A ‘Ballad’ for Dorothy Parker on What Would Have Been Her 124th Birthday

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

I first learned of Dorothy Parker not from reading her work, but from a song. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker was the fourth track on Prince’s 1987 album, Sign O’ The Times.  In the song, Dorothy Parker was not a writer, but a waitress.  Later, as a communications and journalism major in college, I learned about Dorothy Parker’s work while writing a paper on how the media covered the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  What many people don’t know is that Dorothy Parker had a long history of frank reporting and observations on the injustices marginalized people suffered globally.  Her style was witty and smart, salty, but honest.  She was a wordsmith and never missed an opportunity to remind us of that.  When asked in 1925 whether she would ever change her style and approach, Dorothy Parker bustled at the thought, stating she would not ‘because I do not give a damn.’

And as a writer, neither do I.

Over the years, I find that my writing style, particularly editorials can be likened to Dorothy Parker; not because I try to emulate her, but because when it comes to worrying about how people respond to my work my mantra is ‘I have no cares to give.’ As a writer, you can’t worry like that when striving to make sense of nonsense. Essentially, this is what most of us are trying to accomplish and doing so not only requires a sense of humor, but also a certain fearlessness when it comes to what we put down on paper.  We cannot write the truth if we are afraid of it. Dorothy Parker always wrote the truth no matter how painful. She was never afraid of it and she was ‘just as surprised as everyone else by what came out of [her] mouth.’

It is very rare that I reflect on my own work and try to understand the influences that shape who I am as a writer; I usually just write.  However, I am glad that I took the time to do that today and affirm how my writing style is undoubtedly connected to Dorothy Parker’s. ‘Next time I’ll do it sooner.’

Upon her death, Dorothy Parker left her entire estate to the NAACP, including her remains, because she was so moved by their work and the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Suggested reading:

Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

A fictional work where the ghost of Dorothy Parker and the book’s protagonist solve a mystery— a writer silenced by scandal is missing.

 

Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick

The Dorothy Parker Society shares recipes and anecdotes about some of the writer’s favorite drinks as well as those served in New York City speakeasies in the Jazz Age. Amazon Prime members can also get a free snack with purchase of this book to go with their cocktails.

Men I’m Not Married To by Dorothy Parker

A 2016 reprinting of a classic work— Dorothy Parker in her own words: ‘No matter where my route may lie, no matter whither I repair, in brief – no matter how or why or when I go, the boys are there.’

 

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Aisha K. Staggers

Aisha K. Staggers has been writing since middle school. She had her first major publication in her local newspaper’s entertainment section while a sophomore in high school, a publication in another state paper followed. Aisha has been contributing to various paper, magazines and textbooks for over 15 years. In addition to her time as an instructor of social sciences in higher education, Aisha has served as a director of education and policy research centers, and on the staff of legislative commissions. Aisha previously served on the Executive Board of the CT Young Democrats Women’s Caucus and has remained active in politics and public policy. She is an alumni of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT and Fisk University in Nashville, TN where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, respectively, and completed the South Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program in 2008. Currently, Aisha is Senior Editor for BookTrib, a division of the literary public relations firm, Meryl Moss Media. In addition to her own work, Aisha will be writing the liner notes for an upcoming Prince tribute album and contributing a chapter to a 2018 scholarly work on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound.