Nov. 24, 2008

Translation of My Life

by Elizabeth Spires

I remember the past.
Before there were poems.
I was eight. The world
simple as a primer.
I lived in a small town
far from the ocean.
Home, then school,
then home again,
back and forth
on my blue bicycle.
In the summer, a blue pool,
white clouds sailing over,
and a song playing
on the jukebox.
Always the same song.
Then fall, with its burning
leaves. Thanksgiving.
Christmas. Over and over.
There are photographs,
yellow and crumbling,
to prove what I say.

Imagine: a town
in the same universe as this one,
with the same physical laws,
but no poets, no poetry.
No scribbling hands up late
at night writing words
they believed would save them.
No noisy fluttering pages
to disturb the peace
of the dreaming populace.
Understand, I was only a girl
living the days as they came.
I did not know then I would leave.
Though I had a secret
I did not tell and will not ever,
I did not know I would leave.

"Translation of My Life" by Elizabeth Spires, from The Wave-Maker. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist Nuruddin Farah, (books by this author) born in Baidoa, Somalia, in 1945. He went into self-imposed exile, but he kept writing about Somalia, and he's published 10 novels, all in English, all about the country where he was born. He's best known for his two trilogies. The first, "Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship," includes Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981), and Close Sesame (1983). The "Blood in the Sun" trilogy includes Maps (1986), Gifts (1992), and Secrets (1998). Nuruddin Farah said, "The only thing I can say is that I have tried my best to keep my country alive by writing about it."

It's the birthday of the novelist Laurence Sterne, (books by this author) born in Clonmel, Ireland, in 1713. He became an Anglican priest. He had an unhappy marriage, and both he and his wife had tuberculosis. During a period of depression, he started writing a novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760). It was a big success throughout Europe, and it's the first novel about writing a novel.

It's the birthday of the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, (books by this author) born on this day in Shillong, Meghalaya, in 1961. Her dad was a tea planter and her mom was a women's rights activist. She left home at 16 and lived in a squatter's camp in New Delhi, and then she went to school to be an architect, but she didn't like it. She worked as a government researcher, an actress, and an aerobics instructor. Then she started writing a novel, because she decided that being a writer is "the thing that comes closest to not having a profession." It took her four and a half years to write that novel, and it was The God of Small Things (1997), which was a runaway best-seller in countries all over the world and won the Booker Prize. Since then, she has published many books, but they have all been nonfiction, like The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2001) and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (2004). She said, "For reasons I do not fully understand, fiction dances out of me. Nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning."

It's the birthday of the children's writer Frances Hodgson Burnett, (books by this author) born in 1849 in Manchester, England. Her parents owned a successful interior decorating store, but her father died, the economy was in decline, and her mother couldn't keep the business running. So the family moved to a log cabin in Tennessee when Frances was 15. She wanted to help support her family, and she had been writing stories for a long time, so she started sending them out, and soon she was earning a living.

We remember Burnett as the author of The Secret Garden (1911), but during her lifetime she was most famous for another book, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886). It was so successful that a whole line of products was based on the book — toys, chocolate, playing cards — and velvet suits for little boys became a new fashion.

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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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