The changing light

            at San Francisco

    is none of your East Coast light

           none of your

                   pearly light of Paris

The light of San Francisco

             is a sea light

                       an island light

And the light of fog

        blanketing the hills

    drifting in at night

           through the Golden Gate

                      to lie on the city at dawn

And then the halcyon late mornings

    after the fog burns off

      and the sun paints white houses

                     with the sea light of Greece

      with sharp clean shadows

       making the town look like

                             it had just been painted

But the wind comes up at four o'clock

                                    sweeping the hills

And then the veil of light of early evening

And then another scrim

           when the new night fog

                            floats in

And in that vale of light

                   the city drifts

                           anchorless upon the ocean

"The Changing Light" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from How to Paint Sunlight. © New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2001. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It's the birthday of poet, publisher, and bookstore proprietor Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (books by this author) born in Yonkers, New York (1919). His Italian father died while his French-speaking mother was pregnant, and his mother had a nervous breakdown and went to a mental hospital the year after he was born. He was sent to live with an aunt, who divorced her husband and took Lawrence to France. Four years later, she returned to New York, placed him in an orphanage until she could find work, then brought him into the rich household where she had found a position as governess. She disappeared and later died in an asylum, and the family she worked for adopted and began to educate the boy with classic literature.

After college, he served in the Navy during World War II. He was sent to Nagasaki shortly after the blast and said, "Before I was at Nagasaki, I was a good American boy. I was an Eagle Scout; I was the commander of a sub-chaser in the Normandy Invasion. Anyone who saw Nagasaki would suddenly realize that they'd been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do." He became staunchly antiwar.

While in graduate school in New York and Paris, he began to write poetry and to draw and paint. He moved to San Francisco and wrote poems, book reviews, and columns for various Bay Area publications, including the City Lights magazine published by Peter Martin.

In 1955, Ferlinghetti started a publishing company, which that year published his first book of poetry, Pictures of the Gone World. He hoped to publish volumes slim enough that workers would be able to slip them into their pockets to read during their lunch breaks. Later that year, he went to a poetry reading called "Six Poets at the Six Gallery," organized by the poet Kenneth Rexroth. There he saw a poet named Allen Ginsberg read a new poem called "Howl." Ferlinghetti was deeply impressed, and after the reading, he sent Ginsberg a telegram that said, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?"

The next year City Lights published "Howl," which was seized on its way back from the London printer by customs officials for violating obscenity laws. Ferlinghetti was put on trial for printing and selling lewd and indecent material. The ACLU defended him and he was acquitted, and the publicity from the trial benefited his bookstore and helped "Howl" to become one of the most widely read poems of the century. Ferlinghetti said, "The San Francisco [customs office] deserves a word of thanks. It would have taken years for critics to accomplish what the good [customs office] did in a day." From then on, he could publish what he wanted.

In 1994, he was named San Francisco's Poet Laureate. His plans in that capacity included campaigning to paint the Golden Gate Bridge gold and also to tilt Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill so that it would be like the leaning tower of Pisa.

It's the birthday of playwright Dario Fo, (books by this author) born in San Giano, Italy (1926). He has based his plays on current political events. He is best-known for his play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1997. He said, "With comedy I can search for the profound."

Found what I think are the breast feathers
of a flicker lying in the melting snow
in front of the house. Found a crow feather
in Bozeman one spring and have kept it
in a vase on top of the dresser. Yarrow grows
where my son planted a root last summer,
and hyssop seeds have sprouted
with the wildflowers. Found spearmint
growing under the outside faucet
and tiny blue snails in the fallen apples
and black and white hornets stumbling drunk
around the rotting apples in August. The columbine
had eight inches of new growth in January,
and two summers ago found a red-shafted flicker
lying in the alley behind my house
with grass in its throat and wasps
crawling in and out of its mouth.
Its wing feathers were dazzling
and I took them, buried its body
in tall weeds, saved the feathers
in checkbook boxes in the dresser
beside a Norwegian pewter cake server,
a twenty dollar bill, some old ribbons
and a flat rock from the Marias.
His mate remained in the neighborhood until fall,
and this February a pair or flickers returned
to eat last year's sunflower seeds
at the side of the garage.
One spring, hundreds of crows filled a single tree,
their black wings shifting against dense bodies
and air, their voices calling across leaves
then reeling into space.
Saw flickers in the park last spring,
a male calling with such racket
my son covered his ears, and
from across the park, through twigs
and leaves pushing out from resinous shells,
a female approached, blended into bark
and clouds, and for an instant, opened to the sound.

"Findings" by Tami Haaland, from Breath in Every Room: Poems. © Story Line Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of young adult novelist Kate DiCamillo, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1964). She spent most of her childhood in Florida, but after college she moved to Minnesota to work for a book wholesaler, where she filled orders for bookstores and libraries. She worked in the children's book section, and it was the first time in her life that she really began to take children's literature seriously.

That first winter in Minnesota was one of the coldest on record, and DiCamillo missed her hometown in Florida horribly. She also desperately wanted a dog, but couldn't have one because her apartment building didn't allow dogs. So she began writing a story about a stray dog that helps a 10-year-old girl adjust to life in a new town, and that became DiCamillo's novel Because of Winn-Dixie, which won a Newbery Honor and became a best seller when it came out in 2000.

It begins, "My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Flannery O'Connor, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1925), the only child of a rare Catholic family in the Protestant Bible Belt. When she was five, she became famous for teaching a chicken to walk backward; a national news company came to town to film the feat and then broadcast it all around the country. She said, "That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It's all been downhill from there."

Her father died of lupus when she was 15 and she rarely spoke of him afterward.

When she was 25, she was diagnosed with lupus, and she moved in with her mother on a farm in Georgia. The lupus left her so weak that she could only write two or three hours a day. She was fascinated by birds, and on the farm she raised ducks, geese, and peacocks. She traveled to give lectures whenever she felt well enough, and she went once to Europe where, because of a friend's plea, she bathed in the waters at Lourdes, famed for their supposed healing powers.

She wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two short-story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). She died at the age of 39 from complications of lupus.

She said, "The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention."

The audio and text for this poem are no longer available.

"Neither Out Far Nor In Deep " by Robert Frost, from The Poetry of Robert Frost. © Henry Holt & Co. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Alfred Edward Housman— A.E. Housman — born in Worcestershire, England (1859), (books by this author) who worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London for 10 years as he wrote the poems for which we know him today, including "When I was one-and-twenty / I heard a wise man say, 'Give crowns and pounds and guineas / But not your heart away.'"; and "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough."

It's the birthday of mythologist Joseph Campbell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1904). When he was a young boy, he was taken to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden, and it prompted him to become fascinated with Native American culture. He read all he could on it; after working his way through the children's section at the public library, he turned to reports from the Bureau of Ethnology. Later, when reading the medieval stories of King Arthur, he noticed similarities with Native American stories. In 1949, he published a monumental study of mythology called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which traced the common theme of the spiritual quest in myth.

All sorts of writers found the book valuable for their own work, including the poet Robert Bly and the filmmaker George Lucas, who said that without it, he would never have been able to write Star Wars.

It's the birthday of Tennessee Williams, (books by this author) born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi (1911), author of more than 24 full-length plays, including Pulitzer Prize winners A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).

He said, "I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really." And, "A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace."

It was on this day in 1920 that This Side of Paradise was published, launching 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald to fame and fortune.

It's the birthday of Robert Frost, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1874). He cultivated the image of a rural New England poet with a pleasant disposition, but Frost's personal life was full of tragedy and he suffered from dark depressions.

He graduated from high school at the top of his class but dropped out of Dartmouth after a semester and tried to convince his high school co-valedictorian, Elinor White, to marry him immediately. She refused and insisted on finishing college first. They did marry after she graduated, and it was a union that would be filled with losses and feelings of alienation. Their first son died from cholera at age three; Frost blamed himself for not calling a doctor earlier and believed that God was punishing him for it. His health declined, and his wife became depressed. In 1907, they had a daughter who died three days after birth, and a few years later Elinor had a miscarriage. Within a couple years, his sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, and his daughter Marjorie, of whom he was extremely fond, was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Marjorie died a slow death after getting married and giving birth, and a few years later, Frost's wife died from heart failure. His adult son, Carol, had become increasingly distraught, and Frost went to visit him and to talk him out of suicide. Thinking the crisis had passed, he returned home, and shortly afterward his son shot himself. He also had to commit his daughter Irma to a mental hospital.

And through all of this, Robert Frost still became one of the most famous poets in the United States. He said, "A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word."

And, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

You made crusty bread rolls filled with chunks of brie
And minced garlic and drizzled with olive oil
And baked them until the brie was bubbly
And we ate them thoughtfully, our legs coiled
Together under the table And then salmon with dill
And lemon and whole-wheat cous cous
Baked with garlic and fresh ginger, and a hill
Of green beans and carrots roasted with honey and tofu.
it was beautiful, the candles and linens and silver,
The winter sun setting on our snowy street,
Me with my hand on your leg, you, my lover,
In your jeans and green T-shirt and beautiful feet.
   How simple life is. We buy a fish. We are fed.
   We sit close to each other, we talk and then we go to bed.

"You made crusty bread rolls... " by Gary Johnson. Used with permission of the poet.

On this day in 1964, the most powerful earthquake in the Western Hemisphere during the 20th century struck Anchorage, Alaska.

It's the birthday of T. R. Pearson, (books by this author) born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1956). He's the author of several novels, including Cry Me a River (1993) and Polar (2002).

It's the birthday of the novelist Julia Alvarez, (books by this author) born in New York City (1950). Though she was born in New York, she grew up in the Dominican Republic. When Alvarez was 10 years old, her family had to flee the country because her father was implicated in a plot to assassinate the Dominican president. All Alvarez knew at the time was that she was going back to New York, which she'd heard was a magical city. She said, "I would get to see the miracle of the snow, buildings that pricked the sky with their tops, and a host of other things which heretofore had only been the province of stories."

But when she got to America, she found that she didn't speak English as well as she thought she did. The other students made fun of her and called her names that she couldn't even understand. She said, "That was where I landed when we left the Dominican Republic, not in the United States but in the English language." She's written the novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), about four sisters making their way as Dominican refugees in New York, another novel called In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), and a poetry collection, The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004).

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote "Happy Birthday to You," Patty Smith Hill, born in Anchorage, Kentucky (1868).

It's the birthday of poet Louis Simpson, (books by this author) born in Jamaica, West Indies (1923). He's written 17 volumes of poetry, and his collection At the End of the Open Road (1963) won the Pulitzer Prize. In the late 1950s, his early, traditional rhyming verse — like that in The Arrivistes (1949) and Good News of Death and Other Poems (1955) — gave way to experimental free verse; he decided old forms were dead, that poetry should spring from the poet's inner life in a more natural way. He said, "The old-fashioned verse of epithets and opinions — writing of the will rather than the imagination — which is still practiced by those who think of themselves as avant-garde —is dead. And objective verse, which is only photography, is boring. Those who still write in these ways are at the mercy of their surroundings; they are depressed, and create nothing. Only in Surrealism, creating images and therefore realities, is there any joy."

It's the birthday of jazz singer and pianist Sarah Vaughan, born in Newark, New Jersey (1924) — who sang gospel music as a child and learned to play on a church organ. She was 18 when, on a dare, she entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, sang "Body and Soul," and won. She was spotted by singer Billy Eckstine, who recommended her to Earl Hines, a bandleader with a remarkable ear for talent, who hired her as his band's relief pianist as well as singer. She sang "Misty," "Tenderly," "All of Me," and made dozens of other classic jazz recordings with Count Basie, Cannonball Adderly, Lester Young, and Oscar Peterson. Her hits include "It's Magic," "Send in the Clowns," and "I Cried for You."

She had a range of four octaves, as wide as an opera singer's. When she died in 1990, Mel Torme said, "She had the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field."

Up in the sky the lovers lay in bed
Naked, face to face and hip to thigh,
Her leg between his, his arm beneath her head,
Their hands roaming freely, up in the sky.
In the dark, Manhattan lay at their feet,
A blanket of glittering stars thrown down.
Beyond her bare shoulder, 59th Street,
And from her lovely foot the buses headed uptown.
They came to the city for romance, as people do,
And with each other they scaled the heights
And now, at rest, almost one and not quite two,
They lie almost forever in the sea of lights.
   Where will they go? What happens next? I don't know.
   I am that man waiting at the bus stop far below.

"Up in the sky the lovers lay in bed..." by Gary Johnson. Used with permission of the poet

It's the birthday of writer Nelson Algren, (books by this author) born in Detroit (1909). He settled in Chicago, which he called "The City on the Make," or sometimes, "the lovely lady with the broken nose."

He wrote two novels: A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), about a disillusioned, card-dealing World War II veteran named Frankie Machine. It's Algren who's responsible for the famous advice, "Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a guy named Doc, and never go to bed with anyone who has more troubles than you."

It's also the birthday a man who counts Algren among his heroes: poet, novelist, and short-story writer Russell Banks, (books by this author) born in Newton, Massachusetts (1940). He wrote, "At a university, you study books that can be deconstructed, not books that can change your life. Algren's books can change your life, and this kind of book you always have to discover on your own."

Russell Banks' family moved to New Hampshire, where his father was a plumber and an abusive alcoholic who hit his toddler son in the eye, leaving it so that Russell has had to squint for the rest of his life. His father finally abandoned the family when Russell was 12, and the boy was forced to help out his mother with family finances. He later said, "I can really see my life as a kind of obsessive return to the wound. Going back again and again trying to get it right, trying to figure out how it happened and who's to blame and who's to forgive."

He was an exceptionally bright student and won a scholarship to Colgate, the first in his family to go to college. But he dropped out after only eight weeks, feeling that he, a poor boy, didn't fit in among the privileged preppies, "the sons of the captains of American industry," as he called them. He left the North for Mexico and Florida and intended to join Castro's rebellious army, but he ended up in Florida fishing, writing, and working as a gas station attendant. By his early 20s, he was married and had a daughter, but the relationship ended in divorce when he was 22. He later called this period "the terrible years."

When he was 24, he went back to college, entering the University of North Carolina, and this time around he felt well adjusted was a good student.

He wrote a novel, Hamilton Stark(1978), in which he experimented with narration techniques and perspective, using shifting points of view to frame the novel. His novel Continental Drift (1985) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and called by Atlantic reviewer James Atlas "the most convincing portrait I know of contemporary America: its greed, its uprootedness, its indifference to the past. This is a novel about the way we live now."

Since then, Banks has written several more novels, including Affliction (1989), The Sweet Hereafter (1991), Cloudsplitter (1998), and most recently, The Reserve (2008).

It's the birthday of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, (books by this author) born in Arequipa, in southern Peru (1936). He's the author of Conversation in a Cathedral (1969), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1978), and The Feast of the Goat (2002). He lived abroad for several decades, but he returned to Peru in the '80s, ran for president against Alberto Fujimori, and lost. "Never again," he said, about his decision to enter politics. "Literature and politics are mutually exclusive. A writer is someone who works alone, who needs total independence. A politician is someone who is totally dependent, who has to make all kinds of concessions, the very thing a writer can't do."

It was on this day in 1941 that the novelist Virginia Woolf drowned herself in a river near her house (books by this author). She had long suffered from periods of depression, and modern scholars believe these depressions may have been symptoms of manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder.

In early March of 1941, she wrote in her diary that she had fallen into "a trough of despair." She wasn't satisfied with her most recent book, and she felt as though World War II was making writing insignificant. She wrote three letters in the weeks before she committed suicide, explaining her reasons for wanting to end her life. In the longest of the three, she wrote to her husband, "I feel certain that I am going mad again. ... I shant recover this time. ... I cant fight it any longer. ... What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. ... I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been."

Woolf left the letters where her husband would find them, and then on this day in 1938, she walked a half mile to a nearby river and put a heavy rock in the pocket of her fur coat before jumping into the water.

Once, I was in New York,
in Central Park, and I saw
an old man in a black overcoat walking
a black dog. This was springtime
and the trees were still
bare and the sky was
gray and low and it began, suddenly,
to snow:
big fat flakes
that twirled and landed on the
black of the man's overcoat and
the black dog's fur. The dog
lifted his face and stared
up at the sky. The man looked
up, too. "Snow, Aldo," he said to the dog,
"snow." And he laughed.
The dog looked
at him and wagged his tail.

If I was in charge of making
snow globes, this is what I would put inside:
the old man in the black overcoat,
the black dog,
two friends with their faces turned up to the sky
as if they were receiving a blessing,
as if they were being blessed together
by something
as simple as snow
in March.

"Snow, Aldo" by Kate DiCamillo. © Kate DiCamillo. Used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

It's the birthday of comic actor and writer Eric Idle, (books by this author) born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943) — who performed at Cambridge in the "Footlights Review" with John Cleese and other future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. On the Python show, Idle's most memorable roles are creepy old men, annoying talk show hosts, and fussy old women.

It's the birthday of poet R.S. Thomas, (books by this author) born in Cardiff, Wales (1913). He became an ordained priest in 1937, and published more than 20 books of poetry from 1946 until his death in the year 2000. Along with Dylan Thomas, he's considered one of the best Welsh poets of the 20th century.

R.S. Thomas called the Welsh, "an impotent people ... sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcass of an old song."

It's the birthday of novelist and screenplay writer Judith Guest, (books by this author) born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). Her first novel, Ordinary People (1976) — about a teenage boy in the aftermath of a suicide attempt — was a big success from the moment it was published, though it had been rejected for publication twice, and the third publisher waited eight months after receiving the manuscript to decide to go through with it. It was the first unsolicited manuscript that Viking Press had accepted in 26 years.

She started writing it as a short story but was not ready to be finished with the characters, so she worked on what happened before the story started and then what happened after it. Soon it was 200 pages long. She said, "I wrote it because I wanted to explore the anatomy of depression — how it works and why it happens to people; how you can go from being down but able to handle it to being so down that you don't even want to handle it, and then taking a radical step with your life — trying to commit suicide — and failing at that, coming back to the world and having to 'act normal' when, in fact, you have been forever changed." It took her three years to write, and in order to concentrate on finishing the book, she quit her job teaching elementary school.

She once said, "Living the blessed life is the luck of the draw. We don't get control over the cards we're dealt, but we do have control over how we face the odds, how we play them. Some people with awful cards are successful because of how they deal with them, and that seems courageous to me."

It's the birthday of politician and poet Eugene McCarthy, (books by this author) born in Watkins, Minnesota (1921). He's the Democratic senator from Minnesota who ran for president in 1968 and then a few more times. When he decided to run against Lyndon Johnson for the presidency in 1968, it was almost unheard of for any politician to run against a sitting president of his own party. But McCarthy had decided that someone had to challenge the policy on the war in Vietnam. Johnson was considered unbeatable, but hundreds of students canvassed door-to-door for McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, and McCarthy came close to winning more votes. Johnson announced he would not run for re-election.

After his retirement from the Senate, McCarthy wrote several books about politics in America as well as many collections of poetry, including Ground Fog and Night (1979) and Other Things and the Aardvark (1970).

McCarthy said, "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of a leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

"Spring and All" by William Carlos Williams, from Collected Poems Vol. 1. © New Directions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis (1933). As a boy, he helped out in his father's little two-aisle grocery store, where he stocked shelves, trimmed produce, and helped customers carry groceries to their cars. He loved observing the personalities of the customers, especially the eccentric ones, and by the time he left home for college, he had come to know, he said, "all our customers by name, where they lived, whom they were related to, and most important to a novelist-in-waiting, I had watched the events of their lives unfold year after year like chapters in a book: births and deaths, house fires and suicides, new cars and picnics, 50th wedding anniversaries attended by hundreds." He considered the grocery store in Plainview, Minnesota, his "training ground" for being a novelist, for it was there that he learned "the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him." He said, "I dare say nobody ever got more nourishment than I did out of a grocery store."

He wrote about high school English teachers, Catholic pen pals, rural colleges, and small-town life. A New York Times reviewer called Jon Hassler "a writer good enough to restore your faith in fiction. Unlike so many contemporary writers, he creates characters you come to care about and believe in. His subjects are life, love and death — what the best novels have always been about — and he writes with wisdom and grace."

His novels include Staggerford (1977), A Green Journey (1985), Rookery Blues (1995), The Dean's List (1998), and, most recently, A Guy Named Conlan (2006).

It's the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, born in Zundert, Holland (1853). He painted sunflowers, starry nights, wheat fields, and self-portraits, and his work was just beginning to be acknowledged when he committed suicide at the age of 37. When he was 20, he went to work for an art dealer in London, then went off to Brussels to study to become an evangelist, and then went as a missionary to the coal miners in southwestern Belgium. One day he decided to give away all of his worldly goods and live like a peasant. But his religious superiors thought he was having a nervous breakdown. They kicked him out of the mission, and he had to go home.

It was then that he started to draw and paint. He taught himself with art books and by studying the masters. He was especially interested in painting the daily life of peasants, and he began a collection of clothing that had been worn by fishermen, miners, and other laborers.

For the next 10 years, from 1880 to 1890, he painted fast and furiously. He eventually settled in Arles, in southern France, where he said he could "look at nature under a brighter sky." It was in Arles that he began to develop the style he became known for, in which the images of flowers and trees and landscapes are exaggerated by extremely rough brush strokes and vivid colors. He believed that his paintings should convey the mood he was in when he painted them, and he painted extremely quickly so that his mood would not change before he finished. To get the job done, he often squeezed tubes of oil paint directly onto the canvas.

His brother Theo was an art dealer, and for years he had supplied Van Gogh with a small monthly stipend. In return, Van Gogh gave his brother every canvas he painted. He wrote thousands of letters to Theo. "How much sadness there is in life," he wrote. "The right thing is to work." He moved to a small town north of Paris and painted feverishly until insanity overtook him. He cut off part of his own ear and was placed in an asylum at St. Rémy. One of his greatest paintings, Starry Night (1889), was painted while he was confined there. He left the asylum for good in the spring of 1890. In July, just as he was starting to receive favorable attention for his work, he committed suicide. Shortly before he died, he wrote "I feel a failure."

It's the birthday of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, (books by this author) born John Casey in Dublin, Ireland (1880).

His two best-known plays also premiered at the Abbey Theatre. They are Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). In The Plough and the Stars, the husband of a young, pregnant Dublin woman goes off to fight for the IRA. He dies in battle, leaving his wife alone with her baby. The play portrayed the leaders of the movement as half-wits, and the conflict as one in which men slaughtered each other indiscriminately while their wives and mothers, the sane ones, cleaned up after them. During the fourth performance of the play at the Abbey Theatre, a riot broke out in the audience. People were outraged to see their national heroes portrayed as cruel, uncaring animals. The Abbey Theatre refused to produce his next play, and O'Casey bitterly left Ireland forever.

He once said, "All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."



  • “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
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