Jun. 18, 2014

The need comes on me now
to speak across the years
to those who finally will live here
after the present ruin, in the absence
of most of my kind who by now
are dead, or have given their minds
to machines and become strange,
"over-qualified" for the hard
handwork that must be done
to remake, so far as humans
can remake, all that humans
have unmade. To you, whoever
you may be, I say: Come,
meaning to stay. Come,
willing to learn what this place,
like no other, will ask of you
and your children, if you mean
to stay. "This land responds
to good treatment," I heard
my father say time and again
in his passion to renew, to make
whole, what ill use had broken.
And so to you, whose lives
taken from the life of this place
I cannot foretell, I say:
Come, and treat it well.

"XI" by Wendell Berry from This Day. © Counterpoint Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Jean McGarry (books by this author), born in Providence, Rhode Island (1952). She grew up in a working-class Catholic family, and when she entered Harvard she became the first person in her family to attend college. She worked as a journalist for The Pawtucket Times and the Detroit Free Press. She said: "The main thing about a newspaper is what not to say. There is a vast area that is too personal, critical, or controversial. There's probably more fiction in an obit than any other writing." She went back to graduate school and became a professor and writer. Her books include Airs of Providence (1985), The Courage of Girls (1991), Dream Date (2002), and Ocean State (2010).

She said, "Bad men make for more interesting stories."

It's the birthday of William Humphrey (books by this author), born in Clarksville, Texas (1924). He left Texas as a young man to try and make his way as a playwright in New York City. He bounced from job to job until he found work as a goatherd in rural New York, tending goats and chickens in return for a place to live and $25 a month. In the solitude there, he began writing stories. He hadn't graduated from college himself, but on the strength of three published stories and a good interview, he got a job teaching at Bard College. Eventually, he was able to write full-time, mostly stories and novels about life in small-town Texas, including Home from the Hill (1957), The Ordways (1965), and September Song (1992).

He said, "There is nothing on earth harder than being humorous, nothing worse when you fail."

It's the birthday of writer Amy Bloom (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). She worked with pregnant teenagers and autistic kids, and she said, "I realized that I didn't find other people's problems as boring as many people seem to." So she decided to make a living from it. First she worked as a psychotherapist, but she found herself wanting to write, and she began writing short stories. Her first collection, Come to Me (1993), got great reviews and was nominated for a National Book Award. She continued to write, and her books include Love Invents Us (1997), Away (2007), and Where the God of Love Hangs Out (2009). Her novel Lucky Us will be published next month.

She said: "There are no general stories. One doesn't hear general stories as a therapist. One hears unbelievably specific, intimate, detailed stories. There is no big picture. There is only this particular moment in this particular life."

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Powers (books by this author), born in Evanston, Illinois (1957). When he was in his early 20s, he was working as a computer programmer in Boston. He spent every Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts, where admission was free in the morning, and one day he saw a photograph from 1914 of three farm boys headed to a dance. He was so inspired that he quit his job on Monday and spent the next two years writing his first novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985). He thought those two years would be a break before he went back to real work, but the novel did so well that he was able to remain a full-time writer. He has written 11 novels, including The Gold Bug Variations (1991), Operation Wandering Soul (1993), The Echo Maker (2006), and, most recently, Orfeo (2014).

He said, "The single most useful trick of fiction for our repair and refreshment: the defeat of time. A century of family saga and a ride up an escalator can take the same number of pages. Fiction sets any conversion rate, then changes it in a syllable."

It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Wells (books by this author), born in Rahway, New Jersey (1862). She contracted scarlet fever when she was six years old, and it left her almost completely deaf for the rest of her life. She worked as a librarian and went on to be a very prolific writer, publishing more than 170 books. She wrote crime fiction, humorous poetry, and children's books. Her books include Idle Idylls (1900), The Nonsense Anthology (1902), The Clue (1909), The Technique of the Mystery Story (1913), and an autobiography, The Rest of My Life (1937).

She wrote:
The books we think we ought to read are poky, dull, and dry;
The books that we would like to read we are ashamed to buy;
The books that people talk about we never can recall;
And the books that people give us, oh, they're the worst of all.

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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