Jun. 17, 2002

Mrs. Sullivan

by Guy W. Longchamps

MONDAY, 17 JUNE 2002
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Poem: "Mrs. Sullivan," by Guy W. Longchamps (permission of poet).

Mrs. Sullivan

"Function follows form,"
Said Louis Sullivan one warm
Evening in Chicago drinking beer.
His wife said, "Dear,
I'm sure that what you meant
Is that form should represent
Function. So it's function that should be followed."
Sullivan swallowed
And looked dimly far away
And said, "Okay,
Form follows function, then."
He said it again,
A three-word spark
Of modern arch-
Itectural brilliance
That would dazzle millions.
"Think I should write it down?"
He asked with a frown.
"Oh yes," she said, "and here's a pencil."
He did and soon was influential.

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey, born in Tientsin, China (1914). His parents were missionaries there for ten years before they moved back to the United States. He was as a war correspondent for Time Magazine. That was the start of Hersey's career as a writer who bent his reporter's style into socially relevant fiction. His first two novels, Men on Bataan (1942) and Into the Valley (1943) were based on true incidents of World War Two, as was his third, A Bell for Adano (1944), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1945. Hersey's next war book was Hiroshima (1946), which traced the lives of six people who survived the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Many critics thought it was the best writing to come out of the war; Albert Einstein was said to have ordered a thousand copies to pass out to friends and colleagues. Throughout the rest of his life, Hersey, a prolific author, continued to write about his concerns for society. While he was outspoken on social issues, he was hesitant to speak about himself. He rarely gave interviews, and refused to tour in support of his books.

It's the birthday of printmaker and illustrator M(aurits) C(ornelius) Escher, born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (1898). He often experimented with viewpoints, for instance, looking up and down at the same time, and with dramatic lighting effects, using vivid contrasts of black and white. Although Escher died in 1972, his prints, especially one of a hand holding a pen drawing a hand holding a pen, are still extremely popular today.

It's the birthday of composer and conductor Igor (Fyodorovich) Stravinsky, born near St. Petersburg, Russia (1882), whose father was one of the leading Russian opera singers of his day. He was 28 years old when he wrote a ballet on the Russian folk tale, The Firebird. It opened in June of 1910 and was an immediate success. Three years later, Stravinsky premiered his composition, The Rite of Spring, based on a daydream he had about a pagan ritual in which a young girl dances herself to death. After World War One, Stravinsky changed his style to one in which he tried to revive baroque and classical compositions into more modern forms. This neoclassical style lasted until after World War Two. Then, Stravinsky began to compose serialist pieces, a style that involved using a fixed sequence of twelve notes. A hypochondriac who visited his doctor almost every day of his life, Stravinsky also wrote several books with the help of Robert Craft, including Conversations with Igor Stravinsky (1958), Dialogues and a Diary (1963), and Retrospections and Conclusions (1969). He died in 1971 at the age of eighty-eight.

It's the birthday of novelist, diplomat, and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson, born in Jacksonville, Florida (1871). Since high schools were closed to blacks in Jacksonville in the 1890s, Johnson left for Atlanta, where he eventually earned his bachelor's degree from Atlanta University. In 1894, he returned to Jacksonville and became principal of the Stanton School, which he expanded to include high-school classes. The following year he founded the Daily American, the first black-oriented daily newspaper in the United States. The multi-talented Johnson also wrote songs, the most famous of which is "Lift Every Voice and Sing." By 1906, he moved on to a totally different career when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him United States Consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and later to Nicaragua. In 1916, Johnson became national field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as its executive secretary from 1920 to 1930. During that same time period, he published a book of poems, Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917); two anthologies: Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), and American Negro Spirituals (1925); and God's Trombones (1927), a book of verse in the form of black dialect sermons.

It's the birthday of preacher and religious leader John Wesley, born in Epworth, England (1703), who is considered to be the founder of Methodism. Wesley attended Oxford where he was one of the founders of the "Holy Club," a religious study group that was derisively called the "Methodists" because of their emphasis on methodical study.

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