Jun. 23, 2002


by William Stafford

SUNDAY, 23 JUNE 2002
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Poem: "Allegiances," by William Stafford from Allegiances (Harper & Row).


It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked-
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:-we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler's ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer David Leavitt, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). His first story, Territory, was published in the New Yorker when he was twenty-one, and it was the first story in that magazine with a homosexual theme. In 1984, Territory and several other stories were published in a collection titled Family Dancing. Leavitt gained critical and popular attention in 1986 with his first novel, The Lost Language of Cranes, which chronicles many aspects of gay life, especially as it relates to family. Most of Leavitt's writing features gay characters and situations, but he once said, "I think the labeling as a gay writer can be a form of ghettoizing, of saying that now the work will only be read by gay people…. I would say that the sexuality of the characters is less important than the situation that they're in, which may be caused by their sexuality, but is ultimately more interesting than that fact itself." Leavitt's latest works include a short story collection, The Marble Quilt (2001), and a non-fiction book, Florence: A Delicate Case (2002).

It's the birthday of writer and aviator Richard (David) Bach, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1936). He joined the Air Force and then the Air National Guard, and began writing articles for a variety of aviation magazines. His first book was Stranger to the Ground (1963), an account of his flight from England to France in bad weather. Three years later he published Biplane, a memoir of his adventures flying a 1929 Detroit-Ryan biplane from North Carolina to Los Angeles. But it was in 1970 that Bach gained fame and fortune with the publication Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A parable about a young seagull who decides to break from the flock to try and discover how high and fast he can really fly, it was a book that Bach claims to have come to him in "voices."

It's the birthday of dancer and choreographer Bob Fosse, born in Chicago, Illinois (1927). He father was a vaudevillian, and by the age of thirteen, Fosse was already touring with his own dance act. Fosse went Broadway where he got his break as choreographer for The Pajama Game (1954). The choreography, especially for the steamy number "Steam Heat," became the talk of the town, and Fosse won his first Tony Award. The following year, he choreographed Damn Yankees, featuring a red-haired dancer named Gwen Verdon singing "Whatever Lola Wants." From then on, Verdon became his main leading lady, both on and off stage. He then began to direct and choreograph such shows as Sweet Charity (1966), Pippin (1972), Chicago (1975), and Dancin' (1978).

It's the birthday of playwright Jean Anouilh, born in Bordeaux, France (1910). He wrote fantasies, like Thieves Carnival (1932), and romantic comedies, like Ring Around the Moon (1947). He also wrote historical dramas, like Antigone (1944), a reworking of the Greek myth that he used as a metaphor for the German occupation; The Lark (1953), the story of Joan of Arc (adapted for Broadway by Lillian Hellman); and Becket (1959). Anouilh spent much of his later life as a wealthy recluse. He changed his unlisted telephone number frequently, disconnected the doorbell to his Paris apartment, and kept a pair of binoculars at the ready at this country home so that he could spot unwelcome visitors. He said: "Life is very nice, but it lacks form. It's the aim of art to give it some."

In 1868 on this day, the first typewriter was patented. Christopher Latham Sholes, a Wisconsin inventor, developed and patented the first crude writing machine with the help of his assistant, Carlos Glidden. Five years later, they presented an improved version to E. Remington and Sons of Ilion, New York, and in 1874, the first Sholes and Glidden typewriter was produced. It was elaborately decorated with flowers and curlicues, and cost one hundred twenty-five dollars, nearly fifteen hundred dollars in today's currency. One of the first purchasers was Mark Twain, who did not use it himself, but had professional typists transcribe his handwritten manuscripts. He became the first writer to send a typewritten novel, Life on the Mississippi (1883) to a publisher.

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