Jun. 7, 2000

Bean Eaters, The

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: June 7, 2000

Poem: "The Bean Eaters," by Gwendolyn Brooks, from Selected Poems (Perennial Library, Harper & Row).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, born in Little Falls, Minnesota (1954), the oldest of 7 children. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her German-American father and Chippewa Indian mother taught at an Indian school. Her novel Love Medicine (1984) began a novel cycle about Indian families on and near a Chippewa reservation: The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), and Tales of Burning Love (1996). Of growing up Native American, she says, "People make everything into a story… People just sit and the stories start coming, one after another. I suppose that when you grow up constantly hearing the stories rise, break, and fall, it gets into you somehow."

On this day in 1945, the 4th draft of Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano was destroyed when his beach cabin in British Columbia burned to the ground. Lowry pressed on and recreated his masterpiece, but when it came out, critics were unimpressed. He died, in obscurity, at the age of 47: 10 years after Under the Volcano first came out to no fanfare, and 5 years before it was reissued to posthumous acclaim.

It's the birthday of Norwegian poet and novelist Kjartan Fløgstad, born in Sauda, Norway (1944), best known for his novel Dalen Portland (1977; English title Dollar Road). Among the most innovative post-war Norwegian novelists, he also wrote the Cold War novel U3 (1983), and At Knife-point (1991).

It's the birthday of poet Nikki Giovanni, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1943), author of many poems on the subjects of black power and revolution, as reflected in the titles of her first two poetry collections: Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1968). She has also written three collections for children: Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), Ego-Tripping (1973), and Vacation Time (1980).

Today is the birthday of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, born in Topeka, Kansas (1917). When she was very small her family moved Chicago, where Gwendolyn grew up poor, but in a close family and a cheerful community. Her first poem, "Eventide," was published in American Childhood Magazine when she was just 13; after meeting Langston Hughes she wrote for the Chicago Defender and published poems in a weekly column. Her work is known for describing extraordinary moments in ordinary lives of black people in the cities. In 1949 she became the first black person to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Her collections include A Street in Bronzeville (1945), Reckonings (1975), and Winnie (1988).

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Bowen, born in Dublin, Ireland (1899), and brought up by relatives in Kent. Her stories often feature a young heroine who has to cope with adult circumstances she wasn't brought up to handle.

It's the birthday of Danish explorer and ethnologist Knud Rasmussen, born in Jacobshavn, Greenland (1879) to a Danish missionary father and Eskimo mother. He took part in several Greenland expeditions to confirm his theory that Inuit and North American Indians were descended from migratory Asian tribes.

It's the birthday of Post-Impressionist painter (Eugene Henri) Paul Gauguin, born in Paris (1848). At the age of 35 he left his family and his successful business as a stock broker to become a painter.

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