Thursday

Nov. 8, 2012

Terra

by Faith Shearin

I grew up watching Gone With the Wind
with my grandmothers, rehearsing

for my life as Scarlett or Melanie. On the bright
steps of my southern childhood I practiced

pinching my cheeks, holding my breath
while someone else tied my corsets.

I could make a dress out of curtains.
I could deliver a baby while, outside,

Atlanta burned. When the wagon took me
home to Terra I would save the plantation

by murder or marriage, my hat tied
beneath my chin in a cheerful bow.

Like Melanie I would forgive anything,
befriend prostitutes, donate my wedding ring

to the soldiers. Someone would kiss me
in a field where cotton no longer bloomed.

I would want whatever I could not have.
I would die trying to have another child.

My husband would never recover from
loving me: my shape on that marble staircase,

too restless for an afternoon nap.

"Terra" by Faith Shearin, from Moving the Piano. © Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1864 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his second term as president of the United States, one of the few elections in world history to be held in the middle of a civil war. Lincoln might have tried to cancel or postpone the election until the war was over, but he said, "If the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us."

The Confederate Army had recently gotten so close to Washington, D.C., that Lincoln himself was able to watch a battle, standing on top of a parapet with field glasses. On July 30 that year, 4,000 Union soldiers were killed in a disastrous attempt to invade Petersburg, Virginia. The army needed 500,000 more soldiers, and Lincoln knew he would probably have to call for another draft despite the fact the war debt was becoming unsustainable. On August 23, Lincoln wrote a memo to his cabinet that said, "This morning, and for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected."

The Democratic Party was running on a platform of ending the war. But this turned out to be a huge mistake when news arrived in early September that the Union Army had captured Atlanta and Mobile. Suddenly, the Democratic Party looked like the party of surrender when Union forces were winning the war. Lincoln carried every state except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.

Today is the birthday of the journalist, social activist, and co-founder of The Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1897). Catholic Workers lived in voluntary poverty and immersed themselves in service to others. The movement quickly spread, and by 1941, there were more than 30 such communities throughout the country. Today there are more than 100.

Her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, was published in 1952 — she authored eight books and more than 350 articles in her lifetime.

Dorothy Day, who said: "The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us."

It's the birthday of the woman who said, "In a weak moment, I have written a book." That's Margaret Mitchell (books by this author), born on this day in 1900, and that book is the epic novel Gone With the Wind. (1937). It's one of the best-selling American novels of all time, having sold more than 30 million copies.

When Mitchell was 20, she fell off a horse and was badly injured. She kept reinjuring herself, and a few years later, she had to quit her job as a newspaper reporter and stay in bed. Her husband, an editor, brought her piles of books from the Atlanta library to keep her entertained. But then one day, he came home with a Remington typewriter so she could write her own book.

She asked him what to write about, and he told her to write about what she knew, and so she wrote about Southern belles and Civil War veterans. She didn't tell anyone except him that she was writing a novel, and when friends came over, she'd hide the manuscript under the bed or the couch, or prop up the wobbly kitchen table leg with it.

But one of her friends, Lois Cole, found chunks of the manuscript. Cole happened to work in the New York publishing industry, and she told her boss at Macmillan that her witty Southern friend Margaret Mitchell "might be concealing a literary treasure." Cole said, "If she writes as well as she talks, it would be a honey."

The Macmillan boss, a man named Harold Latham, took a trip to Atlanta to investigate this possible manuscript, but Mitchell said she didn't know what he was talking about. He spent the day following her around, hanging out with her friends, and asked about the novel again when a bunch of her friends were around to overhear the question. She changed the subject. After he left, one friend tried to call her out on it, saying she was sure that Mitchell was writing a novel, and why didn't she just admit to it. Mitchell said that it was lousy and that she was "ashamed of it." And her friend said: "I wouldn't take you for the type to write a successful book. You don't take your life seriously enough to be a novelist."

Mitchell, furious at the slight, hurried back to her apartment, grabbed the assorted piles of manuscript, shoved them into a suitcase, and drove over to the hotel where the Macmillan was staying. She delivered the manuscript to him in the lobby, saying, "Take it before I change my mind." Stacked up vertically in one pile, the manuscript was five feet high. It was published in 1936, and immediately it was a sensation. In the midst of the Great Depression, the novel revitalized the publishing industry. The next year, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize.

Gone With the Wind begins, "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm."

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

 









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