Dec. 29, 1999

Winter Burning

by Sidney Hall Jr.

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: December 29, 1999

Poem: "Winter Burning" by Sidney Hall Jr. from What We Will Give Each Other published by Hobblebush Books.

It was on this day in 1940, during World War II, that Germany began dropping INCENDIARY BOMBS ON LONDON. This was part of the eight-month Blitz on England that Hitler ordered to prepare for a German invasion, and the firestorm that night engulfed the area around St. Paul's Cathedral.

It s the birthday in 1922, New York, of novelist WILLIAM GADDIS who died last December. He only produced four books in the 40 years he spent writing, and after the first one, The Recognitions, came out in 1955 to horrible reviews, he published nothing for nearly 20 years. His next book finally appeared in 1975, JR, a sarcastic look at the corporate world. Carpenter's Gothic followed 10 years later, and his satire on the U.S. legal system, A Frolic of His Own (1994), won Gaddis both the National Book Award and National Book Critics' Circle Award. He grew up without a father, and all his novels feature the spirit of a dead or absent father who leaves his affairs in a mess for his children. Gaddis was famous for refusing interviews and for using long, stream-of-consciousness dialog that purposefully didn't designate who was talking. When critics said he made the reader work too much, Gaddis replied: "That's what books are about. The reader must bring something to it or he won't take anything away. Television provides everything. In situation comedies, you go with a completely blank mind, and you take nothing home. Bad fiction is like this. Everything is provided for you, and you forget it a week later."

It's the anniversary of the WOUNDED KNEE massacre. It took place in South Dakota, 1890, when about 200 Sioux Indians were killed by U.S. troops sent to disarm them. It was the last major conflict between Native Americans and the federal government. A few hundred Sioux had left the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwest South Dakota two weeks earlier after their leader, Chief Sitting Bull, was killed. They were armed and planned on hiding in the Badlands. But on the 28th they decided to turn themselves in, and on the morning of the 29th they were handing over their guns to the U.S. 7th Cavalry, when a shot went off somewhere in the crowd. A trooper fell, then the soldiers opened fire. The exact number of dead is unknown because it occurred in winter, and some survivors returned to retrieve bodies themselves. But come spring, a grave could finally be dug, and 144 Indians, including 44 women and 16 children, were buried in a mass grave.

It's the birthday in 1876 of the cellist and composer PABLO CASALS, in Vendrell, Spain. Casals loosened up the cellist's technique, making the left hand more flexible, and the right "bow" arm freer; and his own playing was marked by an effortless, singing tone. He was also a good piano player, and every morning before breakfast went to his piano, he said, to fill the house with Bach and get the day off to the best possible start.

It was on this day in 1170 that ARCHBISHOP THOMAS BECKET was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in England. He and King Henry II had been at odds for years over who in England held the reins of the church: the Pope, as Becket believed, or the king.

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