Wednesday

Sep. 4, 2002

Cat Dying in Autumn

by Irving Layton

WEDNESDAY, 4 SEPTEMBER 2002
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It's the birthday of memoirist and essayist Lisa Knopp, born in Burlington, Iowa (1956). In the late 1980's, she turned from writing fiction and poetry to writing memoirs and essays about natural history and the human place in the natural world. Her home ground is the Midwest-Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska. Her newest book, The Nature of Home, is being published this month. Her earlier books are Field of Vision (1996) and Flight Dreams: A Life in the Midwestern Landscape (1998). She said: "When I discovered how malleable the essay was, through the work of such writers as Loren Eiseley and Annie Dillard, I realized that I had found my home and my life work."

It's the birthday of writer Jane Brox, born in Dracut, Massachusetts (1956). She was born on the farm that her Lebanese immigrant grandfather bought when he came to this country in 1901. She writes about life and work on the family farm in her books Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family (1995) and Five Thousand Days Like This One: An American Family History (1999).

It's the birthday of English writer Joan Aiken, born in Rye, Sussex, England (1924). She published short stories, and then a novel, The Kingdom and the Cave (1960)-a revision of a novel she wrote when she was seventeen. She gained a loyal following with her series of Gothic children's novels set in the imaginary England of King James the Third, filled with roaming wolves and political rebels. The first book in the series was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), followed by Black Hearts in Battersea (1964), Cold Shoulder Road (1996), and others. She's also written several "sequels" of Jane Austen novels, following up on the originals, or telling the stories from different perspectives. These include Jane Fairfax: Jane Austen's Emma Through Another's Eyes (1990) and Lady Catherine's Necklace (2000). Joan Aiken said: "Why do we want to have alternate worlds? It's a way of making progress. You have to imagine something before you do it. Therefore, if you write about something, hopefully you write about something that's better or more interesting than circumstances as they now are, and that way you hope to make a step towards it."

It's the birthday of African-American novelist Richard Wright, born near Natchez, Mississippi (1908). His grandparents were slaves, and he grew up in poverty in the South before heading north to Chicago, and then to New York City, where he worked as the editor of the Community Daily Worker in Harlem. His most famous novel, Native Son (1940), is set in Chicago. It's the story of Bigger Thomas, a poor black man who is forced into flight when he accidentally kills a white girl. He's also known for his autobiography Black Boy (1945), tracing his rise from poverty to become a successful writer. After World War Two, he settled in Paris, where he wrote the existential novel The Outsider (1953).

It's the birthday of novelist Mary Renault, born Mary Challans, in London, England (1905). She worked as a nurse during World War Two, then settled in South Africa, where she began to write her highly successful series of historical novels set in ancient Greece. The novels were The Last of the Wine (1956), The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull from the Sea (1962). In The Last of the Wine, she wrote: "Madness is sacred to the gods. They give it us at the proper season to purge our souls, as they give us strong herbs to clean out our bodies."


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