the nature of Irish literature, and one of the finest writers in the English language. Her first novel was The Country Girls (1960), credited with breaking silence on sexuality and social issues in post-war Ireland. It was banned and even burned in Ireland. In 2000 her most recent novel was Wild Decembers (1999), set in Ireland during the 1970s.
I have not been able to locate the source of O’Brien’s quote about Marcel Proust, but he is one of her favourite authors.