May 24, 2005
Poem: "Boarding House" by Ted Kooser from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.
The blind man draws his curtains for the night
and goes to bed, leaving a burning light
above the bathroom mirror. Through the wall,
he hears the deaf man walking down the hall
in his squeaky shoes to see if there's a light
under the blind man's door, and all is right.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the novelist and short story writer William Trevor, born in Mitchelstown, Ireland (1928). He grew up on a Protestant household in a Catholic country.
It's the birthday of the poet Joseph Brodsky, born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1940), who left for America in 1972 and a few years later began writing poems in English.
It's the birthday of Bob Dylan, born in Duluth, Minnesota (1941).
It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Chabon, born in Washington, D.C. (1963). He was just 23 when he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He turned it in as his master's thesis in a creative writing program. He turned it in on a Friday. On Monday he heard that his professor had sent it to an agent. The book was published the following year, in 1988. It was a big success. He was compared to Fitzgerald and John Cheever. He was asked to model clothing for The Gap. People Magazine wanted to include him in its list of "50 Most Beautiful People." He turned down both offers.
He started working on his second novel. He had seen a picture of the original plans for the city of Washington, D.C., and he got an idea for a novel about an architect. Chabon later said, "It was a novel about utopian dreamers, ecological activists, an Israeli spy, a gargantuan Florida real estate deal, the education of an architect, the perfect baseball park, Paris, French cooking, and the crazy and ongoing dream of rebuilding the Great Temple in Jerusalem. It was about loss: lost paradises, lost cities, the loss of the Temple, the loss of a brother to AIDS, and the concomitant dream of Restoration or Rebuilding."
He called the novel Fountain City. He spent five years working on it and wrote 1,500 pages of manuscript. He felt he just couldn't put the pieces together and then one night got an idea for a whole different story and decided to follow it. He wrote 15 pages in four hours. He kept working on it in secret for the next few weeks. He didn't tell anybody. He said, "I didn't stop to think about what I was doing or what the critics would think of it and, sweetest of all, I didn't give a single thought to what I was trying to say. I just wrote."
He finished the book in seven months. The novel was Wonder Boys. It came out in 1995, about a creative writing professor named Grady Tripp who can't seem to finish his latest novel. It was made into a movie five years later.
After Wonder Boys, Chabon stumbled on a box of comic books he'd kept since childhood. He hadn't looked at them in 15 years. He said, "When I opened it up and that smell came pouring out, that old paper smell, I was struck by a rush of memories, a sense of my childhood self that seemed to be contained in there." It gave him the idea to write a novel about the golden days of the comic book trade called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It came out in 2000, and won a Pulitzer Price. It was the story of a Jewish kid who flees the Nazis just before World War II, has to leave his family behind, and come to America. Along with his cousin, he creates a comic book super hero called "The Escapist."
Michael Chabon said, "Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. If a writer doesn't give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves, if he doesn't court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family or party apparatchiks... the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®