Nov. 5, 2009
Psalm for a Lost Summer
- By the rivers of Estes Park, there we sat down, yes, we sighed, when we
- We pressed our pens against paper, and we sat under the pine trees,
listening to the crows.
- For there in Colorado we were captive at a high altitude, required
to write without breath; and if we could not write, our consciences
required us to read, and improve our minds.
- How shall we write our poems in this strange land?
- If I forget you, Venice, let my right hand forget to wind the fettuccini
around the fork.
- If I do not remember balmy Sorrento, let me never taste lemons again;
if I prefer not Capri above my chief joy.
- Remember, O Muse, the couple who strolled about Assisi; who said,
How lovely this is, but next year let's vacation at home.
- O Citizens of Assisi, do not blame us for the earthquake that destroyed
your basilica; how happy we were, looking at your frescos during a
- Happy we shall be again, when we dash from this rented cabin, and
drive down from these great stone mountains forever, Amen.
Today is the 27th birthday of Uzodinma Iweala, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1982) to Nigerian parents. He wrote Beasts of No Nation (2005) while he was going to school at Harvard. Published the year after he graduated with an English literature degree, the novel hit bookstores the week of his 23rd birthday. It was his first novel, and it garnered glowing reviews from The New York Times, The London Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker magazine, and many others. Iweala was selected as one of America's 20 Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine.
Beasts of No Nation is about a boy from West Africa whose father, a village schoolteacher, is killed by guerilla fighters who come to town. The boy, Agu, is forced to become a child soldier with those guerilla fighters. He narrates the brutalities of war, and his gradual embrace and enthusiasm for violence, his experiences coming of age in such conditions, his faltering belief in God, his deferred dream of becoming a doctor. The narrator's age is never specified in the novel, but Iweala said in an interview later that he's anywhere from 9 to 12. The child soldier ponders the promise of redemption that being a doctor holds: the chance to save lives, to possibly make amends for all of the ones he has ended.
The book is written in the first person, in an English cadenced in the idiom of Iweala's parents' native Nigerian languages. At the beginning, the child narrates: "I am not wanting to fight. I am not liking to hear people scream or to be looking at blood. I am not liking any of these thing."
Uzodinma Iweala is now studying to be a doctor; he's a student at Columbia University's medical school.
It's the birthday of the Irish-American writer Tom Phelan, (books by this author) born in County Laois, Ireland (1940). He was a priest, a carpenter, and a professor before he came to the United States and became a writer. His best-known novel, In the Season of the Daisies (1993), is about the murder of a small boy by a member of the Irish Republican Army, after the boy witnessed a political murder. Phelan has written other books, including Iscariot (1995) and, most recently, The Canal Bridge (2005).
It's the birthday of professor and novelist Thomas Flanagan, (books by this author) born in Greenwich, Connecticut (1923). Flanagan was a high school friend of Truman Capote and worked with him on the school newspaper. He taught English literature at Columbia, Berkeley, and SUNY. His specialty was Irish literature, and he began a tradition of spending every summer in Ireland. One day Flanagan was waiting for his wife to pick him up from his office and found himself staring at a blank piece of paper on his desk. He was suddenly struck by an image of a man walking down a road, and decided to write a novel. The image became the opening chapter of his first book, The Year of the French (1979), about the failed 1798 Irish uprising against the British. He went on to write two more historical novels, The Tenants of Time (1988) and The End of the Hunt (1994).
It's the birthday of novelist and biographer Geoffrey Wolff, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles, California (1937). He's written biographies of the poet Harry Crosby, the writer John O'Hara, and his own father.
It's the birthday of actor and playwright Sam Shepard, (books by this author) born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois (1943). His most recent play is Ages of the Moon (2009), in which two men sit on a porch and talk and watch the moon.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®