May 27, 1999

Perfection Wasted

by John Updike

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: May 27, 1999

Poem: "Perfection Wasted," by John Updike, from The Collected Poems of John Updike, 1953-1993 (Alfred A. Knopf).

It's the birthday of writer and historian EDMUND NORRIS, born in Nairobi, Kenya, 1940, author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, a biography of the president, and a book soon to be out, Dutch: a Memoir of Ronald Reagan.

It was on this day in 1937 that the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE opened at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

It's the birthday in 1932, New York City of poet LINDA PASTAN, best known for her collections A Perfect Circle of Sun; Aspects of Eve; and Carnival Evening that came out last year.

It's the birthday in Cambridge, Maryland, 1930, of novelist and short story writer JOHN BARTH, author of The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, and Lost in the Funhouse.

It's the birthday in 1925, Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, of mystery writer TONY HILLERMAN, creator of the Navajo tribal policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee.

It's the birthday in 1912, Quincy, Massachusetts, of JOHN CHEEVER, author of the novels The Wapshot Chronicle, The Wapshot Scandal, and dozens of short stories set in the Upper East Side of New York, in little New England towns, or in suburban Connecticut. The collected stories, published in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

It's the birthday of the biologist, RACHEL CARSON, in 1907, Springdale, Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny River Valley just outside of Pittsburgh, author of the 1962 book Silent Spring, about the impact of pesticides that were killing off wildlife and threatening humans. It prompted the passage of stricter pesticide laws around the world.

It's the birthday of mystery writer, DASHIELL HAMMETT, born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, 1894, and the author in 1930 of The Maltese Falcon, featuring the hard-boiled detective Sam Spade.

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 »