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Who Was Gertrude Stein?
Gertrude Stein was a prolific American writer. She is probably known best for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; Four Saints in Three Acts, her opera collaboration with Virgil Thomson; the circle of friends (Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, etc) who visited her home at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris and who she helped promote; and quotations such as: "rose is a rose is a rose" and "there is no there there."

When Did She Live?
Gertrude Stein was born February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh). She died July 27, 1946, in Paris. She was buried in Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris.

What Did She Write?
Gertrude Stein wrote poetry, fiction, essays, memoirs, libretti, and plays. Her fiction included portraits of people and their essence (what she called Bottom Nature) in such work as The Making of Americans and Three Lives. She wrote varying kinds of fiction from children's story (The World is Round) to her murder mystery (Blood on the Dining Room Floor). Because her list of published work is overwhelmingly long, it's best if you check out her titles in a proper bibliography either in print or on the Web.

Why Should I Read Stein?
The question is not why one should read Stein but what will be missed in omitting her work from your list. Stein infuses joyful play into the English word. She brings back the oral tradition. She scats before it was invented by jazz singers. If you have been wondering where the fractured point of view now seen in contemporary stories and film comes from, try reading Stein. Stein took Picasso's Cubism (a figure seen from all angles at once) as a writing approach. You get various aspects of the same person or object in her writing. If you enjoy and welcome a large landscape of imagination and invention, Stein opens all these doors. If you just want to be the first person on your block to actually read Gertrude Stein, you can still be a pioneer. She may have killed the old writing ideas of the 19th century and brought in the 20th century, but her work is going to lead us through the entire 21st. In my opinion she writes in the style of the 4th Dimension. She just doesn't have an equal in what she accomplished.

What Is Her Writing Like?
Characteristic of her style is repetition, lack of literary allusion, deceptive simplicity, use of accessible vocabulary, odd juxtapositions of details, suspension of usual logic, contradiction, and words producing a meditative, hypnotic, and harmonic effect on the reader. One of her goals for her writing was to create the continuous present. She does this by using 'ing' words. Trained as a scientific researcher (she did her undergraduate studies under William James at Harvard/Radcliffe), her approach to writing is methodical and grounded to things and people most readers would be familiar with. Unlike other writers of her time, her work shows no alienation, no social judgment, no anger, no fear. As a writer Stein never manipulated her reader emotionally. What evolves from the play Stein creates with words is a Cubistic perspective that allows the reader to see more than one facet of an object or person with all its humor, tragedy, and contradictions.

What's the Best Way to Experience Stein?
Read her work out loud. Hear Stein read selections from her work. There is at least one recording of Stein reading short selections from some of her famous people portraits like Picasso and a short vignette from The Making of Americans. Get recordings of the Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All.

What Should I Read First?
Start slow and easy. Read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein plays more with the facts than the words in this work. Realize this is not what Stein's writing career was all about but it gives the reader a flavor of the antics she enjoyed in living. Follow this up with Picasso which is very accessible. Then dip into the long poems "Tender Buttons" and "Lifting Belly." Read all of The World is Round out loud to a child. For something serious, try Three Lives, particularly the story of Melanctha. If you want a book that takes full responsibility for introducing you to Stein, try Judy Grahn's Really Reading Stein.

What Biographies Should I Read?
There are many excellent biographies written about Gertrude Stein. I particularly liked The Third Rose by John Malcolm Brinnin, Charmed Circle by James R. Mellow, and Gertrude and Alice by Diana Souhami. If you love photos, check out Renate Stendhal's Gertrude Stein In Words and Pictures.

What Other Theater Has Been Done on Gertrude Stein?
Part of the process of convincing a publisher or theatrical producer to bring a creative work into public view is knowing what else has been done with your subject and what the pitfalls are. In the case of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, an opera about the life and work of an American literary radical who remains more a notorious figure from our cultural history than a revered author, this question is an ongoing research project as new works appear in public limelight. Read Karren Alenier's essay on this topic at

Web Links to Gertrude Stein

New Links as of August 2004