Jun. 16, 2009


by James Joyce

"O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the
figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue
and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and
cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put
the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how
he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and
then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to
say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him
down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like
mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Excerpt from, "Ulysses, " by James Joyce. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates, (books by this author) born in Lockport, New York (1938). She's known for novels and short stories in which people's lives are torn apart by violence. She's the author of books such as Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990) and We Were the Mulvaneys (1996).

It's the birthday of journalist John Howard Griffin, (books by this author) born in Dallas, Texas (1920), best known for his book Black Like Me (1961). It's a nonfiction account of the experiences he (a white Southerner) had while traveling around the Deep South disguised as a black man.

He got the idea for the experiment after he had been researching the increasing rates of suicide among black people in the South. He said that he realized "the Southern Negro will not tell the white man the truth." He wanted to explain the difficulties that black people faced in segregated places when many whites across the nation were okay with or apathetic to the "separate but equal" doctrine. In the fall of 1959, he checked into the Monteleone Hotel on Royal Street in New Orleans. With the supervision of a dermatologist, he spent a week swallowing large doses of Oxsoralen, a drug that combats vitiligo, a disease that causes lightening of the skin. He also spent whole days sitting under a UV lamp. His skin turned dark brown. He shaved his head and used dyes to cover areas of his skin that hadn't darkened evenly.

He wrote that the first time he saw himself in the mirror, "the transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger."

Then he set off for six weeks of traveling around Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, mostly on Greyhound buses. His life as a black man started at a bus station in New Orleans, where he asked politely a white clerk about the bus schedule. He recounted, "She answered rudely and glared at me with such loathing I knew I was receiving what the Negroes call 'the hate stare.' This was so exaggeratedly hateful I would have been amused if I had not been so surprised."

Griffin didn't change his name for the trip or get new ID cards. He decided that if people asked what he was doing, he would tell them the truth. But it wasn't an issue; his disguise was complete and no one thought to wonder if he was white. In fact, people who knew him as a white man didn't recognize him as a black man, including a shoeshiner he'd been friendly with. The man was only convinced it was Griffin because he recognized his shoes, which he'd shined before.

Griffin recorded his experiences of six weeks as a black man in the segregated South in a diary, which totaled 188 pages. His experiences were first published in a series of articles for Sepia, a black-owned magazine that had helped finance the experiment.

Black Like Me has become required reading on many high school and college curricula. Since the book was published nearly 50 years ago, it's sold more than 10 million copies in various languages and passed through several English editions.

Today is Bloomsday. It is the day on which James Joyce's (books by this author) Ulysses takes place, in 1904. It's named after the main character, Leopold Bloom, and Joyce chose this day for the action of the novel to commemorate the first date he had with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, an uneducated chambermaid from Galway whom he met for a stroll around Dublin. A few days earlier, Nora had stood him up for their scheduled date.

Today, Joyceans all over the world celebrate with staged readings of Ulysses. Dublin has a long tradition of hosting celebrities, politicians, and international diplomats to do these dramatized readings. In fact, in Dublin, Bloomsday is not just celebrated for a day — it's a weeklong extravaganza. There are Ulysses walking tours, where a person can retrace the steps of the fictional Leopold Bloom, as well as literary-themed pub crawls, musical acts, and museum exhibits. There's also an annual Messenger Biker Rally, where people dressed in Joyce-era clothing ride old bicycles along the route that Leopold Bloom would have walked, and there are large-scale Irish breakfasts and afternoon teas devoted to Ulysses devotees.

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 »