December 16, 2018
Garrison Keillor returns to Crooner’s with singer Christine DiGiallonardo & pianist Richard Dworsky. Shows at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
New York, NY
December 2, 2018
A mini Prairie Home reunion featuring Garrison Keillor, Rob Fisher, Fred Newman, and Heather Masse and Christine DiGiallonardo.
November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Where We Are (after Bede)
by Stephen Dobyns
A man tears a chunk of bread off the brown loaf,
then wipes the gravy from his plate. Around him
at the long table, friends fill their mouths
with duck and roast pork, fill their cups from
pitchers of wine. Hearing a high twittering, the man
looks to see a bird—black with a white patch
beneath its beak—flying the length of the hall,
having flown in by a window over the door. As straight
as a taut string, the bird flies beneath the roofbeams,
as firelight flings its shadow against the ceiling.
The man pauses—one hand holds the bread, the other
rests upon the table—and watches the bird, perhaps
a swift, fly toward the window at the far end of the room.
He begins to point it out to his friends, but one is
telling hunting stories, as another describes the best way
to butcher a pig. The man shoves the bread in his mouth,
then slaps his hand down hard on the thigh of the woman
seated beside him, squeezes his fingers to feel the firm
muscles and tendons beneath the fabric of her dress.
A huge dog snores on the stone hearth by the fire.
From the window comes the clicking of pine needles
blown against it by an October wind. A half moon
hurries along behind scattered clouds, while the forest
of black spruce and bare maple and birch surrounds
the long hall the way a single rock can be surrounded
by a river. This is where we are in history—to think
the table will remain full; to think the forest will
remain where we have pushed it; to think our bubble of
good fortune will save us from the night—a bird flies in
from the dark, flits across a lighted hall and disappears.
“Where We Are (after Bede)” by Stephen Dobyns, from Velocities. © Viking Penguin, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of the poet C.K. Williams, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). His two greatest passions in high school were girls and basketball. He was a good basketball player, 6 feet 5 inches, and he was recruited to play in college. But then he wrote a poem for a girl he was trying to impress, and she was actually impressed, and so he decided he should be a poet instead. He dropped out of college to move to Paris because that’s where he thought poets should live. He didn’t write at all while he was there, but he did realize that he didn’t know anything and should probably go back to college. He said: “It was an incredibly important time. Not much happened and yet my life began then. I discovered the limits of loneliness.” He went back and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and started publishing books of poetry, books like Tar (1983), Flesh and Blood (1987), and The Singing (2003), which won the National Book Award.
He wrote: “Poets try to help one another when we can; however, competitive we are, and we are, / the life’s so chancy, we feel so beleaguered, we need all the good will we can get. / Whether you’re up from a slum or down from a carriage, how be sure you’re a poet? / How know if your work has enduring worth, or any? Self-doubt is almost our definition.”
It’s the birthday of novelist Charles Frazier, (books by this author) born in Asheville, North Carolina (1950). His family had lived in the same region for hundreds of years — he said, “I am triply qualified for acceptance into the Sons of Confederate Veterans.” He tried writing a few stories when he was in his 20s, but they weren’t very good and he decided he should go into academia and read other writers instead of trying it himself.
But 20 years later, he got the urge to write again. He knew he wanted to write about the history of western North Carolina, and he started taking notes, doing little bits of research, but he didn’t have a plot yet. Then his father told him the story of one of their ancestors, a man named Inman who was wounded in the Confederate Army, and ended up deserting and walking all the way home, across North Carolina, to his small town at the foot of Cold Mountain. As soon as he heard the story, Frazier knew that it would be his book. He said: “I was pretty suspicious of writing a Civil War novel. I didn’t want to write a novel of the battles and the generals and those famous personalities. There have been a lot of books written about that — good ones and bad ones — and I didn’t want to add to the bulk of that literature. But I realized that there are two kinds of books about a war: there’s an Iliad, about fighting the war, and about the battles and generals, and there’s an Odyssey, about a warrior who has decided that home and peace are the things he wants. Once I decided that I was writing an Odyssey kind of book instead of an Iliad kind of book, I could move forward with it with some sense of happiness.” So Inman became his Odysseus, journeying back to the woman he loves, who has had her own hellish experience through the years of war.
But even after lots of research, Charles Frazier couldn’t find much more information about the real Inman, so he fleshed out the details from his own imagination, reading through letters and diaries from the Civil War. He took time off from teaching, and every day when his daughter got home from school she would read aloud what he had written, so he could make sure it sounded like real dialogue. For a while he only showed his manuscript to his wife and daughter, but finally his wife passed it on to the best-selling novelist Kaye Gibbons, whom they knew through a carpool group for their kids. Gibbons said: “I have never told anyone to quit their day job and write, but I told him he needed to jump off that cliff. I made a promise to him, that if he worked on that book and continued, that he would make more from this book that he would in five years of teaching. I had such faith in it.”
And she was right. In 1997, he published Cold Mountain, and the first print run of 25,000 copies sold out within a week, and it spent months on The New York Times best-seller list. Since then, he has published Thirteen Moons (2006) and Nightwoods (2011), and earlier this year he came out with Varina, which returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain.
The world’s first deep-level underground “tube” railway opened in London on this date in 1890. Charles Pearson had first floated the notion of “trains in drains” in 1845, when steam trains themselves were still reasonably young, and by the 1860s, traffic congestion in London made the idea seem highly desirable. In 1862, the Times scoffed at the idea of running steam trains underground, calling it “an insult to common sense,” but even so, the first underground railway line commenced operation in 1863.
The trouble was that steam trains needed to run close to the surface so that adequate ventilation could be provided. The digging of these shallow lines utilized the “cut and cover” method of tunnel construction: a trench was dug, and earth piled back over the top once a roof was built. This method caused a lot of disruption, and many people were displaced from their homes; in addition, the ventilation portals were ugly. In one case, a false house front was created to mask the vent and preserve the dignity of a well-to-do neighborhood.
Eventually, advances in digging technology and electric traction techniques enabled future lines to be placed deeper underground, causing much less surface disruption. The City and South London Railway line opened in 1890, becoming the first deep-level electric railway in the world. The tunnels were round, giving the railway the nickname it still bears today: The Tube.
It’s the birthday of American playwright Jon Robin Baitz (books by this author), born in Los Angeles in 1961. He was raised in Brazil and South Africa, and then came back to California in time to attend Beverly Hills High School.
His plays include The Film Society (1987), Three Hotels, (1991), Other Desert Cities (2011) and A Fair Country (1996), which was nominated for a Pulitzer. He also writes for film and television occasionally, and was the executive producer of the ABC drama Brothers and Sisters. He also wrote the teleplay for the NBC miniseries The Slap (2015) and the screenplay for the 2015 film Stonewall.
Today is the birthday of cowboy poet and humorist Will Rogers (1879) (books by this author). He was born on a ranch near Oologah, Oklahoma, although Oklahoma was still the Cherokee Nation at that time. Growing up on a cattle ranch, it’s not too surprising that he learned how to throw a lasso, but Rogers took it a step further. He made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once to rope a galloping horse and rider: one rope went around the horse’s neck, the second went around the rider, and the third captured the horse’s legs. His trick roping skills are featured in a movie, The Ropin’ Fool (1922), and he was popular in Wild West shows and on the vaudeville circuit. He also had a knack for wisecracks, and soon those became part of his act as well. He appeared in several Broadway shows and about 70 movies. He also wrote six books and a popular syndicated newspaper column, “Will Rogers Says,” which reached 40 million readers.
He often made fun of politicians, saying things like, “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat,” and “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you’ve got the whole government working for you.” In 1928, he launched a mock campaign for president; he called himself the candidate for the “Anti-Bunk Party,” and his only campaign promise was to resign, should he be elected. In 1932, he sent a letter to Franklin Roosevelt giving him advice on dealing with Congress, saying, “They’re just children that’s [sic] never grown up. They don’t like to be corrected in company. Don’t send messages to ’em, send candy.” His son and namesake, Will Rogers Jr., eventually became a politician himself, running for and winning a seat in Congress in 1943.
Rogers was on a trip to Alaska in 1935 when his plane, flown by Wiley Post, crashed outside Barrow. He was 55 years old.