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Poem: "Vex Me" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Vex Me

Vex me, O Night, your stars stuttering like a stuck jukebox,
put a spell on me, my bones atremble at your tabernacle

of rhythm and blues. Call out your archers, chain me
to a wall, let the stone fortress of my body fall

like a rabid fox before an army of dogs. Rebuke me,
rip out my larynx like a lazy snake and feed it to the voiceless

throng. For I am midnight's girl, scouring unlit streets
like Persephone stalking her swarthy lord. Anoint me

with oil, make me greasy as a fast-food fry. Deliver me
like a pizza to the snapping crack-house hours between

one and four. Build me an ark, fill it with prairie moths,
split-winged fritillaries, blue-bottle flies. Stitch

me a gown of taffeta and quinine, starlight and nightsoil,
and when the clock tocks two, I'll be the belle of the malaria ball.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist William Boyd, born in Accra, Ghana (1952). He's the author of many novels, including A Good Man in Africa (1981) and The Blue Afternoon (1995). His most recent book is the story collection Fascination, which came out this year.

It's the birthday of novelist Bret Easton Ellis, born in Los Angeles (1964). He grew up in California, but he went to college in Vermont, as far away from California as possible. And it was there, at Bennington College, that he took a creative writing class with true crime writer Joe McGinnis, and wrote a series of stories about substance abuse and the sex lives of California teenagers.

McGinnis loved the stories and showed them to his agent, and the result was Ellis's first book, Less Than Zero (1985) which came out when he was only 21. The book became a best-seller, and Ellis went on to write many more novels, including American Psycho (1991) and Glamorama (2000).

It's the birthday of fiction and nature writer Rick Bass, born in Fort Worth, Texas (1958). He studied geology in college and started working for an oil company in Mississippi, prospecting for oil. He wrote a book about his experiences called Oil Notes (1988).

Bass and his girlfriend eventually decided that they wanted to get away from civilization, so he quit his job and they packed all their possessions into a pickup truck and drove to Montana. He said, "[We were looking for] a place of ultimate wildness, with the first yardstick of privacy: a place where you could walk around naked if you wanted to."

They wound up in the Yaak Valley, and he published a memoir of his first winter there called Winter: Notes from Montana (1991). He wrote, "I can picture getting so addicted to this valley, so dependent on it for my peace, that I become hostage to it."

He's gone on to write many books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novel is The Hermit's Story (2002).

On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," was published in the New Republic magazine. It was Frost's favorite of his own poems, and he called it, "My best bid for remembrance." He's remembered for many of his poems today, but that one is his best known and one of the most popular poems in American literature.

Though it's a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire" (1923). He finally finished it, and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He'd never worked all night on a poem before. Feeling relieved at the work he'd finished, he went outside and watched the sunrise.

While he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back inside his house and wrote "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page. He said, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."

He later said that he would have liked to print the poem on one page followed by "forty pages of footnotes." He once said the first two lines of the poem, "Whose woods these are, I think I know, / his house is in the village though" contained everything he ever knew about how to write.

It was on this day in 1994 that the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The case arose from a song by the rap group 2 Live Crew, which used elements of the Roy Orbison song from 1964: "Oh Pretty Woman."

The Roy Orbison version of the song is about a man watching a pretty woman walking down the street. The 2 Live Crew version is about the subsequent relationship with that woman, who becomes a hairy woman, a bald-headed woman and a two-timing woman. The music publishing company Acuff-Rose, which holds the copyright for the Roy Orbison song, sued 2 Live Crew for copyright violation.

Among those who sent "friend of the court" briefs in support of 2 Live Crew were Mad Magazine, the Harvard Lampoon, and the Comedy Central TV channel. Among those who argued against 2 Live Crew were Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of 2 Live Crew.

Justice David H. Souter wrote, "Like less ostensibly humorous forms of criticism, [parody] can provide social benefit by shedding light on an earlier work, and, in the process, creating a new one."

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Poem: "Day Bath" by Debra Spencer, from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.

Day Bath
    for my son

Last night I walked him back and forth,
his small head heavy against my chest,
round eyes watching me in the dark,
his body a sandbag in my arms.
I longed for sleep but couldn't bear his crying
so bore him back and forth until the sun rose
and he slept. Now the doors are open,
noon sunlight coming in,
and I can see fuchsias opening.
Now we bathe. I hold him, the soap
makes our skins glide past each other.
I lay him wet on my thighs, his head on my knees,
his feet dancing against my chest,
and I rinse him, pouring water
from my cupped hand.
No matter how I feel, he's the same,
eyes expectant, mouth ready,
with his fat legs and arms,
his belly, his small solid back.
Last night I wanted nothing more
than to get him out of my arms.
Today he fits neatly
along the hollow my thighs make,
and with his fragrant skin against mine
I feel brash, like a sunflower.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, born in Newark, New Jersey (1917). He's best known for his book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). He believed that the great theme of American literature was the search for identity. He said, "Americans have no real identity. We're all... uprooted people who come from elsewhere."

Fiedler spent most of his life struggling with his own identity. His father was a pharmacist and an atheist. Fiedler went to Hebrew school behind his father's back, but he said, "I stubbornly resisted learning Hebrew—spending most of my lesson time haranguing the rabbi... trying to explain to him why all religions were the opium of the people. To all of this he would retort only that I read Hebrew like a Cossack, which was, alas, true."

During his teens, he wanted to be a Marxist revolutionary, but he eventually lost his idealism. During World War II, he served as an interrogator of Japanese prisoners of War, and before the war was over, he felt closer to many of the Japanese prisoners than he was to most of his fellow soldiers.

When he got back to the states, he studied literature and began writing fiction. His stories were usually rejected from magazines, but the editors started asking him to write book reviews, and that's how he became a critic. He made a name for himself in the academic world when he wrote the hugely controversial 1948 essay "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" in which he argued that Huckleberry Finn and Jim the slave were in love with each other. Fiedler was one of the first American critics to argue in favor of popular culture. He loved comic books and horror movies and soap operas, and he once said that the only writer of the late 20th century who would be remembered was Stephen King.

Though he made his living for most of his life as a professor of literature, he said, "I never had any interest, really, in being a teacher... It's a mistake to teach literature at all, I think: the student doesn't have a sense of discovery about it. You have to teach it as if you weren't teaching it."

He died in 2003. His last book was Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996).

It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Kenneth Grahame, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859), known today for his book The Wind in the Willows (1908), which began as a series of stories he told to his young son.

Grahame had a difficult life. His mother died when he was five years old, and he was passed around among relatives in England. He wanted to go to college, but his uncle refused to pay for it, so he got a job as a clerk at a bank. He began writing essays and stories on the side, and in 1895, he published two books of stories about children: The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), which were very popular in England and the United States.

But when he wrote The Wind in the Willows, many publishers turned it down because the idea of talking animals was too fantastic. At the time, Victorian educators believed that children should be discouraged as soon as possible from pretending and daydreaming, that letting children believe in fairy tales and myths was detrimental to their development. Grahame believed the opposite.

It was finally Teddy Roosevelt, a huge fan of Grahame's early work, who convinced a publisher to take on The Wind in the Willows. It became such a success that Grahame was able to retire from the Bank of England and move to the country. He lived for another 25 years, but he never wrote another book.

The Wind in the Willows still sells about 80,000 copies a year.

It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931), and considered one of the greatest living literary journalists. He is known for the huge range of his subjects. He has written about canoes, geology, tennis, nuclear energy, and the Swiss army. He once researched his own family tree and traced it back to a Scotsman who moved to Ohio to become a coalminer.

As a high-school student, McPhee played a lot of sports, especially basketball. His English teacher required her students to write three compositions a week, each accompanied by a detailed outline, and many of which the students had to read out loud to the class. Since then, McPhee has carefully outlined all his written work, and has read out loud to his wife every sentence he writes before it is published.

In college, McPhee was a regular contestant on a weekly radio and television program called "Twenty Questions," which he believes taught him to gather facts and guess at their hidden meanings. His goal as a young writer was to write for the New Yorker, but it took 14 years of being rejected before he published his first article there. During those years, he said, "I tried everything, sometimes with hilarious results. I think that young writers have to roll around like oranges on a conveyor belt. They have to try it all."

In 1962, he got a phone call from his father about an amazing new college basketball player at Princeton. McPhee went to see him play and decided to write a profile of the young man, whose name was Bill Bradley. The profile was published in the New Yorker, which invited McPhee to be a staff writer, and the profile became McPhee's first book: A Sense of Where You Are (1965).

He went on to become one of the foremost journalists for the New Yorker. His name in the table of contents would actually increase the sales of that issue of the magazine. Then, in the early 1980's, he decided to write a geological history of the United States, based on the roadcuts carved out for Interstate 80. William Shawn wasn't sure readers would be interested in that particular subject, but McPhee didn't care. He spent almost 20 years writing about geology, and in 1999, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for his book Annals of the Former World (1998).

McPhee has published more than 25 books, even though he rarely writes more than 500 words a day. He once tried tying himself to a chair to force himself to write more, but it didn't work. He said, "People say to me, 'Oh, you're so prolific.' God, it doesn't feel like it—nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart."

When asked what he writes about, McPhee said, "I'm describing people engaged in their thing, their activity, whatever it is."

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Poem: "Moment of Inertia" by Debra Spencer, from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.

Moment of Inertia

It's what makes the pancake hold still
while you slip the spatula under it
so fast it doesn't move, my father said
standing by the stove.

All motion stopped when he died.
With his last breath the earth
lurched to a halt and hung still on its axis,
the atoms in the air
coming to rest within their molecules,
and in that moment
something slid beneath me
so fast I couldn't move.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1913 that Virginia Woolf delivered the manuscript for her first novel, The Voyage Out, to the Duckworth Publishing House. She had been working on it for almost seven years. She first mentioned it in a letter in 1907. She wrote, "I have wasted all my time trying to begin things and taking up different points of view, and dropping them, and grinding out the dullest stuff, which makes my blood run thick."

By 1912, she had written five drafts of the novel, including two different versions that she worked on simultaneously. Between December 1912 and March 1913, she rewrote the entire novel one more time, almost from scratch, typing 600 pages in two months.

The book was finally accepted, and then she had to work on correcting the proofs. She found the experience of re-reading her own work in print almost unbearable. She had a nervous breakdown, and spent two years recovering. The experience helped persuade her and her husband to start their own publishing house so she wouldn't have to go through the agony of submitting her work to others.

The Voyage Out was eventually published in 1915, but it didn't sell well. It took fifteen years to sell 2,000 copies. Critics don't consider it a great work, but among the novel's cast of characters is a woman named Clarissa Dalloway, a character who would stick in Virgina Woolf's mind for more than a decade until she wrote an entire novel about that woman called Mrs. Dalloway (1927).

It's the birthday of crime novelist Mickey Spillane, the pen name of Frank Morrison, born in Brooklyn, New York (1918). He spent his childhood defending himself as the only Irish boy in a tough Polish neighborhood. His father worked in a hardware store, and it was there that Spillane saw a typewriter for the first time. He later said, "I would type on it... I loved the sound it made... [and] I knew I was going to be a writer."

As a high school student, he wrote for a local newspaper, and he covered bootlegging scams and other criminal activity. He would make carbon copies of the newspaper stories and turn one copy in as a writing assignment for school and get paid for the other. In 1940, he got a job as a scripter of comic books for Funnies, Inc. Other writers required a week to produce a Captain Marvel story while Spillane could write one in a day.

After he served in World War II as a fighter pilot, Spillane bought some land in the Catskill Mountains, where he lived in a tent while building his own house. He kept a typewriter on a wobbly table in that tent, and wrote at night by the light of a Coleman lamp. It was there that he wrote his first novel I, the Jury (1947), which introduced his famous detective Mike Hammer. It begins, "I shook the rain from my hat and walked into the room. Nobody said a word. They stepped back politely and I could feel their eyes on me."

I, the Jury got terrible reviews when it came out in hardcover. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune called Spillane, "An inept vulgarian." The hardcover only sold 7,000 copies. But when the paperback came out, with one of the most sexually explicit covers ever printed on a book at that time, it sold a quarter of a million copies in one week, and it went on to sell about 9 million.

Spillane published six more books in two years, all best-sellers, including My Gun Is Quick (1950); The Big Kill (1951), and Kiss Me, Deadly (1952). He was known for including far more graphic sex and violence in his books than any other writer at the time. His work helped spark the pulp fiction craze of the 1950's, and he was one of the targets for a U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency.

Spillane never got as much respect as other detective novelists like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but he sold many more books than they did. Six of his books are now among the 25 top-selling novels of the 20th century. It's estimated that there are about 130 million copies of his books in print.

Spillane was once asked why detective Mike Hammer is always depicted drinking beer. He said, "Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can't spell cognac."

And, "If you're a singer you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. [But] a writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes."

It's the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, born in Knole, England (1892). She grew up in an incredibly wealthy family, but she never got along with her mother, who was the illegitimate daughter of a famous Spanish dancer. Sackville-West said, "I used to be taken to [mother's] room to be 'passed' before going down to luncheon on party days... and I was always wrong and miserable, so that parties used to blacken my summer."

Sackville-West spent most of her childhood wandering around her family's huge house, which had 52 staircases and 365 rooms. She began to write, and by the time she was 18, she had written eight novels and five plays.

She married for convenience and she said, "[I became] the correct and adoring wife of the brilliant young diplomat." But it turned out that both she and her husband were homosexual, so while they remained married good friends for the rest of their lives, they each had many affairs.

Around 1918, Sackville-West began going out in public dressed as a man. The first time she ever put on men's pants she said, "I ran, I shouted, I jumped, I climbed, I vaulted over the gates. I felt like a schoolboy." She went on to have several affairs with women, most famously with Virginia Woolf. She inspired Woolf's novel Orlando, about a character who lives for centuries as both a man and a woman. It was Woolf who published Sackville-West's novel The Edwardians (1930), which became a big best-seller.

She went on to write many more novels, as well as plays, poetry, and biographies, but she's also remembered as one of the great gardening writers of all time. In the 1930's, she and her husband spent years restoring a castle estate called Sissinghurst that had fallen to ruin. Sackville-West grew to love the country, spent much of her time working on the garden, and she began contributing a weekly gardening column to the London Observer. She kept it up almost 15 years.

At the time, gardening was been considered a masculine hobby, and most members of the British upper class employed gardeners to do all the actual work. But Vita Sackville-West wrote about the joys of digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, and arranging the flowers herself. She persuaded many people to start their own gardens, and she helped start many gardening trends, including single color gardens, the incorporation of wildflowers, and the planting of climbing roses at the base of apple trees.

Vita Sackville-West thought of her gardening column as insignificant compared to the rest of her writing until, in 1954, she was awarded a medal by the Royal Horticultural Society. She wrote of the award to her husband, "I was rather pleased but even more astonished. It is all due to those beastly little Observer articles... Haven't I always said that one got rewarded for the things that one least esteemed?"

Vita Sackville West said, "I suppose the pleasure of country life lies really in the eternally renewed evidences of the determination to live."

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Poem: "Ode to My 1977 Toyota" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Ode to My 1977 Toyota

Engine like a Singer sewing machine, where have you
     not carried me-to dance class, grocery shopping,
into the heart of darkness and back again? O the fruit
     you've transported-cherries, peaches, blueberries,
watermelons, thousands of Fuji apples-books,
     and all my dark thoughts, the giddy ones, too,
like bottles of champagne popped at the wedding of two people
     who will pass each other on the street as strangers
in twenty years. Ronald Reagan was president when I walked
     into Big Chief Motors and saw you glimmering
on the lot like a slice of broiled mahi mahi or sushi
     without its topknot of tuna. Remember the months
I drove you to work singing "Some Enchanted Evening"?
     Those were scary times. All I thought about
was getting on I-10 with you and not stopping. Would you
     have made it to New Orleans? What would our life
have been like there? I'd forgotten about poetry. Thank God,
     I remembered her. She saved us both. We were young
together. Now we're not. College boys stop us at traffic lights
     and tell me how cool you are. Like an ice cube, I say,
though you've never had air conditioning. Who needed it?
     I would have missed so many smells without you—
confederate jasmine, magnolia blossoms, the briny sigh
     of the Gulf of Mexico, rotting 'possums scattered
along 319 between Sopchoppy and Panacea. How many holes
     are there in the ballet shoes in your back seat?
How did that pair of men's white loafers end up in your trunk?
     Why do I have so many questions, and why
are the answers like the animals that dart in front of your headlights
     as we drive home from the coast, the Milky Way
strung across the black velvet bowl of the sky like the tiara
     of some impossibly fat empress who rules the universe
but doesn't know if tomorrow is December or Tuesday or June first.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1864 that Ulysses S. Grant was named Lieutenant General of the Union armies during the Civil War. President Lincoln had given this responsibility to several men, but they had not done as well as Lincoln had hoped, so the president turned to Grant, who had a reputation for brilliance. Two days later, Grant was promoted again, to General in Chief of the Armies of the United States, and he was given complete control over the Union war effort.

Ulysses Grant had a simple strategy for winning the war over the Confederacy. First, he promoted General William T. Sherman to his old job, commander of the Federal armies in the Western Theater. Grant commanded Sherman to march against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, and to continue forward until he reached Atlanta, burning everything in his path. At the same time, Grant reorganized the Army of the Potomac and then sent it into battle against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond. Both forces were to move forward until they met each other, pinching the Confederate forces, and then they would join together to form a massive fighting force, poised to destroy the Confederacy, which is exactly what would happen the following year.

Ulysses S. Grant said, "The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on."

It's the birthday of Henry W. Fowler, born in Devon, England (1858). He is the author of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926).

Fowler actually worked as a schoolmaster for 17 years before he resigned and joined his brother Francis G. Fowler on the island of Guernsey, where they lived together and collaborated on a translation of Lucian (1905), and then wrote The King's English. This latter project led them to plan the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, a book which Henry Fowler completed after his brother's early death. He dedicated it to his brother saying, "I think of [this book] as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullness enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied. He had a nimbler wit, a better sense of proportion, and a more open mind, than his twelve-year-older partner."

The Dictionary of Modern English Usage is known for its ability to make dull topics like grammar and word usage entertaining and even funny. Fowler's comment on the split infinitive is one of the best-known passages in the book: "The English-speaking world may be divided into those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is, those who don't know, but care very much, those who know and approve, those who know and condemn, and those who know and distinguish."

It's the birthday of the playwright and novelist David Rabe, born in Dubuque, Iowa (1940). He is best known for his work about the Vietnam War.

Rabe entered graduate school at Villanova University, studying theater, but he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War in 1965. He entered the United States Army and served for two years, and he spent 11 of those months fighting in Vietnam. Then, Rabe returned to America and completed his master's degree.

It was during this time that Rabe began to write Sticks and Bones, the first play in a loose trilogy about the Vietnam War, focusing on a war veteran. His later plays The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971) and Streamers (1976) finished the trilogy. Rabe also began teaching at Villanova after his plays earned critical praise—including a Tony Award nomination for his play In the Boom Boom Room (1973), about a go-go dancer.

Rabe has written two novels and has many screenwriting credits for movies that include Casualties of War (1989), The Firm (1993) and Hurlyburly (1998).

It's the birthday of John Rechy, born in El Paso, Texas (1934). He is well known for his premiere novel City of Night (1963). In it, he chronicles the underworld of homosexual prostitution in the middle of the 20th century.

FRIDAY, 11 MARCH, 2005
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Poem: "The Discovery of Sex" by Debra Spencer, from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Discovery of Sex

We try to be discreet standing in the dark
hallway by the front door. He gets his hands
up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine
down inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy
for skin, each other's skin, warm silky skin.
Our tongues are in each other's mouths,
where they belong, home at last. At first

we hope my mother won't see us, but later we don't care,
we forget her. Suddenly she makes a noise
like a game show alarm and says Hey! Stop that!
and we put our hands out where she can see them.
Our mouths stay pressed together, though, and
when she isn't looking anymore our hands go
back inside each other's clothes. We could

go where no one can see us, but we are
good kids, from good families, trying to have
as much discreet sex as possible with my mother and father
four feet away watching strangers kiss on TV,
my mother and father who once did as we are doing,
something we can't imagine because we know

that before we put our mouths together, before
the back seat of his parents' car where our skins
finally become one-before us, these things
were unknown! Our parents look on in disbelief
as we pioneer delights they thought only they knew
before those delights gave them us.

Years later, still we try to be discreet, standing
in the kitchen now where we think she can't see us. I
slip my hands down inside the back of his jeans
and he gets up under the front of my shirt.
We open our mouths to kiss and suddenly Hey! Hey!
says our daughter glaring from the kitchen doorway.
Get a room! she says, as we put our hands
out where she can see them.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1888 that the Blizzard of 1888, known as the "Great White Hurricane," began to pound the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The days leading up to the blizzard were mild, and temperatures reached as high as the 50's. Then the heavy rains began, followed by a sharp drop in the temperatures. About 3:00 a.m. on this day in 1888, the rain turned to snow and fell for thirty-six hours without pause. The combination of low temperatures and snow accumulation made it one of the worst winter storms on record in American history.

By the time the snow stopped, 50 inches had fallen on Connecticut and Massachusetts, and 40 inches blanketed New York and New Jersey. Telephone and telegraph wires from Philadelphia to Boston snapped, and millions of people were isolated for many days. Firefighters couldn't leave their stations, and so fires raged in the cities, causing millions of dollars in property damage. Ships all along the East Coast were grounded. More than 400 people died in the blizzard. The transportation crisis following the storm resulted, eventually, in the creation of the New York subway.

It was on this day in 1959 that Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway. According to the New York Times, it is "the play that changed American theater forever." The play is named after a line in a poem by Langston Hughes, and it featured a cast made entirely of African-Americans, including a young Sidney Poitier.

Hansberry wanted to write a play where African-American characters were treated with as much realism as white characters. She said, "The intimacy of knowledge which the Negro may culturally have of white Americans does not exist in the reverse." And so Hansberry wrote a play that drew upon her own childhood in Chicago. A Raisin in the Sun follows the lives of the Youngers, a family living in cramped quarters in south Chicago. The family gets a $10,000 check, and they consider moving into a larger home in white suburb.

The New York Drama Critics Circle named A Raisin in the Sun the best play of 1959. It ran on Broadway for nearly two years, and has seen countless performances since.

It's the birthday of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, born Keith Rupert Murdoch, in Melbourne, Australia (1931). He is known for launching the Fox television channel and a media empire that spans the globe.

It's the birthday of the man who gave us A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, born in Cambridge, England (1952).

In 1979, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy premiered as a twelve-part series on BBC Radio. Eventually Adams wrote it as two novels, or a "trilogy in five parts," as he put it. After 20 years, the movie version of the book will premiere in May 2005.

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Poem: "The State of the Economy" by Louis Jenkins, from Sea Smoke. © Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted with permission.

The State of the Economy

There might be some change on top of the dresser at the
back, and we should check the washer and the dryer. Check
under the floor mats of the car. The couch cushions. I have
some books and CDs I could sell, and there are a couple big
bags of aluminum cans in the basement, only trouble is that
there isn't enough gas in the car to get around the block. I'm
expecting a check sometime next week, which, if we are careful,
will get us through to payday. In the meantime with your one—
dollar rebate check and a few coins we have enough to walk to
the store and buy a quart of milk and a newspaper. On second
thought, forget the newspaper.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jack Kerouac, born in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). He's best known for his famous novel On the Road (1957). He wrote the novel in just three weeks on a single long ream of paper. He also came up with the label "Beat Generation." He said, "To me, it meant being poor, like sleeping in the subways... and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that..."

It's the birthday of newspaper publisher Adolph Simon Ochs, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1858). He owned the New York Times and was also the director of the Associated Press from 1900 to 1935.

Ochs started off in the newspaper business when he was 11 as an office boy for the Knoxville Chronicle. He bought the Chattanooga Times in 1878 when he was only 20 years old. In 1896, he bought the failing New York Times right before it went bankrupt, and he was its publisher for 40 years up until he died. Ochs never gave into the competition of yellow journalism, but he did lower the cost of the paper to one cent to keep sales up. He was committed the sticking to truthful, non-partisan reporting instead of sensational stories, and that decision turned the Times into one of the most trusted papers in the world.

It's the birthday of poet and children's author Naomi Shihab Nye, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1952). She has published several books of poetry, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) and Hugging the Jukebox (1982).

Nye says, "Since my father was Palestinian, from Jerusalem, and my mother was American, our house in St. Louis held rich fragrances of cardamom, garlic, and olive oil. Shihab means shooting star in Arabic. I liked that. Languages danced together in our rooms and interesting people drifted through our doors. I used to think, 'We're still waiting for a dull moment.'"

It's the birthday of novelist and columnist Carl Hiaasen, born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (1953). He's best known for doing investigative reporting that exposes the political greed and corruption behind the destruction of Florida's wilderness. He's also the author of the novel Strip Tease (1993).

Hiaasen received his first typewriter as a birthday present when he was six years old. He ran an underground newspaper in high school called More Trash. After college he worked as a reporter for the paper Cocoa Today before being hired by the Miami Herald.

Carl Hiaasen is the co-author, along with writers like Elmore Leonard, Edna Buchanan, and Dave Barry, of Naked Came the Manatee (1997), a book that is a series of independently written chapters where each writer takes up where the one before left off.

It is the birthday of playwright Edward Albee, who's recorded as being born in Washington D.C. (1928). Albee was adopted when he was two weeks old, and the terms of his adoption stated that he could never know where his real birthplace was or who his biological parents were. He went to several private schools, and he finally left home for good when he moved to New York City.

Edward Albee worked several odd jobs to support himself, but his favorite was work as a Western Union messenger, which he did for three years. He said, "It kept you out in the air, and it was a nice job because it could never possibly become a career." In between jobs he would see plays, especially those considered part of "the Theatre of the Absurd," and these inspired him to seriously work on his own plays. He quit his job at Western Union, and sitting at his kitchen table, he wrote a play as a 30th birthday present to himself. Albee said, "I have a fine sense of the ridiculous, but no sense of humor."

Albee is best known for giving us the plays The Zoo Story (1958), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962, filmed 1966), and Three Tall Women (1991). Albee has won three Pulitzer Prizes.

It was on this day in 1901 that Andrew Carnegie offered the City of New York $5.2 million for the construction of 65 branch libraries. The money came from the sale of his company, U.S. Steel, from which he made more than $300 million. Carnegie believed that the first half of someone's life should be spent making money; the second half, giving it away. He paid for the construction of library buildings in both small towns and large cities, and he expected each community to work together to supply the books for them. He financed about 2,800 public libraries across the country.

SUNDAY, 13 MARCH, 2005
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Poem: "At the Arraignment" by Debra Spencer, from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.

At the Arraignment

The courtroom walls are bare and the prisoner wears
a plastic bracelet, like in a hospital. Jesus stands beside him.
The bailiff hands the prisoner a clipboard and he puts his
thumbprint on the sheet of white paper. The judge asks,

What is your monthly income? A hundred dollars.
How do you support yourself? As a carpenter, odd jobs.
Where are you living? My friend's garage.
What sort of vehicle do you drive? I take the bus.
How do you plead? Not guilty. The judge sets bail
and a date for the prisoner's trial, calls for the interpreter
so he may speak to the next prisoners.
In a good month I eat, the third one tells him.
In a bad month I break the law.

The judge sighs. The prisoners
are led back to jail with a clink of chains.
Jesus goes with them. More prisoners
are brought before the judge.

Jesus returns and leans against the wall near us,
gazing around the courtroom. The interpreter reads a book.
The bailiff, weighed down by his gun, stands
with arms folded, alert and watchful.
We are only spectators, careful to speak
in low voices. We are so many. If we—make a sound,
the bailiff turns toward us, looking stern.

The judge sets bail and dates for other trials,
bringing his gavel down like a little axe.
Jesus turns to us. If you won't help them, he says
then do this for me. Dress in silks and jewels,
and then go naked. Be stoic, and then be prodigal.
Lead exemplary lives, then go down into prison
and be bound in chains. Which of us has never broken a law?
I died for you-a desperate extravagance, even for me.
If you can't be merciful, at least be bold.

The judge gets up to leave.

The stern bailiff cries, All rise.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It is the birthday of journalist Janet Flanner, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1892). She's best known for her "Letters from Paris" contribution to the New Yorker. Flanner moved to Paris in 1922 and started writing long letters to her friends in the U.S. about her life in France. One of the friends she wrote to was Jane Grant, the wife of Harold Ross. Grant asked Flanner to write a regular Paris letter for her husband's new magazine, and the first letter appeared in the New Yorker in September of 1925.

When Janet Flanner received her copy of the New Yorker, she saw that her letter was signed "Genet." She asked Harold Ross if the pseudonym referred to a yellow weed called "genestra" or to the female of the donkey family. Ross never answered her question.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in Tilden, Nebraska, (1911). He's best known as the founder of the Church of Scientology (1954).

Hubbard made as much as $100 million a year in book sales and donations to Scientology. By 1966 he was living on a yacht and became harder and harder to find, and in 1980 the IRS challenged the tax-exempt status of his church. His followers continue to see him as a prophet and therapist.

The ideas behind the religion came from two of L. Ron Hubbard's books, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950) and Science of Survival (1951). He wrote many of his science fiction novels under one of his pseudonyms, such as Winchester Remington Colt, Eldron, Frederick Englehardt, Michael Keith, and Tom Esterbrook.

It was on this day in 1891 that Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts opened on the London stage. Ghosts was considered a controversial play because it contained stuff about incest and sexually transmitted diseases, and Ibsen refused to give his audiences the happy endings they were used to. The play had already been banned in St. Petersburg on religious grounds when it premiered in London.

Henrik Ibsen predicted the public's negative reaction to Ghosts. He wrote in 1882, "It may well be that the play is in several respects rather daring. But it seemed to me that the time had come for moving some boundary-posts. And this was an undertaking for which a man of the older generation, like myself, was better fitted for than the many younger authors who might desire to do something of the kind. I was prepared for a storm; but such storms one must not shrink from encountering."

The first performance alone of Ghosts caused over 500 printed articles to be written in response to it, and Ibsen became a household name even to people who had never seen the play or read a book. The play was defended by William Archer, George Bernard Shaw, and Justin McCarthy. William Archer translated Ibsen's work into English.

Henrik Ibsen died in 1906 when he was 79. He was given a state funeral, and King Haakon of Norway attended. The British Prime Minister was also there as a representative of King Edward VII.

Henrik Ibsen wrote in Act 2, "I almost think we're all of us Ghosts... It's not only what we have invited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."



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