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
for Stanley Dentinger (1922-2004)
Walking distance used to be much farther,
miles and miles.
Your grandfather, as a young man
with a wife and new baby son,
walked to and from
his job, which was in the next town.
That was Iowa, 1946,
and it was not a hardship
but “an opportunity,” which is youth speaking,
and also a particular man
of German descent, walking on good legs
on white gravel roads,
smoking cigarettes which were cheap
though not free as they’d been
during the war. Tobacco
burned toward his fingers, but never
reached them. The fire was small and personal,
almost intimate, glowing bright
when he put the cigarette to his lips
and breathed through it.
So many cigarettes before bombing runs
and none had been his last,
a great surprise. Sometimes he passed
a farmer burning field grass in the spring,
the smoldering line advancing toward the fence.
He had to know what he was doing,
so near the barn. You had to be close
to see the way
blades of dry grass passed the flame along
at a truly individual level,
very close to see how delicious a meal
the field was to the fire
on a damp, calm, almost English morning
ideal for walking.
Connie Wanek, “Walking Distance” from On Speaking Terms. Copyright © 2010 by Connie Wanek. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of British crime novelist P.D. James (books by this author), born Phyllis Dorothy James in Oxford (1920). The child of a civil servant, she was raised to believe in the security of a good job. Her mother went into a mental hospital when James was a teenager, so the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings fell on her.
She knew when she was in high school that she wanted to become a writer. But she married a medical student and worked as a Red Cross nurse during World War II. She gave birth to their first daughter during a bomb attack. Her husband came back from the Royal Army Medical Corps with a mental disability that made him violent, so he had to be confined in an institution. James supported the family by working as an administrator for the National Health Service. She still wanted to write, and would get up early to do so before she went to her day job.
James was 42 when she published her first crime novel. It took her three years to write. That book was Cover Her Face (1962). She chose the mystery genre because she’d always had an interest in mysterious deaths; she also thought it would be good training, because it’s easy to write a bad mystery novel, but difficult to write a good one. Her first book was a success, so she decided to stay with that genre. In spite of her fascination with violent crime, it troubled her. “I think I’m very frightened of violence,” she once said. “I hate it. And it may be that by writing mysteries I am able, as it were, to exorcise this fear, which may very well be the same reason so many people enjoy reading a mystery.”
Her husband died in 1964, two years after her first book was published. James took the difficult civil service exam and received the third highest score in the country. She later remembered: “I’ve still got the pre-printed letter which says: ‘Dear sir’ and ‘sir’ is crossed out and ‘Madam’ has been written in by hand. It was so rare for women to take the exam.” She went to work for the Home Office, taking a series of administrative jobs in the forensic science and criminal law departments. Her job gave her lots of useful information about the procedures involved in a murder investigation. She retired in 1979 and went to work full-time on her novels. Her big international breakthrough came in 1980, with her eighth book, Innocent Blood.
In 1991, she was given a title and was thereafter known as Baroness James of Holland Park. She had a seat in the House of Lords and also worked as a local magistrate — a title she earned through her years of civil service, not her writing. She also served on a number of arts councils and was one of 10 governors of the BBC.
Her work was often compared with other mystery authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, but she didn’t think very highly of her predecessors’ brand of crime writing that was popular in the 1930s. “That kind of crime writing was dull,” she said, “in the sense that it was unrealistic, prettifying and romanticizing murder, but having little to do with real blood-and-guts tragedy.” She created her character Adam Dalgliesh as an antidote to amateur gentleman detectives like Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. Dalgliesh is a detective with Scotland Yard; he’s intelligent, dedicated, and unsentimental. He publishes poetry when he’s not solving crimes. “He is a male version of me,” James said. “Brainier than me, but his emotions are mine. The empathy is mental rather than physical.”
James died in October 2014 at her home in Oxford. She was 94.
Today is the birthday of the journalist and war correspondent Ernest Taylor “Ernie” Pyle (books by this author), born near Dana, Indiana (1900). He went to Indiana University, and with only a semester left, he quit school went to work on the Washington Daily News. He soon made editor, married, and worked nonstop for three years. But he was restless and didn’t like being behind a desk, so he and his wife packed up their Ford roadster and took off on a 9,000-mile trip around the U.S.
When World War II broke out, he became a war correspondent, writing stories from the front from the soldier’s perspective. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his work and was instrumental in securing combat pay for troops. Congress named this legislation the Ernie Pyle Bill.
He said: “Someday when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges.”
Pyle was killed by machine-gun fire on an island just north of Okinawa on April 18, 1945. When control of the island was regained by the Japanese, the monument to Ernie Pyle there was one of just a few allowed to remain standing.
On this day in 1841, prolific children’s author Juliana Horatia Ewing (books by this author) was born in the village of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, England. She was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Alfred Gatty and his wife, Margaret Gatty, a scientist, science writer, and children’s author.
In a memoir, Juliana Horatia and Her Books, Juliana’s sister writes that Julie was “at once the projector and manager of all our nursery doings,” originating each fresh game and idea, keeping her siblings entertained with stories she would invent as she told them, taking inspiration from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and even from the woodcuts in a German ABC in the children’s library. Juliana set her siblings to planting garden plots, wrote plays for them, made bowers under the lilac bushes, and gave fantastical names, like “The Mermaid’s Ford,” to the places they played.
In 1859, Juliana founded a lending library in Ecclesfield, and in 1861 began her publishing career with the short stories “A Bit of Green” and “The Blackbirds Nest.” In 1866, Juliana’s mother began Aunt Judy’s Magazine for Children, giving it the nickname her seven younger children had for Juliana in her role as their favorite storyteller, and eventually printing most of her daughter’s stories for children. Juliana’s stories were wildly popular and would also, during her lifetime, be published as many stand-alone volumes and collections.
In 1867, Juliana married Major Alexander Ewing of the British army and 1869 published her first book, Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances, a collection of stories from Aunt Judy’s Magazine, followed by the book The Brownies and Other Tales. Her stories were meant to entertain as well as promote Christian values. And as her sister remembers, they showed her universal sympathy for the interests and troubles of even those who appeared to the Victorian eye as “unworthy,” for, to Juliana, “the value of each soul [was] equal in God’s sight.”
Although practically unknown today, Juliana Horatia Ewing was immensely popular in her time and still has a dedicated following of readers today. She was also enormously influential on others: Edith Nesbit, author of The Five Children and It series, was an admirer; Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, is said to have known her novel Jan of the Windmill by heart; and the founders of the Girl Guide movement named their junior-level scouts in honor of her Brownies.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®