Mar. 28, 2005


by Linda Pastan

MONDAY, 28 MARCH, 2005
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Poem: "Practicing," by Linda Pastan, from The Last Uncle © W.W. Norton.


My son is practicing the piano.
He is a man now, not the boy
whose lessons I once sat through,
whose reluctant practicing
I demanded-part of the obligation
I felt to the growth
and composition of a child.
Upstairs my grandchildren are sleeping,
though they complained earlier of the music
which rises like smoke up through the floorboards,
coloring the fabric of their dreams.
On the porch my husband watches the garden fade
into summer twilight, flower by flower;
it must be a little like listening to the fading
diminuendo notes of Mozart.
But here where the dining room table
has been pushed aside to make room
for this second or third-hand upright,
my son is playing the kind of music
it took him all these years,
and sons of his own, to want to make.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of American novelist Russell Banks, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1940). He grew up with an abusive father in a working-class community in New Hampshire. After college, he went south, intending to fight with Castro's guerilla army in Cuba. He got as far as Florida, where he worked for two years as a mannequin dresser for a Montgomery Ward department store before returning to New England. After his first marriage broke up, he began to write seriously and to place stories in literary magazines. His stories and novels frequently return to the bleak New England landscape of his childhood. He said: "Growing up in New Hampshire gave me an exaggerated sense of it as a place where the winters were endless, the soil barren and the houses falling down. If we got by at all, there was a sense of disaster being over the next horizon." His novels include Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1990), The Sweet Hereafter (1992), Cloudsplitter (1998) and The Darling (2004).

It's the birthday of Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, born in Arequipa, Peru (1936). At 14, he was sent off for two traumatic years in a Peruvian military academy. The experience gave him material for his first novel, The Time of The Hero (1962). 1,000 copies of the novel were burned on the grounds of his former school in Peru, but in Spain it received a major prize and brought the young novelist to international attention. His other novels include Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977), The War at the End of the World (1981), The Storyteller (1988), Death in the Andes (1996), and The Feast of the Goat (2001).

Mario Vargas Llosa said: "All my fiction-short stories, novels or plays-began as personal experiences. I wrote those works because something happened to me, because I met someone or read something that became an important experience for me. I am not always aware of the reasons why a particular experience remains in my memory with such vividness, nor why an experience gradually becomes a source of encouragement to invent or fantasize about."

It's the birthday of the American novelist Jane Rule, born in Plainfield, New Jersey (1931). She's best known for her first novel, Desert of the Heart (1964), which has since become a classic of lesbian literature.

It's the birthday of American novelist Nelson Algren, born in Detroit, Michigan (1909). He was working as a door-to-door salesman in Texas during the Depression when he decided he wanted to try his hand at writing. He stole himself a typewriter and headed north to Chicago, where he was caught and sent back to spend four months in a Texas prison. His first published story was set in a Texas filling station; it came out in Story magazine in 1933. Two years later, he came out with his first novel, Someone in Boots (1935), about a Texas drifter who ends up down-and-out in Chicago. His greatest success came with the short story collection The Neon Wilderness (1947), and the novels The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) and A Walk on the Wild Side (1956).

It's the birthday of Russian writer Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov, who wrote under the name Maksim Gorky, born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia (1868). His greatest early success was the play The Lower Depths (1902).

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