Sep. 3, 2012

How to Become a Tree in Sweden

by Ron Padgett

I look up ahead and see
the trees of Sweden waving at me

Gently they wave their bending heads
The light goes dim above the land

And down below the lights come on
And Swedish people one by one

Come out to shop and say hello
as crisply as a Swedish cracker that

fresh out of the package goes snap.
And soon the air is full of snaps

And schnapps and weimaraners and
me, my various selves united,

for a moment Swedish, a tree myself,
waving and lost among the others.

"How to Become a Tree in Sweden" by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Labor Day in the United States, which is always observed here the first Monday in September. Almost everywhere else in the world, Labor Day is the first of May.

It's the birthday of Sally Benson (books by this author), born in St. Louis (1900). She's best known for her novel Meet Me in St. Louis, which was made into a movie musical in 1944. She also wrote many stories and sketches for The New Yorker magazine.

It's the birthday of the youngest woman ever to receive the Booker Prize: Kiran Desai (books by this author), born in New Delhi, India (1971).

She published her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1997), to great acclaim, at age 27. It was based on work she'd written during her M.F.A. program at Columbia in New York City. But for the next novel, she wanted to do something really wide-sweeping and ambitious. She got an advance to write the novel and then decided she was going to write as independently and without support as she could.

She wrote and wrote and wrote, and one point had 1,500 pages of notes for her novel. She'd received a good advance, but she hadn't expected it to take eight years of her life to write the book, and the money soon was running out. She was impoverished and filled with self-doubt, and to make matters worse, her friends and family kept telling her that she needed to get a real job. She moved to a tiny rented room in Brooklyn with lots of roommates, but she was increasingly short on money. So she moved to Mexico, where the cost of living was lower and she could make advance money go even further. That second novel took her eight years of full-time writing, and it turned out to be a masterpiece, a complicated, multigenerational tale that explored all sorts of important contemporary issues, told as a brilliantly compelling story. And that novel, The Inheritance of Loss, published in 2006, won the Booker Prize.

Kiran Desai said: "Writing, for me, means humility. It's a process that involves fear and doubt, especially if you're writing honestly."

It's the birthday of New Yorker staff writer and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell (books by this author), born in Fareham, England (1963), and raised in Canada, the son of a Jamaican psychotherapist and a British engineering professor.

Parts of what would become his first book first appeared in The New Yorker magazine, where he started as a staff writer in 1996. He received a million-dollar advance for that first book, published in 2000 as The Tipping Point. Since then, he's written Blink (2005) and Outliers (2008). He said about his books: "The hope with Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is."

His next book, David and Goliath, is set to be released next year.

It's the birthday of Sarah Orne Jewett (books by this author), born in 1849 in South Berwick, Maine. She wrote stories about the ships and fisherman of the coastal villages in 19th-century Maine. Her best-known book is the short novel The Country of the Pointed Firs.

The writings of Sarah Orne Jewett are now considered by many scholars to be very early lesbian literature. Her novels were heavily focused on female bonds and companionships. She lived for most of her adult life with Annie Adams Fields, who was 15 years her senior and a big part of the Boston literary scene at the time.

Sarah Orne Jewett said, "God would not give us the same talent if what were right for men were wrong for women."

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




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