Aug. 1, 1998

Toward the Verrazano

by Stephen Dunn


Today's Reading: "Toward the Verrazano" by Stephen Dunn from NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1974-1994, published by W.W. Norton & Co. (1994).

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer MADISON SMARTT BELL, born in Nashville, 1957. He grew up on a farm south of Nashville and after college moved to Brooklyn. Most of his novels are set in either place. His first book, The Washington Square Ensemble (1984), is about five New York heroin users and dealers. Soldier's Joy (1989) is the story of the Vietnam veteran, Laidlaw, who returns from the war and tries to restore his abandoned Tennessee farm.

It's the birthday in New York, 1951, of writer JIM CARROLL, author of the 1978 Basketball Diaries – his autobiography about his teen years playing the game on New York blacktops, and snatching purses and prostituting himself to get drugs. The sequel, Forced Entries, came out in 1987, the story of Carroll in his 20s trying to kick heroin.

ANNE FRANK made the last entry in her diary on this day in 1944. Her family had been hiding from the Nazis for two years in a little annex above the family's Amsterdam food business, and all the while Anne made notes in her diary. In the last one she wrote: "I keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would like to be, and what I could be, if there weren't any other people living in the world." Three days later, the annex was raided and Anne was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died the next year, just a few weeks before the camp was liberated.

It's the birthday in Quebec, 1916, of the French-Canadian poet, novelist and playwright, ANNE HÉBERT (AY-ber). She moved to Paris in the 1950s and in 1970 began the series of her best-known novels about murder and demonic possession. Kamouraska was the first book, followed by Children of the Black Sabbath in 1975.

The first CABLE CAR IN SAN FRANCISCO began running on this day in 1873, called the Clay Street Hill Railroad. It was the first cable car operation of any kind in the U.S. The cars ran on rails but were pulled by a continuous cable moving in a groove below the rails, a system invented in the 1860s.

It's the birthday in New York, 1819, of HERMAN MELVILLE, author of Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and other novels, short stories and poems. When he was seven years old, he came down with scarlet fever that left him partially blind. A few years later his father died and he shipped out as a cabin boy to support the family. In Moby Dick, Melville would write, "A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." Moby Dick – the story told by Ishmael about Captain Ahab and his pursuit of the great white whale –came out in 1851 when Melville was 32 years old. Only in the 1920s, 30 years after Melville's death, did it gain popularity.

It's the birthday in Boston, 1791, of the writer and teacher, GEORGE TICKNOR. He taught French and Spanish at Harvard in the 1820s and '30s, and was the first professor to teach the works of contemporary writers there, not just the classics. He also came up with the idea that the university should be divided into departments. Ticknor also founded the Boston Public Library.

It's the birthday in Frederick County, Maryland, 1779 of FRANCIS SCOTT KEY, who after a night of British bombardment found the American flag still flying over Ft. McHenry in Chesapeake Bay and wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." He scribbled it down on the back of an envelope, then re-wrote it later that day, September 14, 1814, in a Baltimore hotel.

It's the birthday in 1770, Caroline County, Virginia, of WILLIAM CLARK. He received a letter from Meriwether Lewis in 1803 explaining that President Thomas Jefferson was sending explorers to chart a route to the Pacific. The Lewis and Clark expedition set out from St. Louis on May 14, 1804.

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
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