Oct. 4, 2000


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.

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 »