Feb. 16, 2009


by David Tucker

The runways were covered by early evening,
nothing moved out there but the occasional noble
snowplow carrying on with a yellow grimace;
the jet fleets were barely visible, like whales
sleeping off the blast. The concourses, so frantic
a few hours ago, were almost still; a few meanderers chatted
on their cell phones and looked at watches. Some
who couldn't bear the limbo lined up at the ticket counters
to argue with clerks who rolled their eyes.
Expectations that could not be denied on this
of all days were denied, deadlines that couldn't be missed
were missed, helpless executives threw up their hands,
meetings went on without them, soldiers with orders
gave up with good cheer and played video games
as if this were finally the last place and not all that bad,
stranded students slept on backpacks, wedding guests
rode the escalators with vacant stares, imagining the bride.
I stayed quiet and thought of you, checked my passport and my ticket,
like a spy with only a name to get me out,
a thousand miles from my life.

"Snowbound" by David Tucker from Late For Work. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, (books by this author) born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). He tried hotel management, law school, substitute teaching, and coaching baseball. He wrote two novels, and they got good reviews but didn't sell many copies. So he gave up writing fiction and got a job as a sportswriter at a magazine called Inside Sports, and he loved that job and thought he would be happy to stay there his whole life. But then the magazine went out of business; he couldn't find a job, so he went back to writing fiction. His first novels featured tormented characters, and his wife told him to try writing a book about somebody happy for a change.

So he wrote about a normal, likeable guy named Frank Bascombe, who gives up a career as a fiction writer to write for a sports magazine. He wrote about 150 pages and showed them to his editor, who told him to throw the book away. Richard Ford finally decided to ignore his editor and finish the book, which he called The Sportswriter (1986), and it was his first big success. He wrote two more novels about Frank Bascombe, both of them successful: Independence Day (1995), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and The Lay of the Land (2006).

He said: "I wanted to write this novel in the first person, and in the present tense. The novel gets to say we're present tense here, and yet we can read the present over and over again. Which is quite a nice thing to do, we'd all be better off if we could not stop time but slow it down a little bit, and live the pleasant things more pleasantly and live the incautious things more cautiously."

It's the birthday of critic and biographer Van Wyck Brooks, (books by this author) born in Plainfield, New Jersey (1886). He wrote biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain.

It's the birthday of historian and philosopher Henry Adams, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1838). His grandfather was John Quincy Adams, and his great-grandfather was John Adams. He hated public speaking, he had no interest in becoming a politician himself, but he did like writing about politics — mostly about how pathetic he thought American politics had become. He said, "The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence to upset Darwin."

He did a lot of writing about politics and history, but he's most famous as the author of The Education of Henry Adams, one of the first modern American memoirs. It was privately printed in 1907, and no one paid attention to it. But when it was republished in 1918, after Adams' death, it won the Pulitzer Prize.

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