After the divorce,
she sent me twenty dollars
tucked into the folds
of her crinkly blue stationery
written hard on both sides.
No use crying
over spilt milk, she said,
still, what a shame. There
never had been divorce
in the family. By then,
I had a child
and could barely remember
my aunt's voice, but her certainties
were plain. No leaping
off cliffs for her.
The whir of the sewing machine,
her shelves lined with canned goods
straight from the garden,
that was more her way. Her long letters,
full of other people's news,
never mentioned
my father's silence,
or her own lack of children.
From a quick how are you,
she'd go right to
the surgery of a neighbor
I would never meet,
or what a nice visit
she'd just enjoyed with Elsie.
Who was Elsie? I never exactly knew.
But, after all, weren't we all part
of the great messy human family?
It swirled around her kitchen,
where she tied a fresh apron
around her waist,
and carried on.
She would hope for the best,
she concluded before signing her name.
Use the money
for something special.
Something just for you.

"Her Legacy" by Barbara Bloom, from On the Water Meridian. © The Hummingbird Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of (Nelle) Harper Lee, (books by this author) the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926), the daughter of a local newspaper editor and lawyer. She was a friend from childhood of Truman Capote, and she later traveled to Kansas with him to help with the research of his work for In Cold Blood (1966). In college, she worked on the humor magazine Ramma-Jamma. She attended law school at the University of Alabama, but dropped out before earning a degree, moving to New York to pursue a writing career. She later said that her years in law school were "good training for a writer."

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year's salary along with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times "Go Set a Watchman" and "Atticus"). She called herself "more a rewriter than writer," and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in The Washington Post read, "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Lee later said, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

It's the birthday of Norwegian novelist, journalist, playwright, and short-story writer Johan Borgen, (books by this author) born in Christiania (now Oslo) (1902). His mother was a good artist and his father was a lawyer who owned a lot of land, and Johan grew up in affluence—the sort that he came later to satirize in his writing.

After World War I ended, Borgen started law school. But he found it boring and wanted to be a writer. He began writing for various newspapers, including the Dagbladet, which at the time was affiliated with the Liberal Party and is now a daily tabloid. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, at the age of 23 and spent much of the 1930s as a journalist, writing witty and biting satire about corrupt politicians and about various social issues. He also wrote several works of fiction, many of which revolved around the theme of identity, man's exploration of himself. He said:

"Personally I believe that man's fascination for art lies in our unsatisfied desire for identity. I believe that our unarticulated longing for freedom, our painful and impractical and completely unreasonable longing for freedom derives simply from the fact that we are shut up inside that system of apparent necessities which is called our personality, or which we call our personality, because we need to fasten a fine-sounding name to the cage in which we have shut ourselves up. We live a crippled life, shut up inside the narrow cage of considerations, caught in the net of expectations." (Words Through the Years, 1966)

His novels include Little Lord (1955), Dark Springs (1956), and We Have Him Now (1957), which together comprise a trilogy, as well as Blue Peak (1964), and My Arm, My Intestine (1972).

Borgen won a Nordic Council literary prize for his collection of short stories (in 1967 for Nye Noveller), after which critic Sven Rossel wrote, "Borgen is a master of representing sudden outbreaks of forgotten or suppressed spiritual powers. The primary goal for him is not to tell a story or to reproduce a picture of external reality; rather, his short stories are studies, sudden dives into the dark ravings of the spirit or of a dark past, spotlights on the ironic paradoxes of human existence."

The superrich make lousy neighbors—
they buy a house and tear it down
and build another, twice as big, and leave.
They're never there; they own so many
other houses, each demands a visit.
Entire neighborhoods called fashionable,
bustling with servants and masters, such as
Louisburg Square in Boston or Bel Air in L.A.,
are districts now like Wall Street after dark
or Tombstone once the silver boom went bust.
The essence of superrich is absence.
They like to demonstrate they can afford
to be elsewhere. Don't let them in.
Their riches form a kind of poverty.

"Slum Lords" by John Updike, from Americana: and Other Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Greek poet C. P. Cavafy,(books by this author) born in Alexandria, Egypt (1863), the youngest of nine children. When he was nine years old, his family moved to England, where they stayed for five years. Learning English was greatly influential on his writing, so much so that he wrote his first poems in English rather than in his native Greek tongue.

He got a job at age 29 with the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt as an Irrigation Services clerk, and he remained at this job for more than 30 years. He lived with his mother until she died when he was 36, and then lived with unmarried brothers and eventually, at age 45, began to live by himself.

He moved to an apartment in Alexandria and said about it: "Where could I live better? Under me is a house of ill repute, which caters to the needs of the flesh. Over there is the church, where sins are forgiven. And beyond is the hospital, where we die."

He had a narrow social circle that included E. M. Forster, with whom he corresponded for 25 years, and who described Cavafy as "standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the world."

Homosexual love, along with themes of art and travel and politics, recur frequently in his poetry. In "Ithaca" (1911) he wrote:

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge …
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

It's the birthday of William Randolph Hearst, born in San Francisco (1863), the only child of Phoebe Apperson Hearst and George Hearst, a millionaire miner. George Hearst won a newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment for a gambling debt — and his son William, in his early 20s pleaded with his father for control of the newspaper. His father relented, and at age 24 he became the publisher. Over the next few decades, William Randolph Hearst acquired close to 30 newspapers, including ones in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.

In 1865 his father had purchased a huge ranch for the family near San Simeon, California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. When his mother died in 1919, William inherited the ranch, which had grown to 250,000 acres. He began constructing his dream dwelling, collaborating with Bay Area architect Julia Morgan. He wrote, "Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something."

They worked on it together until 1947, at which point the estate he called "La Cuesta Encantada" — The Enchanted Hill — had 165 rooms, including 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms, as well as 41 fireplaces, indoor and outdoor swimming pools decorated with marble and adorned with mythological statues, the largest private zoo in the world, which included grizzly bears, zebras, jaguars, chimpanzees, camels, storks, giraffes and an elephant, 127 acres of gardens, a movie theater, tennis courts, and an airfield.

Notable guests of the estate include Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, and George Bernard Shaw. It was donated to the People of the State of California in December 1957, and now the public may take guided tours.

The days are cold and brown,
Brown fields, no sign of green,
Brown twigs, not even swelling,
And dirty snow in the woods.

But as the dark flows in
The tree frogs begin
Their shrill sweet singing,
And we lie on our beds
Through the ecstatic night,
Wide awake, cracked open.

There will be no going back.

"April in Maine" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems: 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1789 that George Washington took office as the first president of the United States. Two weeks earlier, he had begun his journey from his home in Mount Vernon to New York City, where the inauguration would take place. He wrote in his journal on April 16th:

About 10 o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.

It took him seven days to travel the 300-mile route to New York City, then the nation's capital. He passed through crowds of cheering well-wishers along the way, following a path that went through Alexandria, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton, Princeton, and New Brunswick. When he reached Bridgetown, New Jersey, there was waiting for him a large barge built just for the occasion and manned by 13 pilots all dressed in white. A Spanish vessel anchored in the harbor fired 13 guns as a salute and displayed the flags of nations all over the world.

It took the House and the Senate a few more days to work out the details of the inauguration, including how to address the president. Vice President John Adams thought it should be, "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Others thought "His Serene Highness" or "His Excellency" or "Mr. Washington" were better choices. The ad hoc Congressional Committee finally decided on "The President of the United States."

The Oath of Office took place at Federal Hall on the corner of Wall Street and Nassau Street, on a balcony outside so that many people could witness it. Washington wore a dark brown suit, white silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, and a sword. New York Chancellor Robert Livingston administered the Oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Washington appended the words "so help me God" to the Oath and then kissed the open Bible, which had been missing moments before the ceremony, and when found for the oath had been hastily opened to a random page, which turned out to be Genesis 49. In his inaugural address, Washington asked for the divine blessing of the "benign Parent of the Human Race" on the new government.

It's the birthday of expatriate writer and literary confidant Alice B. Toklas— (books by this author) the partner of Gertrude Stein—born in San Francisco (1877). In 1907, she went to Paris and there she met Stein, whom Toklas described as wearing "a large, round coral brooch, and when she talked &$8230; I thought her voice came from her brooch. It was unlike any other else's voice — a deep, full velvety contralto's, like two voices." She immediately thought Stein was a genius.

The two became lovers and on a trip to Tuscany a few years later, Stein proposed to Toklas. They returned to Paris and moved into 27 rue de Fleurus, dislodging from the apartment Stein's older brother. The place became a social center for various artists and young writers, and Toklas regularly prepared elaborate meals for Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and Fitzgerald. She later included some of her recipes and stories in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), in which she wrote, "In the menu, there should be a climax and a culmination. Come to it gently. One will suffice."

Stein proposed that Toklas write an autobiography and suggested that it be called "My Life with the Great" or "My Twenty-Five Years with Gertrude Stein." But instead, Stein herself wrote the book she called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). In the book, Stein writes in the voice of Alice:

"I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and a pretty good secretary and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I found it difficult to add being a pretty good author."

It's the birthday of Annie (Doak) Dillard, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). After writing a master's thesis on Thoreau's Walden, she moved to a cabin along Tinker Creek in the Virginian Blue Ridge Mountains. There she wrote poetry and also kept a daily journal of her observations of nature and her thoughts about God and religion. She wrote in old notebooks and on four-by-six-inch index cards, and when she was ready to transform the journal into a book, she had 1,100 entries. The result, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, was published in 1974. It became a Book of the Month Club selection that year and received the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1975; she was only 29 years old.

She has published collections of essays and of poetry, as well as an autobiography. Her most recent work is a novel, The Maytrees (2007).

Committee Meeting.       Burden of Proof.
                  The Simple Truth.      Trying To Be Nice.
Honestly.   I Could Have Died.        I Almost Cried.
              It's Only a Cold Sore.
   It's My Night.     Trust Me.    Dead Serious.
I Have Everything All Under Control.
                I'm Famous For My Honesty.
       I'm Simply Beside Myself.      We're On The Same Page.
                Let's Not Reinvent The Wheel.
For The Time Being.   There Is That.
                      I'm Not Just Saying That.
   I Just Couldn't Help Myself.             I Mean It.

"Words That Make My Stomach Plummet" by Mira McEwan, from Ecstatic. © Allbook Books, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Joseph Heller, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1923). He grew up in the Coney Island surrounded by Ferris wheels, cotton candy, and con artists. During World War II, he flew bomber missions. Most of his targets were bridges, but he once had to bomb a village, and that made him uncomfortable. He always felt a little guilty in between missions, sitting around while his friends were out risking their lives, but one of his tent mates had a typewriter, so he started writing stories to pass the time. Several years after the war, he began to write Catch-22, which was published in 1961.

In the novel, a World War II bomber pilot named Yossarian tries to get himself declared insane so he can stop flying bombing missions. Unfortunately, there is a regulation called Catch-22, stating that if you want out of combat duty you aren't crazy. Heller wrote, "[A pilot] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."

It's the birthday of Bobbie Ann Mason,(books by this author) born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940). She grew up on a dairy farm reading Nancy Drew novels, studied journalism in college, went to work for a magazine where she wrote about teenage film stars, and then went to graduate school and wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Nabokov's Ada.

She did not begin writing fiction until her 30s. She said, "Around 1978, I realized that I could write contemporary stories about western Kentucky, and that was the big move for me." She began submitting stories to The New Yorker and though many were rejected, an editor showed interest in her writing and feeling encouraged, she worked harder and wrote faster. In the span of a year of a half, she had submitted 20 stories. The first 19 were rejected, but the magazine bought her 20th submission and in 1980 published her first story.

She said, "It took me a long time to discover my material. It wasn't a matter of developing writing skills, it was a matter of knowing how to see things. And it took me a very long time to grow up. I'd been writing for a long time, but was never able to see what there was to write about. I always aspired to things away from home, so it took me a long time to look back at home and realize that that's where the center of my thought was."

She wrote a memoir, Clear Springs, published in 1999. She said, "I think it's a natural impulse to want to find some kind of coherence and meaning in your life, to find that it has a narrative, and that there are patterns. There are themes in your life, and themes that connect back to previous generations. You can see where you fit into the puzzle. Your life starts to make sense, in terms of what you've done before and what you're doing now."

Her short-story collections include Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), Midnight Magic (1998), and Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail (2001). She's written several novels, including In Country (1985), Spence + Lila (1988), and An Atomic Romance (2005).

She said, "Since Huckleberry Finn, or thereabouts, it seemed that all American literature was about the alienated hero. I had a vague sense that I wanted to violate that somehow, that I was sick of reading about the alienated hero. I think where I wind up now is writing about people who are trying to get into the mainstream, or they're in the mainstream, just trying to live their lives the best they can. Because the mainstream itself is the arena of action.''

It's the birthday of screenwriter and novelist Terry Southern, (books by this author) born in Alvarado, Texas (1924). His first novel, Flash and Filigree, came out in 1958. His second, The Magic Christian (1960), was not a popular success, but it did earn him the admiration of Stanley Kubrick, who invited him to collaborate on the screenplay for Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which appeared in (1963). Life magazine called it "a film so original, irreverent and appalling that it practically divided the nation into two enemy camps." And film critic Robert Sklar said was one of the most important films of the 1960s because "it satirized the cold-war mentality and helped lay the groundwork for the 1960s counterculture." It was nominated for an Academy Award, as was another of Southern's screenplays, Easy Rider (1969).

His photo appeared in the collage on the cover of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He said, "The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish. Not shock—shock is a worn-out word—but astonish. The world has no grounds whatever for complacency."

Maybe the problem is that I got involved with the wrong crowd of gods
when I was seven. At first they weren't harmful and only showed
themselves as fish, birds, especially herons and loons, turtles, a bobcat and a
small bear, but not deer and rabbits who only offered themselves as food.
And maybe I spent too much time inside the water of lakes and rivers.
Underwater seemed like the safest church I could go to. And sleeping
outside that young might have seeped too much dark into my brain and
bones. It was not for me to ever recover. The other day I found a quarter in
the driveway I lost at the Mecosta State Fair in 1947 and missed out on five
rides including the Ferris wheel and the Tilt-A-Whirl. I sat in anger for hours
in the bull barn mourning my lost quarter on which the entire tragic history
of earth is written. I looked up into the holes of the bulls' massive noses and
at the brass rings puncturing their noses which allowed them to be led. It
would have been an easier life if I had allowed a ring in my nose but so
many years later I still find the spore of the gods here and there but never in
the vicinity of quarters.

"The Quarter" by Jim Harrison. Used with permission of the poet.

It's the birthday of Dr. Benjamin Spock, (books by this author) born in New Haven, Connecticut (1903). His Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) was a best seller during the period after World War II, when parents across America were raising the Baby Boom generation. Spock opened his first pediatric practice in 1933. After 10 years of observing children and their health, Spock decided to write a book about taking care of them. Instead of writing it out himself, he dictated the book to his wife, to give it a conversational tone. Previous parenting guidebooks had encouraged parents to be stern with their children, and they were written as a list of commands. Dr. John B. Watson had written in his guidebook, "Never, never kiss your child. Never hold it in your lap. Never rock its carriage." Dr. Spock encouraged parents to be affectionate, and he also encouraged them to follow their own instincts. The first sentence of his book was, "You know more than you think you do."

It's the birthday of songwriter Lorenz Hart, born in Harlem, New York (1895), who wrote the lyrics to "My Funny Valentine," which appeared in the 1937 Broadway musical Babes in Arms:

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart

You looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet you're my favorite work of art.

He also wrote the lyrics to "Blue Moon," which appeared in 1934:

Blue moon,
you saw me standing alone
without a dream in my heart
without a love of my own.

It's the birthday of humorist Jerome K. Jerome, (books by this author) born in Walsall, England (1859), who said, "It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar."

And, "It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than ourselves. We love them at once for being so."

It was on this day in 1611 that the first edition of the King James Bible was published in England.

It was a chaotic time in England, and King James I thought that a new translation of the Bible might help hold the country together. There had been several English translations of the Bible already, and each English version of the Bible had different proponents. King James wanted a Bible that would become the definitive version, a Bible that all English people could read together. King James appointed a committee of 54 linguists for the project. For the first few years, the scholars worked privately on the translation, and starting in 1607, the collaborative work was assembled. It went to press in 1610, and the first finished King James Bibles appeared in 1611.

Many of the turns of phrase in the King James Bible came from previous translations, but it was the King James Version that set them all in stone. Several of its phrases have become enduring English expressions, such as "the land of the living," "sour grapes," "like a lamb to slaughter," "the salt of the earth," "the apple of his eye," "to give up the ghost, and "the valley of the shadow of death."

Now for a little I have fed on loneliness
As on some strange fruit from a frost-touched vine—
Persimmon in its yellow comeliness,
Of pomegranate-juice color of wine,
The pucker-mouth crab apple, or late plum—
On fruit of loneliness have I been fed.
But now after short absence I am come
Back from felicity to the wine and bread.
For, being mortal, this luxurious heart
Would starve for you, my dear, I must admit,
If it were held another hour apart
From that food which alone can comfort it—
I am come home to you, for at the end
I find I cannot live without you, friend.


"Fruit of Loneliness" by May Sarton, from Encounter in April. © Houghton Mifflin, 1937. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of playwright William Inge, (books by this author) born in Independence, Kansas (1913). As drama editor for the St. Louis Star-Times in 1945, he interviewed the playwright Tennessee Williams, whose play The Glass Menagerie was running in Chicago. When Inge went to see the play, it changed his life. "I found it so beautiful and so deeply moving that I felt a little ashamed for having led what I felt was an unproductive life," he later recalled. At 32, he set out to become a playwright.

His first big hit was Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), about a cynical, alcoholic man and his wife, who fantasizes about her happy childhood and her lost beauty. Inge went on to write Picnic (1953), which won a Pulitzer Prize and made a star of young actor Paul Newman.

Even with his success, Inge's tastes remained simple. At parties he drank ginger ale; he preferred plain food like mashed potatoes and cornbread. Bus Stop (1955) was his last Broadway success, although he won an Academy Award in 1961 with his screenplay for the film Splendor in the Grass. But his next four plays drew increasingly harsh reviews, and, two years after his Off-Off-Broadway play The Last Pad flopped, he killed himself. He was 60.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist May Sarton, (books by this author) born in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912), the daughter of science historian George Sarton and artist Mabel Elwes Sarton. When she was four, her family fled Belgium to escape invading Germans and eventually settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Sarton attended the progressive Shady Hill School and learned poetry from Agnes Hocking.

She graduated from high school, declined a scholarship offer to Vassar, and moved to New York City to be an apprentice at Eva Le Galienne's Civic Repertory Theatre. She moved to Paris when she was 19, then returned to the States and wrote poetry, supporting herself by teaching in Boston, writing film scripts for the Office of War Information, and lecturing on poetry at various college campuses.

Her first book of poems, Encounter in April, came out in 1937 and included a series of sonnets that had been published in Poetry magazine when she was just 17. Over the course of 60 years, she had an incredibly prolific career, publishing about 50 books, including 19 novels, more than a dozen poetry collections, several volumes of journals, and two children's books.

One of her most influential works was Journal of a Solitude (1973), which became important reading for feminists and a primary text in woman's studies courses. Critic Carolyn Heilbrun said, "I would name 1972 as the turning point for modern women's autobiography … the publication of Journal of a Solitude in 1973 may be acknowledged as the watershed in women's autobiography."

Even after a stroke in her mid-70s, she continued to compose and publish; she recorded onto a tape cassette Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992) and dictated Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993). In her final book, At Eighty-Two: A Journal (1995), which was published the year she died, she said she felt like a "stranger in the land of old age."

She said, "One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being."

Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?
Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

"Posthumous" by Jean Nordhaus, from Innocence. © Ohio State University Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Horace Mann, born in Franklin, Massachusetts (1796), the first great American advocate of public education. He believed that in a democratic society education should be free and universal. He fiercely opposed slavery and toward the end of his life, he was the president of Antioch College, a new institution committed to coeducation and equal opportunity for all students, black and white.

It's the birthday of novelist Graham Swift, (books by this author) born in London, England (1949). He became a widely acclaimed author after he published his third novel, Waterland (1984), about a history teacher who teaches his class the history of his own life instead of the history in books.

Swift said, "The standard advice is to write about what you do know. But fiction is about the imagination, and imagination means getting from what you know to what you don't know. The great challenge, the great excitement, the great magic of writing fiction is getting out of yourself, and getting into the lives of other characters; into experiences that are not your own, but sort of become your own as you write."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer David Guterson, (books by this author) born in Seattle, Washington (1956). He worked for many years as a high school teacher. The two books he always assigned were Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird. When he wrote his first novel, he combined the story of star-crossed lovers with a courtroom drama about race. The novel was Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), about the murder trial of a Japanese-American in the wake of World War II, and it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Kinsella, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1928).

He's published more than 30 collections of poetry since his first one appeared in 1956. His early poems are largely about love, relationships, death, and art, while his later poems often revolve around historical events. He's also translated from the Gaelic an Irish epic and an anthology of poems.

He said, "I think that the human function (in so far as it is not simply to survive the ignominies of existence) is to elicit order from experience, to detect the significant substance of our individual and common pasts and translate it imaginatively, scientifically, bodily, into an ever more coherent and capacious entity—or to try to do so until we fail."

It's the birthday of columnist George F. Will, (books by this author) born in Champaign, Illinois (1941). He won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1977, and he has since written several books, including The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Sobering Thoughts (1978) and Statecraft as Soulcraft: What the Government Does (1983). He once said, "Childhood is frequently a solemn business for those inside it."



  • “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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