Sep. 29, 2000

How It Can Be

by William Stafford

Broadcast date: FRIDAY, 29 September 2000

"How It Can Be," by William Stafford, from Even in Quiet Places (Confluence Press).

It's the birthday of rock-'n'-roll and country singer and pianist Jerry Lee Lewis, born in Ferriday, Louisiana (1935)--he's sixty five years old today. As a performer, he suffered from shyness at first, and was urged to compensate by "making a fuss." He did just that, developing a manic vocal and keyboard style that was instantly recognizable. His stage antics were legendary: on at least one occasion, he ended a set by pouring lighter fluid into the piano and setting it on fire. His recording of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," made in 1957, is one of the classics of early rock-'n'-roll.

It's the birthday of Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, born in Ferrara, Italy (1912). He's most famous for his film L'Avventura (The Adventure).

It's the birthday of singer, actor, and businessman Gene Autry, born Orvon Autry in Tioga Springs, Texas (1907), the dean of the singing cowboys.

It's the birthday of the English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, born Elizabeth Stevenson in London (1810). In 1832, she and her husband settled in problem-ridden Manchester--the heart of the Industrial Revolution--and that city provided the backdrop for her first novel, Clara Barton (1848). It's the story of a poor family in which the father, driven by class hatred, carries out an assassination for his trade union, but is reconciled on his deathbed with the man whose son he killed. The book was praised by Charles Dickens, who serialized Gaskell's next novel, Cranford, in the magazine he edited. She wrote six novels in all, as well as the first biography of her friend, the novelist Charlotte Brontë.

It's the birthday of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote, born in Alcalá de Henares, Spain (1547). He became a soldier and took part in the famous naval battle against the Turks at Lepanto, in which he lost the use of his left hand. On his way home, he was captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in Algiers, where he remained until ransomed by monks five years later. Returning to Spain, he embarked on a motley career as a writer and civil servant, frequently on the verge of bankruptcy, and jailed twice for debt. In 1605, he published the first part of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, which narrates, with a mix of sympathy and irony, the would-be chivalrous adventures of an aging knight-errant. The book made Cervantes famous, but not rich: his publisher kept most of the money. Part Two of the work appeared in 1615, a year before Cervantes died, on the same day as William Shakespeare.

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