Aug. 28, 2008


by G.E. Johnson

Once after dinner a woman and I walked past
An empty basketball court and she says,
"I played on a team my junior year in Belfast,"
And I say "Want to shoot some?" She says "Yes,"
Though she was wearing a long black dinner dress.
She kicked off her high heels and she caught
My pass and with great finesse
Drove to the baseline, jumped and shot
Swish. Two points. We played for awhile,
Man in a black suit, woman in a long black gown,
I loved her quickness and her heads-up style,
Her cool hand as she beat me hands down —
       Her jumpiness, like a blackbird in the night—
       Her steady eye, her feet about to take flight.

"Basketball" by G.E. Johnson. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of one of the greatest German writers ever, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (books by this author)born in Frankfurt in 1749. He worked on his greatest drama, Faust (1832), for about 50 years. He based it on Christopher Marlowe's play Faust, about a scholar who sells his soul to Satan. In Marlowe's version, Faust is damned to hell, but Goethe has Faust defeat Mephistopheles and ascend into heaven.

When Goethe was 74, he fell in love with a 19-year-old woman, whom he chased but never succeed in winning. He wrote a long, sad poem about his failed attempt, and died soon after, in 1832.

He said, "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

And it's the birthday of novelist Liam O'Flaherty, (books by this author) born on Inishmore, in the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland (1896). He said, "I was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men's bones." He was the ninth of 10 children, born to a father who fished and farmed and a mother who was once a member of the Plymouth Brethren and whose family came to the islands to build lighthouses.

He spent a little while studying to become a priest — but mostly just to get a free education, he later confessed. He was wounded while fighting in World War I, and then spent a few years working on ships and wandering around the world. He moved to London and became active in communist politics. He helped found the Irish Communist Party, and shortly thereafter, he helped stage a takeover of a Dublin public building — which lasted for a whole week — as part of a movement to set up an Irish soviet.

He started writing fiction and sent his first manuscript of a novel to a publisher, but the publisher lost the manuscript — which was 150,000 words long. Within a few years, he had published Thy Neighbour's Wife (1923), The Black Soul (1924), and The Informer (1925). He also adapted The Informer into a screenplay, and the resulting movie won 1935 Academy Award for Best Picture. For the few decades after his first novel came out, he wrote prolifically, publishing 36 works — novels, memoirs, and short-story collections — within 25 years.

In 1937, he wrote a historical novel, The Famine, about the potato blight of the 1840s, which caused a huge fraction of the Irish population to die of starvation or to emigrate. In the story, which revolves around a peasant farming family, O'Flaherty laments the devastation the famine had on ritualistic Irish society.

He began to write in the Irish language, and he worked for government radio, during which he read his stories on the air in Irish. A reviewer said of him, "O'Flaherty is at once both the most peacefully lyrical and the most violent of Irish short-story writers." Another critic said, "He has been capable, in his work, of an astonishing delicacy of perception and expression, and of appalling crudities. ... His subject is the soul, locked sometimes in battle against nature, sometimes against society, often against God, always against itself."

He's the author of the novels Return of the Brute (1929) and The Ecstasy of Angus (1931), as well as a satirical Tourist Guide to Ireland (1929) and an autobiography entitled Shame the Devil (1934). He published several short-story collections, including Two Lovely Beasts and Other Stories (1950) and The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories (1976).

It's the birthday of the novelist and playwright Robertson Davies, (books by this author) born in Thamesville, Ontario (1913). In the 1930s, he was a successful Shakespearean actor in London, until 1939, when all of the city's theaters closed down because of the war. Davies decided to return to Canada and look for a new job. At the encouragement of his father, he took over the family newspaper. The stories that he covered — sex scandals, murders, children locked in basements — eventually inspired him to write novels. He said, "I have been among people who would make your hair stand on end. And this is where I find the stuff I put in my books."

He's best known for his Deptford Trilogy, Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975), which revolve around a boy from small-town Ontario, who grows up to become involved with magicians, millionaires, and modern-day saints.

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




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