Jan. 12, 2003

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Poem: "Night," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Into the darkness and the hush of night
    Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away,
    And with it fade the phantoms of the day,
    The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the light,
The crowd, the clamor, the pursuit, the flight,
    The unprofitable splendor and display,
    The agitations, and the cares that prey
    Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight.
The better life begins; the world no more
    Molests us; all its records we erase
    From the dull common-place book of our lives,
That like a palimpsest is written o'er
    With trivial incidents of time and place,
    And lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.

It's the birthday of writer Haruki Murakami, born in Kyoto, Japan (1949). Widely considered one of Japan's most important twentieth-century writers, he is heavily influenced by American culture, and has been criticized by some Japanese for being too Westernized. He said in an interview, "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person…I wake up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food…But when I write, I write weird." His works include Hear the Wind Sing (1979), A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995). He believes that to write well you should be in good physical shape.

It's the birthday of artist John Singer Sargent, born in Florence, Italy (1856), who, as one of the great painters of the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries, made his fortune and reputation as a portrait painter of beautiful women and influential men.

It's the birthday of writer and member of the British Parliament, Edmund Burke, born in Dublin, Ireland (1729). Burke studied the law, but gave it up to become a writer. He entered Parliament in 1765 and began to write pamphlets about the misgovernment and corruption he found there. He sympathized with the American colonies and wrote essays like On American Taxation (1774) and On Conciliation with the Colonies (1775). He did not agree, however, with the French Revolution and the terrors that followed.

It's the birthday of writer Charles Perrault, born in Paris, France (1628). The son of an upper-class bourgeois family, he wrote Parallels Between the Ancients and the Moderns in 1688, which compared the authors of antiquity to modern writers. In 1697, he published Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose, and opened up a new literary genre, the fairytale.

It's the birthday of writer Walter Mosley, born in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California (1952). His first book was Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), which was set in 1948 and introduced the character of Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, who reluctantly gets drawn into investigations that lead him through the tough streets of black Los Angeles. He also wrote Black Betty (1994).

It's the birthday of writer Jack London, born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco, California (1876). He is most famous for his novel The Call of the Wild (1903). He also wrote White Fang (1906). Jack had little formal schooling. Initially, he attended school only through the eighth grade, although he was an avid reader, educating himself at public libraries. He eventually returned to high school, and gained admittance to the University of California at Berkeley, but stayed only for six months, finding it to be "not alive enough" and a "passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence." At the age of fifteen, he borrowed the money to buy a fishing sloop, complete with a mistress who came with the boat. He began raiding oyster beds and selling the oysters to fish markets; he became so good at it he was known as the "Prince of the Oyster Pirates." He made more money in one week of pirating than he was able to earn in his first full year as a professional writer. However, after a brush with the law, he decided to change sides and became a California Fish patrol deputy. In 1897, London was overcome with "Klondike fever," and went to Alaska to pan for gold. He never found any gold, but he gained a tremendous amount of insight and perspective. He returned to Oakland two years later, and struggled in extreme poverty, working his way day and night to become a writer. Three years later, he published what most critics deem to be his masterpiece, The Call of the Wild (1903). It recounts the reversion of a civilized dog, Buck, to his primitive heritage. At his peak, London became America's most famous and best-selling author -- the first, in fact, to become a millionaire by his pen. Though his income was great by the standards of the day, his expenses were greater. He was also an alcoholic, and often claimed that he only wrote for the money. To pay for his agricultural adventures, he wrote what he thought would be commercial successes. He even resorted to buying story plots from struggling young writers like Sinclair Lewis, and tried to imitate his own style to repeat his earlier successes.

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  • “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
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