Jun. 7, 2001

The Bean Eaters

by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Poem: "The Bean Eaters," by Gwendolyn Brooks from Selected Poems (Harper & Row).

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering...
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
    is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
    tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, born in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954, the oldest of seven children of a German-American father and a Chippewa mother. She grew up in North Dakota, and her parents taught at an Indian school there. Her first novel was Love Medicine in 1984, beginning a cycle of novels about Indian families on and near a Chippewa reservation: The Beet Queen, Tracks, The Bingo Palace, and Tales of Burning Love were the others. Of growing up Indian, she says: "People make everything into a story... People just sit and the stories start coming, one after another. I suppose that when you grow up constantly hearing the stories rise, break, and fall, it gets into you somehow."

On this day in 1945, Malcolm Lowry, the novelist, lost the 4th draft of his novel Under the Volcano. It was burned up when his cabin in British Columbia burned to the ground. But Lowry pressed on, and he managed to reconstruct his novel. It came out a few years later, but to no great critical fanfare.

It's the birthday of the Norwegian poet and novelist Kjartan Fløgstad, born in Sauda, Norway, in 1944. He is best known for his novel Dalen Portland in 1977, entitled Dollar Road in English. Fløgstad writes in the new Norwegian, the nynorsk, and is considered among the most innovative postwar Norwegian novelists. He also wrote a novel about the Cold War, U3, and At Knife-point.

It's the birthday of poet Nikki Giovanni, born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1943. She grew up in Cincinnati, and is the author of many poems about the subject of revolution and black power, and also poems for children.

And it's the birthday of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917. Her father was a janitor, her mother a schoolteacher, and they moved to Chicago when she was very small. She grew up poor but in a very close family and in a cheerful community. Her first poem was published when she was just 13, and it was called "Eventide." After she met the poet Langston Hughes, she wrote for the Chicago Defender and published her poems in a weekly column. She wrote poems that described extraordinary moments in the ordinary lives of black people. In 1949, she became the first black person to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her collections include A Street in Bronzeville, Reckonings, and Winnie.

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