Jun. 27, 1998

Summer Morning

by Louis Simpson


Today's Reading: "Summer Morning" by Louis Simpson from SELECTED POEMS, published by Harcourt Brace.

It's the birthday in Brooklyn, 1953, of novelist ALICE MCDERMOTT, author of That Night (1987), At Weddings and Wakes (1992) and Charming Billy, which came out in January, this year — books about contemporary Irish-America. She grew up on Long Island, her first-generation Irish-American parents discouraging her from becoming a writer, she said, because "they saw me starving in a garret and tried to steer me away from it the same way they tried to steer me away from cocaine."

It's the birthday in Depew, New York, 1936, of poet LUCILLE CLIFTON. Her nine books of poetry include Two-Headed Woman (1980), and Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir (1987), both of them Pulitzer Prize nominees. She's been Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and now teaches at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

It's the birthday in Dubuque, Iowa, 1913, of RICHARD BISSELL, who was managing his father's pajama factory in Dubuque when he decided to write a comic novel about it; it came out in 1953 titled Seven and a Half Cents. The following year, George Abbott and he turned it into a musical, The Pajama Game, and it had a long Broadway run over a thousand performances then Doris Day and John Raitt made it a hit movie.

It's HELEN KELLER's birthday, born in Tuscumbia, in the northwestern corner of Alabama, 1880. She was just 9 months old when she got a severe infection that robbed her of sight and hearing. Her parents took her when she was six years old to Alexander Graham Bell, who was famous for working with the deaf. He saw how bright the little girl was and sent Anne Sullivan to the Keller home to work with her. Sullivan, who was 20 years old when she went to Alabama, taught her the names of objects by pressing the alphabet into her hand, and taught Keller how to speak by placing her fingers on Sullivan's larynx to feel the vibrations. Sullivan and Keller were virtually inseparable for the next 50 years, until Sullivan's death.

It's the birthday of EMMA GOLDMAN, the civil liberties agitator, born in Lithuania, 1869. She came to this country when she was 16 years old and landed in Rochester, New York where she found work in a garment factory. Later in New York City she started preaching anarchy, and served a one-year jail term for telling a Union Square audience of unemployed men that "it was their sacred right" to steal food if they were starving. She was tossed in jail again for advocating birth control; and a third time during WWI protesting the draft. She said, "I believe indeed, I know that whatever is fine and beautiful in the human expresses and asserts itself in spite of government, not because of it."

It was on this day in 1844, in the western Illinois town of Nauvoo, that JOSEPH SMITH, who founded the Mormon church, WAS MURDERED. Five years earlier Smith had moved to the town, became mayor, and made it one of the most prosperous in what was then the American west. In February, 1844, he announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency, and was immediately attacked in the local press by a group of Mormon dissenters as a polygamist and political schemer. Smith ordered their presses destroyed and called out the local militia. The authorities charged him with treason and imprisoned in the city jail at nearby Carthage, Illinois. The governor promised him protection, but a mob of armed men stormed the jail on June 27 and killed him.

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