Jan. 7, 2012

The Snowshoe Hare

by Mary Oliver

The text of this poem is no longer available.

"The Snowshoe Hare" by Mary Oliver, from New & Selected Poems. © Beacon Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1610, Galileo wrote a letter describing his discovery of three of Jupiter's moons. He had recently made some improvements to his telescope, and he discovered them in December. As he continued to observe them over the next few months, a fourth celestial body appeared, and he realized that they were actually orbiting the giant planet. Since most people at that time still believed in the Ptolemaic theory — that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around us — it was an important discovery. It went a long way toward confirming Copernicus's controversial theory that the Earth went around the Sun.

Today is the birthday of Zora Neale Hurston (books by this author), born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated African-American community in the United States, with a population of about 125. Hurston loved it there, and would set many of her stories in Eatonville, depicting it as a sort of Utopia; she also described it in her 1928 essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." When she was 13, her mother died, and her father remarried immediately, so she was sent to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. She was expelled when her father stopped paying her tuition, and she went to live with a series of family members.

She went to Howard University, and cofounded the school's newspaper, The Hilltop. She was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, where she studied anthropology, and she was the college's only black student. She published many short stories in the 1920s and early '30s, and her first book, Mules and Men (1935), was an anthropological study of African-American folklore. She's best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

A founding member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston died in poverty in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the cemetery where Hurston was buried, and marked it as hers. Alice Walker wrote about the event in her article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" (1975), and the article sparked a renewed interest in Hurston's writing.

It's the birthday of novelist William Peter Blatty (books by this author), born in New York City (1928). His novel The Exorcist (1971) just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and has been released in a new edition with additional material.

Today is the birthday of publisher Jann Wenner (1946), born in New York City. He was sent to boarding school in California when he was 11, and his parents divorced when he was 12. Neither of them seemed particularly interested in gaining custody of their son. He went to the University of California at Berkeley, dropped out in 1966, and got a job at the left-wing political and literary magazine Ramparts. The following year, using $7,500 that he borrowed from his family and his future in-laws, Wenner cofounded magazine with San Francisco Chronicle jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was a biweekly magazine that focused on rock music, and they called it Rolling Stone.

It's the birthday of novelist and nonfiction author Nicholson Baker (books by this author), born in New York City (1957). He grew up in Rochester and went to an experimental "School Without Walls," where students studied only what interested them, didn't receive grades, and typed up their own transcripts. "At the time I thought: Give me structure!" he told The New York Times. "I yearned for a more traditional school. But now I think it was the best thing. I learned what it was like to be incredibly bored."

His first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), is an account of one man's random thoughts as he rides an escalator up to the mezzanine level of his office building on his lunch hour.

Baker has earned a reputation as a writer of erotic novels: Vox (1992), The Fermata (1994), and House of Holes (2011). He's also published a book about World War II Human Smoke (2008), a memoir about his admiration for John Updike U and I (1991), and an impassioned critique of the use of technology in libraries Double Fold (2001). The unifying characteristic in all his diverse books is his eye for minutiae.

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