Mar. 3, 1998

Old Heroines

by Julia Alvarez


Today's Reading: "Old Heroines" by Julia Alvarez from HOMECOMING, published by Penguin (1996).

It's the birthday of poet JAMES MERRIL, born in New York in 1926. He was the son of the founder of the brokerage house, Merrill-Lynch and grew up in wealthy circumstances. But when he was 13 his parents divorced, and that theme of splitting and of loss runs through most of his work.

The first issue of TIME magazine went on sale on this day in 1923. The editors, Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, had just gotten out of Yale and had no experience as journalists, but they were convinced that Americans had no time to find out what was going on around them.

It's the birthday of ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847. He came from a long line of teachers who specialized in working with the deaf and his most famous invention was the telephone, intended more at first as an aid for the deaf.

Two great pieces of music appeared on this day: Beethoven's "MOONLIGHT SONATA" was published in Vienna in 1802; and Bizet's opera CARMEN, in Paris, 1875. Beethoven wrote the Sonata when he was 27 and head-over-heels in love with a 17-year old countess. It became his most popular piece and Beethoven was pretty unhappy about it. He said, "Surely I've written better things."

Bizet's story of the gypsy Carmen and the torŽador and Don José was trounced by the critics. Bizet was crushed and died three months later at 35.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »