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Halloween Costumes for Writers and Poets

October 21, 2013
Trick or Trope! Halloween for Lit Types

Trick or Trope! Halloween for Lit Types

Okay. You’re a lit type and it’s Halloween. Who should you be? The question seems to be unanswerable, but you’ve come to the right place. Let me solve this perennial quandary once and for all. There are five quintessential Halloween costumes that every self-respecting word smith should know well, and I’m talking carnal, experiential knowledge here. So stop wondering and start assembling the necessary materials. Make it work, designers.

1. An Iconic Author. The list is a lot shorter than you think. Ultimately, the premise is the same as for good writing: you’ve got to know your audience. If this costume is for a group of mainly non-writers, you’re limited to the writing visages most folks recognize and that list is short: Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman top the list–and dressing up like them would be even more cool if you’re a woman. Others include Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe.

2. An Iconic Authorghouled up, vampirically turned or zombified. Take the icon from step one, add blood and fangs, maybe a fake mangled arm, and voila! Instant costume and spookily apropos. Here’s what I mean:

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A variation on this theme–a favorite author at the moment of a bad situation: Percy Shelly being immolated on the beach, William S. Burroughs on the night of the wife shooting, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the midst of having his Kubla Kahn dream. There’s loads of fun buried alive in this category!

3. Famous LITERARY Character. Okay, now things get good. Here’s where we separate the lit types from the posers. This category is for characters that appear in books only, not in movies or on TV. Books! Remember those? Writers do.

It’s challenging, but the costume should contain enough recognizable elements so that semi-literary onlookers will get it. Here are some possibilities: Guy De Maupassant’s Horla, from the famous short story of the same name. Kafka’s Gregor Samson in bugged-out transition. Poe’s Berenice, skeletal and grave, real grave, with lots of cool dental adornments–the tooth necklace, hair clips made of teeth, sunglasses with bicuspid rims.

In fact, you could go Poe-crazy with this category. What about the wife from the “Black Cat”? A woman could have half a sheet of drywall in front of her, a fake cat on her head, with an axe going through kitty and head. Or you could be Fortunado from “Cask of Amontillado”, wearing a fake brick wall for a front (cardboard would be perfect) through an aperture of the brick facade onlookers would see you immured in your harlequin outfit.

Or you could be Raskolnikov with a raving mad look in the eyes, wearing a heavy blood-spattered overcoat, under which hangs an axe looped to your shoulder. There’s also Dickens’ Miss Havisham: a once-white wedding dress covered with rust, ash, and cobwebs. A very old cake as a prop would help too. Extra gross out points for eating parts of it during stylized performances of jilted sobbing.

4. Famous Characters From POETRY. Novels are easy. For experts, try dressing up as a figure from a famous poem. Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” has loads of creepy imagery in it. I can see your costume now.  Berenice would have nothing on you: ”

O my enemy.
Do I terrify?–
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

Anyone would have a field day working up the makeup appropriate for a figure who says:

Out of the ash I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
Or you could dress up as one of Ginsberg’s “angelheaded hipsters” from “Howl.” The dress code would be easy. It would just be you “cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear” and for effect, you might eat fire or show yourself chained to a huge cardboard mockup of a subway car. Or you could be Alfred J. Prufrock. Half of you would be a middle-aged English man with a hand full of coffee spoons, the other half of you could be a giant, ragged crab claw. You could attend the party with some women dressed as mermaids who sing to everyone but you.
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5. Go as a Book! Granted, this one would require some extra effort with styrofoam or cardboard, but it could be worth it. You’d build a suit-sized version of your favorite horror book opened to your favorite page, the scariest page in any book you can think of. Mine would be the room 237 scene from The Shining. You could probably get a manager at a local copy shop (they still have those right?) to get creative with you as you design the enlargements for your open pages.
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9 Comments
  1. Love it! Thanks for the ideas.

  2. LOLLLL! These are great!

  3. Michael Andreoni permalink

    Michael, I envy you your friends. If I showed up as Walt Whitman my comrades would believe anything, from Santa Claus on one of his 364 days off to Attila the Hun as aging hipster.

    • That’s why it is essential to strike the famous pose from the frontispiece of the first edition of Leaves of Grass–as hints you could have someone write on your back”
      “one of the roughs”
      and then…
      “a cosmos”

  4. FABULOUS, as always, Michael! So appropriate for the season. One year, two of us dressed up as The Walrus and the Carpenter from Lewis Carroll. Alas, no one recognized us.

    • What a brilliant idea for a costume! And poo on anyone who let that brilliance pass without naming it properly. Maybe for us costumed writer types, we should go to soirees in our literary finery and only if those assembled recognize us shall we deign to enter the festivities therein. That shall be our standard. Rec’nize or else!

  5. Reblogged this on heatherzhutchinswrites and commented:
    Okay, Word Nerds, here’s the ultimate guide to Halloween fun–dress up as your fave from literature. You know you want to!

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