May 8, 2000
Poem: "Faith," by Richard Jones, from The Blessing: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press).
It's the birthday of playwright (Elizabeth Becker) BETH HENLEY, born in Jackson , Mississippi (1952). She was heavy as a child, and asthmatic; some think this may account for her sympathetic tone in dealing with the confused, vulnerable and freakish characters in her plays. Although she has lived in New York and Los Angeles, her plays are rooted in the South. In fact, it was a regional theater the Actors Theatre of Louisville that discovered her, when they produced Crimes of the Heart (1981), a comedy about three sisters.
It's the birthday of novelist THOMAS (Ruggles) PYNCHON, born in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York (1937). He studied literature and engineering physics in college. He served in the Navy and later did technical writing for the Boeing Company before dropping out to write full time. Gravity's Rainbow, considered by many to be Pynchon?s masterpiece, came out in 1973. Since the 1960s, he has made himself unavailable to the press: no one has seen a good photo of him since the 1950she?s been called him "the Greta Garbo of American letters." His other books include Vineland (1990) and Mason & Dixon (1997).
It's the birthday of poet GARY (Sherman) SNYDER, born in San Francisco (1930). His family had a subsistence farm in Washington state, and it was there that the boy first grew to love nature. He also discovered poetry: his mother would read him poems at bedtime every night. He went on to jobs as an archeological digger, timber scaler, burglar alarm installer, fire lookout for the Forest Service, San Francisco dock worker, and a seaman in the engine room of a merchant ship writing poetry all the time. In 1955, he joined Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg as the Beat movement was forming. He left America for about 10 years in the 1950s and '60s, to study in a Zen Buddhist monastery. His book of poems Turtle Island (1975) won the Pulitzer Prize.
It's the birthday of critic EDMUND WILSON, born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He was not a reviewer, but a critic in the old-fashioned sense: he said, "Literary criticism ought to be a history of man's ideas and imaginings in the setting of the conditions that have shaped them." In order to be a better critic, he learned Greek, French, Italian, and German, and later Russian, Hebrew, and Hungarian.
It's the birthday of the historian EDWARD GIBBON, born at Putney, Surrey, England (1737). He was 25 when he went to Rome and decided to make Roman history his subject. For the next 24 years, he wrote his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776 to 1788) 71 chapters, a million and a half words. He did it all from first sources, without consulting other historians. Unlike most histories, which become outdated as new information is brought to light, Decline and Fall is still widely read; people love it for its accuracy, its balance, and the grandeur of Gibbon's prose.
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