Sep. 4, 1998

Late Show

by Billy Collins


Today's Reading: "Late Show" by Billy Collins from QUESTIONS ABOUT ANGELS, published by William Morrow and Co.

The NEW MEXICO STATE FAIR begins today in Albuquerque, the TENNESSEE STATE FAIR in Nashville, and the VERMONT STATE FAIR gets underway in Rutland.

The city of LOS ANGELES CELEBRATES ITS BIRTHDAY today — founded by decree in 1781 and called El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles, meaning "the town of the Queen of the angels."

In 1957 on this day, Governor ORVAL FAUBUS of Arkansas called out the National Guard to turn away 9 black students trying to enter Little Rock's all-white Central High School. His action provoked President Eisenhower to send in troops from the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the law. Within weeks, Faubus would say: "We are now an occupied territory." His popularity soared; he was elected to four more terms as governor.

It's the birthday of novelist RICHARD WRIGHT, born in 1908 in Roxie, Mississippi, who was among the first black American writers to protest white treatment of blacks. In his novel "Native Son" (1940), a poor black youth named Bigger Thomas accidentally kills a white girl. In the course of his flight, his previously hazy sense of hostility from the white world comes into focus. The novel was a best-seller and was staged on Broadway the next year by Orson Welles. Wright's other great success was the memoir "Black Boy," an account of his childhood and young manhood in the South. Following World War Two he settled permanently in Paris, where he wrote "The Outsider," hailed as the first American existential novel.

It's the birthday of Mary Callans, born in London (1905), who wrote her novels under the name MARY RENAULT (Ruh-NOH). She grew up in England but spent her writing years in South Africa, where she wrote such historical novels as "The Last of the Wine" and "The King Must Die," set in ancient Greece and praised for their attention to historical detail.

On this day in 1893, BEATRIX POTTER sent an illustrated note to Noel Moore, age 5, who was quarantined with scarlet fever. "I don't know what to write you," she began, "so I shall tell you the story about four little rabbits, whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter..." 7 years later she enlarged the story and submitted it to several publishers, who rejected it. She used her savings to have it privately printed, and was pleased that the 250 copies sold swiftly. One of the publishers then reconsidered, on condition that Beatrix also provide color illustrations, which she did.

Today is the birthday of architect and city planner DANIEL H. BURNHAM, born in Henderson, New York (1846). He was an early advocate of tall fireproof buildings that came to be known as "sky-scrapers," such as his design the Rookery in Chicago (1886) and the Flatiron Building in New York (1901). Early this century he was asked to draw up plans for cities as far-flung as Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Manila, and Chicago, a place whose design remains a classic example of American city planning. Its ring of forest preserves was to provide a green belt to counter the population explosion Burnham saw coming. And this "forever open, clear and free" policy helped give Chicago one of the most expansive lakefronts of any major urban city in the U.S.

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




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