Wednesday

Feb. 9, 2011

In Praise of a Teacher

by Nikki Giovanni

The reason Miss Delaney was my favorite teacher, not just my
favorite English teacher, is that she would let me read any book I
wanted and would allow me to report on it. I had the pleasure of
reading The Scapegoat as well as We the Living as well as Silver
Spoon
(which was about a whole bunch of rich folk who were
unhappy), and Defender of the Damned, which was about
Clarence Darrow, which led me into Native Son because the real
case was defended by Darrow though in Native Son he got the
chair despite the fact that Darrow never lost a client to the chair
including Leopold and Loeb who killed Bobby Frank. Native Son
led me to Eight Men and all the rest of Richard Wright but I
preferred Langston Hughes at that time and Gwendolyn Brooks
and I did reports on both of them. I always loved English because
whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories
that give a light to the future. When I went to college I became a
history major because history is such a wonderful story of who we
think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are.
It was, after all, Miss Delaney who introduced the class to My
candle burns at both ends; /It will not last the night; /But, ah, my
foes, and, oh, my friends— /It gives a lovely light.
And I thought
YES. Poetry is the main line. English is the train.

"In Praise of a Teacher" by Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea. © Harper Perennial, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, as teenage girls screamed hysterically in the audience and 73 million people watched from home — a record for American television at the time. Their appearance on the show is considered the beginning of the "British Invasion" of music in the United States. The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the following two Sundays in a row, as well. On this first time, exactly 47 years ago today, they sang "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There," and finally "I Want to Hold Your Hand" — which had just hit No. 1 on the charts.

It was on this day in 1870 that the U.S. National Weather Service was established.

At first it was called the Weather Bureau and it was part of the War Department because, it was said, "military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations." It became a civilian agency 20 years later, under the Department of Agriculture, and then was switched to the Commerce Department in 1940. These days, the National Weather Service is based out of Silver Spring, Maryland. It plays a very big role in making sure that American air travel is safe, providing up-to-minute weather updates to air traffic controller centers across the nation.

It's the birthday of theoretical physicist Brian Greene, (books by this author) born in New York City (1963), the son of a vaudeville performer. He's best known for his work on string theory, sometimes called a step on the road to the "theory of everything" — all of the particles and basic forces of nature. He's a professor at Columbia and has tried to explain theoretical physics to the general public in number of books, including The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (1999), The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2005), Icarus at the Edge of Time (2008), and — published just this year — a book about parallel universes and the deep laws of the cosmos, The Hidden Reality (2011).

He once said, "I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of poet Amy Lowell, (books by this author) born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1874), the daughter of a prominent Boston family. Her first poem, "Fixed Idea," wasn't published until she was 36, and she threw herself into studying the latest trends in poetry — imagism and unrhymed meter. She once said, "God made me a businesswoman and I made myself a poet." Her posthumous collection of poetry, What's O'Clock (1925), won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of Alice Walker, (books by this author) born in Eatonton, Georgia (1944). She was the youngest of eight children, the daughter of poor sharecroppers. Walker graduated first in her high school class and won a scholarship to Spelman College (1961). She transferred to Sarah Lawrence after two years, and a short story she wrote there was sent to Langston Hughes, who became an early champion of her writing. In 1968, she published her first collection of poetry, Once, and her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970, about a family of poor sharecroppers in the 1920s. Throughout the '60s and '70s, Alice Walker had a modest following, but it wasn't until her third novel, The Color Purple (1982), won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award that her work reached a much larger audience. She once wrote, "Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence."

It's the birthday of Irish playwright and novelist Brendan Behan, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1923). He grew up in one of the poorest sections of Dublin. His father took part in the Irish rebellion in the early 1920s, and when Brendan was born, his father was being held in a British prison. When Brendan was nine years old, he joined a youth organization that had ties to the IRA. He later called the group "the Republican Boy Scouts." He rose through the ranks of the IRA, and by the time he was 16 he was being sent on missions to bomb British targets.

He spent most of the 1940s in prison. First he was thrown in jail for carrying a suitcase full of homemade explosives through the streets of Liverpool. After he got out, he was arrested for the attempted murder of two policemen. It was during his second stay in prison that he began to write. He wrote his first play, The Quare Fellow (1956), about the execution of a convict in a Dublin prison. When he got out of prison, it became a big hit in London and then New York. He followed that up with the novel Borstal Boy (1958) and The Hostage (1958), in which he wrote:
"Never throw stones at your mother,
You'll be sorry for it when she's dead,
Never throw stones at your mother,
Throw bricks at your father instead."

It's the birthday of J.M. (John Maxwell) Coetzee, (books by this author) born in Cape Town, South Africa (1940). He's the author of many novels, including Dusklands (1974), Life and Times of Michael K (1983), and Disgrace (1999). He's known for his intense self-discipline and dedication to writing. Someone who worked with him for more than a decade claimed that he only saw Coetzee laugh once. He's lived most of his adult life in England, America, and Australia, but much of his writing deals with South African apartheid. His breakthrough novel was Waiting for Barbarians, published in 1980. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

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

 









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