Feb. 1, 2000
Little Old Letter
Poems: "Little Old Letter" and "Morning After" by Langston Hughes from Selected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Vintage Books.
It's the birthday of novelist REYNOLDS PRICE, born in Macon, North Carolina (1933). He's best known for his novel Kate Vaiden (1986). Other novels include The Tongues of Angels (1990) and Blue Calhoun (1992), followed by a memoir called A Whole New Life (1994). He's been wheelchair-bound since a bout with spinal cancer in 1984. He says he's nervous about describing the exact way he survived: "I think I'm programmed to laugh about every five minutes, but I still don't feel ready yet to say, ‘Didn't I go through this wonderfully?’ I don't want to give the devil ideas."
It's the birthday of S.J. PERELMAN, born in Brooklyn (1904) best known for his humor essays in the New Yorker and for his Marx Brothers screenplays like Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932). When a journalist asked how many drafts of a story he'd go through, Perelman said: "Thirty-seven. I once tried doing thirty-three, but something was lacking, a certain how shall I say? je ne sais quoi [juh nuh say KWAH]. On another occasion, I tried forty-two versions, but the final effect was too over-worked. So I stick with thirty-seven."
It's the birthday of poet (James Mercer) LANGSTON HUGHES, in Joplin, Missouri (1902), whose parents separated after he was born. He was raised by his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas; she told him stories of his grandfather who died at Harper's Ferry fighting alongside abolitionist John Brown. Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement of writers in New York in the 1920’s, and went on to write dozens of plays, poetry books, and short stories. He said, "I didn't know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren't people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too."
It was on this day in 1898 that The Travelers Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut, issued THE VERY FIRST CAR INSURANCE POLICY, to a Dr. Truman J. Martin of Buffalo, New York. Cars had been on the road half a dozen years at that point, and car-makers were sprouting up left and right: that year, 1898, there were 50 auto-makers, mostly producing a few hand-built cars a year. Dr. Martin's car was a three-horsepower Oldsmobile, the best-selling model at the time.
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