Jun. 10, 1998

My Father Comes to the City

by Joyce Sutphen


Today's Reading: "My Father Comes to the City" by Joyce Sutphen from STRAIGHT OUT OF VIEW, published by Beacon Press (1995).

It's the birthday in Brooklyn, 1928, of children's author and illustrator MAURICE SENDAK. He started off in the early 1950s drawing for children's writers like Marcel Aymé and Ruth Krauss, and did more than 80 books before trying his hand at his own stories. Kenny's Window, in 1956 was his first, followed by the four-volume Nutshell Library a few years later, then the trilogy of Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There.

It's the birthday in Boston, 1925, of the journalist, jazz writer and social critic, NAT HENTOFF, raised in the Jewish ghetto section of Roxbury in Boston. He was a columnist for Downbeat magazine in the 1950s, and came out with The Jazz Life in 1961, probably his best known book, a collection of essays exploring modern jazz. He followed that up with novels for young adults like Jazz Country (1965) and In the Country of Ourselves (1971) and his columns for the Village Voice.

It's JUDY GARLAND's birthday, born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, 1922, to the manager of the local movie theater. When she was two years old, Frances and her older sisters started singing between movies up on the stage accompanied by their mother — a big hit in Grand Rapids. A few years later the family moved to California and the girls took the show on the road, changing their name to the Garland Sisters, Frances changed hers to Judy after a Hoagy Carmichael song. She was a veteran at 17 years old when she was picked to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

It's the birthday, in 1915, near Montreal, of novelist SAUL BELLOW, author of Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Humboldt's Gift which won him both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes in 1976. He was the son of Russian Jewish émigrés and learned to speak both Yiddish and English as a boy. When he was nine the family moved to Chicago where he grew up and eventually went to Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Almost all of his books are semi-comic stories about city dwellers trying to find meaning in a chaotic world — like Mr. Sammler's Planet, which won the National Book Award in 1971.

It's the birthday in Vienna, 1901, of FREDERICK LOEWE, of the Broadway musical team Lerner and Loewe. He was a child prodigy on piano, and wrote a song when he was 15 years old called "Katrina" that sold two million copies. He was hot stuff in Europe and planned to take America by storm when he arrived here in his early 20s, but concerts in New York fizzled and he survived through a variety of odd jobs, everything from bus-boy, prize-fighter, even a cow-poke out west before teaming up with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner in 1942. Their first big hit was the 1947 show Brigadoon, followed by Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and other shows.

It was on this day in 1692, in Massachusetts, that women convicted in the SALEM WITCH TRIALS began to be hanged. The trials started in March of that year after two girls in Reverend Samuel Parris' household began behaving oddly. The girls were examined by several townsmen; they were pronounced witches, and accusations started flying all around Salem: by the middle of May 100 people were in prison waiting trial. By the end of summer the court had tried and convicted 27 people: 19 of them were hanged, one crushed to death by stones.

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  • “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
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