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With Rockville festival, Fitzgerald’s literary legacy lives on

by Ryan Marshall

Fitzgerald is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church on Veirs Mill Road, along with his wife Zelda, daughter “Scottie” and other relatives.
The festival is not a typical literary conference geared toward academics, said Eleanor Heginbotham, one of the festival’s organizers. The panels and discussions are geared to be friendly toward the public, she said.
Fitzgerald has continued to capture people’s imagination partly because he and Zelda lived a very glamorous life, said Jackson Bryer, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Maryland and president of the organization that sponsors the festival.
The tumultuous marriage has become part of popular culture “for all the wrong reasons as well as the right reasons,” he said.
The enduring appeal of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and other works have also driven people’s fascination.
People fall in love with the story and characters in “Gatsby,” as well as the poetry and style of the writing, Bryer said.
The novel often divides students along the lines of those who think Gatsby is a fool and others who see him as a yearning idealist, he said.
“It kind of separates the business majors from the English majors,” Bryer said.
The event will actually begin Thursday, with a literary luncheon at the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda.
Friday will feature readings and discussion on “Writing the War Experience” with writers Ron Capps, Katey Schultz and James T. Matthews at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
Saturday will include a full schedule of events, discussions and workshops, including a master’s class by writer James Salter and a discussion with panelists sharing their favorite passages in Fitzgerald’s work, including journalist Jim Lehrer and author Alice McDermott.
Salter will also receive the 2014 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award, which since 1996 has been given to writers including William Styron, Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, John Updike and Elmore Leonard.
Heginbotham is a professor emerita at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., the city where Fitzgerald was born in 1896.
When she moved back to Maryland, she got involved in the festival to help celebrate one of her favorite authors.
Fitzgerald had deep roots in Maryland, and did a lot of writing in the state, Heginbotham said.
His father Edward Fitzgerald was from a prominent family in the county, and young Scott often visited the family’s farm, Locust Grove.
The festival is about bringing people together who love Fitzgerald, said Roberta Mandrekas of Montgomery College.
Any time you read Fitzgerald, something is bound to resonate with you, Mandrekas said.
When Fitzgerald died in 1940, sales of his books were infinitesimally small, Bryer said.
But his legend was still big enough that between 20 and 30 papers wrote obituaries or editorials, although most celebrated him simply as a bard of the Jazz Age, an “exemplar of a time gone by,” Bryer said.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that critics began to regard Fitzgerald as more than just a naturally talented dilettante, and “The Great Gatsby” became recognized as a classic of American literature, Bryer said.
Fitzgerald’s reputation also suffered during his lifetime through comparisons to his contemporary, rival and sometime-friend Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway was larger than life, and his books sold much better, Bryer said.
As result, Fitzgerald envied Hemingway’s commercial success and Hemingway thought Fitzgerald was the superior stylist.
In its 18th year, the festival honoring Fitzgerald’s legacy continues because even today Heginbotham believes people have a tangible connection to the author.

“In our culture, in our ethos, we breathe him,” she said.