Oct. 17, 1998

My Hat

by Stevie Smith


Today's Reading: "My Hat" by Stevie Smith from COLLECTED POEMS, published by New Directions.

ALBERT EINSTEIN arrived in the U.S. on this day in 1933, leaving Germany because of rising anti-Semitism. He settled in Princeton, New Jersey and not long after was followed by the German author Thomas Mann who also settled in Princeton.

It's the birthday of writer JIMMY BRESLIN, born in Jamaica, New York, 1930, whose collected newspaper columns won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize. He grew up in Queens and started off as a sportswriter for New York papers in the 1950s, then switched to writing columns in the 1960s for the New York Post. He became a famous man with the piece he filed on November 24, 1963, from Dallas. Most of the reporting that day focused on the hunt for President Kennedy's assassin, theories about the assassination, and the mood in Dallas. Breslin also wrote several novels, including The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1969), and this past July came out with a memoir, I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.

It's playwright ARTHUR MILLER's birthday, born in New York City, 1915, author in 1949 of Death of a Salesman, the story of Willy Loman and his two sons, Happy and Biff. Miller's own father was a businessman who lost everything during the Great Depression, and Miller worked at a car parts factory and washing dishes to put himself through the playwriting program at the University of Michigan. His first success came with the 1945 novel, Focus, about anti-Semitism, which he followed two years later with the play All My Sons. Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman, is introduced this way by his wife, Linda: "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him."

It's the birthday of satirist NATHANAEL WEST, born in 1903, New York, best known for his 1939 novel about Hollywood, The Day of the Locust. He grew up in New York and right out of college went to Paris for a year and wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, about several characters inside the Trojan horse. It didn't sell well, so he supported himself managing the Hotel Sutton on East 56th Street in New York, where he gave free rent to other writers struggling just like him, people like James T. Farrell and Erskine Caldwell; and Dashiell Hammett, who finished The Maltese Falcon while staying upstairs.

It's the anniversary of the 1777 BATTLE OF SARATOGA, the turning point in the Revolutionary War in which British General John Burgoyne surrendered 5,000 men at Saratoga, New York. Burgoyne's plan had been to come down out of Canada and divide the colonies along the Hudson River. The colonists offered little resistance when the campaign began in June of that year, but by the fall they'd been reinforced, and casualties were running 4-to-1 against the British. On October 17, outnumbered and surrounded, Burgoyne surrendered, and the French soon entered the war on the side of the colonists. After the surrender a group of American soldiers had to accompany Burgoyne for several days, out of fear he'd be tarred and feathered by the New York colonists.

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