Apr. 22, 1998

Weeds and Peonies

by Donald Hall


Today's Reading: "Weeds and Peonies" by Donald Hall from WITHOUT, published by Houghton Mifflin (1998).

Poet LOUISE GLUCK was born in New York, in 1943. She grew up on Long Island and now teaches at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She won the 1993 Pulitzer with her collection The Wild Iris.

It's the birthday of VLADIMIR NABOKOV, born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899, author of the 1955 novel, Lolita, and other books and short stories. His family was part of the Russian aristocracy and barely made it out of the country alive during the 1917 revolution. He studied at Cambridge, then lived in Germany and France teaching boxing, tennis and French and Russian. In 1940, he came to this country, became a citizen, and taught first at Wellesley College, and then during the '50s, at Cornell, all the while writing novels and stories, and pieces for the New Yorker, Harper's and Atlantic Monthly. He suffered for years from insomnia; when he couldn't sleep he'd pull out from under his pillow 3 X 5 notecards on which he'd written a few sentences during the day, and keep writing in his head through the night.

It's the birthday of novelist OLE ROLVAAG, born in 1876 in a fishing village on the coast of Norway named Rolvaag that his own ancestors had settled. His teachers thought him kind of a dull student, but outside of class he read everything he could get his hands on - Dickens, Jules Verne, James Fenimore Cooper, all translated into Norwegian. In his early 20s he moved to the United States and worked on his uncle's farm in South Dakota, then went to college at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota and discovered he liked to write and teach. He stayed at St. Olaf the rest of his life, teaching Norwegian and telling his students to keep alive the old language and customs - America would be the richer for it, he said. He wrote a half-dozen novels, each the story of immigrant struggle here in America. His best-known is the story of Per Hansa and his wife, Beret, that he named Giants in the Earth, which was actually a pair of books written in Norwegian in 1924 and '25 that were translated into English and published in 1927.

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




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