MONDAY, 14 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Glow," by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission.

Glow

When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you'd see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski, born in Lodz, Poland (1933). He's best known as the author of The Painted Bird (1968), about a six-year-old boy who becomes separated from his parents and wanders through the area along the Polish-Soviet border during World War II.


It's the birthday of novelist and essayist John Edgar Wideman, born in Washington, D.C. (1941). He's the author of the novels Sent for you Yesterday (1984) and Philadelphia Fire (1990), as well as the memoir Brothers and Keepers (1986). A collection of Wideman's short stories called God's Gym is scheduled to be published next year.


It's the birthday of travel writer and novelist Jonathan Raban, born in Norfolk, England (1942). In 1979, he flew into St. Paul, Minnesota, bought a tiny boat, and set off down the Mississippi to New Orleans. He wrote about the experience in Old Glory: An American Voyage (1981). He wrote about everything he saw and everyone he met; he said, "The plot would be written by the current of the river . . . where the river meandered so would the book."


It's the birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Litchfield, Connecticut (1811). She's famous for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), a novel about slavery in the United States. The novel was so popular that it was transformed into songs, plays, toys, games, handkerchiefs and wallpapers. Some people accused Stowe of making the slave situation seem worse than it actually was, so she wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1953), which documents the real-life sources she used when writing the book.

Stowe said, "Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be."


It was on this day in 1940 that the German army began its occupation of Paris. The French had conceded Paris to the Germans a few days earlier, so there was no violence when the Nazis entered the city. German soldiers marched through the Arc de Triomphe, while Parisians watched from the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysées. The Nazis did a lot of things that most people did when they visited Paris. They climbed the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower and bought souvenirs and postcards. They strolled through parks and gardens, and they brought cameras so they could photograph each other in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Panthéon.

A few weeks after they invaded the city, Hitler himself made a visit. He visited the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon's tomb. In 1941, Hitler said, "I'm getting ready to flatten Leningrad and Moscow without losing any peace of mind, but it would have pained me greatly if I'd had to destroy Paris."

The Germans liked Paris so much that the Nazis' slogan became "Everyone should get to see Paris once." Many Parisians tried to be as accommodating as possible to the Germans. Most of the theaters, cinemas, music halls, restaurants and cafés stayed open for Nazi soldiers and officers. One bookstore made a guidebook especially for Nazis, with more than a hundred pages of information in German on the city's attactions. The Germans eventually became a part of normal life in Paris, and some French women even got married to German soldiers. When people who had fled the city heard that the situation wasn't as bad as they thought it would be, many of them returned to their homes in Paris.

A few weeks after the occupation of Paris, the French government conceded the northern third of the country to Germany, and kept control of the southern two-thirds of the country. The leader of the French government was Maréchal Pétain. For the most part, he cooperated with Nazi policy, which included the deportation of over 120,000 Jews to concentration camps between 1942 and 1944.

Soldiers broke down the doors of apartments in the Jewish neighborhood of the Marais district in Paris, and took whole families away to an indoor cycling stadium, where they awaited deportation. French resistance fighters set up headquarters below the streets of Paris, in the sewers and catacombs. Charles de Gaulle established the Free French Forces and started a new French government from London. He broadcast inspirational messages to the French on BBC radio.

On June 6, 1944, British, American and Canadian troops launched their D-Day invasion on the Normandy coast. Two and a half months later, the Allied soldiers liberated Paris. When Charles de Gaulle returned to Paris, thousands of Parisians lined the streets to celebrate.




TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Happiness," by Michael Van Walleghen, from In the Black Window: New and Selected Poems. © University of Illinois Press.

Happiness

Weep for what little things could make them glad.
—Robert Frost, "Directive"

Melvin,
     the large collie
who lives in the red house
at the end of my daily run
is happy,
     happy to see me
even now,
     in February—
a month of low skies
and slowly melting snow.

His yard
     has turned almost
entirely to mud—
          but so what?

Today,
     as if to please me,
he has torn apart
          and scattered
everywhere
     a yellow plastic bucket
the color of forsythia
or daffodils . . .

          And now,
in a transport
          of cross-eyed
muddy ecstasy,
          he has placed
his filthy two front paws
together
     on the top pipe
of his sagging cyclone fence—

drooling a little,
          his tail
wagging furiously,
          until finally,
as if I were God's angel himself—

fulgent,
     blinding,
          aflame
with news of the Resurrection,
I give him a biscuit
          instead.

Which is fine with Melvin—
who is wise,
     by whole epochs
of evolution,
     beyond his years.

Take
     what you can get,
that's his motto . . .

          And really,
apropos of bliss,
          happiness
and the true rapture,
          what saint
could tell us half as much?

Even as he drops
          back down
into the cold
          dog-shit muck
he'll have to live in
          every day
for weeks on end perhaps
unless it freezes . . .

whining now,
      dancing
nervously
     as I turn away
again,
     to leave him there

the same today
          as yesterday—

one of the truly wretched
of this earth
     whose happiness
is almost more
          than I can bear.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, born in Kashiwabara, Japan (1763). He's one of the masters of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku, which uses seventeen Japanese characters broken into three distinct units. He spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples. By the end of his life he had written over 20,000 haiku celebrating the small wonders of everyday life.

Kobayashi wrote several haiku about summer. Here are two:

"The summer night
so brief, so brief!"
people and blossoms agree

home village—
my summer grove is small
but it's mine!
It's the birthday of psychologist Erik Erikson, born in Frankfurt, Germany (1902). He argued that the human life cycle could be understood as a series of eight developmental stages. He said each stage has its own "crisis" that must be overcome before moving on to the next stage. For adolescents, the crisis is figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life—and that's where the term "identity crisis" comes from.

Erikson said, "There is, in every child, at every moment, a miracle unfolding."


It's the birthday of science writer Dava Sobel, born in New York City (1947). Her mother was trained as a chemist and her father was a doctor, and she started out as a science writer for IBM. She began freelancing, and eventually got a job writing about science for the New York Times.
Her big breakthrough came in 1996, when she published Longitude, which tells how the eighteenth-century scientist and clockmaker William Harrison solved the problem of determining east-west location at sea. Sobel barely had enough money to finish the research for the book, and only 10,000 copies were printed on the first run, but Longitude became a surprise bestseller in America and England.



WEDNESDAY, 16 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Song: To Celia (I)," by Ben Jonson.

Song: To Celia (I)

Come, my Celia, let us prove,
While we can, the sports of love.
Time will not be ours forever;
He at length our good will sever.
Spend not then his gifts in vain.
Suns that set may rise again;
But if once we lose this light,
'Tis with us perpetual night.
Why should we defer our joys?
Fame and rumour are but toys.
Cannot we delude the eyes
Of a few poor household spies,
Or his easier ears beguile,
So removed by our wile?
'Tis no sin love's fruit to steal;
But the sweet thefts to reveal,
To be taken, to be seen,
These have crimes accounted been.


Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses, whose action takes place on June 16th, 1904. It's called Bloomsday because the main character in the book is Leopold Bloom, a Jewish ad salesman who lives on the north side of Dublin.

Bloom is introduced in the fourth chapter of Ulysses; he eats breakfast and serves his wife breakfast in bed. Joyce wrote: "Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting [his wife's] breakfast things on the humpy tray. Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere."

Bloom doesn't have much work to do on June 16th, so he spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing errands. In the morning, he leaves his house on 7 Eccles Street, walks south across the River Liffey, picks up a letter, buys a bar of soap, and goes to the funeral of a man he didn't know very well. In the afternoon he eats a cheese sandwich, feeds some gulls in the Liffey, helps a blind man cross the street, and visits a couple of pubs. He thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter, his stillborn son; he muses about life and death and reincarnation. He knows that his wife is planning to cheat on him that afternoon at his house, and he spends a lot of time thinking about the days when his marriage was happier.

Late in the afternoon, he goes to the beach. At one point he gazes across the sand at a young woman, while fireworks go off over the ocean. Joyce wrote: "And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin . . . and she let him and she saw that he saw and then it went so high it went out of sight a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back he had a full view high up above her knee . . . and she wasn't ashamed and he wasn't either to look in that immodest way like that because he couldn't resist the sight of the wondrous revealment half offered like those skirtdancers behaving so immodest before gentlemen looking and he kept on looking, looking. . . . And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lively! O so soft, sweet, soft!"

This year is the centennial of Bloomsday, and there are official Bloomsday festivities in more than sixty countries around the world. Some of the most notable celebrations are in Tokyo, Sydney, San Francisco, Paris, Toronto, Buffalo and New York City—but the biggest celebration is always in Dublin. This year, Dublin's Bloomsday has been extended into a five-month festival from April to August, full of Joyce exhibitions at museums, plays, songs, reenactments of scenes from Ulysses, academic conferences, and James Joyce look-alike contests. Today, June 16th, thousands of people will retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom as he made his way through the streets and pubs of Dublin.



THURSDAY, 17 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Album," by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission.

Album

The mental pictures I have of my parents and grandparents and my childhood are beginning to break up into small fragments and get blown away from me into empty space, and the same wind is sucking me toward it ever so gently, so gently as not even to raise a hair on my head (though the truth is that there are very few of them to be raised). I'm starting to take the idea of death as the end of life somewhat harder than before. I used to wonder why people seemed to think that life is tragic or sad. Isn't it also comic and funny? And beyond all that, isn't it amazing and marvelous? Yes, but only if you have it. And I am starting not to have it. The pictures are disintegrating, as if their molecules were saying, "I've had enough," ready to go somewhere else and form a new configuration. They betray us, those molecules, we who have loved them. They treat us like dirt.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Ron Padgett, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Great Balls of Fire (1969), Tulsa Kid (1979) and his latest, You Never Know (2002). He's also translated the works of many French poets, including Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire.

He grew up in Tulsa, the son of a bootlegger who bought liquor in Missouri and sold it to Oklahomans. When he was fifteen, he got a job at a local bookstore, and he discovered the work of contemporary poets like LeRoi Jones and Frank O'Hara. When he went to college at Columbia, he met the poets whose work he had been reading. Along with other young poets and artists like Ted Berrigan and Joe Brainard, he became a central part of the New York School of poetry, most of whom lived in East Village in Manhattan and read their poems at the Church of St. Mark's-in-the Bowery.

Padgett said, "I wish the entire world were made of pieces interchangeable among all puzzles. I like to be at home among Vermont loggers, Scottish aristocrats, Colombian housemaids, and Chinese photographers. I love it when people very unlike me like me."


It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey, born in Tianjin, China (1914). His parents were missionaries, and he spent the first years of his life in China, learning to speak fluent Chinese before he could speak much English. His family moved back to the United States when he was ten years old, and he went to college at Yale and then Cambridge. While he was at Cambridge he decided he was going to do whatever it took to get a job at Time magazine.

In 1937, Hersey found work as Sinclair Lewis's private secretary and driver. Later that year there was an opening for a journalist at Time, and Hersey got the job. He immediately became a correspondent in China and Japan, and he covered World War II in the Far East and the Mediterranean. He survived four plane crashes during the war. On one occasion, the plane he was in crashed into the ocean, capsized and sank. Hersey freed himself from the plane, swam to the surface, and immediately started worrying about all of the notes he had been taking. He later said he "felt in both my hip pockets. No books. Then something bumped my head, and there they were floating in the water within easy reach of my hand. I never could figure out how they got there. By rights they should have sunk straight off."

Hersey's first big success was the novel A Bell for Adano (1945), about an Italian-American officer put in charge of a Sicilian town liberated by the Allies in World War II. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1945, and it was made into a play and a movie.

In 1945 and '46, Hersey was in Japan covering the postwar situation for The New Yorker. While he was there, he discovered a document written by a Jesuit missionary who had survived the atom bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima. Hersey tracked down the priest, and the priest introduced him to many more survivors. Hersey chose six of them to write about for The New Yorker, and their stories were included in a single issue in 1946. They were later serialized in newspapers across the country, and then published as the book Hiroshima.


It's the birthday of religious leader John Wesley, born in Lincolnshire, England (1703). Near the end of his life, he did the thing he's most remembered for today: he officially established the Methodist Church.



FRIDAY, 18 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Destinations," by Dorothea Tanning, from A Table of Content. © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission.

Destinations

Yesterday I saw some bears at the top of a waterfall.
They were watching salmon leap up from the cascade.

It was on television and, moreover, part of an ad.
Not one of them, salmon or bears, was impressed

by the water's will, its weight, its wrath, its wall,
the salmon flying out from that knockout force

like careless birds rising from a field of silver wheat.
The falling water obviously had no intention of getting

in the way of a salmon's destination. It was beautiful.
Trouble was, the bears were there with bear intentions.

Their heads bobbed up and down, perhaps admiring
every quiver and flash, their four feet as firmly planted

in water as the rock-face itself. Now and then one of them
opened its mouth to let a fish dive into it. That was the part

that made me think of my own headlong leaps and dives
when I thought there would be no mouths to receive me.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Amy Bloom, born in New York City (1953). She's the author of the novel Love Invents Us (1996) and the collection of short stories A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (2000).


It's the birthday of novelist Gail Godwin, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1937). She's the author of A Mother and Two Daughters (1982), The Good Husband (1994), and Evenings at Five (2003), among many other novels.


It's the birthday of film critic Roger Ebert born in Urbana, Illinois (1942). He dropped out of graduate school at the University of Chicago to become a journalist for the Chicago Sun Times, and he eventually became the newspaper's film critic. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. He's the author of many collections of movie reviews, including I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (2000).

And, "Every great film should seem new every time you see it."


Today is the anniversary of the day in 1815 that Napoleon Bonaparte lost his final major battle near Waterloo Village in Belgium. Napoleon was a great French emperor and general, but he came from the island of Corsica; his father sent him to military school in France. When he was in school he hated the French, and his teachers referred to him as "that dangerous islander." He was an impatient person even at an early age. He once went to see a hot air balloon launch, and when the launch was delayed, he walked up and cut the balloon loose with a penknife because he was tired of waiting around.

Napoleon took command of the French army after the French Revolution, and he was the first military leader in Europe to use commoners as officers. He believed that in order to inspire his men, the officers of his army should be dressed in beautiful uniforms, and they should all carry the same flag. Before Napoleon there were many different French flags, but he made sure that there was only one. He handed out specially made medals after every major battle—silver mounted muskets, carbines, drumsticks, axes. He once gave a special ear trumpet to a captain who had gone deaf after a mine explosion.

He declared himself emperor of France in 1804 and started invading and attacking almost everyone in Europe: England, Germany, Russia, Spain. His invasion of Russia became the subject of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace. His invasion of Spain inspired the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya to paint some of the most famous of anti-war paintings of all time, including "Third of May," which shows French soldiers shooting at a crowd of unarmed men.

After a series of defeats, Napoleon abdicated the throne and went to live on the island of Elba. He took long salt baths and read The Arabian Nights. After a year in exile, he got bored and went back to France. He gathered an army and marched north toward Belgium where he hoped to attack and destroy the English and Prussian armies, which were gathering near Brussels.

His plan was to split his own army and attack the English and Prussian armies separately, in order to drive them apart. Then he could defeat them one at a time. But the men in his army were mostly peasants and farmers he had gathered on his way north. They loved him, but they had no real experience on the battlefield. Due to a series of blunders, his two flanks accidentally drove the English and Prussian armies closer together rather than further apart.

Napoleon got the bad news at 11:00 PM on June 17th, and he spent all night worrying about it. There had been a thunderstorm that evening so he'd been forced to delay his attack on the British troops near the village of Waterloo. It was still raining on the morning of this day in 1815, as Napoleon rode his horse around the camp, inspecting his troops. He was so exhausted that later that morning he sat down in a chair and immediately fell asleep.

But despite everything going against him, he still thought he could win. He had 74,000 men compared to the opposing army's 68,000, and he had superior artillery. He told his chief of staff, "This affair is nothing more than eating breakfast." Unfortunately for Napoleon, the rain had delayed the battle so long that the Prussian army had time to arrive with reinforcements and help the British win the battle. Napoleon lost 25,000 men. He signed a second abdication in Paris and went to live on the remote island of St. Helena off the coast of Africa.

The word "Waterloo" has come to mean a decisive and final defeat. It was the abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips who first said, "Every man meets his Waterloo at last."




SATURDAY, 19 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Sing a song of sixpence."

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie!

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Was not that a dainty dish
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting-house
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And snapped off her nose.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of short story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He's the author of several collections of short stories, including In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981), but he's best known for his memoir about his childhood, This Boy's Life (1989). His most recent book is the novel Old School, which came out last year.

Wolff said, "[Writing is] like spelunking, with a light on your hat. You keep going into different chambers until you find a chamber that seems to you to be the right one; you're descending into dark and unknown territory and you can never see very far ahead."

And he said, "There are very few professions in which people just sit down and think hard for five or six hours a day all by themselves. [If you become a writer] you have the liberty to do that, but once you have the liberty you also have the obligation to do it."


It's the birthday of the journalist and music critic Greil Marcus, born in San Francisco (1945). He started out as a music critic for various magazines, and he has gone on to write many books of criticism, including Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (1975) and Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989). He is a music critic who believes that rock and roll is just as profound an art form as great literature or painting. He once compared punk rock to a fourteenth-century movement of religious reformists.


It's the birthday of Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay, India (1947), two months before India's first day of independence. He comes from a wealthy Muslim family. He started going to school in England as a teenager, and he didn't get along with his classmates, who made fun of his accent. Then he found out that his parents been forced to move to Pakistan, and Rushdie was crushed. He didn't like England, he didn't like Pakistan, and now he couldn't go home to Bombay. He tried working as a journalist in Pakistan, but there was too much censorship, so he went back to England and tried to become a writer.

He supported himself in England by writing for advertising. His first assignment was to write a jingle about the merits of car seat belts, to the tune of a Chuck Berry song. While he was working there he wrote a science fiction novel called Grimus (1975) that didn't do well. Then he decided to write a book about India, the country that he hadn't seen in years.

Rushdie's novel was called Midnight's Children (1981), and it was about a man who was born the same day India gained independence. The book was a huge success, among both westerners and Indians. It won the Booker Prize, and Rushdie became the leader of so-called "post-colonial literature." Only Rushdie's family hated the book. He had revealed a lot of family secrets in the novel and they didn't appreciate it.

When Rushdie published the Satanic Verses in 1987, most western critics didn't notice that it might be offensive to Muslims. In the book, Rushdie makes a lot of obscure jokes about the Islamic religion, he names the whores in a Mecca brothel after the Prophet Muhammed's wives, and he suggests that the Koran is not the direct word of God. The book was banned in some places and burned in others. There were bomb threats called into the publishing house. There was a riot in Kashmir over the book, and The Ayatollah Khomeini saw scenes from the riot on Iranian television in which police shot demonstrators. The Ayatollah announced that "all zealous Muslims of the world" should try to find Rushdie wherever he was and kill him.

Rushdie went into hiding for nine years, but he has since come out of hiding and written several more novels, including The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2000).


Today is the fortieth anniversary of the day that the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after a long battle in the Senate. Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law thirteen days later. It was this piece of legislation that outlawed segregation on the basis of race in the United States. The text of the law was extremely specific, listing all the places of public accommodation where segregation was forbidden, including any inn, hotel, motel, restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, gasoline station, motion picture house, theater, concert hall or sports arena.




SUNDAY, 20 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Continuum: a Love Poem," by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems 1960-1990. © W.W. Norton and Co. Reprinted with permission.

Continuum: a Love Poem

going for grapes with
ladder and pail in
the first slashing rain
of September rain
steeping the dust
in a joyous squelch they sky
standing up like steam
from a kettle of grapes
at the boil wild fox grapes
wickedly high tangled in must
of cobweb and bug spit
going for grapes year
after year we two with
ladder and pail stained
with the rain of grapes
our private language


Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Father's Day, a holiday which we celebrate because of a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd. One Sunday morning in May of 1909, Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington listening to a Mother's Day sermon. Mother's Day was still a fairly new idea at the time, but it was catching on quickly all across the United States. Dodd was a mother herself, so she liked the idea of Mother's Day, but she and all her siblings had been raised by her father after her mother died in childbirth. She thought fathers should get recognition too.

She decided to ask the minister at her church if he could deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father's birthday, which was coming up in June. The minister agreed, and the tradition of observing Father's Day caught on, though not quite as quickly as the tradition of Mother's Day. Mother's Day became an official holiday in 1914, but Father's Day wasn't officially recognized until 1972.

Fathers in the United States often get the shorter end of the stick. Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants, and long distance phone companies. Father's day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made.

Robert Frost said, "You don't have to deserve your mother's love. You have to deserve your father's. He's more particular."


It's the birthday of historian Peter Gay, born in Berlin (1923). His parents were non-religious Jewish members of the middle class. His father had fought on the German side during World War I, and had been decorated for his service. But in 1938 his father's business was shut down by the Nazis. Gay fled Germany with his parents, sailing on a ship to Cuba and then to the United States.

He went on to study at Columbia University, where he became a historian of ideas, writing about the way history shapes how people think. He's best known his books The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966) and The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud (1984). His most recent book is Savage Reprisals (2003), in which he argues that novelists make bad social historians because they are so often inspired to criticize society by their own desire for revenge.


It's the birthday of poet Paul Muldoon, born in Portadown, Ireland (1951). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry last year. His father dug ditches for a living, and could barely read or write. The only book his family owned was The Junior World Encyclopaedia, so it became Muldoon's favorite book. He began to write poems in grade school as a way to get out of one of his teacher's weekly essay assignments.

After college Muldoon began publishing books of poetry and supporting himself by working as a television producer for the BBC. He says that his influences are John Donne, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, and rock 'n' roll. Since 1987, he has lived in the United States, and he now directs the creative writing program at Princeton University.


It's the birthday of Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952). He's the author of the novels A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (2000). He grew up in a wealthy Indian family, and his parents sent him to England for school. He planned to study economics in college, but he kept getting distracted by other interests, like Chinese language and poetry. In 1975, he moved to the United States to study at Stanford, where he took classes in economics and creative writing. He made a name for himself in 1986, when he published an epic rhymed poem about California yuppies called The Golden Gate.


It was on this day in 1893 that the verdict was announced in the trial of Lizzie Borden, who had been accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an ax. The murders took place in Fall River, Massachusetts on a Thursday morning, August 4, 1892, on one of the hottest days of the summer. Lizzie's father had come home from the bank to take a nap on his couch at around 10:00 AM. At about 11:15 AM, Lizzie began calling out to her neighbors saying that her father had been killed. When the police arrived, Lizzie's stepmother was found upstairs, also dead. In examining the bodies, the police determined that the murder weapon had been some kind of hatchet.

The first newspaper story about the Borden murders was published in the Fall River Daily Herald just three hours after the murders had been committed. The headline said, "SHOCKING CRIME: A VENERABLE CITIZEN AND HIS AGED WIFE HACKED TO PIECES AT THEIR HOME." The story received a lot of attention at first because Mr. Borden had been such a prominent man in his community. But when Lizzie was charged with the crime, the story became national news. It was the first nationally publicized murder trial in United States history.

The case against Lizzie was entirely circumstantial. No one had witnessed the murders, no weapon was found, and there was no physical evidence linking her to the crime. All the police could prove was that she had been in the house at the time of the murders, that she had a lot of money to gain, and that she had recently tried to buy poison at the local pharmacy.

The trial lasted for two weeks, and Lizzie was found innocent on this day in 1893. No one else was ever tried for the murder. She told the press on the day of her acquittal that it was the happiest day of her life, but she refused to say anything else. After the trial, she bought herself a three-story mansion, and she never spoke about the murders in public for the rest of her life.






«

»

  • “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
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning