Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Leaning Together in a Storm" by Larry Smith, from A River Remains. © WordTech Editions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Leaning Together in a Storm

Twelve older men in shirt sleeves
sit around the Cancer Center
sipping ice water and making jokes
waiting for the meeting to begin.
"Ever notice how no one parks
in the Cancer Center zone?"
I am one of them tonight
meant to acknowledge
our story within
our private brotherhood.

The counselor rises to welcome us
asks each to state his cancer story:
give his name and dates
the procedure we chose
tell how long he's survived.
And I take real joy
in hearing them speak
sensing their eyes, their bodies
seated beside me here.

Then a door opens
and our leader rises
to introduce the night's speaker
a young surgeon, his slide-tray at his side.
"Greetings, Gentlemen," he grins
snapping on his slides, projecting
our organs onto the wall,
touching them with his pointer
in blunt precision,
warning us again of lymph nodes
cells outside the prostate
that can end our life.
We swallow a hundred nightmares
with smiles and nods.

I interrupt his gay delivery,
"What about orgasm ...?"
"Forget orgasm," he grins,
"You don't have a prostate."
Another asks about second opinions,
"Go ahead ... what can it hurt?" then adds,
"Unfortunately it won't help much either."
I want to escape this torture by words,
but ask instead, "And what about the
radiation seed implants they're doing in Seattle?"
He turns on me like a cop. "We're doing those now.
So it's a question, how big is your ego?"
Some smile at this, other know
how cold the knife is, how his words
cut across our lives, our wish to live
each breath, see morning spread
across our lawn, our grandchildren's faces.
We all have this unspoken need
to pace our life
like a heart beat.

In the end we let it go
trade our feelings for facts
we already know,
"It's a game of numbers,"
he says again, and I wonder
if these others want to drive
this witch doctor from the room
and gather warmth from the fire
we sit around, share our stories
together of going on

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Michael Crichton, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1942). He decided to pursue writing at Harvard, but his writing style was continually criticized by his teachers and he earned a C average. He decided it was the school, not he, that was in error. So for the next assignment, he retyped an essay by George Orwell and submitted it as his own. The professor did not catch his plagiarism, and gave Crichton a B minus. Crichton decided to change his major to anthropology.

To pay for his medical studies, he began writing paperback adventure novels under the pseudonym John Lang. On top of his schoolwork, he managed to produce 10,000 words a day, ultimately publishing eight novels with titles such as Zero Cool (1969), The Venom Business (1969), and Drug of Choice (1970). Just one year out of medical school he published the novel that made his name: The Andromeda Strain (1969), about scientists racing to stop the spread of a deadly new bacteria introduced to Earth from outer space.

Crichton went on to become the author of many best-selling thriller novels, but he also directed several films, and created the popular TV show ER about the daily lives of hospital emergency room employees. He's one of the rare popular writers who's never settled down to one genre. Most of his books touch on science, including Jurassic Park (1990), about dinosaurs brought to life through genetic engineering. But he's also written about Vikings and Japanese businessmen, sexual harassment, and nanotechnology.

It's the birthday of the most popular talk show host in American history, Johnny Carson, born in Corning, Iowa (1925). He was the son of a utility company lineman, and he grew up an extremely shy boy. But when he was 12 years old he happened to read a how-to book about magic tricks and he became obsessed. He later said that it was the discovery of magic that helped him relate to people. He sent away for a mail-order magic kit and began following his family members around the house, asking them to pick a card. He performed publicly for the first time when he was 14 at the local rotary club. His mother sewed him a cape embroidered with his name, "The Great Carsoni."

He took over hosting The Tonight Show from Jack Paar in 1962. By the mid-1970s, more than 15 million people were watching The Tonight Show every night before they went to bed. He hosted the show for 30 years, which was two-thirds of the time that national TV has existed. He retired from the show after having taped 4,531 shows, and almost never appeared in public again.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Sometimes We Don't Talk Much, Debbie And I" by Greg Kosmicki, from Some Hero of the Past. © Word Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sometimes We Don't Talk Much, Debbie And I

              so today we take an afternoon drive to an orchard
buy two jars of dark honey, an acorn squash,
three cucumbers, six ears of corn, a gigantic muskmelon,
a sack of hot peppers for seventy-five cents, a half-dozen tomatoes,
a small basket each of Jonathans, McJonathans
and Akanes,
                       talk all the way there
through the corn-green countryside,
                                  drive around
through small towns clustered
                              north of Omaha
     like beautiful mushroom rings around an old stump,

                       and we talk about the living it takes

                              talk until
                       years fall down like rain,

          and we drive our red car
                                  through the green hills back to Omaha
                          where our children
                                   nestle like mice

                                                                    in an old grain bin,
          and we bring back our box
                       filled with fresh fruits and vegetables
                                  and we bring back ourselves,
filled with our lives.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Norman Rush, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1933). He worked a job as an antiquarian book dealer for about 15 years. His original idea was that he would write on the side, but he didn't get much writing done until he switched careers and became a teacher. He wrote a short story about the teaching experience, and sent it off to The New Yorker unsolicited, and they published it in 1978.

That same year, Rush and his wife accepted a position as co-directors of the Peace Corps in Botswana, Africa. Rush said, "I was astonished by Africa. Everybody was there, and everybody was intriguing and trying to get a stake in southern Africa's future. Apartheid was falling apart, and nobody knew how the pieces would be put back together." After five years working for the Peace Corps, he came back to the United States with three cartons' worth of notes.

He immediately began writing a series of short stories about his experience, and those stories became his first book, Whites (1986), which became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A few years later, he came out with his first novel, Mating (1991), about an American woman who goes to Botswana to finish her Ph.D. in nutritional anthropology and falls into a relationship with a man trying to create a utopian community in the Kalahari Desert. It went on to win a National Book Award.

His most recent book is Mortals, which came out in 2003.

It's the birthday of poet and activist Denise Levertov, (books by this author) born in Ilford, Essex, England (1923). Levertov never had any formal schooling of any kind. Her education consisted mainly of her mother reading her Tolstoy, Conrad, Dickens, and Cather. When she was 12, she wrote a poem that she sent to T. S. Eliot. He wrote her back. Even though she lost the letter, she remembered that he advised her to read poetry in a foreign language, and to keep on writing.

She worked as a nurse during World War II. And then, after the war, she began hitchhiking around Europe, and it was on that trip that she met her husband. She had long been writing fairly conventional poetry, but when she and her husband moved to the United States, she became friends with the poet Robert Creeley and other members of the avant garde Black Mountain school of poetry, and they helped persuade her to write more experimental poems in collections such as O Taste and See (1964) and The Sorrow Dance (1967).

It's the birthday of playwright Moss Hart, (books by this author) born in New York City (1904). He grew up poor, but his eccentric aunt, Kate, began taking him to the theater when he was seven years old. He always credited her for getting him hooked on the theater.

As a young man, he got a job as the entertainment director for a series of summer resorts along the Borscht Belt in the Catskills. He later said that keeping city folks sufficiently entertained when they are on vacation was the toughest job he ever had, but he learned a lot about drama from the experience.

Hart wanted more than anything to write a big important play, like his idol Eugene O'Neill, but producers kept turning him down, telling him that they wanted comedies. So Hart decided to give them what they wanted, and the result was his play Once in a Lifetime. When it came out in 1930, the play was a big hit and Moss Hart became rich and famous almost overnight. He was just 25 years old.

He went on to co-write plays such as You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, and he directed the musicals My Fair Lady and Camelot.

It's the birthday of the man who created Batman: Bob Kane, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1916). He created Batman for DC Comics to compete with Superman. Batman is alter ego of multimillionaire Bruce Wayne and one of the few superheroes in the history of comic books who doesn't have any special powers.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "I Married You" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naïve ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the artist Pablo Picasso, (books by this author) born in Málaga, Spain (1881). He had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and usually spent the afternoon conversing with friends. It was at night that he did most of his work, usually in the dark, except for two spotlights shining directly on his canvas. He didn't use a palette—he just had the cans of paint sitting on the floor, and he would dip the brushes right in and then wipe the excess off on newspapers. He stood up while he painted, often for three or four hours at a time. Then once in a while, he'd take an hour off to go sit at the other end of the room in a wicker armchair and stare at his painting, analyzing his work.

It was on this day in 1854 that a British light brigade attempted to charge the Russian troops during the Battle of Balaclava, but the order for the charge was misunderstood. The army commander wanted the troops to storm up the hill to take out the cannons at that position, but the cavalry commander thought they were supposed to storm down the hill into the valley. And so he led more than 600 men into the worst possible position. They were surrounded and roundly defeated. But though it was a failure, it wasn't even that great a disaster. Fewer than 200 of the almost 700 men died.

The defeat might have been forgotten, but a journalist named William Howard Russell witnessed the charge, and he wrote a dramatic story about it for the London Times, emphasizing the bravery of the soldiers thrown into a hopeless situation. He left out the fact that their hopeless situation was caused by an error.

The poet Alfred Tennyson read the article in his house on the Isle of Wight about three weeks later, and he immediately decided to write a poem, which became "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which begins, "Half a league, half a league, / Half a league onward, / All in the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred." It also contains the famous lines, "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die."

Copies of the poem were rushed into print and distributed among the soldiers on the battlefield. And even though the Crimean War was unpopular at the time, the poem became a kind of national anthem about self-sacrifice and duty.

One of the only recordings we have of Tennyson's voice is a wax cylinder recording of him reading "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1890, two years before his death. His funeral, in 1892, was a huge state affair, and the aisles were full of veteran survivors of that famous charge.

It's the birthday of the poet John Berryman, (books by this author) born John Smith in Oklahoma (1914). He first became celebrated as a Shakespeare scholar. His lectures became famous. More than 200 people would show up for his talks. There were parties for him every week. Other professors would dismiss their students so they could go see Berryman speak.

He had published a few unnoticed collections of poetry when, one summer, he began an affair with a graduate student and fell helplessly in love with her. The first night they kissed, he wrote a sonnet about her, and he began writing sonnets obsessively, one after another, and he wrote more freely than he ever had before, expressing his thoughts and emotions in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, full of jokes and slang and plays on words.

He didn't publish the sonnets until 20 years later, as Berryman's Sonnets (1967), but they were a breakthrough for him, and the first major poem he wrote after those sonnets was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1948), his first big success.

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Tyler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941). She's the author of many novels, including Searching for Caleb (1974), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988), novels about characters who find the modern world strange and alien. The Accidental Tourist is about a man named Macon Leary who makes a living writing travel guides for people who dislike traveling, and who withdraws almost completely from the world after the murder of his 12-year-old son, until he meets a dog trainer named Muriel Pritchett.

Anne Tyler gave a few interviews in her early career, but after that she decided she didn't want to be a public person. She never goes on book tours or speaks on talk shows, and if she answers any questions from journalists, she only does so in writing.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Driving Up the Ohio River on Route 2 in Late Fall" by Larry Smith, from A River Remains. © WordTech Editions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Driving Up the Ohio River on Route 2 in Late Fall

Trees breathe colors in afternoon light
turning the river into a slate of sky.
My wife and I drive a West Virginia two laner
beside the long waters, by an old railroad track.

Fields of alfalfa bordered in brush turn golden brown
as we pass again old faces of houses,
the dark brick and windows of abandoned factories
that lead into quiet towns a few blocks long.

Two old men talk on a street corner,
point to the ground, the sky;
a woman carries her baby and grocery bag
to a blue pick-up truck as evening comes on.

Life flows on like a river apart
from the roadways and bridges.
A sign in a beauty shop reads, "Come on in,"
and we wish we could enter more deeply here.

But we have those slow miles before sleep.
Our car drinks them in passing.
So little we really know, so much we share—
driving up river, heading home.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, a canal to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The canal was 360 miles long, 40 feet wide, and 4 feet deep—just deep enough to float barges carrying 30 tons of freight. It was built by European immigrants—mostly Irish—who were paid $10 a month. They were also given whiskey, which was stored in barrels along the construction site.

When the canal was finished, cannons were lined up along the towpath just barely in earshot of each other. They fired one after another from Lake Erie to New York City, finishing the relay in 81 minutes, establishing the fastest ever rate of communication in the United States at that time.

It was on this day in 1776 that Benjamin Franklin (books by this author) embarked upon a diplomatic mission to France, in hopes of gaining support for the American Revolution. Franklin was 70 at the time, and the voyage over the sea was rough going. He had planned to sail all the way up the English Channel to get as close to Paris as possible, but as soon as his ship came within view of the short of Brittany, he hired a fishing boat to take him to land. He made the rest of the journey by coach.

There was a grand ball to announce his arrival, and in the next few weeks, he became the talk of the town. He was applauded in the streets. For those first few weeks, he wore a soft fur cap wherever he went, and French women began wearing wigs that imitated the same style. For the French, he was a symbol of a new kind of freedom that their own philosophers had written about.

At the time, the French government wasn't in the best financial shape, and Franklin had to persuade them that helping the American colonies win would provide them with new trade opportunities in America, and it would also humiliate England, France's bitter enemy. Part of what made his task so difficult was that France was still a monarchy, and the king didn't much care for this new American idea of freedom and representative government.

Franklin was also surrounded by British spies, working to find out whether France would support the rebellious colonies. One of the spies actually was actually Franklin's secretary, a man named Edward Bancroft.

After a year of negotiation, Franklin began to make some progress, and then on March 20, 1778, he traveled to the palace at Versailles to sign a treaty with the king. After the treaty was signed, he was served dinner, and then he was given the honor of standing next to Queen Marie Antoinette while she played at the gambling tables. She considered him too common and refused to speak to him all night.

Historians now regard Franklin's negotiation with France as possibly the greatest diplomatic achievement in our country's history. The revolution would never have been a success without it.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "A Tourist at Ellis Island" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Tourist at Ellis Island

I found him, Jankel Olenik,
age 3, on the manifest
of the ship Spaarndam
in 1902-my surgeon father
Jack, of the silk ties
and trimmed mustache
who never mentioned
the life he once inhabited
not just in a different language

but in a different book,
its pages yellowed at the edges.
He thrust me into the new world
scrubbed clean of peasant dirt,
whole chapters of my history
torn out. Failed
archeologist of memory,
I never asked
a single question.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Dylan Thomas (books by this author) born in Swansea, Wales (1914).

It's the birthday of Sylvia Plath (books by this author) was born in Boston, Massachusetts (1932).

It's the birthday of novelist and memoirist Maxine Hong Kingston, (books by this author) born Maxine Hong in Stockton, California (1940).

It's the birthday of the novelist Zadie Smith, (books by this author) born in London (1975). She grew up black in a working-class London neighborhood, living in a housing project that was half English and half Irish. She said, "[We were] one black family squished between two tribes at war." She said, "I never wanted to be white, but I always wanted to be middle-class. I liked the big house, I liked the piano, I liked the cats, the cello lessons." She had a hard time making friends with other kids. Her parents had a difficult marriage, and got divorced when Smith was 12.

She spent all of her free time either tap dancing or reading. She later wrote, "It is a mixture of perversity and stomach-sadness that makes a young person fashion a cocoon of other people's words. If the sun was out, I stayed in; if there was a barbecue, I was in the library. ... By the time I arrived at college I had been in no countries, had no jobs, participated in no political groups, had no lovers. ... In short, I was perfectly equipped to write the kind of fiction I did write: saturated by other books; touched by the world, but only vicariously."

College at Cambridge was Zadie Smith's dream come true. She described it as, "People reading books in a posh place." Whereas she'd been a weirdo in high school for being black, suddenly she became exotic and mysterious to her classmates. And she began writing a lot. While she was cramming for her final exams, she banged out 100 pages of a potential novel and sent it off to an agent. Those hundred pages started a bidding war among London publishers, and Zadie Smith wound up with a very generous book contract before she'd even graduated from college. She also aced her exams. Her novel White Teeth (2000) has since sold more than a million copies.

The critics were amazed that such a young writer could produce such an ambitious novel, which contained a huge cast of characters, including Bengali Muslims, Jews, Jamaicans, Nazis, Jehovah's Witnesses, animal rights activists, Islamic terrorists, and old English men. She wrote a novel about the nature of fame called The Autograph Man (2002), and it got mixed reviews. There developed a sort of backlash. People began to say that her work was maybe too clever, not human enough.

So she moved to America to get away from everything. She began teaching a class at Harvard, and she found that living in New England changed her way of looking at the world. She said, "Suddenly there was place. Real place. Not just shops and corner shop owners and buses. But place, and that was fantastic." She got married, and started thinking about what the rest of her life might be like, the rest of her marriage.

Then, one morning she woke up with an entire novel in her head about a 30-year marriage: a modern version of E.M. Forester's novel Howard's End. The result was her book On Beauty, which came out last year (2005).

Zadie Smith said, "I'm influenced by everything I read, shamelessly. ... I think if I carry on plagiarizing for 15 years, it will settle like silt, and I'll write something really great."

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Lady's-Maid's Song" by John Hollander, from Selected Poetry. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Lady's-Maid's Song

When Adam found his rib was gone
   He cursed and sighed and cried and swore
And looked with cold resentment on
   The creature God had used it for.
All love's delights were quickly spent
   And soon his sorrows multiplied:
He learned to blame his discontent
   On something stolen from his side.

And so in every age we find
   Each Jack, destroying every Joan,
Divides and conquers womankind
   In vengeance for his missing bone.
By day he spins out quaint conceits
   With gossip, flattery, and song,
But then at night, between the sheets,
   He wrongs the girl to right the wrong.

Though shoulder, bosom, lip, and knee
   Are praised in every kind of art,
Here is love's true anatomy:
   His rib is gone; he'll have her heart.
So women bear the debt alone
   And live eternally distressed,
For though we throw the dog his bone
   He wants it back with interest.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the mystery novelist Anne Perry, (books by this author) born in Juliet Marion Hulme in London (1938). She is the creator of a series of popular mystery novels that take place in Victorian England, including The Cater Street Hangman (1979) and Pentecost Alley (1996). She's also one of the few mystery novelists ever to have been convicted of murder herself.

As a teenager, while under the influence of an experimental medication for a respiratory ailment, she helped a friend murder the friend's mother. The two 15-year-old girls were caught and convicted of murder, and the case became one of the most notorious in New Zealand criminal history. Perry became the youngest inmate in a woman's prison that had the reputation as the toughest in the country. She served her time, and upon release, changed her name and moved to England where she began writing mysteries. Even after she became a successful novelist, no one but her closest family and friends knew anything about her past.

But just as her 20th book Traitors Gate (1995) was about to be released, she was contacted by a journalist who had tracked her down at tied her to that original murder trial. She seriously considered going into hiding, away from the public scrutiny, but decided against it. Instead, she immediately called and visited all her neighbors, friends, and colleagues and told them the truth about her past, and even went on her book tour. She said, "In some way perhaps it was the last step as far as healing is concerned. Because I'm finding that now practically everybody in the world knows who I really am—and they still like me."

It's the birthday of British satirist Evelyn Waugh, (books by this author) born in London (1903). He didn't do well in school, and he left Oxford without receiving a degree. He tried working as a teacher, but he got fired from three schools in two years. He said, "I was from the first an obvious dud." He was seriously in debt, without a job, and had just been rejected by the girl he liked, when he decided to drown himself in the ocean. He wrote a suicide note and jumped in the sea, but before he got very far, he was stung by a jellyfish. He scrambled back to shore, tore up his suicide note, and decided to give life a second chance.

He didn't know what else to do, so he wrote a novel about a young teacher at a private school where the other teachers are all drunks, child molesters, and escaped convicts; and the mother of one student is running an international prostitution ring. His publishers forced him to preface the book with a disclaimer that said, "Please bear in mind throughout that it is meant to be funny." The novel Decline and Fall was published in 1928, and it was a big success.

Waugh went on to write many more novels, including A Handful of Dust (1934), and several books of travel writing such as Waugh in Abyssinia (1936) and Mexico: An Object Lesson (1939).

It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, (books by this author) born in New York City (1929). He went to Columbia University, where his teachers included Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling, and one of his classmates was Allen Ginsberg. He said, "It was perhaps the most exciting moment in history to be at an American university."

He supported himself writing liner notes for classical music albums, learned to play a variety of medieval musical instruments, and then went back to school to get his Ph.D. in literature. He's worked as a teacher ever since, writing poetry on the side.

His collection Picture Window came out in 2004.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "10. Seaman's Ditty" by Gary Snyder, from Left Out in the Rain. © Shoemaker & Hoard. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

10. Seaman's Ditty

I'm wondering where you are now
Married, or mad, or free:
Wherever you are you're likely glad,
But memory troubles me.

We could've had us children,
We could've had a home—
But you thought not, and I thought not,
And these nine years we roam.

Today I worked in the deep dark tanks,
And climbed out to watch the sea:
Gulls and salty waves pass by,
And mountains of Araby.

I've traveled the lonely oceans
And wandered the lonely towns.
I've learned a lot and lost a lot,
And proved the world was round.

Now if we'd stayed together,
There's much we'd never've —
But dreary books and weary lands
Weigh on me like a stone.

        Indian Ocean

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of Black Tuesday, the stock market crash in 1929 that signaled the beginning of the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. Few people saw it coming. The stock market had been booming throughout the 1920s. Brokerage houses had been springing up all over the country, to take advantage of everyone's interest in investment. There were stories about barbers and messenger boys who'd gotten rich off of overheard stock tips. Americans who ordinarily couldn't afford to invest their money were taking out loans to buy stock so they wouldn't miss out.

The stock market didn't do so well in September of 1929, but nobody really noticed anything was wrong until October 23, when 2.6 million shares were sold in the closing hour of trading. It looked as though the selling would continue on Thursday, October 24, but a group of the most influential American bankers in the country pooled their money and began to buy up the declining stocks, supporting the market. By the end of that day it seemed like everything would be all right.

But on this day in 1929, the bottom fell out of the market. Three million shares were sold in the first half-hour. Stock prices fell so fast that by the end of the day there were shares in many companies that no one would buy at any price. The stocks had lost their entire value.

The front-page story in The New York Times on this day read, "Wall Street was a street of vanished hopes, of curiously silent apprehension and of a sort of paralyzed hypnosis. ... Men and women crowded the brokerage offices, even those who have been long since wiped out, and followed the figures on the tape. Little groups gathered here and there to discuss the fall in prices in hushed and awed tones."

It was the most disastrous trading day in the stock market's history. The stock market lost $30 billion dollars, more than a third of its value, in the next two weeks.

It's the birthday of journalist and current editor of The New Yorker magazine David Remnick, (books by this author) born in Hackensack, New Jersey (1958). Both of his grandfathers came to the United States from Russia, fleeing the Russian Revolution of 1917. As a young man, Remnick got a job writing for The Washington Post, covering crime, sports, and fashion.

Then in 1987, he heard there was an opening for a Moscow correspondent, and he couldn't pass up the chance to go back to his grandfathers' home country. Before he left for Moscow, he visited one of his grandfathers in Florida and told him that he was moving to Russia. His grandfather, who was 102 years old, couldn't believe that Remnick would choose to go to a place he had risked his life to escape.

Remnick went anyway, and covered the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He interviewed politicians, generals, intellectuals, and workers to get a complete picture of the effect on Russian society. In 1993, he came out with Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Remnick went on to write for The New Yorker, and he was named editor in 1998, even though he'd never edited a magazine before. He is only the fifth person to serve as editor since the magazine was founded in 1925, and he's the first staff writer ever promoted to that position.

It's the birthday of James Boswell, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1740). On May 16, 1763, he met the scholar and writer Samuel Johnson in the back room of a bookstore. They became friends, and Boswell became Johnson's biographer. The biography he wrote, Life of Johnson (1791), was one of the first to delve into the most personal of details, because Boswell was willing to ask the most personal questions. He once asked Johnson what kind of underwear he thought women should wear. Johnson said he preferred cotton underwear to silk.



  • “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