Nov. 11, 2001

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Eros," by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


The sense of the world is short,—
Long and various the report,—
    To love and be beloved;
Men and gods have not outlearned it;
And, how oft soe'er they've turned it,
    'Tis not to be improved.

Today is Veterans Day. WWI, dubbed at the time "the war to end all wars," ended on November 11, 1918.

It's the birthday of novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., born in Indianapolis (1922), who is best known for his cynical, satirical novels that highlight the ironies of our modern civilization. In December of that year, Vonnegut was fighting in Germany when he was captured and housed as a prisoner in a slaughterhouse in Dresden. His most famous novel, based on his experiences in Dresden, is Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969. He went on to write many more novels, including Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick (1976), and Hocus Pocus.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, born in Moscow, Russia (1821). He is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all times. Dostoyevsky had a military education, after which he became a draftsman in the Engineer's Corps of the War Department. He resigned after one year in order to devote himself to writing. Even though he had great financial successes over the years, he also gambled away great sums, and spent much of his life struggling to support himself and his relatives. He was arrested as a subversive in 1849 and spent 18 months in prison awaiting trial. He was sentenced to death and got as far as standing in front of the scaffold when he was suddenly reprieved. When he returned to St. Petersburg, he began writing again, and in 1861 published Notes from the House of the Dead, a realistic description of his years in prison. In 1864 he published Notes from the Underground, in which he argued that man is both creative and destructive, and that he often welcomes suffering. These themes were elaborated in his next novel, Crime and Punishment (1866), a story of redemption through suffering. It's hero, Raskolnikov, is a materialistic nihilist who commits a murder, but whose soul is saved by the self-sacrificing love of a prostitute. In 1880, Dostoyevsky completed The Brothers Karamazov.

It's the birthday of letter writer and First Lady Abigail Adams, born in Weymouth, Massachusetts (1744). Like all girls of that era, Abigail received no formal education, but she was extremely intelligent and well read. That was what attracted John Adams to her. They were married in 1764, when Abigail was 19. From 1774 to 1784, John Adams traveled extensively on political and diplomatic missions. It was during this period that Abigail began writing him letters. She wrote hundreds of them, recording her successful management of the family farm, news and gossip of home, her affection for her absent husband, and general reflections on the events of the times. Abigail Adams, who said, "It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to .... Nay, why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates?"

In 1938 on this day, "God Bless America" was first performed by Kate Smith on her radio program. The original version was written by Irving Berlin during the summer of 1918 at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island, for a camp revue called "Yip, Yip, Yaphank." However, Berlin decided that the solemn tone of the song was out of place in the revue, and it was not included. In 1938 as war was threatening Europe, Berlin remembered his song, and revised some of the lyrics. Kate Smith introduced the song during her radio broadcast on Armistice Day, 1938.

In 1924 on this day, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery. Today the memorial is known as the Tomb of the Unknowns. The inscription on the Tomb reads: "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier, known but to God."

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 »