Monday

Apr. 28, 2008

Her Legacy

by Barbara Bloom

After the divorce,
she sent me twenty dollars
tucked into the folds
of her crinkly blue stationery
written hard on both sides.
No use crying
over spilt milk, she said,
still, what a shame. There
never had been divorce
in the family. By then,
I had a child
and could barely remember
my aunt's voice, but her certainties
were plain. No leaping
off cliffs for her.
The whir of the sewing machine,
her shelves lined with canned goods
straight from the garden,
that was more her way. Her long letters,
full of other people's news,
never mentioned
my father's silence,
or her own lack of children.
From a quick how are you,
she'd go right to
the surgery of a neighbor
I would never meet,
or what a nice visit
she'd just enjoyed with Elsie.
Who was Elsie? I never exactly knew.
But, after all, weren't we all part
of the great messy human family?
It swirled around her kitchen,
where she tied a fresh apron
around her waist,
and carried on.
She would hope for the best,
she concluded before signing her name.
Use the money
for something special.
Something just for you.

"Her Legacy" by Barbara Bloom, from On the Water Meridian. © The Hummingbird Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of (Nelle) Harper Lee, (books by this author) the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926), the daughter of a local newspaper editor and lawyer. She was a friend from childhood of Truman Capote, and she later traveled to Kansas with him to help with the research of his work for In Cold Blood (1966). In college, she worked on the humor magazine Ramma-Jamma. She attended law school at the University of Alabama, but dropped out before earning a degree, moving to New York to pursue a writing career. She later said that her years in law school were "good training for a writer."

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year's salary along with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times "Go Set a Watchman" and "Atticus"). She called herself "more a rewriter than writer," and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in The Washington Post read, "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Lee later said, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

It's the birthday of Norwegian novelist, journalist, playwright, and short-story writer Johan Borgen, (books by this author) born in Christiania (now Oslo) (1902). His mother was a good artist and his father was a lawyer who owned a lot of land, and Johan grew up in affluence—the sort that he came later to satirize in his writing.

After World War I ended, Borgen started law school. But he found it boring and wanted to be a writer. He began writing for various newspapers, including the Dagbladet, which at the time was affiliated with the Liberal Party and is now a daily tabloid. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, at the age of 23 and spent much of the 1930s as a journalist, writing witty and biting satire about corrupt politicians and about various social issues. He also wrote several works of fiction, many of which revolved around the theme of identity, man's exploration of himself. He said:

"Personally I believe that man's fascination for art lies in our unsatisfied desire for identity. I believe that our unarticulated longing for freedom, our painful and impractical and completely unreasonable longing for freedom derives simply from the fact that we are shut up inside that system of apparent necessities which is called our personality, or which we call our personality, because we need to fasten a fine-sounding name to the cage in which we have shut ourselves up. We live a crippled life, shut up inside the narrow cage of considerations, caught in the net of expectations." (Words Through the Years, 1966)

His novels include Little Lord (1955), Dark Springs (1956), and We Have Him Now (1957), which together comprise a trilogy, as well as Blue Peak (1964), and My Arm, My Intestine (1972).

Borgen won a Nordic Council literary prize for his collection of short stories (in 1967 for Nye Noveller), after which critic Sven Rossel wrote, "Borgen is a master of representing sudden outbreaks of forgotten or suppressed spiritual powers. The primary goal for him is not to tell a story or to reproduce a picture of external reality; rather, his short stories are studies, sudden dives into the dark ravings of the spirit or of a dark past, spotlights on the ironic paradoxes of human existence."

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

 









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