Jun. 29, 2000

Visiting My Mother's College

by Sharon Olds

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: June 29, 2000

Poem: "Visiting My Motherís College" by Sharon Olds, from The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf).

Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul—celebrated by Christians since the year 354.

Itís the birthday of one of the 19th centuryís great writers, poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi, born in Recanati, Italy (1798).

Itís the birthday of engineer George Washington Goethals, born in Brooklyn, New York (1858). In 1907 Goethals was appointed chief engineer of the Panama Canal by President Teddy Roosevelt. Seven years later the Canal was opened to commerce.

Itís the birthday of surgeon William (James) Mayo, born in Le Sueur, Minnesota (1861) a co-founder of the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, in Rochester, Minnesota.

Itís the birthday of aviator and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupťry, born in Lyons, France (1900). He was a commercial pilot in the 1920s, and flew for the French Air Force in World War Two. He is best known to American readers for his childrenís fable The Little Prince (1943), narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert and who, while trying to fix his plane before his food and water run out, meets a small boy who has traveled to earth from his own tiny planet.

Itís the birthday of historian John Toland, born in La Crosse, Wisconsin (1912) who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (1970).

Itís the birthday of short story writer Breece Dexter Pancake, born in Kanawha County, West Virginia (1952). He wrote stories set in Appalachia, about characters doomed to emptiness and isolation. In 1979, he shot himself to death. The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake appeared 4 years later (1983), and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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 »