Mar. 12, 2009

New York Notes

by Harvey Shapiro

1. Caught on a side street in heavy traffic, I said to the cabbie, I should have
walked. He replied, I should have been a doctor. 2. When can I get on the 11:33 I
ask the guy in the information booth at the Atlantic Avenue Station. When they
open the doors, he says. I am home among my people.

"New York Notes" by Harvey Shapiro, from How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems. © Wesleyan University Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1933 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first "fireside chat," an evening radio speech addressing the nation. He talked about the bank crisis.

It's the 81st birthday of playwright Edward Albee, (books by this author) born in 1928. He is the author of many plays, including The Zoo Story (1958), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and Me, Myself & I (2007).

It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, (books by this author) born Jean-Louis Kerouac, in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). His parents were from Quebec, and Jack grew up speaking a local French dialect and didn't start learning English until he was seven years old. He was a track and football star in high school, and he got a football scholarship to Columbia in New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. Jack Kerouac idolized Neal Cassady, and he typed the story of their cross-country adventures together on a single scroll of paper, 120 feet long, which was published in 1957 as On the Road. He depicts Neal Cassady — whom he calls Dean Moriarty — as a charismatic bad boy American hero. Kerouac took a backpacking trip with another friend whom he idolized, the poet Gary Snyder, and he turned Snyder into the character Jaffy Ryder and made him the hero of The Dharma Bums (1958).

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Carl Hiaasen, (books by this author) born in Plantation, Florida, in 1953. He became a journalist, and when he was in his 20s, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on doctors who committed malpractice and on the drug-smuggling industry. Since 1985, he has had a weekly column for The Miami Herald. He's the author of many satirical novels set in Florida, often called environmental thrillers, including Tourist Season (1986), Strip Tease (1993), and Skinny Dip (2004). When someone asked him which of his novels was his favorite, he said: "For sentimental reasons, Tourist Season is probably the closest thing to a favorite of mine, because it was the first and because it was downright subversive at the time. Not many writers can get away with feeding a blue-haired old retiree to a crocodile, and expect you to root for the crocodile."

It's the birthday of Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). When he was just 21 years old, both his parents died within six months of each other. He dropped out of college, and became the guardian of his eight-year-old brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents' policies to start a magazine with some high school friends, called Might Magazine. It didn't last very long, but he used that group of writers to start a literary quarterly called Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Each issue of McSweeney's has a very different format — one issue had a story told on 13 playing cards that could be arranged in any order, another was all comics, one had eight fables in eight separate small books that fit together like a puzzle, and one came looking like a pile of mail. McSweeney's debuted in 1998, and two years later, Dave Eggers published a memoir about the death of his parents, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). It became a huge best-seller. He has written nonfiction, short stories, and novels, including You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006).

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »