MONDAY, 8 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Getting By" by Gary L. Lark, from Men at the Gates. © Finishing Line Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Getting By

I grew up at the end of a dirt road
on a creek you've never heard of
off a spur, that if you drove up it
you wouldn't know why
when you got there.

Daddy drove cat for old man Stimpson
until he rolled it down the mountain
and broke his back. They said he was lucky,
being thrown clear. But Daddy said
pain talked to him every day
and he didn't like the conversation.

I started picking ferns, barking chittam
and selling mushrooms; made spinners
and tied trout flies; got used to getting by.
We ate venison and rabbit, nettles,
quail and grouse, trout and crawdads.
I learned to drink thunder water
on the spine of Mitchell hill.

When I was grown, Mama gave me a hundred dollars
she'd saved; told me to go to town.
Get a job, she said, make a life.
But I didn't want to change tires,
stock shelves, or join the army.
She withered up after that
tending her little patch of flowers
along the path to the spring.

Forty years later, I'm still getting by.
I've planted trees and cleaned toilets
for the parks, but I never left the woods,
even when I had to sleep in my truck.
There's still a place or two left
to pick mushrooms, and I get along
alright with the dope growers.

I'll deliver illegal smoked salmon
if you get word from one of my regulars.
And when you hurry your kids along
in the grocery store, I understand;
I won't be there long.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the science fiction author Frank Herbert, (books by this author) born in Tacoma, Washington (1920), who was a journalist and an early member of the environmentalist movement, when he decided that he might reach more people with his ideas if he put them into science fiction novels. So he wrote his novel Dune (1965) about a desert planet where people only survive because they have learned to conserve and recycle every possible trace of moisture. Dune was one of the first science fiction novels to completely imagine an entirely different world, with different plants and animals, different social classes, and a whole set of elaborate religious beliefs. It became a cult novel on college campuses and went on to sell about 12 million copies.


It's the birthday of young-adult novelist R.L. (Robert Lawrence) Stine, (books by this author) born in Bexley, Ohio (1943), who created the Fear Street series of scary books for kids, the first modern children's book series for that sold equally well to both boys and girls. Some critics have said that his books aren't good for children, but R.L. Stein said, "I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value."


It's the birthday of the comic-book writer and essayist Harvey Pekar, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1939), who created the first-ever autobiographical comic-book series, American Splendor, about Pekar's daily difficulties at the supermarket, at his job, at home and in his dating life. The first issue of American Splendor came out in 1976, and Pekar continued publishing a new issue every summer, printing 10,000 copies of each new issue himself and distributing copies to independent bookstores and comic-book shops across the country. After 15 years, he was picked up by a publishing house. His work inspired a whole generation of artists to write autobiographical comic books. An anthology of his work called American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar came out in 2003.

When asked why he wanted to turn his life into a comic book, Harvey Pekar said, "I wanted to write literature that pushed people into their lives rather than helping people escape from them."


It's Columbus Day, the day we remember Christopher Columbus's voyage across the Atlantic in 1492, though he actually came ashore in the New World on October 12, 1492. He didn't discover the Americas, of course, there were people here already, but he was the first to publicize the existence of the Americas to the rest of Europe, sparking waves of exploration. He was trying to find a new trade route to Asia, and he'd gotten the idea to sail around the world in the opposite direction. He just miscalculated the size of the Earth. He thought the distance from Spain to Asia was about 2,700 miles, when in fact it's about 13,000. He pitched his idea to the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and they turned him down, twice, until they conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492 and had some extra treasure to pay for the trip.

And so Columbus sailed, with the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, three relatively small ships, none of them bigger than a tennis court. After sailing for a little more than a month, they saw a light on the western horizon about 10:00 p.m. on October 11, 1492. Columbus said it was "like a little wax candle that was lifting and rising." They went ashore the following day, probably on one of the islands of the Bahamas.

Columbus never made much money from his exploration, and when he died in 1506, he still believed that he had found a new route to Asia.



TUESDAY, 9 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "They'll" by Cheryl Denise, from I Saw God Dancing. © Dream Seeker Books, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

They'll

take your soul
and put it in a suit,
fit you in boxes
under labels,
make you look like the Joneses.

They'll tell you go a little blonder,
suggest sky-blue
tinted contact lenses,
conceal that birthmark
under your chin.

They'll urge you to have babies
get fulfilled.
They'll say marriage is easy,
flowers from Thornhills
are all you need
to keep it together.

They'll push you to go ahead,
borrow a few more grand,
build a dream house.
Your boys need Nikes,
your girls cheerleading,
and all you need is your job
9 to 5 in the same place.

They'll order you never to cry
in Southern States,
and never, ever dance
in the rain.

They'll repeat all the things
your preschool teacher said
in that squeaky too tight voice.

And when you slowly
let them go,
crack your suit,
ooze your soul
in the sun,
when you run through
the woods with your dog,
read poems to swaying cornfields,
pray in tall red oaks,
they'll whisper
and pretend you're crazy.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of John Lennon, (albums by this musician) born in Liverpool, England (1940), who formed his first rock band in high school, called the Quarrymen. He was performing at a church social in the summer of 1957 when a boy in the audience named Paul McCartney saw him for the first time. McCartney later said he was impressed by how tough Lennon looked on stage, like he was challenging the audience to a fight. In fact, Lennon had gotten into a fight with his aunt earlier in the evening, and he was just glaring at her while he sang. Lennon and McCartney became friends later that night, and they formed the band that became The Beatles.


It's the birthday of the suspense novelist Michael Palmer, (books by this author) born in Springfield, Massachusetts (1942), who never thought he could be a writer, but always had a lot of interests. In college, he took classes in experimental cellular physiology, Russian literature, Near Eastern poetry, and philosophy, and also learned to play a South Indian classical drum. He started reading a lot of suspense novels after he became an emergency room doctor, because they helped him relax, and then, even though he was working 100 hours a week, he wrote his own first novel, The Sisterhood (1982), about a secret society of killer nurses, and it became a best-seller. His most recent book is The Fifth Vial (2007).


It's the birthday of historian Bruce Catton, (books by this author) born in Petoskey, Michigan (1899), who was working as a newspaperman when he stumbled on some regimental histories in a used-book store with information about individual Civil War soldiers. At that time, Civil War historians had focused on the different commanders and their strategies, but nobody had tried to tell the story of the war from the ordinary soldiers' points of view. So Catton gathered as many diaries, letters, and wartime newspapers as he could find and set out to write a trilogy of books about the Army of the Potomac. He had a hard time getting the first two volumes of his history published, because his publishers believed that nobody was interested in Civil War history anymore. But when the third volume, A Stillness at Appomattox, came out in 1953, it won both the Pulitzer Prize for history and the National Book Award. Other historians did not consider Catton a real historian, and he was fine with that, because he wasn't trying to analyze anything, he was just trying to tell the story. He said, "[I'm] not a historian ... I am a reporter."


It's the birthday of Charles R(udolph) Walgreen, owner of the Walgreens drug store chain, born near Galesburg, Illinois (1873). He only became a pharmacist after he lost part of a finger working in a shoe factory and the doctor persuaded him to become a druggist's apprentice. He worked for years to save up and buy his own drug store on Chicago's South Side in 1891.



WEDNESDAY, 10 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The God Who Loves You" by Carl Dennis, from Practical Gods. © Penguin Poets, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The God Who Loves You

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don't want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright, screenwriter and director Harold Pinter, (books by this author) born in East London (1930), who has said that the defining experience of his childhood was the bombing of London by the Nazis. He said, "There were times when I would open our back door and find our garden in flames. ... The condition of being bombed has never left me." He went on to make his name writing plays that mix hilarious moments with suddenly horrifying events, constantly throwing the audience off balance. His first major play was The Birthday Party (1958), about an old man renting a room in a boarding house who is terrified to learn that his landlords have decided to take in more tenants. When the new tenants arrive, they subject the man to a kind of police interrogation and then drag him away, while his landlords just go on with their lives. The play ran for only a single week when it opened in 1958, and got only one good review, but it's now considered a classic.


It's the birthday of the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, born in a village near Parma, Italy (1813), who wrote the music for Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853). He was just starting to make it as a composer in the late 1830s when his two children and his wife died within a few years of each other. He fell into a depression, but got himself out of it by composing at a furious pace, producing on average two operas a year between 1843 and 1849. He didn't just write the music, but also edited the libretto, hired the singers, supervised the rehearsals, and conducted the opening performances. The work schedule was exhausting, but it made him the most popular opera composer in Italy. The night that Il Trovatore (1853) premiered in Rome, the Tiber River flooded, and people had to wade through the water and mud to get to the theater, but it was still a full house.

It's the birthday of the jazz pianist Thelonious (Sphere) Monk, (albums by this musician) born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1917), who helped invent bebop in the late 1930s with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Parker and Gillespie achieved fame right way, but Monk spent the next 20 years struggling to make a living. He played any nightclub that would take him, sometimes working for just $20 a week. It wasn't until he began to play with John Coltrane in 1957 that people realized how revolutionary his style was, and some of his compositions became jazz standards, including "'Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser." Thelonious Monk said, "There are no wrong notes."



THURSDAY, 11 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Raising Their Hands" by Julia Lisella, from Learning By Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School. Used with permission of the poet.

Raising Their Hands

Sometimes I dream about my students,
the pink of their palms
red and raw.
One student, seven feet tall,
his long back
hunched over the desk,
his arm out and above him —
he could be waving
or stopping a train.
Another student wears eyeliner for the stage.
She bends from the ribs
her body forming a tiny "c,"
her hand up sudden as a whitecap.

Some days they frighten me.
Put your hands down, I tell them.
Shout. Explode. Scream it.
Instead they look at me and smile
the way they would at foreigners who don't speak the language.
That's how they've trained me.
Now I wait until I see a scatter of fingers
and then I choose —
Yes, your palm, your hand,
your arched spine,
you with your idea,
Speak.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of experimental short-story writer and novelist Ben Marcus, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1967), whose first book, The Age of Wire and String (1995), is a sort of fictional encyclopedia, organized into the categories "Sleep," "God," "Food," "The House," "Animal," "Weather," "Persons," and "The Society," each of which includes five brief essays and a glossary. His novel Notable American Women (2002), which takes place in a futuristic Ohio, is about a boy raised by his mother in a radical feminist society called "The Silentists." The main character of the book is named Ben Marcus, but when asked if the book was autobiographical, Ben Marcus said, "My family was very loving and I've never been to Ohio."


It's the birthday of the crime novelist Elmore Leonard, (books by this author) born in New Orleans (1925), who published 22 novels before he had his first best-seller in 1985 with his novel Glitz. His books didn't catch on right away because, unlike most crime novels, they weren't mysteries, they didn't have a recurring detective as a hero, and they were more about the characters than the plot. He once said that every time he finishes a book, he continues thinking about his characters for weeks, wondering what they're doing. When asked why he writes crime novels at all, Leonard said, "I just feel more secure in a situation where I know a gun can go off at any time if things get boring." To write about criminals, he said, "I [try] to put myself in [a criminal's] place. He doesn't think he's doing an evil thing. ... I see convicts sitting around talking about a baseball game. I see them as kids. All villains have mothers."

More of Elmore Leonard's books have been optioned by Hollywood than those of any other living novelist. Nineteen of them have become movies, but he thinks only three or four of those movies are any good.


It's the birthday of (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City (1884), who grew up feeling plain and boring compared to her beautiful, fashionable mother. She said, "I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth." But one day on a train to visit her grandmother, she happened to bump into her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They started a secret courtship and got married in 1905.

The Roosevelts' marriage nearly ended in 1918, when Eleanor found out FDR had been having an affair with a secretary. They agreed not to divorce, but after that Eleanor grew increasingly independent. She developed her own ideas about politics, joined the Women's Trade Union League and the League of Women Voters. When FDR was elected president in 1932, she helped institute regular White House press conferences for female correspondents only, which forced many news organizations to hire women for the first time.

She toured the country during the Great Depression to give her husband a firsthand account of how people were doing, and she was a supporter of civil rights before her husband was. In 1936, she started a syndicated newspaper column called "My Day," and after her husband died in 1945, she became a delegate to the United Nations and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."



FRIDAY, 12 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Men at the Gates" by Gary L. Lark, from Men at the Gates. © Finishing Line Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Men at the Gates

They wait at the gates
in flannel shirts and heavy denim pants.
They wait for the gates to open,
the whistle to blow
signaling change of shift.
They wait for the mill jobs
to come back, with wages
that will feed a family,
wages to be proud of.
They wait in the parking lot
where one-stop-shoppers
now, twenty-five years later,
look through them like ghosts.
They wait in a rain
of gadgets and plunder,
companies from somewhere else
picking their pockets
trying to sell them everything
they don't need at bargain prices.
They wait for the world
to make sense again,
where calluses grow on your hands
and the soreness in your back
means you're worth a damn.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Robert Coles, (books by this author) born in Boston (1929), who was a psychiatrist working at an Air Force hospital in Mississippi in 1961 when he was driving past a grade school and saw a black first-grader named Ruby Bridges surrounded by an angry mob because she was trying to enter the all-white school. Coles later said, "Had I not been right there ... I might have pursued a different life." Most child psychologists at the time believed that children were shaped entirely by their family life, but Coles wanted to see how children were shaped by society. Seeing that little girl surrounded by a mob inspired him to study the children who were living through desegregation.

He got some funding and moved to Atlanta to conduct surveys, but the black children were terrified of this white stranger asking all these questions. So he threw away his clipboard and stopped wearing a tie and started sitting on the floor and just talked to them. His interviews became the basis of his book A Study in Courage and Fear (1967), which became the first volume in his Children of Crisis series that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. He spent the next 30 years traveling around the world, talking to the children of sharecroppers, children of the middle class, children in South Africa and in Northern Ireland. He said he was inspired more by the novels of Tolstoy and George Eliot than any psychologists or sociologists, and his books didn't get a lot of respect from his scientific colleagues, because he didn't include statistics or experiments. He said, "I just talk to kids and learn from them." The last volume in the series was The Spiritual Life of Children, which came out in 1990.


It's the birthday of the novelist Richard Price, (books by this author) born in New York City (1949), best known for his novel Clockers (1992), about a young drug dealer named Strike who's trying to make enough money to get out of the business without getting killed or arrested. It was one of the first works of fiction to describe the crack cocaine trade from the point of view of the dealers as well as the police, and it became a huge success. His most recent book is Samaritan (2003).

It's the birthday of the poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald, (books by this author) born in Geneva, New York (1910), best known for his beautiful English translations of Homer's Odyssey (1961) and The Iliad (1974). He was also an influential classics professor at Harvard, and he believed that Homer's work should be always read aloud. One of his students said, "Every Tuesday afternoon he'd start [class] by saying to us, 'Listen to this, now ... It was meant to be listened to.' The 12 of us would listen, very quiet around the blond wood table, our jittery freshman muscles gradually unclenching." Robert Fitzgerald described Homer as "a living voice in firelight or in the open air, a living presence bringing into life his great company of imagined persons, a master performer at his ease, touching the strings, disposing of many voices, many tones and tempos, tragedy, comedy, and glory, holding his [listeners] in the palm of his hand."



SATURDAY, 13 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Sex Ed" by Betsy Sholl, from The Red Line. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sex Ed

Well-dressed, demure, jammed into those
politely arranged desks, it's hard to be
serious, but we are. No one even parts lips
to acknowledge what used to drive us crazy
in the back seats of cars, what kept us up
half the night reliving the last slow dance,
girl on her toes, guy bent at the knees
to press in against her.

The instructors speak precisely about
the importance of our children knowing the facts,
so surely none of us in our high heels and
neck ties is going to admit how our first mistakes
have suddenly blossomed so tender and lovely
we've been forgiven a thousand times,
a thousand times forgiven and repeated ourselves.

But fingering the graffiti on this desk,
I remember being braille to you, being read
like a steamy novel, and how those lessons
stayed with us, practical as driver's ed, those hours
of simulation behind the wheel of a parked car.
The truth is I don't regret having studied with you
though I do feel inarticulate, like an athlete
asked to speak in a room of kids, who has nothing
to say except, "practice, practice."

Once our daughter watched the cat in heat
yowl and slither across the floor, and without
looking up asked, would that happen to her. Sometimes
it isn't shame that makes us speechless. It's not
regret that makes me linger at the curb watching
her toss back her yellow hair and yank open
the heavy doors to school.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1792 that the cornerstone was laid for the American presidential residence, now known as the White House. George Washington thought the first design for the house was too fancy, so he got an Irish-born architect named James Hoban to reduce the design to a fifth of its original size, but it was still the largest house ever built in the United States at that time.


It's the birthday of the poet and translator Richard Howard, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1929), who started out as a poet and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his book Untitled Subjects (1969). His collection Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963–2003 came out in 2004. But he's also known for his translations — more than 150 books, most of them from the French, including The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire, which won Howard a National Book Award for translation in 1984. He said, "The relationship of the translator to the writer is an erotic relationship always, and you learn something about the person that you're working with in an almost plastic, physical way that you can almost never learn about your friends."


It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Conrad Richter, (books by this author) born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (1890), who moved to New Mexico in the hope that his wife's heath would improve, and while he was there he became interested in the history of the Southwest, began traveling around interviewing older men and women and gathering old record books, newspapers, letters, and diaries of the early pioneers. After five years of research, he wrote a book about the Southwestern settlers called Early Americana and Other Stories (1936), and went on to write many more books, including a trilogy about frontier life in Ohio: The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950), which won the Pulitzer Prize.


It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Paul Simon, (albums by this musician) born in Newark, New Jersey (1941), who got a part in as the White Rabbit in a sixth-grade production of Alice In Wonderland. A boy named Art Garfunkel played the Mad Hatter, and the two became friends, started a singing duo, and they made a hit record when they were only 16 years old. But Simon decided he didn't want to be a pop star. He was more interested in folk music. He and Garfunkel recorded their first folk album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, in 1964, and it only sold a few thousand copies. They figured their career was probably over. But without their knowledge, a record producer added electric guitars to their song "The Sounds of Silence" and released it as a single. They had just moved back in with their parents and they were sitting in Simon's car one night, wondering what to do next, when they heard the new single come on the radio, and the DJ said it had gone to number one. Simon has since written many classic songs including, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970), "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (1975), and "Graceland" (1986).



SUNDAY, 14 OCTOBER, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "I carry your heart with me(i carry it in..." by E.E. Cummings from Complete Poems: 1904-1962. © Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1994. Reprinted with permission.

I carry your heart with me(i carry it in

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
               i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(I carry it in my heart)

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet E. E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings, (books by this author) born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who became interested in communism as a young man and traveled to Russia to see it firsthand. He was horrified to find the theaters and museums were full of propaganda, and the people were scared to even talk to each other in public. Everyone was miserable. Cummings went home and wrote about the experience, comparing Russia to Dante's Inferno.

His view of communism was not popular in the literary world at the time, and magazines suddenly began refusing to publish his work. For the next two decades, he had a hard time publishing his books, and he got terrible reviews when he did. Critics thought his exotic arrangements of words on the page were silly, and they said he wrote like an adolescent. Then, in 1952, his friend Archibald MacLeish got Cummings a temporary post at Harvard, giving a series of lectures. Instead of standing behind the lectern, Cummings sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him. The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. He began traveling and giving readings at universities across the country, even though he suffered from terrible back pain, and had to wear a metal brace that he called an "iron maiden." He loved performing and loved the applause, and the last 10 years of his life were the happiest.

E. E. Cummings said, "If a poet is anybody, he is somebody to whom things made matter very little — somebody who is obsessed by Making."


It's the birthday of the essayist Katha Pollitt, (books by this author) born in New York City (1949), who started out as a poet and supported herself writing book reviews. But she became less and less interested in the books she was reviewing and just started writing essays. She published her book Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism in 1994, and the same year she began to write a political column "Subject to Debate," which still appears every other week in The Nation magazine. Her most recent book Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories came out last month.


It's the birthday of short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, (books by this author) born Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand (1888), a rebellious young woman who had affairs with men and women, lived with indigenous people in New Zealand, and published scandalous stories under a variety of pseudonyms. In a letter to a publisher she wrote, "[I have] a rapacious appetite for everything and principles as light as my purse." Mansfield's family gave her an allowance so she could move to London, and she began to live so freely in the bohemian scene there that her mother came to visit and threatened to throw her into a convent. Mansfield said, "How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?"

Then, in the summer of 1915, her younger brother came to visit. They had long talks about growing up in New Zealand, and Mansfield found herself remembering things she hadn't thought about in years. Her brother left that fall to serve in World War I, and Mansfield learned two months later that he had been killed while demonstrating how to throw a grenade. She was devastated, but the shock inspired her to write a series short stories about her childhood, including her masterpiece, "The Garden Party," about a lavish party that's been planned by the Sheridan family. But when a workman in a nearby cottage is thrown from a horse and killed, young Laura Sheridan suggests that they should cancel the party out of respect for his family. Her parents disagree and the party goes ahead. At the end of it Laura gathers some leftovers and takes them to the dead man's house, where she views his body and his grieving family. Mansfield said the story was about, "The diversity of life and how we try to fit in everything. Death included."



«

»

  • “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