Jul. 7, 1998

Like a ship's captain

by Yehuda Amichai


Today's Reading: "Like a ship's captain" by Yehuda Amichai from THE GREAT TRANQUILLITY, published by Sheep Meadow Press (1997).

It's the birthday of black poet and novelist MARGARET (Abigail) WALKER, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1915). In 1942 she published For My People, a volume of poetry celebrating black American culture. Its title poem recounts black American history and calls for a racial awakening. For many years, she taught at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, and spent 30 years writing her novel Jubilee (1966), which has been translated into 6 languages and made into an opera.

It's the birthday of the legendary baseball pitcher with the Negro Leagues, LEROY "SATCHEL" PAIGE, born in Mobile, Alabama (1906). When the unwritten rule against blacks in the major leagues finally broke down, owner Bill Veeck signed him to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, whom he helped spark to pennant and World Series victories (1948). "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

On this day in 1905, THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD, or "Wobblies," founded their labor organization in Chicago. Representing 43 different labor groups, the Wobblies opposed such policies of the American Federation of Labor as its acceptance of capitalism and its refusal to include unskilled workers in its craft unions. Among the founders of the IWW were William D. ("Big Bill") Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners, Daniel DeLeon of the Socialist Labor Party, and Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party.

It's the birthday of film director VITTORIO DE SICA, born in Sora, Italy, 50 miles east of Rome in the Apennine Mountains, in 1901. He fell almost casually into a singing and acting career that made him a matinee idol in the 1920s and 30s and went on to direct films such as The Bicycle Thief (1949), for which he used amateur actors from the shops, streets, and slums, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971), Two Women (1960), and Umberto D (1952). "I love poor people," he once said, adding that it was in their lives true drama could be found. "After all, if you exclude adultery, what drama is there in the bourgeoisie?"

It's the birthday of painter MARC CHAGALL, born in Vitebsk, Russia (1887), near the Polish frontier. Called a "poet in paint," he combined whimsical versions of people, animals, musical instruments – the fiddle was his favorite – and both Jewish and Christian symbols, to produce dreamlike effects, sometimes nightmarish but more often joyous, such as the huge murals flanking the Metropolitan Opera at New York's Lincoln Center: "The Sources of Music" and "The Triumph of Music."

It's the birthday of geneticist NETTIE MARIA STEVENS, born in Cavendish, Vermont (1861) – who found that sex is determined by a particular chromosome. In 1906 she and Edmund Beecher independently discovered that sex was determined by the X and Y chromosomes – a finding that established the relationship of cytology (the formation, structure, and function of cells) to heredity.

It's the birthday in 1860, in what is now Vilnius, Lithuania, of ABRAHAM CAHAN, a novelist (The Rise of David Levinsky, 1917) and journalist who helped found and edited the Jewish Daily Forward, a New York Yiddish-language newspaper that helped Jewish immigrants adapt to American life.

On this day in 1853, after 250 years of isolation, JAPAN OPENED ITS DOORS TO TRADE WITH THE WEST. American Commodore Matthew Perry, backed by 4 ships in Tokyo Bay, convinced the current shogun that American vessels should be allowed to buy coal, and Americans should be free to trade in at least one port. Since 1639, when it expelled the Portuguese after expelling the Spanish 15 years earlier, Japan had effectively sealed itself off from foreign influence, not even permitting its own citizens to travel outside their borders.

On this day in 1814, the novel Waverley, by SIR WALTER SCOTT, was published – but anonymously, Scott said later, because he feared hurting his literary reputation by being classed as a novel writer. The first printing of 1,000 copies sold out in 5 weeks.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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