Aug. 14, 2008


by Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

"Turtle" by Kay Ryan, from Flamingo Watching. © Copper Beech Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Danielle Steel, (books by this author) born in New York City (1947). Her books have sold more than 570 million copies and are read in 28 languages.

She spends her days writing in her bedroom on a 1948 metal-body Olympia manual typewriter, wearing her flannel nightgown. She often writes 18 hours a day. She said, "Once a book is really going, I can't get away from it. Sometimes I forget to comb my hair. And if I'm in the bathtub, I'll scrawl notes on the mirror or the wall. Writing is just an all-consuming passion." She says, "It drives everyone else crazy."

She was the only child of wealthy, well-traveled parents whom she described as "very social, very superficially glamorous." She went to grade school in Paris and then graduated from a French high school in New York City when she was 14. She attended fashion design school, but developed a stomach ulcer there and left in order to recover. At age 16, she started at NYU but became ill there also, this time with hepatitis and a tumor. A couple of years later, she got married to a wealthy French banker, and they had homes in New York City, San Francisco, and Paris.

She went to work for a Manhattan PR and ad agency, and one of her clients—the editor of Ladies' Home Journal—encouraged her to write a book. She moved to her San Francisco home and in three months had finished Going Home (1973), a novel that appeared first in paperback form.

It didn't get very good reviews, and the next five manuscripts of hers were rejected by publishers. She persevered, she said, out of "foolishness." She said, "I just enjoyed what I was doing. I kept saying to myself, I'm going to do one more book, and then I'll quit. I never quit!" She was also a newly divorced single mother at the time, and she conceded that writing helped her from getting lonely. "After my separation, I found I am never lonely when I write. You concoct dream men because there are no men in your life."

She's been called by a Wall Street Journal reviewer "one of the high priestesses of escapist fiction." The reviewer quoted the following line by Steel as typical: "And with that a sob broke from her, and she turned her back to him again, her shoulders shaking in the exquisite evening dress by Trigère." Steel says she has "an instinctive sense for the feelings of others."

She made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989 for having a book on the Times best-seller list for 381 consecutive weeks. She has since broken that record—a book of hers stayed on the list for 390 consecutive weeks. In July of 2008, her 73rd best-selling novel— Rogue—was published.

It's the birthday of short-story writer Alice Adams, (books by this author) born in Fredericksburg, Virginia (1926). She had a difficult relationship with her mother, who was a writer. Adams thought that if she became a writer when she grew up, then her mother would love her. She took a creative writing class in college. Her teacher suggested she give up writing and told her to get married instead. She did get married, and had a child, but the marriage broke up. She spent several years as a single mother and she worked as a secretary. At the time, her psychiatrist gave her the advice to give up writing and get remarried, but instead she published her first novel, Careless Love (1966), and a few years later, she published her first short story in The New Yorker. She wrote many novels, but she's best known for her short stories, in collections like After You've Gone (1989) and The Last Lovely City (1999).

It's the birthday of humorist and newspaper columnist Russell Baker, (books by this author) born in Loudoun County, Virginia (1925). He is the author of many books of essays, including Poor Russell's Almanac (1972), So This Is Depravity (1980), and the memoir Growing Up (1982).

He had an unhappy childhood. His father died when he was five years old, and he and his mother went to live with his uncle, who was a butter salesmen, in Newark, New Jersey during the Great Depression. His family was always on the edge of poverty and young Baker helped support the family by selling magazines door to door. His mother wanted him to get a good education. He said, "I would make something of myself, and if I lacked the grit to do it, well then [my mother] would make me make something of myself." In high school, he won an essay contest with a piece called "The Art of Eating Spaghetti" and got a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.

He started covering the police beat for The Baltimore Sun, and he worked his way up to being a White House correspondent. Eventually, Baker got a job writing a humor column called "The Observer" for The New York Times. Baker's column was modeled on the essays E.B. White had been writing for The New Yorker magazine. It was one of the first humor columns The New York Times had ever published, and Baker was one of the first writers for the Times to write in casual American English. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1979. His last column appeared in the Times on Christmas day in 1998.

Russell Baker said, "I've had an unhappy life, thank God."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “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
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show