Jan. 2, 1999

Opening the Door of a Barn I Thought was Empty on New Yearís

by Robert Bly


Poem: "Opening the Door of a Barn I Thought was Empty on New Yearís Eve," by Robert Bly, from SELECTED POEMS (Harper & Row, 1986).

Itís the birthday of biochemist and author ISAAC ASIMOV, born in 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia. In the 1930s he started writing stories for science-fiction magazines. His most well-known science fiction works are the trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation (1951-53), the story of a vast interstellar empire. He wrote over 500 books, including many books about science for the layperson such as Inside the Atom (1956), The World of Nitrogen (1958), and Views of the Universe (1981).

Itís the birthday of historian JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN, born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma in 1915, known for his books on the Civil War era and the role of blacks in shaping America. He is the author of From Slavery to Freedom (1956), The Militant South (1956), and Reconstruction: After the Civil War (1961).

Itís the birthday of GILBERT MURRAY, born in Sydney, Australia in 1866. He was Professor of Greek at Oxford University from 1908-1936, and during this time translated many of the Greek dramas by masters such as Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. His theater productions in the 1920s and 1930s helped make Greek drama popular again.

Itís the birthday of one of Americaís early feminists, MARTHA CAREY THOMAS, born in 1857 in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned a B.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich, and then took up a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College. She became its second president in 1894 and served for nearly 30 years.

Itís the birthday of poet PHILIP FRENEAU, born in New York in 1752, known as the "poet of the American Revolution."

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
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “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
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »