Oct. 13, 2000

Gratitude to Old Teachers

by Robert Bly

Broadcast date: FRIDAY, 13 October 2000

Poem: "Gratitude to Old Teachers," by Robert Bly, from Eating the Honey of Words: New & Selected Poems (Harper Collins).

Today is Friday the Thirteenth. At least once a year, the thirteenth of the month falls on a Friday; today is the only Friday the Thirteenth this year.

It's the opening of the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville, west central Indiana. Parke County is the covered bridge capital of the world, boasting 32 historic bridges.

It's the opening of the Southern Festival of Books, at the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee. The Festival promotes literacy and the understanding of the language and culture of the South, with readings and book-signings by William Least-Heat Moon, Bobbie Ann Mason, Peter Matthiessen and many others.

It's the birthday of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, born Margaret Roberts, in Grantham, Lincolnshire (1925). She trained as a research chemist, but after she got married she went into politics. She became Prime Minister in 1979 after the Conservative victory in the general elections, and presided over the privatization of state-owned enterprises in Great Britain. Despite high unemployment, Thatcher was reelected by a landslide in 1983, due in part to her leadership during the 1982 Falklands War, in which Britain recaptured the Falkland Islands from Argentina. She resigned in 1990 over the issue of Britain's integration into the European Union.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist Art Tatum, in Toledo, Ohio (1910). Born blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other, Tatum started his musical training on the violin and only later turned to the piano, becoming known as one of the greatest technical virtuosos in the history of jazz. In 1932, he moved to New York City and was in a trio for a while with guitarist Lloyd "Tiny" Grimes and bassist Slam Stewart, but Tatum remains best known for his solo work. Billy Taylor once said, "He was a whole band in himself."

It's the birthday of African-American poet, novelist and critic Arna Bontemps, in Alexandria, Louisiana (1902). He began his career as a teacher before becoming the librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, a position he held for twenty-two years. He started to write in his late teens, while living in New York City, and became associated with Langston Hughes and other figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps said his ambition was "to write something about the changes I have seen in my lifetime." Much of his writing looks back at the life of black people in the rural South during the Depression, nostalgically, and without bitterness. Perhaps his best-known novel is Black Thunder (1936), based on an actual slave rebellion in 1800.

It's the birthday in 1890 of American novelist Conrad Richter, born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, best known for his trilogy about a pioneer family in Ohio, The Awakening Land. The trilogy consists of The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950). From 1928 to 1950, Richter lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico; three of his novels, including his first, The Sea of Grass (1937), are about pioneer life in the Southwest.

On this day in the year 54 AD, the Roman Emperor Claudius died after being poisoned by his wife, Agrippina. When he married Agrippina, Claudius adopted her thirteen-year old son Nero as his heir, promoting Nero ahead of his own son, Britannicus. He later thought better about that arrangement, and was about to restore Britannicus to the line of succession when his wife poisoned him. The intrigues surrounding the Emperor Claudius became the subject of Robert Graves' novel, I, Claudius (1934).

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