Mar. 25, 2009


by Mark Strand

I think of the innocent lives
Of people in novels who know they'll die
But not that the novel will end. How different they are
From us. Here, the moon stares dumbly down,
Through scattered clouds, onto the sleeping town,
And the wind rounds up the fallen leaves,
And somebody—namely me—deep in his chair,
Riffles the pages left, knowing there's not
Much time for the man and woman in the rented room,
For the red light over the door, for the iris
Tossing its shadow against the wall; not much time
For the soldiers under the trees that line
The river, for the wounded being hauled away
To the cities of the interior where they will stay;
The war that raged for years will come to a close,
And so will everything else, except for a presence
Hard to define, a trace, like the scent of grass
After a night of rain or the remains of a voice
That lets us know without spelling it out
Not to despair; if the end is come, it too will pass.

"Fiction" by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Gloria Steinem, (books by this author) born in Toledo, Ohio (1934). Her father was an antique dealer and a summer resort operator who traveled all over the country in a trailer, looking for new business ventures. Steinem said, "He was always going to make a movie, or cut a record, or start a new hotel, or come up with a new orange drink." She traveled around the country, never attending school, until her parents separated, and she moved in with her mother.

But her mother's mental health began to break down, and Steinem had to take over all the cooking and cleaning and shopping. She said that her mother was "an invalid who lay in bed with eyes closed and lips moving in occasional response to voices only she could hear; a woman to whom I brought an endless stream of toast and coffee, bologna sandwiches and dime pies." Young Gloria became obsessed with Shirley Temple movies, hoping to be rescued miraculously from poverty, just like the little girl on the screen.

She managed to get into Smith College because she scored so well on her entrance examinations. After college, she went to work as a journalist. She wrote celebrity journalism for a while, but she became more interested in feminism after she wrote an article about the prevalence of illegal abortions, and all her male colleagues tried to persuade her not to publish it. She was a founder of Ms. magazine, whose first issue came out in January 1972.

Gloria Steinem said, "Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."

It's the birthday of Flannery O'Connor, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1925). She wrote two novels and many short stories, including "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." She is the subject of Brad Gooch's Flannery (2009), a new biography. In it we learn about her regular correspondence with a young credit bureau clerk named Betty Hester, a semi-reclusive woman. Flannery wrote Betty 274 letters, and in one of them she wrote to her: "I am afraid that if I tell you your writing to me is a kindness, you will lay this to some more of my guile or feel obliged to write me when you don't feel like it. Don't do that, but do be assured that these letters from you are something in my life."

She wrote to Betty about her stories as she was writing them. In one letter, she wrote, "I have a sentence in mind to end some story that I am going to write. The character all through it will have been hungry and at the end, he is so hungry that 'he could have eaten all the loaves and fishes, after they were multiplied.'" And in fact, that sentence was in the closing pages of her novel The Violent Bear It Away (1960).

Five years before she died of lupus at the age of 39, she sent a letter to her friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, along with a manuscript of The Violent Bear It Away. In the letter, she wrote about her novel: "I am 100% pure sick of it. I cannot see it any longer and the only thing I can determine about it is that nobody else would have wanted to write it but me."

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
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