Dec. 11, 1999


by Jim Harrison

Broadcast Date: SATURDAY: December 11, 1999

Poem: "Horse" by Jim Harrison from The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems published by Copper Canyon Press.

On this day in 1972, the Challenger—the lunar lander on the Apollo 17 mission—touched down on the Moon's surface. This was to be the last time (so far) man set foot on the Moon.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas McGuane, born in Wyandotte, Michigan (1939). Author of Ninety-two in the Shade (1973), Something to Be Desired (1984), and Live Water (1996).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jim Harrison, born in Grayling, Michigan (1937). Until his early forties, when the three-novella volume Legends of the Fall ("Revenge," "The Man Who Gave Up His Name," and "Legends of the Fall") vaulted him into commercial success, he had averaged $10,000 a year from his writing. He spends as much time as possible in a cabin on a river in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—"My nearest neighbor there is five miles away. I like that sort of thing. If you have to go to Los Angeles and New York a lot, where everything's enervating, it's nice not to have anything to do with that during other times." His novels include A Good Day to Die (1973), The Woman Lit by Fireflies (1990), Julip (1994), and The Road Home (1998). "If you don't have an incredible playfulness about language, I think you tend to write boring novels. Auden talked about that. Being a writer requires an intoxication with language, an obsession with language."

It's the birthday of blues shouter (Willie Mae) Big Mama Thornton, born in Montgomery, Alabama (1926)—she weighed nearly 300 pounds—who, besides singing, played drums and harmonica. Her growling version of "Hound Dog," a Lieber & Stoller song, hit #1 on the rhythm and blues charts in 1953, 3 years before Elvis sent it to the top of the pop charts. She was widely imitated, particularly by Janis Joplin, who requested, and was granted, permission to redo her song "Ball and Chain."

It's the birthday of poet, storywriter, and activist Grace Paley, born in New York City (1922). Many of her stories, featuring an alter ego named Faith, examine ordinary New Yorkers in their struggles with loneliness. Collections include Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), Later the Same Day (1985). "Literature, fiction, poetry, whatever, makes justice in the world. That's why it almost always has to be on the side of the underdog."

It's the birthday of novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born in Kislovodsk, Russia (1918), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. He studied math and physics; served 4 years in World War II, reaching the rank of artillery captain. A 1945 letter he wrote to a friend was interpreted by censors as critical of Stalin, and without trial, he was sentenced to 8 years of hard labor in the camps later described in The Gulag Archipelago (1974-78), the publication of which led Soviet authorities to exile him in 1974.

It's the birthday of Egyptian writer Najib Mahfouz [nah-JEEB mah-FOOZ], born in Cairo (1911)—a prolific novelist, story writer, and playwright who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Within weeks of his winning the Nobel Prize, Doubleday bought the English rights to 14 of his books. His Cairo Trilogy (original dates 1956-57—published in English translation as Palace Walk, 1990; Palace of Desire, 1991; and Sugar Street, 1992), chronicles the lives of 3 generations from World War One until the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Marjorie Buell, born in Philadelphia (1904), who created Little Lulu, with her corkscrew curls, who seemed always to get the best of the local boys.

It's the birthday of New York politician Fiorello H(enry) La Guardia, born in New York (1882). Mayor of New York from 1933 until 1945, after serving 8 terms as a Republican Congressman in Washington. During his 3 terms as Mayor, the "Little Flower" built a reputation as a corruption-fighter, revised the city charter, fought for slum clearance, built low-cost housing, and read comics to New York children and adults, over the radio, to ease their anxieties about the Depression and World War Two.

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
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  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
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  • “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
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  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
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