Jun. 13, 1998

Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl

by Dana Gioia


Today's Reading: "Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl" by Dana Gioia from DAILY HOROSCOPE, published by Graywolf Press (1986).

It's the FEAST DAY OF ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA, the patron of the illiterate and the poor.

It's the birthday in Montrouge, 1926, of the French geneticist JEROME LEJEUNE who when he was 33 years old discovered the abnormality behind Down syndrome. In 1956 scientists found that humans have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. Three years later Lejeune uncovered the abnormality on the 21st pair, specifically the presence of a third chromosome where there should only be two.

It's the birthday in San Francisco, 1911, of the physicist LUIS ALVAREZ, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for discovering several subatomic particles. Alvarez was a kind of Renaissance man of science: during WWII he was a part of the Los Alamos team that built the first atomic bomb, and he flew in the squadron that dropped it on Hiroshima; he also built a hand-held radar device that allowed planes to land in fog; he dabbled in geology and was an early proponent of the theory that an asteroid-hit millions of years ago clouded Earth's skies and starved out the dinosaurs; and he developed something called the "liquid hydrogen bubble chamber" in which he discovered new subatomic particles.

The BOXER REBELLION began on this day in China, 1900 — the Chinese effort to drive foreigners out of their country. Several European countries in the 19th century began claiming exclusive trading rights with individual Chinese provinces, some even going so far as to lay claim to the province itself. The Chinese were fed up, and in 1899 a group known as the "Fists of Righteous Harmony" was formed, dedicated to ousting foreigners. Westerners called them "Boxers" because they practiced martial arts — which Boxers believed made them impervious to Western bullets. On June 13, 1900 they attacked Beijing where most of the foreign diplomats and businessmen lived, a few days later the Chinese Empress ordered all foreigners killed, but by August an international army arrived and put the Boxer Rebellion down, and in 1901 a treaty was signed.

Crime novelist DOROTHY L. SAYERS, creator of the dashing detective Lord Peter Wimsey and his servant Bunter, was born in Oxford, England, on this day, 1893. Sayers went to school in her hometown, specializing in medieval literature; and called herself "a scholar gone wrong" when she came out in 1923 with her first Lord Wimsey novel, Whose Body? She followed that up with one or two mysteries a year for the next 15 years, titles like The Unpleasantness of the Bellona Club, and Gaudy Night.

It's the birthday in Dublin, 1865, of WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, the Irish poet, playwright, and nationalist. He grew up in London and Dublin and one of his first jobs was as the literary correspondent in London for a couple of American papers. When some of the older, fiery Irish patriots died around the turn of the century, Yeats felt that Irish political life had lost all its force, and that it might regain it through Irish poetry, drama and legends. Most of his greatest writing came after the age of fifty, collections like The Wild Swans at Coole, The Tower, and The Winding Stair.

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 »