May 4, 2008


by Jean Nordhaus

Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?
Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

"Posthumous" by Jean Nordhaus, from Innocence. © Ohio State University Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Horace Mann, born in Franklin, Massachusetts (1796), the first great American advocate of public education. He believed that in a democratic society education should be free and universal. He fiercely opposed slavery and toward the end of his life, he was the president of Antioch College, a new institution committed to coeducation and equal opportunity for all students, black and white.

It's the birthday of novelist Graham Swift, (books by this author) born in London, England (1949). He became a widely acclaimed author after he published his third novel, Waterland (1984), about a history teacher who teaches his class the history of his own life instead of the history in books.

Swift said, "The standard advice is to write about what you do know. But fiction is about the imagination, and imagination means getting from what you know to what you don't know. The great challenge, the great excitement, the great magic of writing fiction is getting out of yourself, and getting into the lives of other characters; into experiences that are not your own, but sort of become your own as you write."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer David Guterson, (books by this author) born in Seattle, Washington (1956). He worked for many years as a high school teacher. The two books he always assigned were Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird. When he wrote his first novel, he combined the story of star-crossed lovers with a courtroom drama about race. The novel was Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), about the murder trial of a Japanese-American in the wake of World War II, and it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Kinsella, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1928).

He's published more than 30 collections of poetry since his first one appeared in 1956. His early poems are largely about love, relationships, death, and art, while his later poems often revolve around historical events. He's also translated from the Gaelic an Irish epic and an anthology of poems.

He said, "I think that the human function (in so far as it is not simply to survive the ignominies of existence) is to elicit order from experience, to detect the significant substance of our individual and common pasts and translate it imaginatively, scientifically, bodily, into an ever more coherent and capacious entity—or to try to do so until we fail."

It's the birthday of columnist George F. Will, (books by this author) born in Champaign, Illinois (1941). He won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1977, and he has since written several books, including The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Sobering Thoughts (1978) and Statecraft as Soulcraft: What the Government Does (1983). He once said, "Childhood is frequently a solemn business for those inside it."

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  • “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
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