May 8, 2000


by Richard Jones

Broadcast Date: MONDAY: 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 1950s—he?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.

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 »