Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
by Connie Wanek
My mother knew the value of free pens.
She kept them in cups and drawers
and her motto (one of her mottos) was
Why would you ever spend a penny on a pen?
Long after they dried up, she kept their little bodies
because each reminded her of an event,
perhaps the Home Show, 1981, El Paso, or the time
she considered assisted living (the salesman
gave away expensive blue pens, so nice
she stole a second one for me)
during Dad’s last years.
Besides, sometimes if you shake a dead pen
hard enough, it starts to write again.
“Free Pens” by Connie Wanek. Used with permission of the poet. (books by this poet)
Today is April Fools’ Day, a day of hoaxes and practical jokes the world over.
In the April issue of Sports Illustrated in 1985, George Plimpton reported that the New York Mets had recruited a phenomenal young pitcher who had learned his craft in a Tibetan monastery. The pitcher’s name was Sidd Finch, and he could throw a 168-mile-per-hour fastball. Plimpton buried a clue in the article’s subtitle: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga — and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each word spelled out “Happy April Fools’ Day — ah fib.”
It’s the birthday of the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, born in Novgorod, Russia (1873). He was a halfhearted student in his early days at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his teachers felt he probably did not have much of a career ahead of him. He grew to be a tall, imposing man (Igor Stravinsky called him “a six and a half foot scowl”), and his hands were so big they could span an interval of 13 keys on the piano.
He escaped from Russia just before the Revolution and spent most of the rest of his life in the United States. When Vladimir Horowitz arrived in New York City, the two pianists sealed their friendship by going down into the basement of Steinway and Sons and playing Rachmaninoff’s own Third Piano Concerto (1909). Horowitz played the solo part on one piano, and Rachmaninoff the orchestra reduction on another.
Rachmaninoff was in the middle of writing his famous Second Piano Concerto (1901) when his first symphony received a lukewarm response. He stopped writing music for three years, during which he felt as though he was a man who had suffered a stroke, losing the use of his head and hands. He was able to overcome his nervous breakdown by visiting a psychiatrist, who cured Rachmaninoff by repeating the following words to him each time they met, “You will write your Concerto. You will work with great facility. The Concerto will be of excellent quality.”
Rachmaninoff’s music was very popular, particularly his piano compositions, which were filled with dark and massive chords and strong melodic lines. Prokofiev once remarked, “With Rachmaninoff, all its notes stood firmly and clearly on the ground.” His most famous works include various piano concerti, Symphony No. 2 (1907), and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934).
It’s the birthday of liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow (books by this author), born in Castro Valley, California (1973). She showed an early interest in journalism and started reading the newspaper regularly when she was only seven years old. She studied public policy at Stanford and went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where she earned a doctorate in political science. She was the first openly gay American to be chosen as a Rhodes scholar, and she went on to become the first openly gay American news anchor. She’s hosted The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC since 2008; it was the network’s most successful launch ever. She told the Boston Globe: “When Pat [Buchanan] is saying something outrageous, you know when you yell at the TV? I get to yell at him in person. I get to yell at the TV and it hears me.”
Maddow is the author of Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012), which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-sellers list.
Today is the birthday of American novelist Francine Prose (books by this author), born in Brooklyn (1947). Prose is best known for her novels Household Saints (1981), about an Italian butcher and his schizophrenic daughter, and Blue Angel (2000), a witty and dark satire on academia and writing workshops.
Prose graduated from Radcliffe College (1968), but dropped out of graduate school after reading Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which inspired her to write in earnest. Her first novel, Judah the Pious, was published in 1973, and she’s gone on to write over 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, including two young adult books, Touch (2009) and The Turning (2012). Prose is a frequent reviewer of books for New York Review of Books and teaches at Bard College. She wrote a best-selling book on the craft of writing, Reading Like a Writer (2006), in which she advises would-be writers to read widely. She said, “The advantage of reading widely, as opposed to trying to formulate a series of general rules, is that we learn there are no general rules, only individual examples to help point you in a direction in which you might want to go.”
It’s the birthday of Czech author Milan Kundera (books by this author), born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1929. Best known for his novels, especially The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978), and The Joke (1967), he has also written three poetry collections, four plays, and numerous essays and short stories.
During the early 1950s, he was expelled from the Communist Party for anti-party activities, and then readmitted in 1956. His early writings, especially his poems, were pro-Marxist, and he was active in the “Prague Spring,” a brief period of Communist reform in 1968. The Soviets banned his books after their invasion later that year. He was expelled again from the Communist Party in 1970, left Prague for France with his wife, Vera, a banned newscaster, in 1975, and was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979. Immortality, published in 1990, was his last novel written in Czech; now he writes in French, and is adamant that he be considered a novelist, not a political writer.
Today is the birthday of science fiction and fantasy author Anne McCaffrey (books by this author), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1926. She’s best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, about Earth colonists on the planet of Pern living in a medieval-ish society with genetically engineered dragons, but it’s far from her only accomplishment. She wrote dozens of novels and stories, many of them grouped into 10 other series and two cookbooks. Her son Todd is also a writer and has taken up the Pern banner.
McCaffrey began writing sci-fi in the late 1950s, when the genre’s readership was primarily male. When Star Trek became popular in the late 1960s, it drew women in, and they responded to McCaffrey’s heroines. Female authors, especially sci-fi authors, struggled to be taken seriously; when reporters asked her more than once how she found time to write and still get her housework done, McCaffrey would answer, “You’ve got that wrong — how do I find time for housework with all my writing?” She was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Hugo Award for Science Fiction, in 1968. She died in 2011.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®