Jul. 11, 2002


by David Lehman

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Sexism," by David Lehman from Valentine Place (Scribner).


The happiest moment in a woman's life
Is when she hears the turn of her lover's key
In the lock, and pretends to be asleep
When he enters the room, trying to be
Quiet but clumsy, bumping into things,
And she can smell the liquor on his breath
But forgives him because she has him back
And doesn't have to sleep alone.

The happiest moment in a man's life
Is when he climbs out of bed
With a woman, after an hour's sleep,
After making love, and pulls on
His trousers, and walks outside,
And pees in the bushes, and sees
The high August sky full of stars
And gets in his car and drives home.

It's the birthday of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, born in Sugar City, Idaho (1938). In 1991, she won both the Bancroft Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for her book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990). The diary of Martha Ballard had been lying neglected in the public library in Augusta, Maine, for many years when Ulrich dusted it off and began to examine it for what it said about the social life and medical practices of colonial America. The book shows that women made a significant contribution to the economy in colonial times, and gives insight into the support networks that surrounded women, especially in childbirth. Ulrich writes: "Most early American women literally gave birth in the arms or on the laps of their neighbors."

It's the birthday of novelist, nonfiction writer and theologian Frederick Buechner, born in New York City (1926). As a fiction writer, he has won an O.Henry Award for his short story "The Tiger" (1955) and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his novel Godric (1980). He's also a Presbyterian minister, and the author of numerous books of spiritual memoirs and meditations, including Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (1973) and Telling Secrets (1991).

It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Elwyn Brooks White, E. B. White, born in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). When the New Yorker was founded in 1925, he began submitting sketches and poems to the magazine. A year later, in 1926, the editor, Harold Ross, invited him to join the magazine's staff. He started out editing the "Talk of the Town" section, and writing the "Notes and Comments" editorials. He's best known to generations of readers as the author of the children's books Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952). His gentle, un-sensational book about friendship has become a perennial favorite among children, despite the author's reservations about it. He wrote to the editor Cass Canfield: "I'm glad I rewrote Charlotte's Web, even though it took me an unconscionable time to do it, as it gained in the process, I think. Whether children will find anything amusing in it, only time will tell. No doubt they would like it better if my barn cellar were loaded into a space ship and exploded in the general direction of Mars."

It's the birthday of novelist Susan Bogert Warner, born in New York City (1819). When her father hit hard times in 1837, he was forced to sell his expensive house in New York and move the family to a rustic retreat on Constitution Island, in the Hudson River opposite West Point. There, Susan and her sister Anna turned to writing to support the family. Both sisters published successful novels, but Susan's success was the most remarkable. Her first novel, The Wide, Wide World (1851), was the first book by an American author to sell one million copies. It's a sentimental story about an orphan girl overcoming hardship through Christian virtues.

It's the birthday of the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, born in Braintree, Massachusetts (1767). In the House of Representatives, he was a leading voice in the opposition to slavery. When African slaves on the Spanish ship Amistad mutineed and brought the ship into U.S. waters, Adams successfully defended them before the Supreme Court and kept them from being returned to their former masters.

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