Mar. 28, 2010


by Kay Ryan

Book I

The great taloned osprey
nests in Scotland.
Her nest's the biggest
thing around, a spiked basket
with hungry ugly osprey offspring
in it. For months she sits on it.
He fishes, riding four-pound salmon
home like rockets. They get
all the way there before they die,
so muscular and brilliant
swimming through the sky.

"Osprey" by Kay Ryan, from The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. © Grove Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist Iris Chang, (books by this author) born in Princeton, New Jersey (1968), to a physicist father and a microbiologist mother, and raised in the Midwest. She's best known for her second nonfiction book, The Rape of Nanking, published when she was 29, which spent 10 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has sold half a million copies. It's subtitled "The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II," and it documents the murder, rape, and torture of Chinese civilians during the second Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s, when Japanese troops invaded the city of Nanking (now Nanjing). Her account was the first full-length book in English on the Nanking Massacre.

She first got the idea for the book after attending a conference in Cupertino, California, which talked about the Nanking Massacre. It struck a chord, especially because her grandparents had fled that part of China during this time and would not speak of what they left behind. In the course of two months there, 300,000 civilians were murdered and 80,000 women were raped. Chang said that after the conference, she was "suddenly in a panic that this terrifying disrespect for death and dying ... would be reduced to a footnote of history, treated like a harmless glitch in a computer program that might or might not again cause a problem, unless someone forced the world to remember it." She began to research the massacre, traveled to China to interview survivors, and insisted that the U.S. government declassify documents about the event.

The book she wrote about it, published in 1997, received widespread critical acclaim and sold 125,000 copies within a few months of its publication. Iris Chang became a celebrity, called "the best young historian we've got" by Steven Ambrose, and featured on the cover of Reader's Digest magazine and on television shows like Good Morning America, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,and Nightline. Hillary Clinton invited her to the White House to talk about human rights. At the same time, she received hate mail from Japanese ultranationalists and anonymous violent threats.

Chang began work on another book where she investigated brutal atrocities that no one else seemed to speak of, this time about the Bataan Death March during World War II, where U.S. soldiers were starved and tortured by their Japanese captors in the Philippines. She interviewed elderly American veterans who'd been prisoners of war there. Many of them had not spoken about their horrific experiences during the Bataan Death March for decades or at all, and the interviews were intense and painful.

The research, the grisly details and photographs, and the interviews with survivors made her increasingly depressed. Friends said that she became unable to "filter" out the brutal atrocities that she was learning about and writing about, that these historical events shadowed her own daily life. She became paranoid and suffered from psychosis. She quit sleeping, had a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalized in the summer of 2004; doctors thought she was bipolar. Later that year, at age 36, she committed suicide near her home in California. She's the subject of a recent biography by a fellow journalist, Paula Kamen, entitled Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind (2007).

It's the birthday of novelist Lauren Weisberger, (books by this author) born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1977. Weisberger majored in English, spent a summer backpacking around Europe and Asia after graduation, then moved back to the U.S. and landed a job as assistant to the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. After she left Vogue, she worked as an assistant editor at Departures magazine, then took some writing classes and started to work on a book. It became The Devil Wears Prada, which contains a pretty straightforward autobiographical narrative about Weisberger's experiences as a personal assistant at Vogue magazine: The main character Andy Sachs aspires to be a writer, moves to New York City, and gets a job at a fashion magazine working as the personal assistant to the despotic and domineering editor. The Devil Wears Prada spent six months on the New York Times best-seller list when it came out in 2003.

Her advice to young unpublished writers is this: "It's all about setting aside just a little time to write each week. ... Figure out what works and make it completely non-negotiable."

She has since published the novels Everyone Worth Knowing (2005) and Chasing Harry Winston (2008).

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