Nov. 18, 2005


by Darnell Arnoult

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Poem: "Home" by Darnell Arnoult from What Travels With Us © Louisiana State University. Reprinted with permission


I liked to live in the old
kind of house

Plenty of good
cracks in the floor

Finish your corn bread.
Sweep the crumbs

through the cracks

Under the old kind of house
chickens would get em

fast as they'd fall.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright and humorist Sir W.S. (William Schenk) Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, born in London (1836). He met composer Arthur Sullivan in 1870. They started working together the following year and produced a series of hits including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), The Gondoliers (1889), and others. Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 operas in the 25-year period from 1871 to 1896.

He wrote, "If you wish in this world to advance,
your merits you're bound to enhance;
you must stir it and stump it,
and blow your own trumpet,
Or trust me, you haven't a chance."

It's the birthday of American statistician George Gallup (1901), born in Jefferson, Iowa. He was a pioneer in scientific polling techniques, and his name became a household word synonymous with the opinion poll.

Gallup enrolled in the University of Iowa in 1918, played football and became the editor of the Daily Iowan. While editor in the early 1920s, Gallup conducted what is widely considered the first poll in human history. He took a survey to find the prettiest girl on the campus. The winner was Ophelia Smith, whom Gallup later married.

He gained recognition for accurately predicting Franklin Roosevelt's victory over Alf Landon in 1936. Twelve years later Gallup predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman in 1948, but he managed to recover from that blunder."

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939). Her father was an entomologist who spent every year from April to November studying insects at a forestry research station in Northern Quebec. Atwood said, "At the age of six months, I was carried into the woods in a packsack, and this landscape became my hometown." She had no access to television or movies, and few children to play with. So she spent all her time exploring the woods and reading.

She only began to attend full-time school in Toronto when she was 11 years old. She wrote, "I was now faced with real life, in the form of other little girls—their prudery and snobbery, their Byzantine social life based on whispering and vicious gossip, and an inability to pick up earthworms without wriggling all over and making mewing noises like a kitten."

Atwood decided she wanted to be a writer at a time when there was almost no such thing as Canadian literature. There was actually a year in the early 1960's when a total of only five Canadian novels were published in the whole country.

Atwood's first novel The Edible Woman came out in 1969. It's about a woman who finds that she can no longer eat after her boyfriend proposes marriage. It would have been published three years earlier, but the publisher had lost the manuscript. Atwood published several more novels, becoming a cult figure in Canada and among feminists. Then, in 1978, she took a trip to Iran, where women were being forced to wear veils and to take subservient positions in all areas of society. That experience got her to thinking about what would happen in America if there were a similar cultural revolution. And that gave her an idea for her novel The Handmaid's Tale (1985), which became an international best-seller.

Margaret Atwood said, "Women see me as living proof that you don't have to come to a sticky end—put your head in an oven, stay silent for 30 years, not have children—to be a good and serious writer."

It was on this day in 1978 that Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple, ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink cyanide-poisoned punch.

It was on this day in 1928 that Mickey Mouse was born. Walt Disney's "Steamboat Willie," premiered in New York at the Colony Theater. It was the first sound-synchronized cartoon to attract widespread public attention. Along with Mickey Mouse, the black and white cartoon featured Minnie Mouse and Pegleg Pete.

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