Thursday

Aug. 23, 2001

Margaret Fuller Slack

by Edgar Lee Masters

THURSDAY, 23 AUGUST 2001
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Poem: "Margaret Fuller Slack," by Edgar Lee Masters from Spoon River Anthology (Dover Publications, Inc.).

Margaret Fuller Slack

I would have been as great as George Eliot
But for an untoward fate.
For look at the photograph of me made by Penniwit,
Chin resting on hand, and deep-set-eyes —
Gray, too, and far-searching.
But there was the old, old problem:
Should it be celibacy, matrimony, or unchastity?
Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me,
Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel,
And I married him, giving birth to eight children,
And had no time to write.
It was all over with me, anyway,
When I ran the needle in my hand
While washing the baby's things,
And died from lock-jaw, an ironical death.
Hear me, ambitious souls,
Sex is the curse of life!

It's the birthday of playwright and screenwriter Willy Russell, born in Whitson, England (1947). Although not a household name in America, Russell is one of Britain's most well known dramatists. Most of his plays involve a character's quest for self-fulfillment, as in Educating Rita (1980; filmed in 1983 with Julie Walters and Michael Caine) and Shirley Valentine (1986; filmed in 1989 with Pauline Collins and Tom Conti).

It's the birthday of dancer, choreographer and film director Gene (Eugene Curran) Kelly, born in Pittsburgh (1912). His first big break was a feature role in the 1939 production of The Time of Your Life, which led to his being cast as the lead in the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey. David O. Selznick saw him an offered him a Hollywood contract. He made his film debut in 1942 with Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal. From there, Kelly's career took off, both as a dancer and as a choreographer. He created dance specifically for film, and is best remembered for dancing in a downpour in Singin' in the Rain (1952).

It's the birthday of cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller, born in the Bronx, New York (1905), who dropped out of high school to take a job as a copy boy at The New York Evening World. At the time, a man named Larry Whittington was drawing a comic strip called "Fritzi Ritz." When Whittington left the paper, Bushmiller took over the strip. Six years later, the Evening World folded, and Bushmiller signed a contract with United Feature Syndicate to continue the comic strip. In the 1930s, a young girl named Nancy, a chunky, spunky girl with a red bow on top of her hair, began to appear in the strip. By 1940, Nancy had taken over, and the strip was given her name. Bushmiller died in 1982, but the comic strip Nancy, now drawn by others, is still carried by more than six hundred newspapers around the world.

It's the birthday of biologist Albert Claude, born in Longlier, Belgium (1899), who is the founder of modern cell biology. He was the first scientist to use a centrifuge to study cells. Later, recognizing the limitations of the centrifuge for his studies, Dr. Claude became the first scientist to use the powerful electron microscope, which can magnify particles a million times their size, to study cells.

It's the birthday of humorist and literary critic Will(iam Jacob) Cuppy, born in Auburn, Indiana (1884). Cuppy graduated from the University of Chicago, where he worked as a college reporter for the Chicago Record-Herald and the Chicago Daily News. His first book, published in 1909, called Maroon Tales, was a collection of stories about fraternity life. After WWI, Cuppy moved to New York and in 1926 began writing a Sunday book review section for the New York Herald-Tribune entitled "Light Reading," which was later changed to "Mystery and Adventure." Over the next 23 years, he reviewed more than 4000 books. In 1929, he published a collection of humorous sketches called How to Be a Hermit, in which he ridiculed the pretensions of a gadget-oriented culture. He wrote several more "how-to" books over the years, including How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (1931), How to Become Extinct (1941), and How to Attract the Wombat (1949). After his death in 1949, his notes were used for two posthumous volumes, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950), and How to Get from January to December (1951).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters, born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). His family moved to Illinois, where his father became a county prosecutor. Masters was interested in literature and poetry from an early age, but his father, worried that he wouldn't be able to support himself, persuaded him to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1891, opened his own office for a while, and then joined the law firm of Clarence Darrow in 1903, where he defended the poor and oppressed against powerful business interests. He left the firm in 1911 to practice alone. But, while practicing law, Masters had been continuously publishing poetry. In 1914, Reedy's Mirror of St. Louis published a series of epitaphs in free verse. They were published as Spoon River Anthology by MacMillan a year later. The 245 epitaphs were vignettes of folk buried in a cemetery near Spoon River, a fictional community drawn from Masters' memory of small towns in Illinois. Masters practiced law for 30 years, and went on to publish many more works, including five novels, and biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Vachel Lindsay, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain.

(Instapaper)

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