Sep. 4, 2003

Cat Dying in Autumn

by Irving Layton

(RealAudio) | How to listen
Poem: "Cat Dying in Autumn," by Irving Layton, from Collected Poems (McClellan and Stewart)

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of memoirist and essayist Lisa Knopp, born in Burlington, Iowa (1956). In the late 1980s, she turned from writing fiction and poetry to writing memoirs and essays about natural history and the human place in the natural world. Her home ground is the Midwest—Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska. Her newest book, The Nature of Home, is being published this month. Her earlier books are Field of Vision (1996) and Flight Dreams: A Life in the Midwestern Landscape (1998). She said: "When I discovered how malleable the essay was, through the work of such writers as Loren Eiseley and Annie Dillard, I realized that I had found my home and my life work."

It's the birthday of writer Jane Brox, born in Dracut, Massachusetts (1956). She was born on the farm that her Lebanese immigrant grandfather bought when he came to this country in 1901. She writes about life and work on the family farm in her books Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family (1995) and Five Thousand Days Like This One: An American Family History (1999).

It's the birthday of English writer Joan Aiken, born in Rye, Sussex, England (1924). She published short stories, and then a novel, The Kingdom and the Cave (1960)—a revision of a novel she wrote when she was 17. She gained a loyal following with her series of Gothic children's novels set in the imaginary England of King James the Third, filled with roaming wolves and political rebels. The first book in the series was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), followed by Black Hearts in Battersea (1964), Cold Shoulder Road (1996), and others. She's also written several "sequels" of Jane Austen novels, following up on the originals, or telling the stories from different perspectives. These include Jane Fairfax: Jane Austen's Emma Through Another's Eyes (1990) and Lady Catherine's Necklace (2000). Joan Aiken said: "Why do we want to have alternate worlds? It's a way of making progress. You have to imagine something before you do it. Therefore, if you write about something, hopefully you write about something that's better or more interesting than circumstances as they now are, and that way you hope to make a step towards it."

It's the birthday of African-American novelist Richard Wright, born near Natchez, Mississippi (1908). His grandparents were slaves, and he grew up in poverty in the South before heading north to Chicago, and then to New York City, where he worked as the editor of the Community Daily Worker in Harlem. His most famous novel, Native Son (1940), is set in Chicago. It's the story of Bigger Thomas, a poor black man who is forced into flight when he accidentally kills a white girl. He's also known for his autobiography Black Boy (1945), tracing his rise from poverty to become a successful writer. After World War Two, he settled in Paris, where he wrote the novel The Outsider (1953).

It's the birthday of novelist Mary Renault, born Mary Challans, in London, England (1905). She worked as a nurse during World War Two, then settled in South Africa, where she began to write her highly successful series of historical novels set in ancient Greece. The novels were The Last of the Wine (1956), The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull from the Sea (1962). In The Last of the Wine, she wrote: "Madness is sacred to the gods. They give it us at the proper season to purge our souls, as they give us strong herbs to clean out our bodies."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “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
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show