Posted in Language, Literary Arts Series, Literature, Words, Writing

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – Humorists Ogden Nash and James Thurber

What is the connection between Ogden Nash and James Thurber? Besides both being humorists, they published at The New Yorker during the same time period. In 1930, Nash’s first poem “Invocation” was published January 11.  Did you know Nash contributed 329 poems to The New Yorker between 1930 and 1971?

Meanwhile, the magazine ran a drawing by James Thurber for the first time in the February 22, 1930 issue. E. B. White had rescued Thurber’s doodles from being discarded, and encouraged the writer to publish his art work.

Ogden Nash 37¢
(1902-1971)

Ogden Nash.jpg

Issue Date: August 19, 2002
City: Baltimore, MD
Quantity: 70,000,000

American humorist and poet Ogden Nash wrote light-hearted, whimsical, and sometimes nonsensical verse. He often used an extremely large poetic license to create comical rhymes and puns. Ogden Nash is the 18th honoree of the Literary Arts Series.

An interesting couple of notes about the Ogden Nash stamp. It is the first time the word ‘Sex’ has appeared on a stamp; and probably also is the first time a limerick has appeared on a U.S. stamp.

U.S. Postal Service chief stamp developer Terry McCaffrey told CBSNews.com he expects to get complaints about “sex,” which is included in the six Nash poems in the background of the design: “The Turtle,” “The Cow,” “Crossing The Border,” “The Kitten,” “The Camel,” and “Limerick One.”

Nash poked fun at human foibles without cynicism. He wrote on many subjects, but all of his poems expressed his wry wit and demonstrated his playfulness with language. “I’m very fond of the English language. I tease it, and you tease only the things you love,” Nash reportedly said. He invented words and used puns, creative misspellings, irregular line lengths and unexpected rhymes to make his verse humorous and memorable. Because of his unique style, many consider Ogden Nash to have been one of the most accomplished American writers of light verse in the 20th century.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1969, Nash complained about stamps that would not stick to envelopes. He lamented, “The Post Office should supply a roll of Scotch tape with every 100 stamps, but mine won’t even sell me one. I’d like to go back to where I came from: 1902.”

Nash considered himself a ‘worsifier’. One of the most universally known verses is: “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker.” Others include: “If called by a panther, / Don’t anther,” and “In the vanities / No one wears panities.”

Did you know? Nash’s great-great-grandfather was governor of North Carolina during the Revolution, and that ancestor’s brother was General Francis Nash, for whom Nashville, Tennessee, was named.

James Thurber 29¢
(1894-1961)

James Thurber

Issue Date: September 10, 1994
City: Columbus, OH
Quantity: 150,750,000

One of the most popular humorists of his time, James Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.  In Thurber-Land, the men are often sad, bewildered, and inept; the women are fierce and determined; and their dogs are indifferent to men a women alike, and are immersed in a fantasy world of their own.  Thurber is the author of The Secret Life of Walter Mittywhich portrays an oversensitive man who escapes from his nagging wife through his daydreams and the creator of numerous New Yorker magazine cover cartoons.  Writing nearly 40 books, he won a Tony Award for the Broadway play, A Thurber Carnival, in which he often starred as himself.

One of his books, My World and Welcome To It, was turned into an NBC television series in 1969-1970 starring William Windom. My World and Welcome To It, won best Comedy Series and Windom won Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the 1970 Emmys.

Thurber spent much time in and about the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.  Though never a formal member of the Algonquin Round Table, he was a favorite among many of its members including, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

Thurber is the 11th honoree of the Literary Arts series. Read his “The Art of Fiction” interview the Paris Review by George Plimpton and Max Steele.

Did You Know?  As a child, Thurber’s brother shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell. James Thurber lost his left eye, and the incident left his vision permanently impaired.


For the rest of the Give A Lick: Literary Arts series of blog posts, check out Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck, as well as Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison.


For Further Reading & Source Material: 

A New Yorker Timeline

Eighty-five from the archive: Ogden Nash

PR Wire “Literary Arts series Continues with Issuance of Ogden Nash stamp”
*Note: The cool thing about this link is that it shows you the full verses of poems used on the Ogden Nash stamp.

Poetry Foundation / Ogden Nash

Thurber House

Ten Facts about Caldecott Winner , James Thurber

Thurber Prize for American Humor 
*Note: The Thurber Prize for American Humor is the nation’s highest recognition of the art of humor writing. 

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