Nov. 16, 1999
Poem: "The Instrument" by Robert Winner from The Sanity of Earth and Grass published by Tilbury House.
It's the birthday in 1930 of Nigerian writer CHINUA ACHEBE (ah-CHAY-bay), best known for his first two novels, Things Fall Apart (1958), then Arrow of God (1964), stories set in turn-of-the-century Nigeria when British colonists first came to power. He says, "Most of Nigeria's problems derive from that moment when we lost our initiative to these colonizers. We now have a crisis in the soul: everything alien is good and practically everything local or native inferior. Here then is an adequate revolution for me: to help my society regain belief in itself."
It's the birthday in 1927, New York City, of JULIAN THOMPSON, who worked for 30 years teaching and coaching at New Jersey reform and private prep schools, while writing a dozen or so young-adult novels based on the kids he met; books like A Question of Survival (1984), Goofbang Value Daze (1989), and Brothers, that came out last fall. He says, "It seems to me that after poisonous snakes and rabid German Shepherds, Americans fear teenagers as much as anything else in the natural world. Most adults are convinced that the current batch is a lot worse than they were at the same age. The kids I taught and write about aren't dopes, and they don't talk or act like dopes; they're thoughtful, imaginative, often suspicious, and very much involved in trying to become the kinds of adults that their own kids will be able to respect and love, some day."
It's the birthday of playwright and journalist GEORGE S. KAUFMAN, born in 1889, Pittsburgh. Before he started writing, Kaufman cast about as a salesman in New Jersey, then around the beginning of W.W.I began filing satire columns for New York newspapers. He moved on to become New York Times Drama Editor, and left after 13 years to write full-time, winning two Pulitzer Prizes, the first in 1931 for the comedy Of Thee I Sing, which George Gershwin set to music; the second, five years later, for You Can't Take It with You. There was at least one new Kaufman play on Broadway every season during the 1920s and '30s, and they always filled the house.
It's the birthday of "the father of the blues," W.C. HANDY, born in 1873, in the town of Florence, in northwestern Alabama. He was the son and grandson of preachers, and after his education at an Alabama agricultural school became a teacher and band conductor. He soaked up the Delta work songs which had a particular note not found in mainstream popular American music back then: the flatted 7th, the so-called "blue" note of the scale. Hardy blended the blues with the ragtime beat popular in the first decade of the century. "Beale Street Blues," and "Memphis Blues" were two of his biggest hits.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®