Feb. 19, 2010

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
This number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o'erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine!
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and Courtly sights
Sleep's leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers' long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

"Now winter Nights Enlarge" by Thomas Campion. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Jonathan Lethem, (books by this author) born in New York City (1964). He was raised in Brooklyn by idealistic, radical parents who constantly invited people into their home and had intellectual discussions morning and night. His mother was an activist and his father an avant-garde painter. He went off to Bennington College in Vermont, and he said: "My experience there was overwhelming, mostly having to do with a collision with the realities of class — my parents' bohemian milieu had kept me from understanding, even a little, that we were poor [...] It's an endlessly fascinating subject for me — the oddity of being raised in a hipster fog where intellectualism and cultural access obscured poverty so completely it became a kind of privilege." But, he said, "At Bennington, that was all demolished by an encounter with the fact of real privilege." So he dropped out and hitchhiked to the West Coast, where he worked in bookstores and started to write. He published short stories and a couple of novels, then moved back to New York and wrote his first big success, Motherless Brooklyn (1999), about a detective named Lionel Essrog with Tourette's syndrome. Then he drew from his own experience growing up in a Bohemian household in a racially diverse neighborhood of Brooklyn, and he endowed his main characters with superhero powers, and he published the novel The Fortress of Solitude (2003), another best-seller.

It's the birthday of Carson McCullers, (books by this author) born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia (1917).

At the age of 17, she moved to New York City. She was an accomplished classical pianist, and she planned to study at Juilliard, but she somehow lost her tuition money — she told contradictory stories, sometimes that she forgot it on the subway, other times that an acquaintance had taken it. In any case, her dreams of a career in music never materialized. She started writing and publishing short stories. She got married, moved to North Carolina, and worked on a novel, which was published when she was just 23 years old: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940). It was a best-seller and she became a literary celebrity.

But her health and marriage were deteriorating. She had had various health problems since she was a child, and she and her husband drank constantly and fought often. Beginning when she was 24, she had a series of strokes — the first one left her partially paralyzed — and over the years she had serious bouts of strep throat and the flu, lung problems, a nervous breakdown, and breast cancer. She and her husband got divorced, then remarried; but in 1953, her husband asked her to take part in a double suicide with him, and she refused but he killed himself anyway.

But through it all, she kept writing — short stories, plays, and novels. Her books include Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), The Member of the Wedding (1946), and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951).

It's the birthday of Amy Tan, (books by this author) born to Chinese immigrant parents in Oakland, California (1952). Her mother hoped she would become a concert pianist or a doctor, but instead she became a writer. She began her career by writing business manuals and speeches for executives, and she felt pressured to write under an American-sounding pseudonym, so she chose May Brown — she rearranged Amy to get May, and Brown is a synonym of Tan.

But she had turned into a workaholic, and she realized that she needed a creative balance in her life, so she started jazz piano and also writing fiction. Quickly she got an advance to pen a book of short stories, which Tan wrote in about four months. Those stories worked together like a novel, and the book was published as The Joy Luck Club (1989). She's gone on to write more best-sellers such as The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001) and Saving Fish from Drowning (2005).

It's the birthday of Siri Hustvedt, (books by this author) born in Northfield, Minnesota (1955). She started off as a poet, but one night she had a bad case of writer's block, so to work through it she wrote 10 pages of what she thought of as a prose poem. She liked it, she spent a few months editing it, and she sent it out and it got accepted. She said, "The effect of writing prose was so liberating, I never returned to writing in lines."

She wrote The Blindfold (1992), The Enchantment of Lily Dahl (1996), What I Loved (2003), and The Sorrows of An American (2008). And in a few weeks, she will publish a memoir, The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves (2010), about her quest to understand the neurological condition that afflicted her after the death of her father.

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
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