November 13, 2000 - November 19, 2000

Monday - Tuesday - Wednesday - Thursday
Friday - Saturday - Sunday - Other Weeks

Broadcast date: MONDAY, 13 November 2000

Poem: “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind,” by William Shakespeare, from As You Like It.

    Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
    Thou art not so unkind
        As man's ingratitude;
    Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
        Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
    Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
        This life is most jolly.

    Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
    That dost not bite so nigh
        As benefits forgot:
    Though thou the waters warp,
         Thy sting is not so sharp
    As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing , heigh-ho! unto the green holly . . .

It’s the birthday of crime writer George V. Higgins, born in Brockton, Massachusetts (1939). At Stanford, he studied under novelist Wallace Stegner.  After graduating, he drove a soft-drink delivery truck—where he learned, he said, “to swear between syllables.” He became a newspaper reporter, and became acquainted with the New England underworld later featured in his crime novels. Covering local trials, he felt he could do better than the prosecutors he was observing, and decided to go to law school. He prosecuted a number of underworld murders in the late 1960s. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) was a huge success, and was quickly followed by The Digger’s Game (1973) and Cogan’s Trade (1974), and other books.

It’s the birthday of French dramatist Eugene Ionesco, born in Slatina, Romania (1909).  After his university years in Bucharest, he earned a doctorate in Paris, and settled there permanently at age 26. He came to playwriting by an odd route: while learning English, he was amused by the stilted phrases of his English grammar textbook, and constructed his first play, The Bald Soprano (1950), out of the meaningless formal conversations in the textbook. His work often combines a dream or nightmare atmosphere with grotesque, bizarre, and whimsical humor.  Together with Samuel Beckett, Ionesco helped create the "Theater of the Absurd" movement in Paris.  Perhaps his best known play is Rhinoceros (1960).

It’s the birthday of historian C. Vann Woodward, born in Vanndale, Arkansas (1908), who wrote about the South after the Civil War. His most widely read book is The Strange Case of Jim Crow (1955), in which he showed that the legal segregation of blacks and whites did not go back centuries, as many Southerners claimed, but took form only after the 1890s: for at least two decades following the Civil War, blacks had lived on basically equal terms with whites.

It’s the birthday of novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh (1850).  He wrote Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885). He spent the last five years of his life in Samoa, where he died of tuberculosis a month after his 44th birthday.

On this day in 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to a friend in which he said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

It’s the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in the Mountains of Numidia, in what is now Algeria (354 A.D.).  After a restless youth he was converted to Christianity, at age 32, and became the Bishop of Hippo (now known as Annaba, Algeria), at 42.  Among his many writings are his Confessions, and The City of God, written after Rome fell to the barbarians.

“All the devastation, the butchery, the plundering, the conflagrations, and all the anguish, which accompanied the recent disaster at Rome, were in accordance with the general practice of warfare.”

Broadcast date: TUESDAY, 14 November 2000

Poem: “Highway Suite,” by Emily Warn, from The Novice Insomniac (Copper Canyon Press).

Leaving again,
my car drones up the pass,
drifts in and out of fog
before climbing steeply up
toward treeline.

Each time I travel through
the pass, a change occurs,
as the rain-fed,
lush green blossoming
of moss and mold gives way
to white slopes of snow.

It is like the moment
after I say goodbye.
We become ourselves
for a slow moment
I want to lengthen
between us.

It’s the birthday of Scottish poet Norman Alexander MacCaig, born in Edinburgh (1910). He’s the author of many collections of verse, including Riding Lights (1955), Old Maps and New (1978) and The Equal Skies (1980).

It’s the birthday of journalist Harrison Salisbury, born in Minneapolis (1908). In 1949 he joined The New York Times and served as its Moscow bureau chief until 1954. He retired in 1973, a few years after he started the Times’ Op-Ed page. In the last 20 years of his life he wrote over a dozen books, including a history the 1934 Long March of the Red Chinese Army. For that book, he and his wife retraced the entire route—7,400 miles—by jeep, mule, and foot; he was 75 at the time. Among his best known titles are The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (1969), Behind the Lines—Hanoi (1967), China: 100 Years of Revolution (1983).

It’s the birthday of children’s writer Astrid Lindgren, born on a farm outside the small town of Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She wrote Pippi Longstocking in 1945, as a present for her daughter's tenth birthday.  This was the first of three books with Pippi as its main character—a strangely dressed girl, who lived alone in her little house called the Villa Villekulla, with her horse and monkey.

It’s the birthday of historian Frederick Jackson Turner, born in Portage, Wisconsin (1861). While a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, he rejected the prevailing view that American institutions had been shaped mainly by European ones.  During the 14 years he taught at Harvard (1910-24), he developed his view that the frontier had been the key to the development of the United States: that American society owed its character to three centuries of westward expansion.

On this day in 1851, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, was published in New York by Harper & Brothers.  The story was based on a whale named Mocha Dick, who reportedly had wrecked 7 ships and 20 boats and killed at least 30 men.  A failure during Melville’s lifetime, the novel later came to be judged as one of the world’s greatest books.

It’s the birthday of painter Claude Monet.  He was born in Paris, but spent his youth in Le Havre, where his father was a grocer. He was among the first artists to paint outdoors: he used to go to the Fontainebleau Forest to work. At an 1874 showing of the work of Monet and his friends, a critic derisively labeled them ‘Impressionists,’ after the title of Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” painting, saying it reminded him of wallpaper.  The last third of Monet’s life was spent at Giverny, northwest of Paris, where he built a beautiful water garden, the subject of many of his paintings.

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 15 November 2000

Poem: “Pittsburgh,” by Hayden Carruth, from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey (Copper Canyon Press).

And my beautiful daughter
had her liver cut open in Pittsburgh.
My god, my god! I rubbed
her back over the swollen and wounded
essentiality, I massaged
her legs, and we talked of death.
At the luckiest patients with liver cancer have
a 20% chance. We might have talked
of my death, not long to come. But no,
the falling into death of a beautiful
young woman is so much more important.
A wonderful hospital. If I must die
away from my cat Smudge and my Vermont Castings stove
let it be at Allegheny General.
I read to her, a novella by Allan Gurganus,
a Russian serious flimsiness by Voinovich,
and we talked. We laughed. We actually
laughed. I bought her a lipstick
which she wore though she disliked the color.
Helicopters took off and landed on the hospital pad,
bringing hearts and kidneys and maybe livers
from other places to be transplanted
into people in the shining household of technology
by shining technologists, wise and kindly.
The chances are so slight. Oh, my daughter,
my love for you has burgeoned —
an excess of singularity ever increasing —
you are my soul — for forty years. You
still beautiful and young. In my hotel
I could not sleep. In my woods, on my
little farm, in the blizzard on the mountain,
I could not sleep either, but scribbled
fast verses, very fast and
wet with my heartsblood and brainjuice
all my life, as now
in Pittsburgh. I don't know which of
us will live longer, it's all a flick
of the wrist of the god mankind invented
and then had to deinvent, such a failure, like all
our failures, and the worst and best
is sentimentality after all. Let us go out together.
Her in brutal Pittsburgh. Let us
be together in the same room,
the old poet and the young painter,
holding hands, a calm touch, a whisper,
as the thumping helicopters go out and come in,
we in crisis of forever inadequately medicated
pain, in the love of daughter and father.

It's the birthday of poet Marianne Moore, born in Kirkwood, Missouri 1887, at the home of her grandfather, a Presbyterian minister.  Her family moved to Pennsylvania, where her mother taught English at a private girls' school, and Marianne attended Bryn Mawr College.  After graduating, she supported herself as a librarian and editor, but was determined to write poetry. A few of her friends had to steal some of her poems in order to have her first volume published in 1921. In 1952, she won the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award for her Collected Poems (1951).

"I can see no reason for calling my work poetry except that there is no other category in which to put it."

It's the birthday of painter Georgia O'Keeffe, born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (1887). Her mother came from a wealthy Eastern European family and wanted her children to have art lessons; by the age of ten, Georgia had decided she wanted to be an artist. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, but a bout of typhoid fever prevented her from returning for her second year. She moved to New York to take classes at the Art Students League, and later found work as a commercial artist in Chicago. She designed the "little Dutch girl" logo, still used on cans of Dutch Cleanser today. She was teaching in South Carolina when her friend Anita Pollitzer sent some drawings she had done to Alfred Stieglitz, who hung them in his next show. Georgia O’Keefe, at the age of 29, became an overnight celebrity.

Broadcast date: THURSDAY, 16 November 2000

Poem: “Turkey in the Straw,” Anonymous.

As I was a-gwine down the road,
Tired team and a heavy load,
Crack my whip and the leader sprung;
I says day-day to the wagon tongue.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Went out to milk and I didn't know how,
I milked the goat instead of the cow.
A monkey sittin' on a pile of straw
A-winkin' at his mother-in-law.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Met Mr. Catfish comin' down stream,
Says Mr. Catfish, "What does you mean?"
Caught Mr. Catfish by the snout
And turned Mr. Catfish wrong side out.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Came to the river and I couldn't get across
Paid five dollars for an old blind hoss
Wouldn't go ahead, nor he wouldn't stand still
So he went up and down like an old saw mill.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

As I came down the new cut road
Met Mr. Bullfrog, met Miss Toad
And every time Miss Toad would sing
Ole Bullfrog cut a pigeon wing.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

Oh I jumped in the seat, and I gave a little yell,
The horses run away, broke the wagon all to hell;
Sugar in the gourd and honey in the horn,
I never was so happy since the hour I was born.
    Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
    Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw,
    And hit 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

It's the birthday of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, born in Ogidi, Nigeria (1930), widely regarded as the patriarch of the modern African novel. He’s the author of Things Fall Apart (1958), Arrow of God (1964), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and his most recent, Home and Exile (2000). Achebe left Nigeria several times to flee military dictatorship.  In 1990, at age 60, he came to the United States, and has been teaching at Bard College in upstate New York.

On this day in 1913, Swann's Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust's huge 7-part novel Remembrance of Things Past, was published in Paris.  The manuscript had been rejected by two publishers, so Proust published it himself.

It's the birthday of British author Michael Arlen, born in Ruse, Bulgaria (1895). He wrote about fashionable London after World War One in The Green Hat, which was a phenomenal success when it came out in 1924.

It's the birthday of playwright George S. Kaufman, born in  Pittsburgh (1889). Between World War One and World War Two, he was the most successful theater figure in America. He collaborated on more than 40 plays, including Of Thee I Sing (1931), You Can't Take It with You (1936), Dinner at Eight (1932), and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939).

It's the birthday of  W. C. Handy, "the father of the blues," born in 1873, in Florence, Alabama.  He was the son and grandson of preachers; his family considered instrumental music sacrilegious, and banned it from the household.  When he bought his first guitar, his father made him return it to the store and exchange it for a dictionary. But he defied his parents' wishes and played cornet in the local brass band. At eighteen he left home and became a wandering musician; he traveled down to the Mississippi delta and learned the blues, including the use of  the flatted seventh, the so-called “blue note,” which was not found in American popular music at that time. Hardy blended blues with the ragtime beat popular in the first decade of the century.  His first published tune was Memphis Blues (1912), followed by St. Louis Blues (1914), Beale Street Blues, Careless Love, and many more.

It was on this day in 1864 that Union General William T. Sherman and his 68,000 troops set fire to Atlanta and began their March to the Sea, all the way down to Savannah.

On this day in 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death for engaging in socialist activities. At the last moment before his execution, his sentence was commuted to four years' hard labor in Siberia.

Broadcast date: FRIDAY, 17 November 2000

Poem: “When I was Fair and Young,” by Queen Elizabeth I.

When I was fair and young, then favor graced me.
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be,
But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,
How many sighing hearts I have not skill to show,
But I the prouder grew and still this spake therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

Then spake fair Venus'son, that proud, victorious boy,
Saying: You dainty dame, for that you be so coy,
I will pluck your plumes as you shall say no more:
Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

As soon as he had said, such change grew in my breast
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Wherefore I did repent that I had said before:
Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

It's the birthday of  film director Martin Scorsese, born in Flushing, Long Island (1942). As a schoolboy in Little Italy, he suffered from asthma, which allowed him to spend a lot of time at the movies.  He decided early on that he'd enter the Roman Catholic priesthood, but said he "couldn't fit in the institution of the church". He entered NYU film school instead.  His first big success was Mean Streets (1973), which earned him critical attention for its realistic detail and naturalistic, almost improvisational, acting performances. His other films include Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1989).

It's the birthday of author and historian Shelby Foote, born in Greenville, Mississippi, (1916). He wrote five novels, one of which, Shiloh, dealt with the Civil War.  When editor Bennet Cerf  asked him to write a short Civil War history, Foote thought it would be a nice change of pace before his next novel, so he agreed.  The project took him 20 years to research and write, was three volumes and nearly 3000 pages long. He wrote it all out by hand: 500 words was a decent day; 1000 words was phenomenal. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958), Fredericksburg to Meridian (1963), and Red River to Appomattox (1974).

It's the birthday of theater director and acting teacher Lee Strasberg, born in Budzanow, Poland (1901), known as the father of "method acting" in America.  He was the director of The Actors Studio in New York.

On this day in 1889 the Union Pacific Railroad began direct, daily service between Chicago and Portland, Oregon, as well as between Chicago and San Francisco.

On this day in 1558, Queen Elizabeth I ascended the English throne on the death of her half-sister Queen Mary.  England at that time was split over the Reformation: Mary had been a staunch Catholic who burned Protestants at the stake, while Elizabeth was loyal to the reformation. She came to the throne at 25 years old: a smart, strong-willed young woman who would reign for 45 years and come to be affectionately called Good Queen Bess.  She oversaw the Reformation's re-birth, England's arrival as a world naval power, and a flourishing of the arts.  Writers John Donne, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare, and composers Thomas Tallis and William Byrd all worked during her reign, which came to be known as The Elizabethan Age.

Broadcast date: SATURDAY, 18 November 2000

Poem: “The Small Cabin,” by Margaret Atwood, from Selected Poems 1965-1975, (Houghton Mifflin).

The house we built gradually
from the ground up when we were young
(three rooms, the walls
raw trees) burned down
last year          they said

I didn't see it, and so
the house is still there in me

among branches as always     I stand
inside it looking out
at the rain moving across the lake

but when I go back
to the empty place in the forest
the house will blaze and crumple
suddenly in my mind

collapsing like a cardboard carton
thrown on a bonfire, summers
crackling, my earlier
selves outlined in flame.

Left in my head will be
the blackened earth: the truth.

Where did the house go?

Where do the words go
when we have said them?

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, story writer and essayist, Margaret Atwood, born in Ottawa, Canada (1939). Her father was a forest entomologist, and she grew up in a log cabin in a remote area of Northwestern Québec. Her novels include Surfacing (1972), The Handmaid's Tale (1985), The Robber Bride (1993) and Alias Grace (1996).

"I became a poet at the age of sixteen. I did not intend to do it. It was not my fault.  My hair darkened overnight, my nose lengthened, I gave up football for the cello, my clothes changed colour in the closet, all by themselves, from pink to black. I stopped humming the songs from Oklahoma and began quoting Kirkegaard..”

It's the birthday songwriter Johnny Mercer, born in Savannah, Georgia, (1909). Although he never learned to read music, he was one of the most versatile and prolific songwriters of the last century. A beautician named Sadie Vimmerstedt once sent him a line written in pencil on a scrap of paper:  "I want to be around to pick up the pieces when somebody's breaking your heart."  He wrote words and music around it and listed Mrs. Vimmerstedt as co-author.  After Tony Bennett made it a hit (1963), she collected $3,000 a year in royalties.

It's the birthday of English playwright and humorist W. S. Gilbert, born in London (1836). He was 34 when he met Sir Arthur Sullivan, and they started working together the following year. As “Gilbert and Sullivan,” they produced a string of comic operas including The Pirates of Penzance (1879), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Mikado (1885) and The Yeomen of the Guard (1888).

On this day in 1820, Antarctica was discovered by 21-year-old U.S. Navy Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer.  Palmer had been the captain of his own ship, the schooner Galina, for two years – a boat that he kept taking deeper into the South Sea looking for seals to hunt. He came across a broad, mountainous stretch of southern Antarctica that's now named for him, Palmer Land. Like the rest of Antarctica, it's buried in about 7,000 feet of ice.

It's the birthday of Louis Jacques Daguerre, born at Cormeilles in Normandy (1789), inventor of the first practical process of photography.  The first photographs had been taken by a Frenchman named Nicephor Niepce in 1816. But it took eight hours exposure time and Niepce was only able to partially fix that image. Working with iodized silver plates and mercury, Daguerre got the exposure time down to 20 minutes. The process was named for him, and by 1850 there were over 70 daguerreotype studios in New York City alone.

Broadcast date: SUNDAY, 19 November 2000

Poem: “Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil,” by Sharon Olds, from The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf).

In the strange quiet, I realize
there’s no one else in the house. No bucktooth
mouth pulls at a stainless-steel teat, no
hairy mammal runs on a treadmill—
Charlie is dead, the last of our children’s half-children.
When our daughter found him lying in the shavings, trans-
mogrified backwards from a living body
into a bolt of rodent bread
she turned her back on early motherhood
and went on single, with nothing. Crackers,
Fluffy, Pretzel, Biscuit, Charlie,
buried on the old farm we bought
where she could know nature. Well, now she knows it
and it sucks. Creatures she loved, mobile and
needy, have gone down stiff and indifferent,
she will not adopt again though she cannot
have children yet, her body like a blueprint
of the understructure for a woman’s body,
so now everything stops for a while,
now I must wait many years
to hear in this house again the faint
powerful call of a young animal.

On this day in 1861, Julia Ward Howe awoke from a deep sleep and wrote 5 verses of a song straight out on a scrap of paper.  Sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body,” it soon became the anthem of the North during the Civil War:  The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg was the pivotal battle of the Civil War, with 45,000 casualties over three days in early July that year. After the battle, a Gettysburg man named David Wills had the terrible task of identifying and burying the dead. Wills wrote Lincoln and asked him to attend the cemetery's dedication ceremony, because, he said, Lincoln's presence would:

"…kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of those brave dead a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority.”

It was a foggy, cold morning, and Lincoln arrived about 10 AM.  Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battle field. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours.  Around  3 p.m. Lincoln got up to speak. He spoke for only two minutes, and when he sat down most of the people in the back of the crowd didn't know he'd even spoken: Lincoln thought his speech, the Gettysburg Address, was a failure. He ended with:

"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

It's the birthday of critic and poet Allen Tate, born in Winchester, Kentucky (1899).

It's the birthday of poet Sharon Olds, born in San Francisco (1942).



  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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