Oct. 8, 2009


by Sharon Bryan

My best lover ever
is dead. And

the second best.
Nothing to do

with me, it was years
since I'd seen them.

Still, they took
something with them

no one else knows
about me, and if I

know it, I know
only half, like every

other line of a poem.

"Erasures" by Sharon Bryan, from Sharp Stars. © BOA Editions, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of comic book writer Harvey Pekar, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1939). He liked comic books as a kid, but stopped reading them when he was a teenager, thinking they were kids' stuff. He went to college, dropped out, tried to join the Army and failed, and ended up as a file clerk for the VA hospital in Cleveland, a job he held for almost 40 years. He got some work writing about jazz, but never enough to live on. Then his friend and neighbor Robert Crumb, a comic book artist, suggested that Pekar write about the ins and outs of his daily life. He did, and Crumb illustrated it along with some other artists. Beginning in 1976, these comics about Pekar's life with his wife, at the office, going to the grocery store, and complaining about his existence were published as American Splendor. The comic had a small cult following, and then in 2003 it was made into a popular movie starring Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, but also featuring Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner, as well as their cartoon versions.

It's the birthday of R.L. Stine, (books by this author) born Robert Lawrence Stine in Columbus, Ohio (1943). He loved horror stories as a kid, and when he discovered that the local barbershop carried copies of two horror comic strips, he started getting a haircut every Saturday. He wrote lots of jokes and stories, kept writing through college, then moved to New York City to work as a writer. The first job he found was with a fan magazine, and he said that it was good training because it taught him to write fast and make stuff up.

He edited a humor magazine for a few years, but when it folded, he decided to try horror, and his series for teenagers, Fear Street, became a huge success. So he wrote a series for younger kids, Goosebumps, and his sales went through the roof. When someone asked him how he first knew that Goosebumps was going to be a big success, he said: "I was in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, driving to a bookstore for a book signing. I remember I was stuck in a huge traffic jam and I was really worried I would be late and was growing more and more annoyed at all the traffic. When we finally approached the bookstore, I realized that the traffic jam was caused by all the people who were coming to see me." For several years in a row in the 1990s, he was voted not just the best-selling children's author in the country, but the best-selling author. He has written more than 100 books and sold more than 400 million copies. He said: "I'm really a writing machine. I have no rituals. I don't need a special desk or special background music. As long as I have a keyboard in front of me, I can write."

It's the birthday of the poet who said, "Writing poems is not a career but a lifetime of looking into, and listening to, how words see." That's Philip Booth, (books by this author) born in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1925. His father taught at Dartmouth with Robert Frost, and Frost took young Philip under his wing. When Booth joined the Army during WWII, Robert Frost sent him his poetry.

Philip Booth was a private man, a man who seldom did readings or went on book tours. But he liked to tell stories about the coast of Maine, where he lived for much of his life and where all his ancestors came from. At dinner parties with friends, he was always asked to tell a Maine story, which he delivered in his Maine accent. He published 10 books of poetry, including Letter from a Distant Land (1957) and his selected poems, Lifelines (1999). He died in 2007.

He said: "I think survival is at stake for all of us all the time. … Every poem, every work of art, everything that is well done, well made, well said, generously given, adds to our chances of survival."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Frank Herbert, (books by this author) born in Tacoma, Washington (1920). He got an assignment from the magazine California Living to write about a project that the government was sponsoring in Oregon to slow the spreading of the sand dunes on the coast. He went to Oregon to research, and he became so fascinated with the project that he ended up collecting far more material than he could ever fit into his piece. He wrote an article called "They Stopped the Moving Sands," which California Living never published. But Herbert couldn't stop thinking about the ecological implications of the growing sand dunes. He spent six more years researching and envisioning what would happen if the situation on the Oregon Coast was magnified to the scale of an entire planet. The result was his novel Dune (1965), considered one of the best science fiction novels ever written.

It was on this day in 1871 that fires broke out in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the Great Chicago Fire began. It had been a dry summer and early fall in the upper Midwest. October was warm, but a cold front coming in from the west brought a strong wind. The town of Peshtigo, in Wisconsin, and the towns of Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, in Michigan, were burnt to the ground. Somewhere between 1,200 and 2,500 people died in Peshtigo alone, making it the deadliest fire in American history. For a week afterward, large sections of forest burned in Wisconsin and Michigan. To this day, no one is sure what caused the fire, and besides conditions being right for a fire, it is a total coincidence that the Chicago Fire happened on the same day.

In Chicago, we know where it started — eyewitnesses saw a fire in the barn of a couple named Patrick and Catherine O'Leary. But still no one is sure exactly what started the fire. In a newspaper article, the fire got blamed on the family cow, who supposedly knocked over an oil lamp, which set straw on fire. But 40 years later, a police reporter admitted that he had made up the story about the cow. Either way, the fire raged from the night of October 8, which was a Sunday, until Tuesday morning, when it began to rain. By that time, 300 people had died, and 90,000 of Chicago's 500,000 citizens were homeless.

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
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