Sep. 15, 2003


by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "Autumn," by Linda Pastan, from Heroes in Disguise (W.W. Norton).


I want to mention
summer ending
without meaning the death
of somebody loved

or even the death
of the trees.
Today in the market
I heard a mother say

Look at the pumpkins,
it's finally autumn!
And the child didn't think
of the death of her mother

which is due before her own
but tasted the sound
of the words on her clumsy tongue:
pumpkin; autumn.

Let the eye enlarge
with all it beholds.
I want to celebrate
color, how one red leaf

flickers like a match
held to a dry branch,
and the whole world goes up
in orange and gold.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Dame Agatha Christie, born in Devon, England (1890). Her father died when she was young, but she always considered her childhood to have been a happy and imaginative time. Her mother encouraged her creativity and urged her to write at an early age. Once, when she was sick and bored, Christie remembered her mother saying to her, "You'd better write a short story. Don't say you can't! Of course you can!" The two of them also traveled, and during a winter visit to Cairo, Christie wrote her first novel. During World War I, Christie worked in a Red Cross Dispensary in her hometown. She was surrounded by medicines and poisons, and they inspired her to write her first mystery novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). It featured a Red Cross Hospital and a poisoning. It also introduced her famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot's pompous and eccentric character became one of the most beloved figures in mystery literature. He appeared in over thirty books, including The Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and The A.B.C. Murders (1935). Christie wrote scores of successful mystery novels. Her second famous sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, was introduced in Murder in the Vicarage (1930). Miss Marple was an elderly spinster who had eccentric insights into private crimes and tragedies. Christie once told an interviewer, "I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest." And she wrote, "Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend." In addition to writing novels, Christie was a successful playwright. Her plays included Alibi (1928) and The Mousetrap, written in 1952, which remains the longest-running play in history. She was an incredibly prolific author, but her strategy was simple: she said, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

It's the birthday of the first great American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, born in Burlington, New Jersey (1789). He was one of the six surviving children out of thirteen siblings. His childhood was spent in upstate New York, in Cooperstown, a frontier settlement founded by his father that provided the background for Cooper's frontier novels. Cooper's writing career was influenced by these frontier experiences, but it began a little closer to home. He often read out loud to his wife. One time, he became frustrated with Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818). His daughter remembered, "After a chapter or two he threw it aside, exclaiming, 'I could write you a better book than that myself!' Our mother laughed at the idea, as the height of absurdity ...." Cooper had never even enjoyed writing letters. But he was serious about his intentions, and he began writing immediately. Cooper's first novel, Precaution (1820), was set in England. But Cooper was a thoroughly American writer. He wrote about the American landscape and spirit, and the mythic frontier wilderness. His most well known hero, Natty Bumppo, was the original American frontiersman. Bumppo was featured in the series Leatherstocking Tales, which included Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Deerslayer (1841).

It's the birthday of children's author Robert McClosky, born in Hamilton, Ohio (1914). He's best known for his early work, Make Way for Ducklings (1941), about a real family of ducks in downtown Boston. The ducks became so popular that a statue was put up commemorating them. McCloskey kept four mallard ducks in his apartment while drawing the illustrations.

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