Oct. 27, 1998

My Father

by Alden Nowlan


Today's Reading: "My Father" by Alden Nowlan from WHAT HAPPENED WHEN HE WENT TO THE STORE FOR BREAD, published by Nineties Press.

It's the birthday in 1950, Morristown, New Jersey, of writer FRAN LEBOWITZ, author of the 1978 collection of humor essays called Metropolitan Life and another three years later entitled Social Studies books full of one-liners like "Contrary to what many of you might imagine, a career in letters is not without its drawbacks chief among them the unpleasant fact that one is frequently called upon to actually sit down and write." And:"All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable." The books were the collected columns she wrote for Interview and Mademoiselle magazines, a job she got after moving to New York at age 18.

It's the birthday of poet SYLVIA PLATH, 1932, Boston. She had success early as a writer, winning competitions and scholarships from the time she was a teenager. After college she won a Fulbright scholarship to Cambridge, England where she met and married Ted Hughes. Most of the poetry that made her famous and earned her the 1982 Pulitzer Prize was published after her 1963 suicide collections like Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees, though her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, was published just a few weeks before she died.

Poet DYLAN THOMAS was born in Swansea, Wales, on this day in 1914. He'd been writing poems since he was a boy, and when he was in his early 20s he moved to London and came out with his first book, called Eighteen Poems (1934), that caught people's attention. He published a new book of poems or prose every two or three years and made several reading tours in the U.S. in the early 1950s. People packed halls to hear him read poems like "Fern Hill," written about the summers he'd spent at his grandmother's Welsh country home; "A Child's Christmas in Wales," or "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."

The first section of THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY opened up on this day in 1904. London had launched the first electric underground railway 14 years earlier, but New York's quickly grew to be the biggest in the world. The original line ran from the Brooklyn Bridge uptown to Broadway at 145th Street, and attracted more than a half million riders in the first few days of operation.

It's the birthday in 1889, Kent, England of ENID BAGNOLD, the British writer best known for her 1935 novel National Velvet, the story of a 14-year-old girl who wins Great Britain's steeplechase on a horse that only cost 10 pounds.

It's TEDDY ROOSEVELT's birthday, born in New York City, 1858, the 26th president. He took over the presidency in 1901 when William McKinley was assassinated, then was elected president by a huge margin in 1904. He pushed the construction of the Panama Canal; won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the Russian-Japanese war; set aside 194 million acres of national parks; enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act and other consumer protection laws.

The British naval explorer CAPTAIN JAMES COOK was born on this day in 1728, the son of a Scotsman who'd settled in Yorkshire. In the summer of 1768 he set sail on the Endeavor to explore the South Pacific. The voyage took three years, and during it Cook re-sighted New Zealand, which earlier European explorers had first seen 120 years before, and was the first European to land on Australia. One of his onboard innovations was diet: he brought along citrus fruits and his crew was able to avoid scurvy, which crippled most long-distance voyages.

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