Wednesday

Apr. 22, 1998

Weeds and Peonies

by Donald Hall

WEDNESDAY 4/22

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.®

 









«

»

  • “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 »