Jan. 23, 2010

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

The audio and text for this poem are no longer available.

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. Public domain. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1977 that the miniseries Roots was premiered on ABC. It was based on Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) by Alex Haley, (books by this author) who is also famous for collaborating with Malcolm X to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Haley based Roots loosely on research into his own family's history of slavery. The saga begins with the young Kunta Kinte, who is captured by slave traders in The Gambia and brought to America. By the end of Roots, Kunta Kinte's great-grandson is finally freed at the time of the Civil War.

ABC was hesitant to air the miniseries because of its controversial racial content. Almost all of the white characters were depicted as evil, and there were intense scenes of rape and violence. ABC wasn't sure how white American viewers would react to Roots,so they showed it on consecutive nights rather than spreading it out, and the previews made it look like the well-known white actors were a bigger part of the series than they actually were.

Roots aired for eight nights in a row, and about 130 million people watched at least part of the series. Restaurants and shops cleared out while it was showing, and bars showed it on their TVs in order to keep customers there. Roots became the most-watched program in history at that time.

It was on this day in 1855 that the first permanent bridge across the Mississippi River opened in Minneapolis, although at the time Minneapolis wasn't even an incorporated town yet. But it was rapidly growing up around St. Anthony Falls, a huge waterfall on the river. On this day, a suspension bridge opened at the site of what is now the Hennepin Avenue bridge, named for Father Louis Hennepin, a 17th-century French priest and explorer who was the first European to discover the St. Anthony Falls.

It's the birthday of the French writer Stendhal, (books by this author) born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble (1783). He had a difficult childhood — he adored his mother, but she died when he was seven, and he didn't like his father or the Jesuit priest who taught him at home. But it probably wasn't all their fault — he also characterized his childhood self as "a little monster."

Beyle used more than 100 pseudonyms, but he is most famous as Stendhal, and it was as Stendhal that he wrote the two novels for which he is most famous: Le rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black, 1830) and La chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1839).

It's the birthday of the Caribbean poet and playwright Derek Walcott, (books by this author) born in Castries, Saint Lucia (1930). Derek Walcott's newest book of poetry, White Egrets, will come out this spring.

It's the birthday of poet Louis Zukofsky, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1904. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and he grew up speaking Yiddish, and as a kid he saw Shakespeare in Yiddish at the local theater. But he learned English when he started school, was a good student and went to Columbia, and he decided he wanted to be a poet.

It's the birthday of the poet John Logan, (books by this author) born in Red Oak, Iowa (1923). He went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and studied zoology there. But he ended up writing poetry, 14 books of poems, including The Bridge of Change (1979) and Only the Dreamer Can Change the Dream (1981).

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