Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Money" by Dana Gioia, from The Gods of Winter. © Graywolf Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Money is a kind of poetry.
—Wallace Stevens

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.

Money. You don't know where it's been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote under the name Henry Green, (books by this author) born Henry Yorke in Tewkesbury, England (1905). He was the son of a wealthy foundry owner, and in the middle of his Oxford education, he dropped out and took a job as an iron molder in his father's foundry. The other workers thought he was crazy, but he loved the way they talked, and so he wrote a novel about them called Living (1929), filled with their voices. He later said, "[The writer's duty is] to meet as many pedestrian people as possible and to listen to the most pedestrian conversation." And he tried to capture the dialogue of as many different kinds of people as he could. His novel Party Going (1939) is about wealthy socialites, his novel Caught (1943) is about fire fighters during the London Blitz, and his novel Loving (1945) is about a staff of servants in an Irish castle who steal liquor and have affairs with each other while their master is away at war. He has been called one of the best novelists of the 20th century by people like W.H. Auden, Eudora Welty, and John Updike, but he never sold many books.

It's the birthday of James Boswell, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh (1740), who began keeping a diary as a young man, writing about his life as if it were fiction, describing his friends in great detail and recording long stretches of dialogue from all the parties he went to. That journal came in very handy when Boswell happened to meet one of his intellectual heroes, Dr. Samuel Johnson, at a London bookshop.

Boswell was just 22 years old and Johnson was 53 when they met, and historians aren't sure how close they really became. Over the course of the next 20 years, they only spent about 400 days together, but Boswell documented each of those 400 days in his journal, recording what Johnson was wearing and whom he was with and what he said on all kinds of subjects: philosophy, literature, trees, turnips, women's underwear, and even what he said to his cat.

After Johnson's death in 1784, a number of biographies came out right away, but Boswell took years to write his own biography, using his journal to write something more like a novel than a biography, with Boswell himself as a central character, playing the fool to Johnson's wise man. At one point in the book, he quotes Johnson as saying to him, "You have but two topics, yourself and me, and I'm sick of both." But when The Life of Samuel Johnson finally came out in 1791, it was a huge best-seller. By 1825, Samuel Johnson's writings had gone out of print, but Boswell's Life of Johnson has now been in print for more than 200 years.

Today is the anniversary of Black Tuesday, the stock market crash in 1929 that signaled the beginning of the worst economic collapse in modern Western history. The stock market had been booming throughout the 1920s. There were stories about barbers and messenger boys who'd gotten rich off of overheard stock tips. But all the speculation was driving prices way too high, and the correction came on this day in 1929, when 3 million shares were sold in just 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.

By 1932, more than 100,000 businesses had failed and about 12 million people had lost their jobs. One out of every four families had no income, and more than a million people became homeless. The situation slowly improved throughout the '30s, but the Depression didn't really end until the United States entered World War II.

The Great Depression inspired many writers. Raymond Chandler lost his job as an oil company executive after the stock market crash, and he started writing detective stories to make a living. Eudora Welty took a job with the WPA photographing farmers affected by the economy, and they inspired some of her first short stories. John Steinbeck wrote about the migrant Dust Bowl farmers in his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath (1939). But the best-selling book of that decade was Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (1936), which apparently helped everyone forget their own troubles.

Ironically, it was during the Great Depression that the United States built what was then the largest building in the world, the Empire State Building, completed in 1931. And it was in 1933 that a man named Charles Darrow trademarked a board game called Monopoly, which gave people a chance to pretend that they were rich.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "As Death Approaches" by Susan Deborah King, from One-Breasted Woman. © Holy Cow! Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

As Death Approaches

I can't believe I'm laughing!
I'd have sworn I'd be
shaking or sniveling.
And I sure didn't expect
a limousine.
I've never been in a limousine.
No biggy.
I've had better than fame.
Who needs the pressure?
As for fortune, I'm filthy.
That's why I'm laughing.
I've had so much love:
the giving, the getting.
It's shameful.
It's embarrassing.
And it's too late.
No one can take it away!
And I've had the pain
to help me appreciate it.
Thank God for the pain!
Easy for me to say
now that I'm going!
But no, seriously,
the kicks in the teeth,
the gut, the rugs
pulled out, slammed doors,
setbacks, snubs.
Without them, I'd
never have recognized
Love, bedraggled,
plain eyes shining,
happy to see me.
Do I want more?
Of course I want more!
I always want more
of everything: money, hugs,
lovemaking, art, butter,
woods, flowers, the sea,
M&Ms, chips, tops, bottoms,
trips — I did give up drinking —
time, sure, and yes,
I'd like to see
my grandchildren,
if there are any.
I'd like to see my books
but more has never
been good for me anyway.
Enough — that's what I've
always needed to learn,
and is there a better way?
So this laughter
I had to work up to
through so many tears,
it just keeps coming
like a fountain, a spray.
Let it light on you
refreshment, benediction,
as I'm driven away.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Irma Rombauer, (books by this author) born in St. Louis (1877). She wrote one of the most popular cookbooks of all time, The Joy of Cooking (1935), even though she was a terrible cook, according to her own family. But her lack of cooking experience was an advantage, because hers was the first cookbook aimed at women who did not have any experience making food from scratch. It was the first cookbook to endorse the use of convenient ingredients, like canned soup, and it was full of humorous advice for people who felt clueless in the kitchen.

It's the birthday of Ezra Pound, (books by this author) born in Hailey, Idaho (1885), who discovered, promoted, mentored, edited, or first published many of the major English-language writers of the early 20th century. He helped the careers of his childhood friend Hilda Doolittle and his college classmate William Carlos Williams. He was the first to write enthusiastic reviews of D.H. Lawrence and Robert Frost. He was the first critic to recognize the genius of James Joyce and became Joyce's unofficial literary agent. And in 1915, he read a poem called "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by a young banker named T. S. Eliot and sent it off to Poetry magazine, where he was serving as the foreign editor. He threatened to resign his position at the magazine if they didn't publish the poem within the year. A few years later, he helped edit Eliot's poem "The Wasteland," cutting the poem down by about half. And it was that edited version that came out to great acclaim in 1922. Eliot dedicated the poem to Pound.

Ezra Pound said, "Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree."

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Braintree, Massachusetts (now part of Quincy, Massachusetts) (1735). He was one of the first advocates for a break from Great Britain that anybody took seriously, because he was a well-respected lawyer and did not have the reputation of a radical. At the time, many politicians thought it was madness to try to fight a war against Great Britain. But Adams stood up at the Second Continental Congress on July 1, 1776 and spoke without notes for about two hours in favor of independence. No one knows exactly what he said that day, because no one transcribed his words, but Thomas Jefferson later said, "[Adams spoke] with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats." The resolution for independence was adopted the following day, on July 2, 1776.

It was Adams who nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the Continental Army, and it was Adams who chose Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. He knew that both men would do a good job, but he also knew that Virginia's support for independence was essential, and both men were from Virginia. But he was overshadowed by Washington and Jefferson for the rest of his life. He served as the second president of the United States, but never felt that he lived up to the reputation of George Washington, and when he ran for a second term, he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson. Of the first five presidents, he was the only one to serve a single term.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "65" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)


Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
     O! none, unless this miracle have might,
     That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition, invented by the Celts, who believed Halloween was the day of the year when spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins walked the earth. The tradition of dressing up and getting candy probably started with the Celts as well. Historians believe that they dressed up as ghost and goblins to scare away the spirits, and they would put food and wine on their doorstep for the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

Pope Gregory III turned Halloween into a Christian holiday in the eighth century, and people were encouraged to dress up as saints and give food to the poor. But when Irish Catholics brought the Celtic traditions to the United States, Halloween became a holiday for them to let off steam by pulling pranks, hoisting wagons onto barn roofs, releasing cows from their pastures, and committing all kinds of mischief involving outhouses. Treats evolved as a way to bribe the vandals and protect homes.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that Halloween became a holiday for children. In 1920, the Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950s it was a universal practice in this country. By the end of the 20th century, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating. Tonight, about 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to children, and Halloween parties are becoming increasingly popular among adults. It's the one day a year that people can freely dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects. But retailers report that the most popular costumes remain some variation on witches, ghosts, and devils.

It's the birthday of the poet John Keats, (books by this author) born in London (1795), who was just starting his career as a poet in 1818 when a series of brutally negative reviews of his first two books appeared. And then, that same year, Keats learned that his brother was dying of tuberculosis. Keats spent the last few months of 1818 taking care of his brother, who died a few weeks before Christmas. In the wake of his brother's death, Keats moved into a duplex with a friend, and in the other half of the duplex lived a beautiful 18-year-old girl named Fanny Brawne, who became the love of his life. He declared his love to her just three weeks after having met her, but he decided not to marry her until he'd secured his reputation as a great poet.

And so it was partly Keats's desire to get married that inspired him to write many of his greatest poems in the next six months, including "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," "Ode to a Nightingale," and "To Autumn." But by that winter, he was already suffering the early signs of the tuberculosis he had caught from his brother. He moved to Italy in hopes of improving his health, but he only got worse.

He was just 25 years old when he died, and he had published only 54 poems. He asked that his epitaph read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." It took about 25 years after his death before people began to pay attention to his work, but by the 1850s he was being compared Shakespeare. John Keats, who said, "Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance."

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Jet Lag" by Eve Robillard, from when gertrude married alice. © Parallel Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Jet Lag

He flies over the ocean to see his girl, his Sorbonne
girl, his ginger-skinned girl waiting for him in the City

of Light. Everywhere river and almost-spring gardens,
everywhere bridges and rainy statues. Streets going

nowhere, streets going on all night. I love you my mona
my lisa, my cabbage, my gargoyle, Degas' little dancer

in dawn's ragged gown. But on the third day she
picks up her books, tells him she needs to study:

she adores this town, she's not coming home in May, she's
going to stay all summer. Lowers her morning-calm eyes.

He's all right in the cab, all right on the plane droning
him home in only three hours American-key in his lock now

his tick-tock apartment, shiver his shadow, his need
to sleep. Then with a tiredness washing over and

over him and through his raveling bones
he begins to know.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Stephen Crane, (books by this author) born in Newark (1871), whose novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) came out when he was just 24. It's about the Civil War soldier Henry Fleming who runs away from his first real battle, wanders through the wilderness, stumbling upon corpses and wounded soldiers, until he finally joins back up with his regiment and fights well on the front line of a major battle. Crane had been inspired to write the book by some old magazines with illustrated articles about the war, but people said it was the most realistic war novel ever written, and no one could believe that its author was a 24-year-old who'd never been in battle himself. Civil War veterans wrote into newspapers claiming that they had fought beside Crane in various battles. The whole experience made Crane feel like a fraud. He wrote to an editor at the time, "[I believe] that the nearer a writer gets to life, the greater he becomes as an artist." So he decided that he had to see a real war himself.

In 1896, he learned that there was a civil war brewing in Cuba, so he hopped a ship for Cuba on New Year's Eve that year. But before his ship got very far, it began to sink. Crane spent the next 30 hours in a lifeboat with three other men, paddling the 15 miles back to Daytona Beach, praying that they wouldn't capsize. Their boat was swamped just before they made land, they had to swim to shore, and one of Crane's shipmates was drowned. Crane spent the next several weeks writing about the experience in his classic short story "The Open Boat," (1898), which begins, "None of them knew the color of the sky."

Crane never did get to Cuba, but he finally saw a war for real in Greece, and wrote to his friend Joseph Conrad, "I have found [war] as I imagined it." He went on to cover the Spanish American War and watched the Battle of San Juan Hill wearing a white raincoat. But he died of tuberculosis in 1900, a few months shy of his 29th birthday. His writing career had lasted only eight years.

Today is All Saints' Day, and Pope Julius II chose this day in 1512 to display Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. It was not a job that Michelangelo wanted. He was primarily a sculptor at the time. But Pope Julius II wouldn't take no for an answer. The work required Michelangelo to apply wet plaster to the ceiling and then paint over it before it dried, and he had to do this on more than 10,000 square feet, more than 60 feet above the ground. He almost gave up after a few weeks of work, because his plaster kept growing mold, but a local architect pointed out that Michelangelo was using too much water in his plaster mix.

He chose as his subject nine scenes from the biblical Book of Genesis, including three scenes of the Creation story, three scenes from the story of Adam and Eve, and three scenes from the story of Noah and the Flood. He arranged the scenes so that the story of Noah and the Flood was the first scene visible from the entrance of the Chapel, and as the viewer moves farther into the chapel, the scenes move backward in time. The fourth fresco shows Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden; the sixth fresco shows God giving Adam life by touching his finger. The last fresco shows God in the act of dividing darkness from light.

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Are We There Yet" by R. Virgil Ellis, from Bone Flute and Other Poems. © Parallel Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Are We There Yet

you'd say, tired of our prompting
to see the world as you should:
train-thunder as we go under a trestle,
smiling face painted on a barn.
You'd even get bored looking for signs
that had the rare q, x, or z.
Are we there yet?
So we gave up telling you the miles
and just said, we're closer, getting closer,
whenever you asked, so
you made it into a chant:
closer, closer, closer,
until, turning onto our road,
we joined in, and then
we all rocked in our seats,
making the old car bounce and sway,
closer, closer, closer.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, born near Reading, Pennsylvania (1734), who led the effort to blaze the trail from eastern Virginia into Kentucky Territory that became the main route west for many early settlers. Boone became so famous as a pioneer hero that the poet Lord Byron included him as a character in his epic poem "Don Juan," in 1823. Daniel Boone, who said, "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks."

It's the birthday of Marie Antoinette, born in Vienna (1755), whose marriage to the son of King Louis XV was arranged to create an alliance between France and Austria. She was just 14 years old in 1770 when she was welcomed to France by cheering crowds, church bells, and fireworks. She was beautiful, blond, a good dancer, played the harp and the clavichord, and could speak French, German, Italian, and Latin. The people loved her at first. But in just two decades she had become one of the most hated women in France.

By the 1780s, the country was suffering under a terrible debt, high taxes, and food shortages, and people blamed the queen's extravagant taste in clothes and jewelry, even though the real problem was France's support of the American colonies in the war against England. A fabricated story circulated that she heard about peasants starving without bread to eat, and she replied, "Let them eat cake." Even though it wasn't true, the story has stuck to her ever since.

By 1786, Marie Antoinette couldn't even visit the Notre Dame because the police feared she would spark a riot. In the years after the revolution in 1789, she and her husband were arrested and put on trial. Her husband was executed on January 21, 1793, and Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine on October 15 of that same year. She was 37 years old, but her hair had already turned white, and people there that day said she looked about twice her actual age. After her death, she was buried in a common peasant's grave.

It was on this day in 1948 that Harry S. Truman managed one of the great election upsets in American history, beating the governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey, for the presidency. Truman had been doing badly in the polls in part because he'd come into office after Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death on April 12, 1945, and he'd never really lived up to Roosevelt's reputation. Truman wasn't well known, and people painted him as a country bumpkin from Missouri, with no college degree. Republicans took control of the Congress in the mid-term elections in 1946, and factions of the Democratic Party were splitting off into the Progressive Party and the Dixiecrats. Two months before the election, the pollster Elmo Roper announced that he was going to stop surveying voters, because Truman was so far behind.

But Truman didn't give up. He set out on his Whistle Stop Tour, with a private railroad car outfitted with a sound system so that he could pull into small towns and give speeches directly from the train. That fall of 1948, he traveled 21,928 miles, just short of the distance around the world, and he delivered more than 300 speeches, including the first speech ever delivered by an American president to a black audience in Harlem.

On Election Day, he went to bed early, after a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. When he woke up around midnight and turned on the radio, they were reporting that he was ahead in the popular vote by more than 1 million, but the announcer said that he was still undoubtedly beaten. It turned out that he had won 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189. Not a single news organization in the country had predicted the election correctly. Two days after the election, Truman was making an appearance in St. Louis and somebody handed him a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline, "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN." He held the paper over his head, and that became the source of the famous photograph. An unsigned editorial in the conservative New York Sun said of Truman's upset victory, "You just have to take off your hat to a beaten man who refuses to stay licked."

It's the birthday of a man who wrote a novel called Dewey Defeats Truman (1997), the novelist Thomas Mallon, born in Glen Cove, New York (1951). He's the author of many historical novels, including Aurora 7 (1997), Bandbox (2004), and Fellow Travelers (2007). He said, "The main thing that has led me to write historical fiction is that it is such a relief from the self. It is like getting out of the house."

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "17" by Philip Dacey, from The New York Postcard Sonnets: A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan. © Rain Mountain Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Still more talk heard in passing on the street:
"I can't figure out if he's shy, retarded, or gay."
"Art feeds this town the way cars feed Detroit."
"Just earning interest is so yesterday."

"Did you say 'get' or 'make' a porn flick?" "Hey,
a Starbucks!" "I wonder what it's like to live here."
"Breath-taking!" "I hate those kinds of dog. What are they?"
"I'm not much of an actor, but I love Shakespeare."

"Liam Neeson lives in our neighborhood."
"86th street is a forgettable stop."
"The body's an engine, don't put in fuel that's bad."
"He's got the money, muscles, broads. I've got zip."

"It's got to come back to me another way."
"You really didn't like the Tom Stoppard play?"

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the photographer Walker Evans, (books featuring this artist) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1903), who wanted to be a writer but suffered from terrible writer's block. He said, "I wanted so much to write that I couldn't write a word." He felt like a failure until one day he picked up a camera and realized that with a camera he didn't have to create things, he could just capture them. The popular photography of the day was highly stylized, so Evans decided to go in the opposite direction, to take pictures of ordinary, unpretentious things. He said, "If the thing is there, why there it is."

Evans photographed storefronts and signs with marquee lights, blurred views from speeding trains, old office furniture, and common tools. He took pictures of people in the New York City subways with a camera hidden in his winter coat. He especially loved photographing bedrooms: farmers' bedrooms, bohemian bedrooms, middle-class bedrooms. He'd photograph what people had on their dressers and in their dresser drawers. In 1933, Evans was given the first one-man photographic exhibition by the new Museum of Modern Art.

In the summer of 1936, he collaborated with the journalist James Agee on a book about tenant farmers Greensboro, Alabama, called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), which included Evans's photographs of the Burroughs family, the Fields family, and the Tingle family at work on their farms and in their homes. Those photos are among the most famous images of the Great Depression.

Walker Evans said, "Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

It's the birthday of the playwright Terrence McNally, (books by this author) born in St. Petersburg, Florida (1939), who started out writing absurdist comedies. He thought he'd made it big when his very first full-length play, And Things that Go Bump in the Night, premiered on Broadway in 1965, but it closed after just two weeks. He spent the next two decades writing a series of plays that had some moderate success, but he didn't have a really big hit until he wrote Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (1987), about a middle-aged short-order cook who wants to sweep a shy middle-aged waitress off her feet, when all she wants to do is stay home every night and watch television. The play was made into a movie in 1991. McNally's most recent play, Deuce, about two former professional tennis players, just finished a run of 121 performances this past August (2007).

It's the birthday of the humorist and cultural critic Joe Queenan, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1950), who had been working a series of manual labor jobs, loading trucks and selling tennis racquets, when he sat down one day and wrote an essay called "Ten Things I Hate about Public Relations," and when he sent it to The Wall Street Journal, they published it. He went on to make a career for himself as a freelance writer, and he's collected his work in books such as Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (1999), and Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Selfish History of the Baby Boomer Generation (2001). Joe Queenan's advice to aspiring writers is, "Don't write until you're 25. Don't write for the high school yearbook. Don't write for the college literary magazine. Don't write that stuff — you never had any experiences, you don't know anything, just shut up."

It's the birthday of André Malraux, (books by this author) born in Paris (1901), who dropped out of school when he was 16, taught himself about art by spending all his time in museums, and began writing art criticism for avant-garde magazines. He then went off to Southeast Asia to make a living smuggling stolen art works back to Europe and almost wound up in prison. But it was in Asia that he witnessed a series of communist uprisings that inspired his first few novels, including Man's Fate (1933). He went on to fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, organizing a squadron of planes to help bomb Franco's fascist army, which he wrote about in his book Man's Hope (1937), and while he was living in besieged Catalonia, he made a feature film about the war, with bombs falling as his camera rolled. André Malraux, who said, "Youth is a religion from which one always ends up being converted."

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "A Scandal in the Suburbs" by X.J. Kennedy, from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 1955–2007. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Scandal in the Suburbs

We had to have him put away,
For what if he'd grown vicious?
To play faith healer, give away
Stale bread and stinking fishes!
His soapbox preaching set the tongues
Of all the neighbors going.
Odd stuff: how lilies never spin
And birds don't bother sowing.
Why, bums were coming to the door—
His pockets had no bottom—
And then-the foot-wash from that whore!
We signed. They came and got him.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet C. K. (Charles Kenneth) Williams, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1936), the author of many collections of poetry, including Lies (1969) and Flesh and Blood (1987) and Repair (2000), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of humorist Will Rogers, (books by this author) born near Claremore, Oklahoma (1879), who started out in vaudeville, performing rope tricks for the audience, but he talked to the audience between tricks and often made them laugh. He didn't want his jokes to grow stale, so his wife suggested that he read the newspaper everyday before performing, and make jokes about whatever was happening in the world. That was the beginning of his career as a so-called "Cowboy Philosopher." He went from being a Broadway showman, to a Hollywood actor, traveling public speaker, radio commentator, and newspaper columnist. His career as a newspaper columnist only lasted for 13 years, but in that time he managed to publish more than 2 million words. His column was syndicated in almost 400 papers; it was the most widely read column of its day.

It was on this day in 1918 that British war poet Wilfred Owen was killed in World War I, at the age of 25. He was trying to get his men across a canal in the early morning hours when they were attacked, and Owen was fatally hit. The war ended a week later.

It was on this day in 1922 that a British man named Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen. At that time, most of the tombs in Egypt had been emptied of anything of value, but Carter had found references to a little-known pharaoh whose tomb had never been found. So he got funds for a series of excavations, and on this day in 1922, one of the site workers needed to set down his water jar, so he kicked some rocks off a flat spot on the ground and noticed that it looked like part of a staircase. By the end of the day, Carter had uncovered a series of steps that led to a sealed door. He waited three weeks to enter the tomb with his patron, Lord Carnarvon. When they finally went inside, Carter said, "At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold ... everywhere the glint of gold."

It's the birthday of the novelist Charles Frazier, (books by this author) born in Asheville, North Carolina (1950), who was an English professor when he started researching the history of North Carolina and the southern Appalachians, in part to learn about his ancestors, who had lived in the area for more than 200 years. But he also felt that Appalachian culture was disappearing and he wanted to preserve it. Then, one day, he learned that his great-great-uncle was a Confederate soldier who had deserted the Confederate army and walked more than 250 miles to his home. Suddenly, Frazier realized that he could use all his research to write a novel loosely based on his ancestor's journey home from the war.

The result was Cold Mountain (1998). The first printing was just 25,000 copies. It sold out within a week of publication. The book went on to sell almost 2 million copies, and it won the National Book Award.



  • “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