May 10, 2000

The Dance

by C. K. Williams

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: May 10, 2000

Poem: "The Dance," by C.K. Williams, from Repair (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux).

On this day in 1907, KENNETH GRAHAME wrote down his first words about Toad, which grew into the children's book The Wind in the Willows (1908). Grahame was a banker in an unhappy marriage, on a holiday with his wife, when he wrote a letter to his five-year-old son Alastair. Apparently, he had already begun to tell the story, because the letter begins right in the middle of it. He wrote, "Have you heard about Toad? He was never taken prisoner by brigands at all. It was all a horrid low trick of his...." He continued these stories in further letters on hotel stationery, and the boy's nanny saved them. When Grahame put them together in a book, publishers were not impressed, and, after it was published, reviewers complained that its descriptions of nature were inaccurate — they wondered why a mole would whitewash his burrow, or why a water rat, of all creatures, would have a boat.

On this day in 1872, VICTORIA (Claflin) WOODHULL was nominated for the U.S. presidency by the Equal Rights party—the first woman ever to run for that office. Victoria Woodhull was working as a traveling psychic healer when Demosthenes appeared to her in a vision and told her to go to New York City. In New York, she became a stockbroker and ran a newspaper that published the Communist Manifesto in English for the first time in America. Her goals were the abolition of personal property, women's suffrage, an 8-hour workday, a graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and free love. She was denounced by newspapers left and right, and the women's movement disowned her, saying she was possessed by "men spirits." She went on the attack, accusing one of her chief tormentors, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, of having an affair with his best friend's wife. When she mailed this information out, she was arrested for passing obscenity through the mail. She lost the election, of course, but her libel and obscenity trial was a sensation in the press. She ultimately won the trial. Later, she moved to England, married a rich banker, and died in her sleep at the age of 88 (1927).

On this day in 1869, the final spike was driven to complete America's first transcontinental railroad. About 10,000 Chinese laborers were building the Central Pacific line from Sacramento — and in Promontory Summit, just northwest of Ogden, Utah, they met a crew of 8,000 to 10,000 German, Irish, and Italian immigrants building the Union Pacific line from Omaha.

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 »