What Longfellow Heard

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What Longfellow Heard


12 years plus was  the timeline for the making of this critically-acclaimed novel. Nappa was deeply immersed in the life, poetry and world of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from 2002 until June 14th, 2017 when it was officially released on his 59th birthday. It garnered early praises while he worked on it as his thesis in the MFA Creative Writing program at Queens University in Charlotte and even more upon its completion and release. Here’s a summary from the jacket:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was enormously famous in his day. Adults and children celebrated his poems, both in America and abroad. He was the first American poet admitted into the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey in England and was renowned for such works as “Hiawatha,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Evangeline,” “Tales of a Way-side Inn” and others. However, his amazing life was wrought with trials and heartaches during an era when America was laboring to grow up without destroying itself in the process. What Longfellow Heard is a powerful telling, in many of the words and musings of the poet himself, of his tragic quest for love and family, his longing for art and fame, and his heartbreaking losses. Discover how his art and faith wrestled within him while he desperately tried to make peace with the tumult of his times. Experience the tragedy of his first marriage, his long road to recovery, and his passion for the woman he pursued for seven years while the nation fractured and his poetry soared. What Longfellow Heard is a novel with profound relevance to our modern-day polarization, increasingly clouded national identities, and the universal aching for peace, joy, and purpose in the midst of conflict and confusion.




“It’s one of the very few I looked forward to getting back to when I had to put it down. Nappa offers such a wonderful sense of scene—the death when Clara comes in, the first meeting with Fanny, that fantastic scene with the landlady and canker worms. The author shows a great eye for the particularizing detail.”
—NAEEM MURR, author of The Boy, The Genius of the Sea, and The Perfect Man.

“One of the main pleasures I have in these pages is the way Nappa brings the flavor of Longfellow’s language into his own prose. The period feels vividly imagined, from the clothes and the furnishings to the way people speak and write to each other in letters… The world of this novel is very compelling and made me care about Longfellow in a way I would not have expected.”
—ZACHARY LAZAR, author of Sway and I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

“I really liked it. Henry comes vibrantly to life in these pages, and the way Nappa massages in Longfellow’s poetry and writing process is very deft.”
—RICHARD RUSSO, Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool, Bridge of Sighs, and many others.

“Jon Nappa’s Longfellow is remarkable. The book does an amazing job of humanizing Henry. It works brilliantly.”
—SHAYE AREHEART, founder/editor of the Shaye Areheart imprint of Crown Books

The challenge: tell a convincing tale in the voice of one of America’s most lauded wordsmiths. Talk about setting a high bar for yourself as a writer! But Nappa is more than up to the task. Writing with passion, compassion, wit, and erudition, Nappa delivers a compelling story laced with poetry and real insight into Longfellow’s life and his art. Best of all, it inspired me to re-examine the poet’s work, and with far greater depth and appreciation than before.
—ROY SEKOFF, founding editor of The Huffington Post, and creator of HuffPost Live, its awardwinning
live streaming video network.

Nappa’s first-person prose is earthy and rich, yet highly polished. The narrative voice is so authentic that the period-appropriate language does not distract from the book’s liveliness or humor. Dialogue is a particular strength, as Nappa’s fine ear brings animation and individuality to every character, including those with the smallest parts to play. Though based on the historical record of Longfellow’s life, the emotional depth of Nappa’s work makes it feel original and enlightening. Pitch-perfect in its voice and deeply sympathetic to its title character, the novel is an engaging and vivid portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s journey from childhood to immortality.



I  Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is an original poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863. Today, it is often sung at Christmas time but without the following two verses which are from the original version:

Then from each black, accursed mouthThe cannon thundered in the South,

And with the soundThe carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rentThe hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlornThe households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The “black mouths” refer to the cannons blasting throughout the Civil War. But cannons were not the only things Henry heard. Bells chimed the world over and along with everything else he was hearing, these things had meaning to him. He wrote and shared what he could and what he shared became meaningful and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow became enormously popular in his day despite so little being known about him to audiences today. As Nappa undertook this project, he learned much about Henry, his times and important truths about humanity that survive every age. What he discovered touched him, angered him, moved him, depressed him and gave him hope. Over the years, Nappa devoured anything he could read by him and about him, built a 16-foot timeline of his life and achievements (soon to be pictured below), and wrote this novel about Longfellow’s life and loves, his work and his art, his day and ours, and the things that bind us most.