Jun. 22, 2007


by Louise Erdrich

FRIDAY, 22 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Thistles" by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © HarperCollins Publishers, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


for Persia

Under ledge, under tar, under fill
under curved blue stone of doorsteps,
under the aggregate of lakebed rock,
under loss and under hard words,
under steamrollers
under your heart,
it doesn't matter. They can live forever.
The seeds of thistles
push from nowhere, forming a rose of spikes
that spreads all summer until it
stands in a glory of
needles, blossoms, blazing
purple clubs and fists.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1944 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the GI Bill of Rights. It was one of the most important and influential pieces of legislation ever signed by an American president, but the newspapers barely covered the story at the time. They were too busy reporting on the Allied invasion of Europe.

The law was originally designed as unemployment compensation for returning veterans, in case there weren't a lot of jobs available at the end of the war. A congressional committee threw in the idea that veterans should get money to go to college if they wanted to.

Even the supporters of the bill didn't think very many GIs would really want to go to college. Most of the soldiers came from working-class families, and there was no reason to think they wouldn't go back to those same working-class jobs on farms and in factories. Experts predicted maybe 8 to 12 percent of veterans would actually use the money for higher education.

In fact, about a million veterans applied for the money within the first year after the war, and ultimately 2.2 million veterans used the money to obtain higher education, many of them becoming the first members of their families to receive a college diploma. Before the war, about 10 percent of Americans attended college. After the war, that figure rose to about 50 percent.

And contrary to most expectations, the grade-point averages at most colleges went up with the influx of veterans, and dropout rates went way down. Professors at the time said that the veterans were the most serious and disciplined students they'd ever seen. The cost to taxpayers for the GI Bill was about $5.5 billion, but the result was 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, 17,000 writers and editors, and thousands of other professionals. It helped spur one of the greatest economic booms in American history.

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque, (books by this author) born in Osnabrück, Germany (1898). He's the author of the classic novel about World War I All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). The novel was a huge success: It sold more than a million copies in Germany in less than a year, and the next year it was made into a Hollywood movie. The Nazis were rising to power in Germany at the time, and they didn't like the novel because of its negative portrayal of World War I. It was one of the books they publicly burned in 1933. In 1938, Remarque lost his German citizenship, and eventually ended up in the United States.

It's the birthday of novelist Dan Brown, (books by this author) born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1964). He's the author of one of the best-selling books of all time: The Da Vinci Code (2003). Brown grew up on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father was a math teacher. From an early age, he and his family members loved to invent and communicate through codes. Every Christmas, Brown and his sister were given poems that provided clues to the locations of their gifts.

Brown wrote his first novel, Digital Fortress (1998), about the culture of NSA cryptographers, and he went on to write Angels & Demons (2000) and Deception Point (2001). The three novels sold about 20,000 copies combined.

Brown got the idea for The Da Vinci Code when he heard about some conspiracy theories that there were secret messages in Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper. The day before the book came out it got a great review on the front page of the New York Times arts section. It sold 6,000 copies on the day it hit bookstores, and by the end of the week, it had sold about 25,000 copies, enough to put it on the top of the best-seller list. It's estimated that there are now more than 60 million copies of The Da Vinci Code in print worldwide.

It's the birthday of the theater producer Joseph Papp, born in Brooklyn, New York (1921). He founded the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954 at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church at 729 East 6th Street in New York City. The early productions were staged on almost no budget, and in many cases the actors worked without pay. Because Papp believed that art should be available to everyone, the admission was free.

Eventually, the Shakespeare Festival moved to Central Park, and became known as Shakespeare in the Park. Papp said, "When the moon is out and the wind begins to whisper, it's theater at its best. You can't beat it."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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