Sunday

Apr. 24, 2011

Little Things

by Julia A. Carney

Little drops of water,
    Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
    And the pleasant land.

Little deeds of kindness,
    Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
    Like the heaven above.

"Little Things" by Julia A. F. Carney. Public domain. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of playwright, novelist, and actor Eric Bogosian (books by this author), born to Edwina, a hairdresser, and Henry, an accountant, in Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1953. He graduated from Oberlin and then moved to New York City to pursue a theater career. He met director Jo Bonney in the summer of 1980; they were married two months later and they are still married.

Bogosian is best known for writing and starring in the Off-Broadway plays Talk Radio (1987) and subUrbia (1994), both of which were made into films. He has also written several one-man shows, three novels, and a novella, and has appeared as a regular on the television series Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

In an interview with Gadfly Online, he said of his work: "I think of myself in relation to performance the way Tom Waits is to music. I have my own particular crowd that likes my stuff. It's raw and it's funny. But it's not Neil Simon funny. It's Frank Zappa funny."

Today is the birthday of mystery writer Sue Grafton (books by this author), born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1940. Her father, C.W. Grafton, was a bond attorney who also wrote detective novels on the side. Sue began writing when she was 18, but she's best known for the Alphabet Series of novels, beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982. U for Undertow was published in 2009, and the "V" installment is due later this year.

She didn't start out writing murder mysteries, but during an ugly and protracted divorce and custody battle, she would lie awake nights fantasizing about ways to kill her ex-husband. Since she was a law-abiding soul at heart, she decided her murderous impulses would be better channeled into her work.

She worked for many years as a screenwriter, and grew to despise Hollywood to such a degree that she has vowed never to sell the film or television rights to any of her books. She told January Magazine: "I will never sell [Kinsey] to Hollywood. And I have made my children promise not to sell her. We've taken a blood oath, and if they do so I will come back from the grave: which they know I can do."

On this day in 1916, the Easter Rising began in Dublin, with the aim of ending British rule and creating the Irish Republic. It came to be known as the Poets' Rebellion, because many of its leaders were poets, teachers, or men of letters. Schoolteacher Patrick Pearse and Socialist leader James Connolly called for supporters of the Republic to gather at Dublin's General Post Office on Easter Monday, bearing whatever weapons they could find. Members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, about 1,200 in number, turned out, but most citizens of Dublin were unprepared for, some even unaware of, the uprising.

The uprising itself was, by many conventional measures, a failure: Poorly planned and lacking solid support, it was quashed after a week, and its leaders hastily executed for treason. But as George Bernard Shaw wrote in The New York Times the following month, "It is absolutely impossible to slaughter a man in this position without making him a martyr and a hero, even though the day before the rising he may have been only a minor poet. ... The military authorities and the British Government must have known they were canonizing their prisoners." Outrage over the executions resulted in a wave of nationalism among the Irish, many of whom had previously been ambivalent about an Irish Republic, and galvanized the movement. The Republic of Ireland achieved independence from Great Britain five years later.

Today is the birthday of novelist, literary critic, and the first U.S. poet laureate Robert Penn Warren (books by this author). Born in Guthrie, Kentucky, in 1905, he is best known for his novel All the King's Men (1947), for which he was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize; he also won that prize twice for poetry, in 1957 and 1979, and is the only person to win the award in both fiction and poetry.

While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University, Warren became affiliated with a group of poets called the Fugitives, who held a pro-agrarian and politically conservative stance. He wrote a pro-segregation essay, "The Briar Patch," while with the Fugitives, but later came to regret it, and recanted it during the Civil Rights Movement.

He published 16 volumes of poetry, 10 novels, a collection of short stories, and many other books, including biographies, critical studies, textbooks, and historical essays.

In 1981, he told an interviewer: "Everybody knows a thousand stories, but only one cocklebur catches in your fur and that subject is your question. You live with that question. You may not even know what that question is. It hangs around a long time. I've carried a novel as long as 20 years, and some poems longer than that."

Today is the birthday of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (books by this author), born in London in 1815. His father, Thomas, was a hot-tempered barrister who had trouble keeping a job, and the family frequently had money troubles as a result. Anthony went to a prestigious public school, but it was readily apparent that, unlike most of his classmates, he wasn't rich, and he was bullied by students and teachers alike.

As a young man, he got a job as a postal clerk, but earned a reputation for insubordination and tardiness. He resolved to turn his life around when he was offered a transfer to Ireland in 1841, and his fortunes did indeed change: The cost of living was lower there, so he was able to enjoy a sense of prosperity, traveling more and taking up fox hunting, which he loved. His job took him all over the country, and he enjoyed the working-class Irish people, finding them more clever and hospitable than their English counterparts. And he began writing novels on his long train rides, occasionally raiding the "lost letter" box for ideas. In 1859, he transferred back to England, wanting to be within easy reach of London now that he was an established author. He remained with the Post Office for 33 years, rising to a fairly senior position, and he is credited with developing the pillar-style post box, which has since become a British classic.

He was most disciplined as a writer, getting up at 5:30 every day to write for three hours before he went to the office, and he wrote in his autobiography: "Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours — so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas." Trollope wrote 47 novels, dozens of short stories, and a few travel books. He created the fictional county of Bartsetshire, and set several novels there. His most famous book, The Way We Live Now (1875), is a scathing 100-chapter satire of English greed. He was, and remains, one of England's most popular authors.

He said: "The habit of reading is the only one I know in which there is no alloy. It lasts when all other pleasures fade. It will be there to support you when all other resources are gone. It will be present to you when the energies of your body have fallen away from you. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live."

On this day in 1800, the Library of Congress was established. In a bill that provided for the transfer of the nation's capital from Philadelphia to Washington, Congress included a provision for a reference library containing "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein ..." The library was housed in the Capitol building, until British troops burned and pillaged it in 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered as a replacement his own personal library: nearly 6,500 books, the result of 50 years' worth of "putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science."

First opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress is now the largest library in the world. It houses more than 144 million items, including 33 million catalogued books in 460 languages; more than 63 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world's largest collection of films, legal materials, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.

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