Apr. 4, 2001


by John Updike

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Poem: "Solitaire," by John Updike, from Collected Poems 1953-1993 (Alfred A. Knopf).


Black queen on the red king,
the seven on the black
eight, eight goes on the nine, bring
the nine on over, place
jack on the queen. There is space
now for that black king who,
six or so cards back,
was buried in the pack.
Five on six, where's seven?
Under the ten. The ace
must be under the two.
Four, nine on ten, three, through.
It's after eleven.

On this day in 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he had gone to support the city's sanitation workers who were on strike for better working conditions. At 6 in the evening he stood at the railing of his motel balcony, talking with friends the next floor down, when a gunman with a rifle shot him dead.

It's the birthday of Maya Angelou, born in Long Beach, California (1928). She was brought up by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), describes her rape when she was eight; her life in St. Louis with her glamorous mother, a nightclub performer; and concludes with the birth of Angelou's illegitimate son.

It's the birthday of blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield), born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (1915). He was recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1941, but it was not until he moved north to Chicago, and took up the electric guitar, that his style emerged. He wrote the song "Rolling Stone" which gave the English rock band it's name. He also wrote "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Caledonia," and many other hits.

It's the birthday of novelist Marguerite Duras, born in Gia Dinh, Vietnam (1914). She went to a French school in Saigon, then went to Paris to study law and politics at the Sorbonne. She wrote the screenplay for Alain Resnais' film Hiroshima Mon Amor (1959), and the novel The Lover (1984), which won the Prix Goncourt. It's the semi-autobiographical story of a French high school girl, living in Vietnam, who has an affair with an older Chinese man.

It's the birthday of playwright and historian Robert Sherwood, born in New Rochelle, New York (1896), who had four or five different careers. He was a member of the Algonquin round table; he was a popular playwright of the thirties—he wrote The Petrified Forest (1935), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938), and There Shall Be No Night (1940); he was chief speech-writer for a time for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later wrote Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (1949); and he also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

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