Apr. 8, 2006

The Waitresses

by Matt Cook

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Poem: "The Waitresses" by Matt Cook from Eavesdrop Soup. © Manic D Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Waitresses

The waitresses
At the restaurant
Have to keep reminding
The schizophrenic man
That if he keeps acting
Like a schizophrenic man
They'll have to ask him to leave the restaurant.
But he keeps forgetting that he's a schizophrenic man,
So they have to keep reminding him.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of lyricist (Edgar) Yip Harburg, born in New York City (1896). He's best known as the man who wrote the lyrics and much of the script for The Wizard of Oz (1939). He also wrote songs such as "April In Paris" and "It's Only a Paper Moon."

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Giroux, born in New Jersey, (1914). The first major author that Giroux discovered was Jean Stafford. While traveling by train to Connecticut, Giroux took Stafford's manuscript at random from his briefcase and became so absorbed in reading it that he rode past his stop. When he got to know Stafford, she introduced him to her then little-known husband Robert Lowell, whose first collection of poems had been published privately by a small house and had gone largely unnoticed. Giroux snatched him up, and he became one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. Lowell then introduced him to a young woman named Flannery O'Conner, whom he also published.

It's the birthday of novelist Barbara Kingsolver, born in Annapolis, Maryland (1955). She grew up in rural Kentucky, where she spent her childhood exploring the alfalfa fields and wooded hills surrounding her home. She started keeping a journal when she was eight years old and has continued to do so her entire life.

She majored in biology at DePauw University in Indiana, and then got a master's degree in evolutionary biology. She was working on a Ph.D. thesis on the social lives of termites when she decided to abandon a career in science and try to become a writer. She took a job as a technical writer, which forced her to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day and do nothing but write. She later said, "I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done."

Her first novel was The Bean Trees (1986) about a woman from rural Kentucky who leaves home so she won't get stuck in a boring, dead-end life. She's perhaps best known for her novel The Poisonwood Bible (1998), about the wife and four daughters of an evangelical Baptist minister who go as missionaries to the Belgian Congo in 1959. In the novel she wrote, "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle. My sisters and I were all counting on having one birthday apiece during our twelve-month mission. 'And heaven knows,' our mother predicted, 'they won't have Betty Crocker in the Congo.'"

It's the birthday of the journalist Seymour Hersh, born in Chicago, Illinois (1937). He majored in history at the University of Chicago, and then went to law school for a year, but he was expelled for poor grades. He worked at a drug store for a while before a friend told him about the Chicago City News Bureau.

One of the first major stories he covered was about a house that had burned down in an inner-city neighborhood. He arrived on the scene and all the members of the family had been wrapped in tarps and arranged by size. He said, "I had this little image ... like daddy bear, mama bear, and little baby bears. It was a horrific, amazing sight." When he called in the story, his editor asked him if the deceased were black or white. When he responded that they were black, his editor told him to just keep it to one short paragraph in the paper.

It was Seymour Hersh who broke the story that American soldiers had massacred an entire village in Vietnam, killing all the men, women, and children. He followed up on it and broke the story of what is now known as the My Lai massacre and went on to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the subject, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath (1970).

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hersh has been writing articles for The New Yorker on the U.S. government's response, Middle Eastern politics, and the war.

On this day in 1935, Congress approved the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the national works program created by President Franklin Roosevelt to relieve the economic hardship of the Great Depression. The program employed more than 8.5 million people on 1.4 million public projects before it was disbanded in 1943. It included the Federal Writers' Project, which gave jobs to writers such as Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, May Swenson, Margaret Walker, and Richard Wright.

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