Sep. 5, 2010

Wrong Turn

by Luci Shaw

I took a wrong turn the other day.
A mistake, but it led me to the shop where I found
the very thing I'd been searching for.

With my brother I opened a packet
of old letters from my mother and saw a side of her
that sweetened what had been deeply sour.

Later that day the radio sang a song from
a time when I was discovering love,
and folded me into itself again.

"Wrong Turn" by Luci Shaw, from What the Light Was Like. © WordFarm, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Ward Just, (books by this author) born in Michigan City, Indiana (1935). He's the author of more than a dozen books of fiction, including The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert (1973), The American Blues, (1984) The American Ambassador (1987),and Jack Gance (1989).

But long before he started writing fiction, he was a journalist. He came from a family of serious journalists — his dad, and his grandfather before him, published the town newspaper. He himself started working as an investigative reporter for the family newspaper when he was just 13 years old. A few years later, when he was about to graduate from high school, his managing editor fired him for wearing shorts to work — which he deemed to be a lack of respect for the newspaper business. But they hired him back after he dropped out of college and returned home to be a full-time journalist.

By the time he was 24, he was writing features for Newsweek magazine, and then he was writing for The Washington Post. He went to Saigon to cover the Vietnam War, where he was seriously wounded by shrapnel from a grenade. He came back to the States to recover, and he wrote a book called To What End: Report from Vietnam (1968), and then he quit journalism and launched into fiction.

His 1997 novel Echo House was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his 2004 novel An Unfinished Season was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book Exiles in the Garden (2009) came out just last year. It begins:
"Especially when he was alone Alec Malone had the habit of slipping into reverie, a semiconscious state not to be confused with dreams. Dreams were commonplace while his reveries presented a kind of abstract grandeur, expressionist canvases in close focus, untitled. ... The reveries had been with him since childhood and he treated them like old friends paying a visit."

It's the birthday of journalist and activist Jonathan Kozol, (books by this author) born in Boston (1936). He worked as public school teacher in Boston and has written many books about the sad state of public education in this country, and about how segregated our schools still are, all based on his own experiences in classrooms and working in poor neighborhoods. His books include Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) and Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (1995), about kids in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. He said: "Of all my books, Amazing Grace means the most to me. It took the most out of me and was the hardest to write, because it was the hardest to live through these experiences. I felt it would initially be seen as discouraging but, ultimately, sensitive readers would see the resilient and transcendent qualities ... that it would be seen as a book about the elegant theology of children."

In his recent book Letters to a Young Teacher (2007), he combines his opinions on vouchers, No Child Left Behind, and racial segregation, with constant reminders about why teaching is so important and beautiful.
Kozol said, "Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win."

It was on this day in 1957 that Jack Kerouac's (books by this author) book On the Road was published, based on the trip he took across the country 10 years before. He began his journey in New York where he rode a trolley to the edge of Yonkers, and wanted hitchhike, but got to Route 6 at the Connecticut border in the middle of a big rainstorm. No cars picked him up so he gave up, went back to New York, and bought a bus ticket to Chicago. He started hitchhiking there, and he stayed at YMCA's and cheap motels. He crossed the Mississippi, and in Omaha he saw his first cowboy. He rode on the back of a flatbed truck with a group of hobos.

He knew he wanted to write about all of his experiences, and finally in April of 1951, Kerouac sat down at his kitchen table, wound a continuous roll of paper into a typewriter, tuned his radio to an all-night jazz station, and in 20 days had the first draft to his novel. He told the basically true story of his adventures with his friend Neal Cassady, changed Cassady's name to Dean Moriarty and his own name to Sal Paradise.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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