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America’s Most Radical Educational Experiment

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Gabriel Benzur via Getty Images

The college that produced many of the 20th century’s most brilliant artistic minds is one you've probably never heard of. That’s because Black Mountain College existed quietly in the remote mountains of North Carolina before officially closing its doors 58 years ago. 

According to North Carolina's Our State Magazine, in 1933, a passionate professor named John Andrew Rice decided to found a college of his own after years of being disappointed by academia. He had just lost his teaching job at Florida's Rollins College in light of accusations that he was inciting mutiny among the faculty. He brought along some of his fellow dissatisfied colleagues and students, and together they started Black Mountain College in North Carolina’s Buncombe County.

In the beginning they had no plan, budget, or even a physical space to call their own. They eventually found a Christian conference and training center that held most of their retreats during the summer, and were able to rent it during the academic season for an incredible deal. The school’s very first catalog stated that it had been founded to "provide a place where free use might be made of tested and proved methods of education and new methods tried in a purely experimental spirit."

The college was unlike anything else that existed at the time. The entire organization was run by the teaching faculty, and input from students was highly encouraged. Professors were only paid when there was money to pay them with, and they were given room and board on the premises. Most of the food was grown on the college’s farm. The fledgling college was able to stay afloat through the Great Depression, largely thanks to an investment from former Rollins colleague and famous Forbes family member Malcolm Forbes. 

Black Mountain is also notable for establishing an open forum for discussion and acceptance long before such things were a blip in the national consciousness. It became a safe haven for Jewish academics fleeing Nazi Europe, and in 1944 it hosted an African-American student named Alma Stone 12 years before Autherine Lucy enrolled in the University of Alabama. 

Black Mountain College was never accredited and only around 60 of the 1200 who attended graduated (those who did graduate received homemade diplomas). Despite this, alumni were snatched up by some of the best graduate schools in America and beyond. Notable students included the now-legendary “Black Mountain Writers” like Jonathan Williams, Joel Oppenheimer, Fielding Dawson, and Robert Creeley. The college also boasted residences and guest lectures from Aldous Huxley, Langston Hughes, Thornton Wilder, and Albert Einstein

After embracing Dadaism and the beat poetry movement in the decades that followed, Black Mountain College finally shuttered for good in 1957 for financial reasons. The school remains largely unheard of, even within academic communities, but the legacies of its faculty and alumni continue to have a huge impact on today’s art scene. 

Curious literary pilgrims interested in learning more about the school's history can visit the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in downtown Asheville. Closer to the original site is a humble plaque along Highway 70 that reads "BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE: Est. in 1933: Closed 1956. Experimental school with emphasis on fine arts & progressive education. Campus was 3 mi. NW"—one of the few testaments to the once vibrant campus.

[h/t: Our State]

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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literature
25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said. He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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