Wednesday

Oct. 4, 2000

Scintillate

by Roger McGough

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 4 October 2000

Poem: "Scintillate," by Roger McGough, from Selected Poems (Penguin).

It's the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, born in Italy in 1181, the son of a wealthy textile merchant. He lived a carefree life until he was 19, when he spent a year as a prisoner of war, then was seriously ill - experiences that caused him to reexamine his high living. In 1205, on his way to another military campaign, he dreamed that Christ was calling him to service. He returned home and starting spending much of his time in prayer, perplexing his father and family. He lived the rest of his life in voluntary poverty, attracting enough followers to found the Franciscan order. He is said to be responsible for the Christmas traditions of the creche and the singing of carols.

It's the birthday of writer Anne Rice, born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1941). Her mother was interested in the occult, and, as a child, Anne was entertained with tales of the supernatural. Her first novel, Interview With a Vampire (1976), was about a vampire in eighteenth-century New Orleans. The story incorporated her Catholic upbringing, her mother's stories, and her grief over her mother's and daughter's deaths. It steadily attracted a cult following. She returned to the same territory nine years later with The Vampire Lestat (1985).

It's the birthday of writer Alfred Damon Runyon, born in Manhattan, Kansas (1884). He worked as a reporter in Colorado for ten years before being hired by the New York American, where he dropped his first name, Alfred, from his byline. He covered both sports and news, mostly with a human-interest focus, throughout the Teens and Twenties, and in 1931 started writing short stories. His literary turf was the block of Broadway between 49th and 50th streets, and his characters were gamblers, gangsters, chorus girls and mugs, with names like Harry the Horse and Bookie Bob, Nicely Nicely Johnson and the Lemon Drop Kid. The stories were tremendously popular: Twenty-six of them were made into movies, and the words "Runyonesque" and "Runyonese" entered the language. He died in 1946. Four years later, a musical comedy based on his first book of stories, Guys and Dolls, was a hit on Broadway.

It's the birthday of writer and entrepreneur Edward L. Stratemeyer, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862). As a boy he devoured adventure stories, and grew up to write his own. He wrote nearly 150 books for young people under his own name, and many others under pseudonyms. In 1906 he founded the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate, employing a stable of writers that produced countless books under as many as 70 pen names. The Rover Boys, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Uncle Wiggily and the Bobbsey Twins were all Syndicate creations.

On this day in 1854, Abraham Lincoln made the first great speech of his political career, at the Illinois State Fair, in Springfield. He had served four undistinguished terms in the Illinois legislature, and one term in the United States House of Representatives. He spent the next five years pursuing an increasingly successful law career. But the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before. On the second day of the Fair, Lincoln -- in badly fitting trousers, and without coat or collar -- warmed the crowd up with a few jokes, then launched into a speech he had been preparing for weeks. According to one friend, it "was wholly unlike any before made by him." From then on, politics became his career, and his law practice was secondary.

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