Jan. 24, 2000

How Many Nights

by Galway Kinnell

Broadcast Date: MONDAY: January 24, 2000

Poem: "How Many Nights" by Galway Kinnell from his Selected Poems published by Houghton Mifflin Co.

January 24 is the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists. At 35 he was appointed Catholic bishop of Geneva, which in those days was dominated by followers of John Calvin. De Sales is said to have won half the city back to Catholicism by the eloquence of his writings.

In 1984 on this date, the Apple company unveiled its long-awaited Macintosh personal computer. It weighed 17 pounds, had 128 kilobytes of internal memory, and sold for $2,495 without a printer. It was completely incompatible with IBMís personal computers.

On this day in 1962, Franco is Truffautís film Jules and Jim premiered in Paris. Part of the "Nouvelle Vague" (or new wave) of French cinema, Jules and Jim starred Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, both in love with Jeanne Moreau.

On this day in 1935, beer was first marketed in cans, rather than bottles. It was prepared by the Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey.

Itís the birthday of zoologist Desmond Morris, born in Purton, Wiltshire, England (1928), who popularized the field of zoology with his book The Naked Ape (1967).

Itís the birthday of novelist Edith Wharton, born in New York City (1862)—who wrote psychological novels that observed her high-society world with stinging irony. After 28 years of unhappy marriage, she divorced, never remarried, and spent the rest of her life in France. During World War One, she made heroic efforts to help orphans and the homeless there. She was buried in Versailles. Her novels include The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), and The Age of Innocence (1920—Pulitzer Prize).

On this day in 1848, gold was discovered along the American River in northern California by carpenter James Marshall, who was helping build a sawmill for John Sutter. The two men tried keeping their find a secret, but word soon got out, and the gold rush of 1849 was underway. The influx of desperate gold speculators, far from making Sutter rich, served only to overrun his holdings with squatters. They stole his goods and livestock, and within 3 years he was bankrupt.

Itís the birthday of writer and composer ĎAmadeusí (Ernst Theodor Wilhelm) Hoffmann, born in Konigsberg, Prussia (1776). Although trained as a lawyer, he soon turned to writing, and became known for creating supernatural, sinister characters. His stories inspired opera composer Jacques Offenbach, who used them in The Tales of Hoffmann (1881), taking the writer as his central character. Tchaikovskyís ballet The Nutcracker (1892) is also based on a Hoffmann story.

Itís the birthday of comedic playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, born in Paris (1732)—who wrote The Barber of Seville (1775) and The Marriage of Figaro (1784)—both featuring a scheming valet named Figaro.

Itís the birthday of playwright and poet William Congreve, born in West Yorkshire, England (1670)—who gave us such comedies of manners as The Old Bachelor (1693), The Double Dealer (1693), and his best known play, The Way of the World (1700), with its line, "Say what you will, ítis better to be left than never to have been loved."

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 »