Apr. 7, 1999

For Free

by Joni Mitchell

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: April 7, 1999

Poem: "For Free," by Joni Mitchell, from The Complete Poems and Lyrics (Crown Publishers, 1997).

It's the birthday of one of the first Romantic poets, WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, born in Cumberland, in the Lake District of northwestern England, 1770. In his early 20s Wordsworth took long hiking trips through England, France, and Germany, having failed at college and not knowing what he was going to do with his life. Then he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a few years younger than him. The two began writing poetry together. Their 1798 collection, Lyrical Ballads, launched the Romantic movement in English literature.

It's the birthday of the author and clergyman, WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING, born this day in Newport, Rhode Island, 1780. He was a preacher in Boston, and started off as a Congregationalist. He made friends with Emerson and Thoreau and his preaching began to strike many in Boston as too liberal to be called Christian. In 1815, another Boston clergyman attacked his views as "Unitarian," a label Channing reluctantly accepted. In 1820 he formed a conference of liberal Congregational ministers, and five years later reorganized it as the American Unitarian Association.

It's the birthday in 1897, New York City, of the father of the gossip column, WALTER WINCHELL. He started off in vaudeville when he was 13 years old, then began writing about the stars and backstage brawls for New York newspapers. When his column, "On Broadway" became nationally syndicated, he started covering political figures as well, and went on the air in 1932. On Sunday nights about 20 million Americans tuned in for Winchell's news, gossip, and rash advice about the stock market — all delivered in a breathless style with a telegraph ticking in the background between stories.

It's the birthday in singer BILLIE HOLIDAY. She was born Eleanora Fagan in Baltimore, 1915.

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 »