Aug. 30, 2008

the man in front of you

by Alice N. Persons

is just tall enough
has soft black hair
and golden skin
wide shoulders
and smells good

you stand behind him
in the movie line
or buying flowers on boylston street
or see him on the subway
not far down the car
his clean brown hands
on the overhead rail

the man in front of you
could have just killed someone
or might have a bitter face
may love no one
or always sleep alone

the man in front of you
hurries out of the station
or rushes around the corner
and vanishes into a cab
you never see his face
but in dreams he comes to you
and does not slip away

"the man in front of you" by Alice N. Persons from Never Say Never. © Moon Pie Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of sensational publisher Bernard Geis, born in Chicago (1909), the son of a cigar manufacturer. He was the editor of his high school newspaper, and when he went to Northwestern to major in English, he became the night editor of the university's daily paper. After graduation, he got a job writing advertising copy, which, he says, "inspired [him] to seek another career." He returned to journalism as a freelancer and eventually went to work for a men's clothing magazine, Apparel Arts. A couple years later, he joined Esquire magazine as assistant editor.

He used his connections at Esquire to start, years later, a publishing company. He enlisted an army of celebrities to go in on the venture, including TV personalities Jack Bailey, Art Linkletter, Ralph Edwards, and Groucho Marx. None of them had any experience in the book publishing business, but they all agreed on the use of television to promote selling books — and often, the owners were promoting their own books. Bernard Geis Associates' early publications included Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, The Secret World of Kids by Art Linkletter, Dear Teen-Ager by Abigail Van Buren, and My Eyes Are in My Heart by Ted Husing and Cy Rice.

He fielded criticism about television promotion of his books — revolutionary at the time — with the response "Anything that can be done, short of using a knout, to drive more people into bookshops renders this nation a service and gives aid and comfort to booksellers, authors, and publishers." He also published books by Andrew Greeley, a Catholic priest and prolific writer whose many novels involved a lot of sex, and by former president Harry Truman. His company published Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls — which was on the New York Times best seller list for over a year and Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl. Brown went on daytime television to promote her book, but because it was taboo to say "sex" on TV back then, she instead lifted up the book and placed it in front of the TV camera, which captured the title.

His company's longtime head of promotion said about Geis: "He made authors into celebrities and celebrities into authors."

It's the birthday of Warren Buffet, born in Omaha, Nebraska (1930). In February 2008, he was ranked by Forbes as the richest person in the world, worth about $62 billion. Despite his massive wealth, he lives relatively frugally, still residing in the home he bought in 1958 for $31,500, driving his own car, and allotting himself an annual salary from his investment company of about $100,000.

In 1988, he said: "I don't have a problem with guilt about money. The way I see it is that my money represents an enormous number of claim checks on society. It's like I have these little pieces of paper that I can turn into consumption. If I wanted to, I could hire 10,000 people to do nothing but paint my picture every day for the rest of my life. And the GNP would go up. But the utility of the product would be zilch, and I would be keeping those 10,000 people from doing AIDS research, or teaching, or nursing. I don't do that though. I don't use very many of those claim checks. There's nothing material I want very much. And I'm going to give virtually all of those claim checks to charity when my wife and I die." In 2006, he announced his plans to give 83 percent of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and he began transferring stocks from his company to their foundation.

He also said, "If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians."

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