Jul. 9, 1998

Cakes Continue to Rise

by Rick Agran


Today's Reading: "Cakes Continue to Rise" by Rick Agran from CROW MILK, published by Oyster River Press (1997).

It's the birthday of poet JUNE JORDAN, born in Harlem, New York (1936), the child of West Indian immigrant parents. She commuted to a high school where she was the only black in a student body of 3,000. Her first volume of poetry was Who Look at Me (1969). His Own Where, a novel for young adults, came out in 1971.

It's the birthday of neurologist OLIVER SACKS, born in London, England to physician parents (1933). In 1966 he came across a group, at the Bronx Beth Abraham Home for the Incurables, who had been stricken, between 1917 and 1926, with "sleeping sickness," encephalitis lethargica. When he tried a treatment then being introduced to treat Parkinson's victims – a drug called L-Dopa – quite suddenly his zombie-like patients came back to life, after 40 or 50 years of passivity. But when he offered his findings to medical journals, he was simply not believed. It was at this point that he wrote his first book, Awakenings (1973).

It's the birthday of geneticist and philanthropist DR. MATHILDE KRIM, born in Como, Italy (1926), who lived for a time in Israel and was a member of the Irgun – a militant Zionist organization – then married an American film executive and moved to New York (1958). After working for some years in medical research labs, in 1983 she founded the AIDS Medical Foundation and became one of the first people devoted to finding a cure for the disease.

It's the birthday of one of the leading abstract photographers of the 20th century, MINOR WHITE, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1908) – who took up photography at a very young age but set it aside to study botany and poetry. He was 31 before he began to photograph seriously, working in the WPA (Works Progress Administration), after which he studied with eminent photographers Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams.

It's the birthday in 1887 in Boston in of SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON, a biographer and historian who retold notable stories on the adventures of the likes of Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus and Sir Francis Drake. He took his research so seriously that he set off on re-created historic voyages himself; he also taught at Harvard and won a Pulitzer for work including John Paul Jones (1959) and Christopher Columbus (1942).

It's the birthday of anthropologist FRANZ BOAS, born in Minden, Westphalia, Germany (1858). Boaz stressed the need to study 4 fields – ethnology, linguistics, physical anthropology, and achaeology – before making any generalizations about any one culture. He trained the first generation of American anthropologists, including Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.

It's the birthday of inventor NIKOLA TESLA, born in Smiljan, Croatia (1856) – who discovered the rotating magnetic field, the basis of most alternating-current machinery. He also invented the Tesla Coil, widely used in radio technology, and fluorescent lighting.

It's the birthday of inventor ELIAS HOWE, born in Spencer, Massachusetts (1819)&emdash whose sewing machine revolutionized the garment industry. After hearing someone say that the man who invented a machine that could sew would make a fortune, he devoted all his spare time, for 5 years, to devising it, and in 1848 was granted a patent for his machine that sewed with two threads, producing a lock stitch.

Today is the birthday in 1764 in London of ANN WARD RADCLIFFE, who became famous for her gothic novels including The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797), featuring settings of castles, wild scenery along with a villain, lonely maidens, a loyal servant and a virtuous hero.

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