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+
We Did Not Have Drinking Water in the Middle of the Ocean
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Essentially, that would be the metaphor for my entire life.
I immigrated to the land of the free,
but my people weren’t free.
Tried to speak up, little droplets of words,
to a tidal wave powering over me.
Homeland trampled, ripped in pieces,
often by people who weren’t there.
How dare they?
They had their own interests.
They couldn’t see us.
We were tiny as pebbles to them
that you push with the toe of your shoe. What kind of people
do that? I remember the ship I came to the New World on,
how rough it was, stormy sea and sky,
deck heaving, people sick on the floors at night,
but the size of our stupid hope some mornings
as we looked across calm water and thought,
Now it will be good.
“We Did Not Have Drinking Water in the Middle of the Ocean” by Naomi Shihab Nye from Transfer. Copyright © 2011 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of The Permissions Company LLC on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
It’s the birthday of the filmmaker and actor Charlie Chaplin, born in London (1889). He started out as a vaudeville actor in a comedy troupe. When Chaplin arrived in Hollywood, he was shocked to see how little rehearsal went into each movie. Hollywood directors at the time filmed each scene in a single take, refusing to waste money on extra film. Chaplin tried to get used to the Hollywood style, and he took all the jobs he could get, saving almost all the money he made. But he was disgusted at the quality of the movies. The camera often wasn’t pointed in the right direction to capture his movements, and many of his favorite moments ended up on the cutting room floor. At the end of five months, he asked the producer if he could direct his own movie, and he put up $1,500 of his own savings as a guarantee against losses.
That year, 1914, Chaplin directed, wrote, and starred in 16 films in six months. It was that year that he debuted his most famous character: the “little tramp,” who’s always beaten down by life, always the butt of the jokes, but who never gives up his optimism. The character made Chaplin a star, recognized around the world.
It was on this day in 1787 that “the first American play” opened, at the John Street Theater in New York City. It was written by 29-year-old Royall Tyler. Tyler went to Harvard, studied law, and joined the Continental Army. He was appointed the aide to General Benjamin Lincoln to help suppress Shay’s Rebellion. After Shay left Massachusetts for New York, Tyler was sent to New York City to negotiate for Shay’s capture. And there Tyler did something that he had never done: went to see a play.
Theater was slow to take off in America. There are known performances of Shakespeare in Williamsburg in the early 1700s, and in general the Southern colonies — more open to all British customs — were happier to embrace the theater. In the North, it was looked on as a sinful form of entertainment. Massachusetts passed a law in 1750 that outlawed theater performances, and by 1760 there were similar laws in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, although performances occasionally snuck through the laws with the special permission of authorities.
In any case, Royall Tyler from Massachusetts had never been to the theater before. So on March 12, 1787, he saw a production of Richard Sheridan’s School for Scandal (1777),and he was so inspired that in just three weeks he wrote his own play, The Contrast. On this day in 1787, just barely a month later, The Contrast became the first play by an American writer to be professionally produced.
The Contrast was a success. It was performed four times that month in New York, which was very unusual. Then it moved on to Baltimore and Philadelphia, where George Washington went to see it. The Contrast was a comedy of manners, poking fun at Americans with European pretensions, and the main character, Jonathan, was the first “Yankee” stock character, a backwoods man who spoke in a distinctive American voice and mannerisms.
It’s the birthday of children’s writer Gertrude Chandler Warner (books by this author), born in Putnam, Connecticut (1890). She never finished high school, but during World War I, local school boards enlisted teachers to serve their country, and the Putnam board saw that Warner taught Sunday school and decided she could probably teach first grade. She agreed to try, and she taught 80 kids a day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. She was good at it, and she ended up teaching in the same room for 32 years.
One day, when she was home sick, she thought up a story about kids who lived in an abandoned train car, and she brought it into her class to read to her students. She rewrote it until it was in extremely simple language that all her students could understand. In 1924, she published The Boxcar Children, the story of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, orphans who take care of themselves living off the land until they are reunited with their grandfather. Despite protests from adults — who thought the book was a bad influence because it encouraged children to think they would get along fine without adult supervision — The Boxcar Children was extremely popular, and Warner wrote 18 sequels. After her death in 1979, ghostwriters continued the series, and there are now more than 140 Boxcar Children books.
It was on this day in 1852 that the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev (books by this author) was arrested for writing an obituary for Nikolai Gogol. The young Turgenev had met Gogol briefly several times, but only spent substantial time with him once, about six months before Gogol’s death. But he was shocked and sad to hear the news, and to hear that Gogol had burned his final manuscript shortly before dying.
Turgenev wrote a short obituary, and sent it to a Moscow journal after being denied by the editor in St. Petersburg. He wrote: “Gogol is dead! What Russian heart will not be deeply moved by these words. He is dead … the man whom we now have the right — a bitter right conferred on us by death, to call great.”
For these words, Turgenev was arrested on this day and put in jail. He was released after a month, but banished to the countryside, where he essentially lived under house arrest for almost two years. In letters to friends, he told them that the obituary was just an excuse to arrest him. His book of short stories A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852) was a powerful, and popular, critique of serfdom, which the government of course did not appreciate. The Sketches had an important role in turning public opinion against serfdom, and in 1861, the system was abolished. Turgenev went on to write successful plays and novels, including Fathers and Sons (1862).
He made it big with his first novel, Lucky Jim (1954). Amis was inspired to write Lucky Jim after a visit with his good friend, the poet Philip Larkin, who worked at University College, Leicester, and lived on Dixon Drive there. Amis dedicated Lucky Jim to Larkin. It’s the story of Jim Dixon, a young, lower-middle-class professor who teaches medieval history at a nice university. He is disgusted by the pretentious academics all around him, especially Professor Welch, the head of his department.
Amis wrote every day, and he tried to get through at least 500 words. He got up late and, still in his pajamas, read all the papers. Then he shaved, took a shower, wrote for a while in the early afternoon, and had lunch. He said: “If there’s urgency about, I have to write in the afternoon, which I really hate doing — I really dislike afternoons, whatever’s happening. But then the agreement is that it doesn’t matter how little gets done in the afternoon. And later on, with luck, a cup of tea turns up, and then it’s only a question of drinking more cups of tea until the bar opens at six o’clock and one can get into second gear. I go on until about eight-thirty and I always hate stopping. It’s not a question of being carried away by one’s creative afflatus, but saying, ‘Oh dear, next time I do this I shall be feeling tense again.'”
He wrote more than 20 novels, including That Uncertain Feeling (1955), Take a Girl Like You (1960), Ending Up (1974), and The Old Devils (1986). He also wrote books of poetry, a memoir, essays, and several books about drinking. In his book Everyday Drinking, he wrote: ” The human race has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings.”