"Perhaps you'll tire of me," muses
my love, although she's like a great city
to me, or a park that finds new
ways to wear each flounce of light
and investiture of weather.
Soil doesn't tire of rain, I think,
but I know what she fears: plans warp,
planes explode, topsoil gets peeled away
by floods. And worse than what we can't
control is what we could; those drab,
scuttled marriages we shed so
gratefully may augur we're on our owns
for good reasons. "Hi, honey," chirps Dread
when I come through the door, "you're home."
Experience is a great teacher
of the value of experience,
its claustrophobic prudence,
its gloomy name-the-disasters-
in-advance charisma. Listen,
my wary one, it's far too late
to unlove each other. Instead let's cook
something elaborate and not
invite anyone to share it but eat it
all up very very slowly.
It's the birthday of MacKinlay Kantor, (books by this author) born in Webster City, Iowa (1904), who decided that he wanted to be a writer when he was 17 years old, and for the next four years, he helped his mother edit the local newspaper. He went on to write the Civil War novels The Jaybird (1932) and Long Remember (1934), and he spent 25 years researching Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp where 50,000 Union soldiers were held. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.
Gavin Ewart, (books by this author) born in London, England (1916). He's the author of many books of poetry, including Pleasures of the Flesh (1966) and The Learned Hippopotamus (1987). He started his poetic career early, when he was just 17 years old, with a poem in the prestigious British literary journal New Verse. He published his first book of poems when he was 23, and his work was compared to T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But when World War II broke out, he stopped writing poetry, and he became an advertising copywriter and didn't publish another book until 1964, when his collection Londoners came out. Hs poetry is often described as light verse:of the poet
"For nursery days are gone, nightmare is
real and there are no god Fairies.
The fox's teeth are in the bunny
and nothing can remove them, honey."
It's the birthday of writer Stewart O'Nan, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He worked for years as an aerospace engineer, and when he came home from his work every day he would go down to his basement and write. In 1994, he published his first novel, Snow Angels, about a murder in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He often writes about characters who feel trapped by their circumstances and end up doing horrible things. He said, "My own life isn't terribly interesting, even to myself, and that ... [is] why I write about people and places so different from the ones I know."
It's the birthday of Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, who was born on this day in Detroit, Michigan (1902).
It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Robert Coover, (books by this author) born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). As a boy, he moved with his family to a mining town in rural Illinois, where his father ran the local newspaper. His first novel, The Origin of the Brunists (1966), is about the lone survivor of a mining accident who goes on to start a religious cult. In response to the question "Why do you write?" he once said, "Because art blows life into the lifeless, death into the deathless." And, "Because art's lie is preferable, in truth, to life's beautiful terror."
He has gone on to write many experimental novels, including The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. (1968), The Public Burning (1977), and A Child Again (2005).
It was on this day in 1789 that the Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington as the first president of the United States.
For Harvey Shapiro
I stand and listen, head bowed,
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.
You're fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.
I'm letting you go without notice
or terminal pay. You just lost
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,
depressed and about to leave,
and wave myself back in wearily,
for who else could I get in my place
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?
It is the birthday of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, born in Brighton, England (1908). The twins' mother, Kate Skinner, an unmarried barmaid, sold the infants to midwife and pub operator Mary Hilton. Under Hilton's care, the girls, who were joined at the lower back and hip, toured Europe where their bodies were put on display for curious crowds.
The twins continued as part of a vaudeville act after Mary Hilton's death, when they were "willed" to her daughter and son-in-law. Though their act was quite profitable, the girls saw little of the money and were not allowed to date. Following a dramatic court case, deemed a "trial of bondage (1931)," the twins earned their freedom at the age of 23 and created their own act called the Hilton Sisters Revue.
With their livelihood under their own control, the twins continued to draw attention with their vaudeville act and became celebrities after appearing in the 1932 film Freaks. The film focused on the girls' romances. In real life, they were physically identical, yet their personalities were quite different. Violet was more quiet and reserved, while Daisy was the dominant leader. Both girls enjoyed relationships and engagements.
The twins continued performing for many years but as they reached middle age, they fell into obscurity. The girls set up a hamburger stand in 1955 called the Hilton Sisters Snack Bar, but after business slowed, they made another attempt at touring. They had trouble drawing crowds and in 1962, an agent booked the twins at a drive-in theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were to appear on stage during the screening of the re-released film Freaks. Following the show, the agent failed to pick up the girls and they were stranded. The twins took a job at a local supermarket, the Park-N-Shop, weighing produce. They worked at the supermarket until 1968, when they succumbed to the Hong Kong flu.
It is the birthday of one of the most prolific Catholic writers of our time, Andrew M(oran) Greeley. (books by this author) Born in 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois, to Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace Anne (McNichols), the priest and author owes his Irish heritage to grandparents who migrated to American from County Mayo, Ireland. Greeley was ordained a priest in 1954 and attended the University of Chicago where he completed his graduate work in sociology in 1962. He's published close to 170 works with subjects ranging from the Catholic imagination and Catholic education to sociological analysis. Greeley gained notoriety for his fiction writing with the publication of The Cardinal Sin (1981), a novel about an Irish priest who takes a mistress and fathers an illegitimate child on the way to becoming cardinal of Chicago. With critics so focused on his novels sexual scenes, Greeley once said, "Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in The New York Times will read 'Andrew Greeley, Priest, wrote steamy novels.'" Some of Greeley's recent publications include Jesus: A Meditation on His Parables (2007) and Irish Linen: A Nuala Anne McGrail Novel (2007), a new addition to the fictional series about an Irish psychic.
It is the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter, born 1915 in New York City and best known for his research on the nucleus of the atom. He was the son of a salesman and attended the City College of New York. Hofstadter wanted to major in literature and philosophy until a physics professor told him, "the laws of physics could be tested and those of philosophy could not." He won the Kenyon Prize for outstanding work in physics and mathematics in 1935.
Hofstadter went on to measure the precise size and shape of the proton and neutron, the particles of the nucleus, winning the Nobel Prize on December 10, 1961 for presenting the first reasonably accurate picture of the structure and composition of atomic neutrons and protons. Hofstadter's discoveries played an important role in medicine, astronomy, military defense, and many other fields.
It is the birthday of American author, playwright, musician, and composer Elizabeth (Liz) Swados, (books by this author) born 1951 in Buffalo, New York, to Robert O. and Sylvia (Maisel) Swados. Swados is the winner of five Tony Award nominations and three Obie Awards. She gained notoriety both on and off Broadway for her Tony-nominated production of Runaways (1978), a collage musical that explored the theme of troubled kids through songs and sketches, without relying on plot. She's written many plays, including Alice in Concert, which starred Meryl Streep at the Public Theatre in 1980. In addition to her stage work, Swados has published three novels, including My Depression: A Picture Book, an illustrated look at the author's own personal struggle with depression, as well as textbooks for the next generation of playwrights and composers, including Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer (1988) and most recently, At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater (2006).
It is the birthday of actor, director, and writer Christopher Guest, born Christopher Haden-Guest in New York City (1948). Guest grew up with a fascination for voices and the comedy of Peter Sellers. He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, where he befriended Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk singer Woody Guthrie. After attending New York University, Guest appeared in a number of off-Broadway plays before achieving real success as a writer of music and lyrics for National Lampoon's Lemmings (1973) at Village Gates theater.
Guest is most famous for his hilarious mock documentaries or "mockumentaries" - a phrase the writer despises - including This is Spinal Tap (1984), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006). In each of these films, Guest relies on an improvisational style, with just the characters' backgrounds and an outline scripted. Each actor is responsible for improvising his or her own dialogue. Guest relies on an acclaimed troupe of actors, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard. The actors are encouraged to research their own characters, bring their own props, and be prepared to respond to improvised dialogue while in character.
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
It's the birthday of lexicographer and writer Eric Partridge, (books by this author) born in Poverty Bay, New Zealand (1894), who wrote some of the very first dictionaries of slang before scholars considered it a serious subject. In A Dictionary of the Underworld (1949) and A Dictionary of Catchphrases (1977), Partridge chronicled the language of not only the common person, but also of "crooks, criminals, racketeers, beggars, and tramps."
It's the birthday of poet Victor Hernández Cruz, (books by this author) born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico (1949). His parents moved to New York City when he was six years old, and he grew up on the Lower East Side. He went on to become an important member of the group of writers known as the Nuyorican poets - poets from Puerto Rico who grew up in New York City and who write about the blending of the two cultures. He has published many books of poetry, including Snaps (1969) - titled for the finger-snapping rhythms in El Barrio, a Puerto Rican neighborhood of New York City - as well as Tropicalization (1976) and Maraca: New and Selected Poems (2000).
It's the birthday of NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw (books by this author) born in Webster, South Dakota (1940). As the anchor of NBC's The Today Show and the Nightly News, Brokaw earned a reputation for straight reporting and for working long hours to stay with a story no matter where or when it happened. In 1998, he wrote the book The Greatest Generation about the people who shaped the United States after World War II. In his new book, Boom!: Voices of the Sixties (2007), he takes a look at where current leaders were during the decade and at the legacy that the Sixties has left on America today. When remembering the November morning in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot, he writes "In ways we could not have known then, the gunshots in Dealey Plaza triggered a series of historic changes: the quagmire of Vietnam that led to the fall of Lyndon Johnson as president; the death of Robert Kennedy in pursuit of the presidency; and the comeback, presidency, and subsequent disgrace of Richard Nixon."
I close my eyes like a good little boy at night in bed,
as I was told to do by my mother when she lived,
and before bed I brush my teeth and slip on my pajamas,
as I was told, and look forward to tomorrow.
I do all things required of me to make me a citizen of sterling worth.
I keep a job and come home each evening for dinner. I arrive at the
same time on the same train to give my family a sense of order.
I obey traffic signals. I am cordial to strangers, I answer my
mail promptly. I keep a balanced checking account. Why can't I
It's the birthday of the poet who wrote about the daily lives of urban workers, David Ignatow, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1914). His parents were Russian immigrants, and he was inspired to become a writer by his father's love of Russian literature. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Ignatow thought that his dreams of writing were over when his father forced him to work in the family binding company. But, he continued to write poetry, and when he was commissioned as a WPA reporter, his father paid for the publication of a small edition of David's poetry, Poems (1948). He gained critical acclaim, but he still needed to take on a variety of odd jobs, working as a shoe salesman, a shipyard handyman, and a clerk at a vegetable market to support his family until he finally secured teaching positions at Vassar College and Columbia University. He went on to write many more collections of poetry, including Rescue the Dead (1968) and I Have a Name (1996), but he never forgot his struggle with poverty as a young adult. In an interview with The Paris Review - when asked what would be the worst thing that could happen - Ignatow said, "Well ... losing my job, being out of money. Problems of love, problems of human relationships are secondary."
It's the birthday of novelist (Harry) Sinclair Lewis, (books by this author) born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (1885). His mother died of a chronic illness when he was six years old, and he never got along with his father, who was the town's physician. He felt stifled by Sauk Centre and once tried to run away to fight in the Spanish-American War when he was 13. He escaped to the East Coast for college at Yale University, and during school vacations he would smuggle himself onto cattle ships heading for England. As a young man, he tried to get a job working on the Panama Canal, and he traveled across 40 states in the U.S. working as a journalist. Though he spent time in 14 countries in Europe and traveled through Venezuela, Colombia, and Russia, the majority of his books are set in small-town Midwestern America. His first success was his novel Main Street (1920), about a rebellious woman named Carol Kennicott, who is ostracized by the citizens of the fictional small town of Gopher Prairie.
He went on to write many other books, including Babbitt (1922) and Arrowsmith (1925). In 1930, he became the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature and this time he collected his award.
It's the birthday of Charles Dickens, (books by this author) born in Portsmouth, England (1812), who had a relatively happy childhood until his father's debts sent the Dickens family into poverty. At the age of 12, Charles was pulled out of school and had to work in a factory pasting the labels onto shoe polish, while his younger siblings lived with his parents in debtors' prison. In some of his most famous novels, Oliver Twist (1837-38), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), and A Christmas Carol (1843), he revealed the plight of England's poor. After he became one of the most famous men in England, Dickens used his wealth and influence to convince the upper classes to give to the poor. He was also opposed to capital punishment and worked internationally for prison reform, helped set up a halfway house for former prostitutes, and promoted public education and better sanitation systems throughout England.
It's the birthday of lexicographer Sir James Murray born in Denholm, Scotland (1837). He was the president of the Philological Society in London, and in 1879 he became the editor of a 10-year project called the New English Dictionary (later known as the Oxford Dictionary). When he died in 1915, more than 30 years after he started work on it, Murray had compiled roughly half of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Asparagus-pasta cobbler; raspberry bread; fresh
baked whole wheat bread; collages
young Molly did
on construction paper - de Kooning-esque -
with catalog clippings, great swirlies
marker, & filaments of glitter-laced glue;
Parmesan-mushroom wild rice;
boxed pear juice, boxed mixed fruit juice;
soy milk; mangoes; cold
cucumber-yogurt soup; fresh strawberries;
cut lilac; blackberry tea;
a hand-turned ceramic vase; a doll
sewn of scrap fabric, of stuffed athletic sock;
and a bouquet of herbs: fresh
mint, fresh rosemary, freshest sage.
It's the birthday of the man known as the father of science fiction, Jules Verne, (books by this author) born in Nantes, France (1828). In his adventure novels, Paris in the 20th Century (written 1863, not published until 1994), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), Verne described inventions that were similar to modern airplanes and automobiles, and tall skyscrapers where people use electricity to listen to the radio and send faxes, and yet he wrote his stories by candlelight.
It's the birthday of General William T(ecumseh) Sherman, born in Lancaster, Ohio (1820). His father died when he was nine, and he and his siblings were split up and sent to live with friends of the family. He attended West Point where he showed great military promise, but he also accumulated a large number of demerits, which brought his ranking down, and he graduated sixth in his class. After West Point, Sherman tried a banking career in San Francisco and practicing law in Kansas, though he lost the only case he ever brought to court. When the South seceded from the Union, Sherman was working as a superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy, and he resigned from his position to go fight for the North. He quickly rose to the rank of general, but he was once stripped of his standing in Kentucky for appearing mentally unstable. After capturing Atlanta in the fall of 1864, he began his famous March to the Sea. Sherman himself said, "War is hell" and that it "is cruelty and you cannot refine it."
It's the birthday of novelist (John Grisham, books by this author) born in Jonesboro, Arkansas (1955). His father was a migrant construction worker, and the family traveled throughout the Southwest. "We'd move into a small town," Grisham recalled, "and the first thing we'd do is join a local Baptist church. The second was to go to the library and get our library cards and check out all the books we were allowed." He went to law school at the University of Mississippi, and over the course of a few years he switched from being a tax lawyer to practicing criminal law to serving in the state House of Representatives. However, Grisham gained his most useful experience when he overheard the testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim in the DeSoto County courthouse and decided to write a book after imagining what might happen if the victim's father sought vengeance on her attackers. When A Time to Kill was published in 1989, it sold badly, but two years later, his next book, The Firm, was on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 40 weeks. Grisham went on to publish another novel every year for the rest of the 1990s, all of them best sellers. His latest books include Innocent Man (2006), a nonfiction account of a man who was wrongly sent to death row, and The Appeal (2008).
After the steaming bodies swept
through the hungry streets of swollen cities;
after the vast pink spawning of family
poisoned the rivers and ravaged the prairies;
after the gamble of latex and
diaphragms and pills;
I invoked the white robes, gleaming blades
ready for blood, and, feeling the scourge
of Increase and Multiply, made
affirmation: Yes, deliver us from
And after the precision of scalpels,
I woke to a landscape of sunshine where
the catbird mates for life and
maps trace out no alibis-stepped
into a morning of naked truth,
where acts mean what they really are:
the purity of loving
for the sake of love.
It's the birthday of Alice Walker, (books by this author) born in Eatonton, Georgia (1944). She was the youngest of eight children, the daughter of poor sharecroppers. Walker graduated first in her high school class and won a scholarship to Spelman College (1961). She transferred to Sarah Lawrence after two years, and a short story she wrote there was sent to Langston Hughes, who became an early champion of her writing. In 1968, she published her first collection of poetry, Once, and her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970, about a family of poor sharecroppers in the 1920s. Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Alice Walker had a modest following, but it wasn't until her third novel, The Color Purple (1982), won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award that her work reached a much larger audience. She once wrote, "Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence."
It's the birthday of Irish playwright and novelist Brendan Behan, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1923). He grew up in one of the poorest sections of Dublin. His father took part in the Irish rebellion in the early 1920s, and when Brendan was born, his father was being held in a British prison. When Brendan was nine years old, he joined a youth organization that had ties to the IRA. He later called the group "the Republican Boy Scouts." He rose through the ranks of the IRA, and by the time he was 16 he was being sent on missions to bomb British targets.
He spent most of the 1940s in prison. First he was thrown in jail for carrying a suitcase full of homemade explosives through the streets of Liverpool. After he got out, he was arrested for the attempted murder of two policemen. It was during his second stay in prison that he began to write. He wrote his first play, The Quare Fellow (1956), about the execution of a convict in a Dublin prison. When he got out of prison, it became a big hit in London and then New York. He followed that up with the novel Borstal Boy (1958) and The Hostage (1958), in which he wrote:
"Never throw stones at your mother,
You'll be sorry for it when she's dead,
Never throw stones at your mother,
Throw bricks at your father instead."
It's the birthday of poet Amy Lowell, (books by this author) born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1874), the daughter of a prominent Boston family. Her first poem, "Fixed Idea," wasn't published until she was 36, and she threw herself into studying the latest trends in poetry - imagism and unrhymed meter. She once said, "God made me a businesswoman and I made myself a poet." Her posthumous collection of poetry, What's O'Clock (1925), won the Pulitzer Prize.
It's the birthday of humorist and playwright George Ade, (books by this author) born in Kentland, Indiana (1866). One of his plays, The College Widow (1904), was turned into a motion picture, but he is best known for his Fables in Slang (1899).
It's the birthday of J.M. (John Maxwell) Coetzee (books by this author) born in Cape Town, South Africa (1940). He's the author of many novels, including Dusklands (1974), Life and Times of Michael K (1983), and Disgrace (1999). He's known for his intense self-discipline and dedication to writing. Someone who worked with him for more than a decade claimed that he only saw Coetzee laugh once. He's lived most of his adult life in England, America, and Australia, but much of his writing deals with South African apartheid. His breakthrough novel was Waiting for Barbarians, published in 1980. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.
is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn's bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain's
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.
It's the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, (books by this author) born in Augsburg, Germany (1898). He studied medicine and philosophy at Munich and Berlin Universities, and served briefly in an army hospital during World War I. He gave up studying medicine after he got involved in the theater scene in Munich. In 1922, he won a drama prize for his first two expressionist plays, Drums in the Night and Baal, and followed those with Man is Man (1926). He was very interested in the idea of combining drama and music, and he collaborated with composer Kurt Weill on the production that established his reputation. It was The Threepenny Opera (1928), an adaptation of John Gay's Beggar's Opera in a sham Victorian London setting. Brecht was a Marxist, and he regarded his plays as social experiments, requiring detachment from his audience, not emotional involvement. His theory of "epic theatre" asks the audience to acknowledge the stage as a stage, the actors as actors, and not some make-believe world of real people.
With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Brecht sought asylum in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, journeyed across Russia and Persia, and in 1941, settled in Hollywood. In Germany, his books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. It was during this period that he wrote most of his major essays, his poetry, and his great plays, including Mother Courage (1941), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948).
It's the birthday of Fleur Adcock, (books by this author) born in Papakura, New Zealand (1934), who is the author of the poetry collections The Eye of the Hurricane (1964), High Tide in the Garden (1971), Time Zones (1991), and Looking Back (1997). Her family moved to England during World War II while her father worked on a Ph.D. in psychology, and Fleur and her sister went from school to school collecting, as she said, "a succession of English accents" until her father found a position at Victory University and settled the family back in Wellington, New Zealand. Fleur Adcock disliked the move. She said, "I couldn't play tennis; I could barely swim. I found a nation of well-fed, sports-crazy extroverts; and the Welfare State. It struck me as cosy, carefree, insular, and deprived." But she remained tied to the country, writing verses about the New Zealand landscape and editing The Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (1982). In 2006, she was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.