Jan. 5, 2012


by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream
deep inside him.

We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

"Shoulders" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Red Suitcase. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Stella Gibbons (books by this author). She was born in London (1902) and wrote, as a parody of romance novels, her first and most famous novel: Cold Comfort Farm (1932).

It's the birthday of W.D. Snodgrass (books by this author), born William DeWitt Snodgrass in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania (1926), who studied creative writing at the University of Iowa; at the time, it was the only creative-writing program in the country. "I wanted to write plays, but my plays were lousy," he recalled. "The only way they could've gotten worse was for me to do what my teacher was telling me."

He is considered one of the founders of "confessional" poetry, because his first published volume — Heart's Needle (1959) — dealt heavily with the pain of his divorce and the loss of his daughter through the breakup. He didn't consider his work confessional, though, saying, "The term confessional seems to imply either that I'm concerned with religious matters (I am not) or that I'm writing some sort of bedroom memoir (I hope I'm not)." He had first submitted his poems to his teacher and mentor, Robert Lowell, who didn't like them. "He said, 'You've got a brain; you can't write this kind of tear-jerking stuff." Lowell later recanted, calling Snodgrass' work "a breakthrough for modern poetry." Heart's Needle won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o (books by this author) born James Ngugi in Limuru, Kenya, in 1938. In 1964, he published the first East African novel written in English. That book is Weep Not, Child, and it's based on his family's troubles during the Mau Mau Uprising. He published The River Between (1965) a year later, and A Grain of Wheat in 1967. Around this time, he also renounced any residual colonial ties; he changed his name to Ngugi wa Thiong'o to reflect his Kikuyu heritage, and he stopped writing in English. He was sent to a maximum-security prison in 1977 for the overtly political play I Will Marry When I Want, and while he was there, he wrote Devil on the Cross (1980), the first novel in the Kikuyu language. He was denied paper, so he wrote the novel on prison toilet paper. He later wrote a memoir about his yearlong incarceration, called Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary (1981). His next novel, Matagiri (1986), prompted the government to seize all copies from bookstores and the publisher's warehouse. His most recent book is Dreams in a Time of War (2010), a memoir of his childhood.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o said, "In writing one should hear all the whisperings, all the shouting, all the crying, all the loving and all the hating of the many voices in the past, and those voices will never speak to a writer in a foreign language."

Today is the 80th birthday of Umberto Eco (books by this author), born in Alessandria, in the Piedmont region of Italy (1932). He's a philosopher, medievalist, literary critic, and best-selling novelist, and the Guardian calls him an "all-round brainbox."

His book, The Name of the Rose, published in Italian in 1980 and in English in 1983, became an international best-seller. His other novels include Foucault's Pendulum (1988), Mysterious Flame of the Queen Loana (2004), and most recently, The Cemetery of Prague (2010).

Eco once explained his productivity, saying: "There is a lot of space between atom and atom and electron and electron, and if we reduced the matter of the universe by eliminating all the space in between, the entire universe would be compressed into a ball. Our lives are full of interstices. [...] I can work in the water closet, in the train. While swimming, I produce a lot of things, especially in the sea. Less so in the bathtub, but there too."

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
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