Oct. 5, 2009

Come down to the water. Bring your snare drum,
your hubcaps, the trash can lid. Bring every
joyful noise you've held at bay so long.
The fish have risen to the surface this early
morning: flounder, shrimp, and every blue crab
this side of Mobile. Bottom feeders? Please.
They shine like your Grandpa Les' Cadillac,
the one you rode in, slow so all the girls
could see. They called to you like katydids.
And the springs in that car sounded like tubas
as you moved up and down. Make a soulful sound
unto the leather and the wheel, praise the man
who had the good sense to build a front seat
like a bed, who knew you'd never buy a car
that big if you only meant to drive it.

"Jubilee" by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, from Apocalyptic Swing. © Persea Books, 2009. Reprinted with the permission of the author. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1877 that the Nez Percé leader Chief Joseph surrendered to the U.S. Army in the mountains of Montana. He said: "I am tired of fighting. … Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever!"

It's the birthday of philosopher and writer Denis Diderot, (books by this author) born on this day in Langres, France (1713). He was a prominent thinker during the French Enlightenment and good friends with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The two men met regularly at cafés in Paris to discuss music, philosophy, and their troubles with women.

Diderot was the main editor and visionary behind the Encyclopédie, a book meant to supplant the Bible as the source of knowledge. As Diderot himself wrote, "All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings."

It's the birthday of the man who built the McDonald's empire, Ray Kroc, born on this day in Oak Park, Illinois (1902). He dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and signed up to be an ambulance driver during World War I. But the war ended before he was finished with training. He worked a few odd jobs and eventually became the sales executive for a mixing machine that could mix several milkshakes at a time. He spent 17 years traveling around and marketing the machine, and then he heard about a hamburger joint in San Bernardino, California, that was using eight of his mixers, and he went to check it out. The restaurant owners were Dick and Mac McDonald, and they sold a few items at a low price. Ray Kroc went in with them and expanded their business model, encouraged them to open up franchises, and in 1961, he bought them out. By the time Ray Kroc died in 1984, less than 25 years later, the company was worth $500 million, and there were McDonald's restaurants in more than 100 countries.

And it's the birthday of novelist Edward P. Jones, (books by this author) born on this day in Arlington, Virginia (1950). He grew up poor, raised by his single mother, and he even lived in a homeless shelter for a while. He went to college and graduate school to study creative writing, but afterward he couldn't find a job. Finally, he was hired by a trade magazine called Tax Notes, where he summarized articles about taxes and worked as a proofreader. He was relieved to have steady work, and he worked there for 19 years.

He often wrote stories in his head, and after a few years of working at Tax Notes,he decided to start writing them down. Then, in 2002, he got laid off, and he didn't know what else to do with himself so he started writing out his novel. The premise was sparked by a piece of history that he had learned in college: that in the antebellum South, there were some free black people who owned slaves. He got 40 books about slavery and planned to go visit Virginia and do historical research. But he never got around to his trip, and he never read any of the books. He said, "I decided the people I'd created were real enough and I had just accumulated enough information about what the world was like in the South before 1865 to allow me to lie and get away with it." And in 2003, he published The Known World.It became a huge best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The Known World is the story of Henry Townsend, a black man who is freed from slavery and then buys his own plantation and slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, tries to hold the farm together with the help of Henry's overseer, Moses, who is also a slave.

Edward P. Jones said: "If you write a story today, and you get up tomorrow and start another story, all the expertise that you put into the first story doesn't transfer over automatically to the second story. You're always starting at the bottom of the mountain. So you're always becoming a writer. You're never really arriving."

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
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