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Foreword There's plenty of seriousness in this issue, as in Mary Brave Bird's account of her Ufe on the wUd side with A.I.M. and the Native American Church, or Michael Waters' poems of pivotal encounters that forever change a person's world, or Jeff Friedman's poems of lost love. Or the diary of Amy Wingreen, this issue's history as Uterature feature. Wingreen was a young nurse from Chicago, trained at Cook County Hospital as "an expert in cases of yeUow fever," who answered the governmenfs appeal for volunteers to serve in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Wingreen was among the very first group of women to ever be officiaUy recruited by the army for service in a war zone. She saw the chance to go to Cuba as her opportunity for romantic adventure, as weU as performing a patriotic act. Her romantic ideaUsm at the beginning of her journey may seem naive, but it was this same faith that gave her strength in the darkest moments and under the most appalling conditions. Surrounded by death, exhausted, and herself coming down with fever, she refused to lose heart or stop tending "my brave boys." Wingreen's diary provides a gUmpse into the behind-the-scenes suffering in America's "splendid Uttle war," as weU as an intimate look into the motives and behavior of a professional woman near the. turn of the century. Over much of the rest of this issue, the spirit of comedy presides. "If only I could write comedy," I once heard a gifted noveUst say wistfuUy. "Td make a deal with the devü just to be able to write one great comic novel." Through the years, I've heard quite a few writers admiring or hankering to write comedy. They love it for different reasons, some of which are fairly obvious. Ifs fun. It makes you laugh. But writers seem to get starry eyed over comedy for some deeper reason, perhaps having to do with the very nature of their work. Great comedy is Uke a fine magic act. A magician turns commonplace things Uke eggs or scarves into items of wonder and amazement. The egg is wonderful because he has made it appear. How did he do that? Great comedy turns the most ordinary materials —humble characters, banal motives—into something sublimely other. The basis of comedy Ues in the transformation itself. W. C. Fields turns a grouchy mumbling selfish alcohoUc middleaged man into a character of considerable pathos—beleaguered modern man, coping. CharUe Chaplin turns an awkward Uttle tramp into an elegant and graceful dancer, moving through the hazards of the world. In comedy, fools speak the deepest truths. Shakespeare's fools are always his most daring phUosophers. They are cut free, afraid of nothing because they have nothing to lose; the lowest and most ridiculous person around, they are also the only one with the Ucense and wit to mock the king. Some of Shakespeare's best fools are in his tragedies—Lear's fool, Hamlet playing the fool. Always they are ridiculing, doubting, uttering the most far-reaching truths. In comedies of manners—the basic genre of many a novel, play and movie—characters are often selfish and shaUow. They may lose their identities, either UteraUy or figuratively. They get confused about who they are. Sometimes they act under aUases (as in Shakespeare's romantic comedies or "The Importance of Being Ernest" or countless movies). They form romantic Uaisons and aUiances with the wrong people or for the wrong reasons. But then in the last act, after lots of confusion, everyone gets the right identity, often the right mate, and usuaUy some deepened understanding of how to be and what to do—the happy ending of romantic comedy. Seldom is it necessary for the transformation to be made reaUsticaUy. Ifs just time for the charade to end, the benediction to be read. Laughter? Maybe, maybe not. But transformation, wonder and questioning, these are at the heart of comedy. Comedy wears its magic on its sleeve; it is the most "godlike" of the Uterary genres. I can turn this material, says the comedian. I can turn this...


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