May 30, 1998


by Stephen Dobyns


Today's Reading: "Funeral" by Stephen Dobyns from CEMETERY NIGHTS, published by Penguin Books (1987).

It's the birthday in Louisville, Kentucky, 1903, of poet COUNTEE CULLEN, a member of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. He was still a student at New York University when his first collection came out in 1925, called Color, which made him a literary star. He published several more collections in the '20s and early '30s, but after that taught for the rest of his life in the New York Public Schools.

It's the birthday in Chicago, 1901, of CORNELIA OTIS SKINNER, author of short poems, humorous essays, and stage monologues that she often performed herself. She's best known for her 1942 memoir Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and the 1958 comedy The Pleasure of His Company.

The FIRST AMERICAN DAILY NEWSPAPER went on sale this day, 1783, the Philadelphia Evening Post and Daily Advertiser.

The playwright CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE was killed on this day, 1593, outside London. In addition to his writing, he dabbled in spying and counterfeiting, and was constantly in hot water for his religious beliefs; some claimed he was an atheist. One of his last plays was Doctor Faustus, the man who sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power. On May 30, Marlowe spent the day drinking at a seedy tavern in Deptford, outside London. A fight broke out - some say over religion, others say over the bill - knives were drawn, and when it was all over Marlowe was dead.

HENRY VIII and JANE SEYMOUR were married on this day, 1536. They met when she became a lady-in-waiting to Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and then to Anne Boleyn, who married the King in 1533. Jane caught his eye, but she refused to be his mistress, only his wife. Since Henry had tried unsuccessfully to conceive a male heir to the throne with Anne, he had her beheaded on May 19, 1536, and married Jane less than two weeks later. In October, 1537, their son, the future Edward VI was born. Jane died 12 days later.

It was on this day in 1431 that JOAN OF ARC was burned at the stake. She was 19 years old. She'd spent the last year of her life imprisoned - by the English whom she'd been so successful at driving out of French cities in a series of battles, and by authorities of the church who charged her with blasphemy. She claimed the voices of the saints led her in battle. On May 30, she was forced to listen to a public sermon about the error of her ways, then sentenced to death. As she was strapped to the stake, she asked a Dominican friar to hold high a crucifix and shout to her phrases from the Bible, loud enough to hear over the flames.

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