Aug. 26, 1998

After the Argument

by Stephen Dunn


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

It's the birthday in Butte, Montana, 1941, of writer BARBARA EHRENREICH. She started out in science, earned a Ph.D. in biology from Rockefeller University in the late 1960s, and taught public health, all before turning to writing full-time in the mid-70s. Her first books were critiques of the health system, The American Health Empire; Witches, Midwives, and Nurses; and Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness. Her most recent book came out last year, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, in which she wrote: "There are at least two reasons to take seriously the religious dimension of war. First, because it is the religiosity of war, above all, which makes it so impervious to moral rebuke. For millennia, and long before the teachings of Jesus, people have understood that war inverts all normal morality; that it is, by any sane standard, a criminal undertaking. The other reason to study the religiosity of war is for what it has to say about us as a species, about 'human nature.' We might well ask of ourselves: What is it about our species that has made us see in war a kind of sacrament?"

It's the anniversary in 1920 of the 19th AMENDMENT's RATIFICATION, giving women the right to vote. Women had been protesting for the right to vote for nearly 100 years, and in the late 1860s Susan B. Anthony organized the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which by 1920 was about two million strong. That year, 1920, was also the 100th anniversary of Anthony's birth. In August 1974, congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced a bill to designate August 26 as the annual WOMEN'S EQUALITY DAY, a bill which was passed into law.

It's the birthday of scientist ALBERT BRUCE SABIN, in Bialystock, Poland, 1906, best known for developing the oral polio vaccine. His family came to the U.S. when he was a boy. He learned English, enrolled at the University of New York and got his medical degree, then in 1931, began his research into polio. After 25 years in the lab, he produced the oral polio vaccine, which differed from Jonas Salk's injected vaccine in that Sabin's used live polio virus cells, which the body reacted to more vigorously than the dead ones in Salk's vaccine.

It's the birthday in 1904, Cheshire, England of writer CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD, who spent three years in Berlin when he was in his late 20s, writing about it in several pieces: Mr. Norris Changes Trains; Goodbye Berlin; and a short story, "Sally Bowles," which became a play and a film, I Am a Camera, which in turn got made into the musical and another film, Cabaret.

It's the birthday in Portage, Wisconsin, 1874, of writer ZONA GALE. Initially she wrote about small-town life in the Midwest, nostalgic pieces about the virtues of living in a village; books like Friendship Village, When I was a Little Girl, and Heart's Kindred. But in 1920 she came out with the book Miss Lulu Bett, the story of a woman struggling to assert herself in a narrow-minded little town; the book got turned into a play, and the following year, 1921, Gale won the Pulitzer Prize for it.

It's the birthday of physicist and inventor LEE DE FOREST, 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa, who in 1907 patented the Audion vacuum tube, the key component of the first radios. He went on to patent hundreds more inventions — things like the radio knife for surgery, and the photoelectric cell — but he was proudest of the Audion tube, and titled his 1950 autobiography, Father of Radio.

The FIRST PRACTICAL TYPEWRITER was patented on this day in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes. Six years later, the gunsmiths Remington and Sons placed the first commercial typewriter on the market.

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
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
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  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
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  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
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