Aug. 21, 1998

One Winter Night in August

by X. J. Kennedy


Today's Reading: "One Winter Night in August" by X.J. Kennedy from ONE WINTER NIGHT AND OTHER NONSENSE JINGLES, published by Atheneum Publishers.

TWO STATE FAIRS start up today and run through September 7. The ALASKA STATE FAIR, in Palmer. And the CALIFORNIA STATE FAIR in Sacramento.

It's writer ROBERT STONE's birthday, Brooklyn, 1937, author of A Hall of Mirrors (1967) about Mardi Gras in New Orleans; and Dog Soldiers (1974), a story about drug dealing from California to Vietnam, which won the National Book Award. He said "I don't drink a lot. That's perhaps one of the reasons that my characters are always drinking and taking drugs, because I am not." His latest book came out this spring, Damascus Gate.

It's the birthday in Yorkshire, 1933, of DAME JANET BAKER, the English mezzo-soprano. By her own choice she never sang the big operatic roles by Wagner or Mozart. Instead she did supporting roles in relatively obscure operas. She retired at the height of her career in 1982.

It's the birthday of poet X. J. KENNEDY, born in Dover, New Jersey, 1929. He taught poetry in the late '50s and early '60s at the University of Michigan, then for many years at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. His first collection came out in 1961, called Nude Descending a Staircase.

It's the birthday in New York City, 1926 of lyricist CAROLYN LEIGH. She started out writing ad copy for a New York radio station, then in 1951 a music publisher encouraged her to try her hand at lyrics. One of her first was a big hit with Johnny Richards' music, "Young at Heart." That was in 1954, the same year that she wrote the words for Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin. In 1960, Lucille Ball returned to Broadway and Leigh wrote the musical Wildcat for her; it had the big tune "Hey, Look Me Over."

It's COUNT BASIE's birthday, born in Red Bank, New Jersey, 1904. He accompanied singers on vaudeville tours in the 1920s and '30s, and made it out to the Midwest where he fell in love with the hard-driving Kansas City jazz. He played at the Reno Club in Kansas City seven nights a week, and on Saturdays started playing at 8 p.m. and finished at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. He took the nucleus of that band back east, first to Chicago, and then New York, where the Count Basie Orchestra was headquartered for nearly 50 years.

The LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES began on this date in 1858: seven debates around the state of Illinois mostly about slavery. Stephen A. Douglas was the Democratic Illinois senator and a famous man at that time; Abraham Lincoln was from the new Republican party and was trying to unseat him. They debated whether new states in the West, like Kansas and Nebraska, should be slave or free. Douglas said the states should decide for themselves; Lincoln said the founding fathers framed the Constitution against the spread of slavery beyond the original states. Douglas won the November election, but the debates made Lincoln a national figure.

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