Mar. 8, 2011

Amherst Massachusetts

by Jaimee Kuperman

Boulder Colorado drinks a margarita outside on the patio. He walks to
Pearl Street and finds a spot on the pavement to watch a street performer.
People in dreadlocks, playing guitars, ask him if he can spare a smile as
he passes them by. Baskets with notes that say, "For music school," sit
in front of young girls who are playing the violin.

Boulder Colorado checks his watch as he realizes that Tucson Arizona
probably won't show up. he waits outside the pizza joint before going
to a phone booth. Tucson Arizona answers the phone out of breath. She
talks closely into the telephone and Boulder Colorado imagines her
pale skin and the way her shirt thins to her body, and says, it would have
been nice if you had called.

She slips the phone off her fingers and wraps her body in a towel before
getting dressed to meet New York City. New York City is always up late,
they shop on Fourth Ave, and even when the stores are closed the streets
are open. It's Downtown Saturday Night and New York City is dancing.

He pulls Tucson Arizona to his chest, his arms are on her lower back, his
hands feeling the slender of her hips. Amherst Massachusetts is reading the
newspaper when she looks out and notices Tucson Arizona's slim body
dancing between the trees. She thinks about New York City's cinnamon
breath and raw cologne.

Amherst Massachusetts wraps her brown thick hair up in a wool hat, her
neck in a scarf. She lets the roads take her home, following the leaves as
they fall to the silence of the street. She places her hands on her hips and
feels the roundness the year has brought them.

Amherst Massachusetts thinks about New York City and the charm he has
with women, she thinks about Tucson Arizona and the way she lets men
play on her body like sunlight. She knows they are dancing the
night away and won't be home anytime soon.

"Amherst Massachusetts" by Jaimee Kuperman, from You Look Nice Strange Man. © ABZ Poetry Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is International Women's Day, which has been celebrated in the United States, Russia, and parts of Europe since the turn of the 20th century.

It was during this holiday in 1917 that women workers in Russia left factories and took to the streets to protest food shortages. When Czar Nicholas II ordered the military to intervene, they did not. Shortly afterward, he abdicated, and shortly after that, women in Russia were given the right to vote, three years before women in the U.S.

International Women's Day is celebrated in 28 countries and recognized by the United Nations.

On this day in 1978, the first episode of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on BBC radio. It was science fiction comedy, from a writer named Douglas Adams, (books by this author) who was also a writer for the show Dr. Who. The Hitchhiker radio series became popular right away, and so it was turned into a British television series, a movie, and five books: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980); Life, The Universe and Everything (1982); So Long and Thanks for all the Fish (1984); and Mostly Harmless (1992).

The idea for the series came to Adams while he was lying in a field in Austria, drunk and considering the vastness of the cosmos. He imagined a roving reporter who was an alien assigned to write about an "insignificant planet at the unfashionable end of the universe" — Earth — which is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The story goes from there.

It's the birthday of nonfiction writer John McPhee, (books by this author) born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931). He writes for The New Yorker and has published more than 30 books, and he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. His most recent collection of essays is Silk Parachute (March 2010).

His father was a doctor of sports medicine, so McPhee grew up on the Princeton campus knowing, he said, "the location of every urinal and every pool table." As a kid he spent football games on the field. One day the weather was bad and he was wet, cold, and miserable. He looked up and saw writers in the press box — warm, dry, and comfortable. He decided he would become a writer. He wrote a novel for his senior thesis at Princeton. It wasn't very good, but he said, "You just don't sit there and write thirty thousand words without learning something."

He was rejected by The New Yorker for 10 years before publishing an article there. He said, "I used to paper my wall with rejection slips. And they were not making a mistake." They made him a staff writer in 1965.

He reads everything out loud to his wife, Yolanda, or his friend, Gordon Gund, who is blind. He said, "I can't stand a sentence until it sounds right."

Since 1975, he's taught a course in nonfiction writing at Princeton, the only town he's ever lived in.

It's the birthday of literary critic Leslie Fiedler, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1917). He's best known for his book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). He believed that the great theme of American literature was the search for identity. He said, "Americans have no real identity. We're all … uprooted people who come from elsewhere."

His father was an atheist, and Fiedler went to Hebrew school behind his back, though he didn't work hard at it. During his teens, he wanted to be a Marxist revolutionary, but he eventually lost his idealism.

He studied literature and began writing fiction. His stories were usually rejected, but magazine editors asked him to write book reviews and that's how he became a critic. He was one of the first Americans to argue in favor of popular culture and genre fiction, and once said the only writer of the late 20th century who would be remembered was Stephen King. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with being the first to describe a piece of literature as "postmodernist."

He once wrote, "I have, I admit, a low tolerance for detached chronicling and cool analysis." His last book was Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996). He died in 2003.

It's the birthday of the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, (books by this author) born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan (1960). He got the idea for his first novel, The Virgin Suicides (1993), when his nephew's babysitter mentioned that she and all of her sisters had attempted suicide at least once. The first chapter of the book was published in the Paris Review, which earned him an agent and a book deal within two days of each other.

His second novel, Middlesex (2002), about a hermaphrodite named Calliope, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It's a book that careens through settings and time periods and literary styles. Of writing it he has said: "I had this torture waiting for me every day, but at least it was my torture. I was like Patty Hearst with her Stockholm Syndrome."

The Virgin Suicides was written in the first-person-plural "we." Middlesex is told by a hermaphrodite raised as a girl who later lives as a man, written in both the third and first person. "I like impossible voices," he has said.

He also said, "It seem[s] to me that a novelist has to have a hermaphroditic imagination, since you should be able to go into the heads of men and women if you want to write books."

It's the birthday of social critic Neil Postman, (books by this author) born in New York (1931). He started teaching at NYU in 1959, and published more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles and 20 books, but his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) made him famous. In it he argued that complicated truths could only be conveyed in the printed word, and that television news was actually entertainment, presented by what he called "talking hairdos."

In his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, he describes our reverence for and dependence on technology as deification and totalitarian. And that was way back in 1993, before "smart" phones and Facebook.
He said: "Why do we think technology is above morality ...? The real question is, 'How should I conduct my life?' rather than 'What tools should I use?'" He died in 2003.

It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Kenneth Grahame, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He is best known for his book The Wind in the Willows (1908), which he composed from bedtime stories he told to his son. The book helped steer children's literature away from stories that taught children how to behave, and toward stories that sparked their imaginations.

His mother died when he was five, and he went to live with his grandmother in her big, run-down house on the Thames. He withdrew into an imaginary world. When he returned at age 46 with his son, he found that he remembered every detail, and he realized that children have a "secret kingdom" in their minds where they can go when they are upset or bored by the rest of the world.

He had already published two books of stories for children, but The Wind in the Willows was rejected by publishers because it had talking animals in it. At the time, talking animals were considered too fantastic. Teddy Roosevelt, a fan of Grahame's earlier work, convinced a publisher to take the book. It was huge success, and it continues to sell well 100 years later.

Grahame was able to retire from his bank job because of the book. He lived for another 25 years, but he never wrote another one.

In the book, Ratty delivers sage advice to Mole, saying, "There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..."

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




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