Jul. 31, 2000

My Life Before I Knew It

by Lawrence Raab

Broadcast date: MONDAY, 31 July 2000

"My Life Before I Knew It," by Lawrence Raab, from The Probable World (Penguin).

It's the birthday of writer Susan Cheever, born in New York City (1943). She worked first as a journalist, then began writing novels and memoirs, including a memoir of her father, John Cheever: Home Before Dark (1984). Reading his journals, she said, she learned "a lot of things I hadn't known before--how different life was for my father than we had imagined, how the humor he used was just transmuted pain."

It's the birthday of essayist and story writer Faye Moskowitz, born in Detroit (1930). She's the author of A Leak in the Heart: Tales from a Woman's Life (1985), Whoever Finds This: I Love You (1988), and other books.

It's the birthday of novelist Lynne Reid Banks, born in London (1929). She trained to be an actress (like her mother, Muriel Marsh), then turned to writing novels: The L-Shaped Room (1960), An End to Running (1962). She has also written children's books, such as The Indian in the Cupboard (1980).

It's the birthday of playwright Peter Nichols, born in Bristol, England (1927), author of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1961) and other plays.

It's the birthday of memoirist Primo Levi, born in Turin (1919). He trained as a chemist, then quit his laboratory job to join the Italian Resistance. He was betrayed to the Germans, who sent him to Auschwitz, where he worked as a slave laborer. He said that he was "a chemist by conviction," but added, "after Auschwitz, I had an absolute need to write. Not only as a moral duty, but as a psychological need." His autobiographical trilogy, includes Death in Auschwitz (1947), The Reawakening (1963), The Periodic Table (1984).

On this day in 1703, Daniel Defoe was locked in a pillory frame before Temple Bar in London. His satire, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702), was written as if by High Churchmen, but its arguments were nonsensical. The pamphlet sold widely, and both sides--Dissenters and High Churchmen--took it seriously. Both sides were furious when it was revealed to be a hoax. Defoe was held in Newgate Prison for 15 months, during which time he was displayed in the pillory, head and hands locked in place. His fiction masterpieces still lay ahead of him: Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Moll Flanders (1722).

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  • “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
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  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
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  • “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
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