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 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair.
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
“Snow-Flakes” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Public Domain (buy now)
It’s the birthday of the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist who said, “If there’s one thing men fear, it’s a woman who uses her critical faculties” — Maureen Dowd, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1952), the youngest child of an Irish-born cop. She majored in English at Catholic University and then worked as an editorial assistant at The Washington Star, where she said she “was almost fired every day because [she] couldn’t take a decent phone message.” She finally got promoted to reporter and was writing entertaining front-page stories with quirky details when the newspaper went out of business.
Two years after she’d applied to The New York Times, Anna Quindlen, then the deputy metropolitan editor at the Times, found some writing samples of Dowd’s in a pile of old résumés and immediately offered her a job. Dowd joined the Times in 1983 as a reporter, and less than a decade later was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting. Then, in 1995, she got her own column on the New York Times Op-Ed page, just the fourth woman in the newspaper’s history to do so.
In 1999, she won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, based on a series of articles she did on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. One of the articles began: “The president must not lose his job. Not over this. Certainly, Bill Clinton should be deeply ashamed of himself. He has given a bad name to adultery and lying. He has made wickedness seem pathetic, and that’s truly a sin. Kenneth Starr, all these years and all these millions later, has not delivered impeachable offenses. He has delivered a 445-page Harold Robbins novel.”
She has a reputation around Washington as being both cutthroat and irresistible. Clinton’s White House spokesman once said: “It’s hard to get mad at her for any length of time. I’d call and yell at her, and I’d always end up laughing.” One reporter called her a “sorceress,” and another said she employs “mischievous destabilization.”
In 2005, Maureen Dowd published a collection of essays called Are Men Necessary?; her title is a play on a tongue-in-cheek manual by James Thurber and E.B, White called Is Sex Necessary? She said: “I always subscribed to the Carole Lombard philosophy. ‘I live by a man’s code, designed to fit a man’s world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman’s first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.'”
She said, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.”
It’s the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Mary Robison, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1949).
She grew up in Ohio with five brothers and two sisters. She ran away from home twice when she was young, one of those times going to Florida to look for Jack Kerouac. She always wanted to be a writer, and she kept journals and diaries and wrote poetry as a teenager. She started writing seriously when she enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, where she worked with the novelist John Barth. She said of Barth, “The man was magic. I’d be helping in some beauty shop if it wasn’t for him.”
She published a short story called “Sisters” in The New Yorker magazine in 1977, and within a few years she began to be lumped in with writers like Raymond Carver and Amy Hempl, who wrote about ordinary people in a stripped-down prose style. These writers were called minimalists, but Robison said: “I detested the term. I thought it reductive, misleading, inconclusive and insulting. It was the school that no one ever wanted to be in. They’d bring your name up just to kick you.”
She published a few collections in the 1980s, including An Amateur’s Guide to the Night (1983) and Believe Them (1988). In the 1990s, she was struck with a terrible case of writer’s block. She said: “For about 10 years I didn’t publish much of anything, and I didn’t have anything. I had nothing, and I really didn’t know if I ever would again. … It’s about pride, really; feeling the words on the page can never represent you. It’s the worst thing you can learn about yourself. You could go mad.”
After a while of being unable to write anything, Robison began taking drastic measures. She started driving around in her car with a tape recorder, and whenever anything came into her head, she would just scream it into the tape recorder. Then she’d go home and write these things down on note cards. Eventually she had about a thousand note cards, and she realized that with a little work she could arrange them into a novel.
The result was her book Why Did I Ever (2001), a very short novel told in 536 very short chapters about a woman named Money Breton, divorced three times, who’s addicted to Ritalin and trying to support herself as a screenwriter.
It’s the birthday of historian Taylor Branch, (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1947). He came from a well-off family who ran a chain of Laundromats and bowling alleys and had no interest in politics. When he saw the famous photographs of police dogs attacking civil rights protestors, it was a wake-up call. He said, “Until those dogs in Birmingham, which penetrated my little world of high school sports and chasing girls, I thought that everything in America was wonderful.” So he started to learn about the civil rights movement, and when he heard part of a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., he said, “I knew that I wanted to investigate the life that could produce that voice.”
He has done exactly that. He worked for the civil rights movement and as a Democratic activist — he shared an apartment with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham in 1972 to work on the George McGovern campaign. He has written several books, but he is most famous for a chronological trilogy about the civil rights movement collectively known as America in the King Years. The three books were Parting the Waters (1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize; Pillar of Fire (1998); and At Canaan’s Edge (2006).
He said, “I would like my readers to entertain the core notion that civil rights history is not a quaint tale of yesteryear, but rather our best model for the urgent task of understanding and refining democracy.”
It’s the birthday of the novelist Anchee Min, (books by this author) born in Shanghai (1957). She and her parents and her three brothers and sisters lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment. But under the Maoist regime, they were suspected of being bourgeois intellectuals. Her father taught astronomy, and he was accused of subversive teaching because he taught about sunspots, and since Chairman Mao was considered the sun, it was assumed that he was insulting Mao. Min’s family was moved to communal government housing, her parents were given new jobs, and she went to work memorizing the words of Chairman Mao and denouncing anyone or anything associated with Western influence. She was the head of the Little Red Guard at her elementary school, a model Maoist.
When she was 17, Min was selected to be sent to a labor camp called Red Fire Farm, where she could fulfill the noble cause of being a peasant. It was terrible, back-breaking work, and even worse psychologically. One of her co-workers, a woman named Little Green, was caught with a lover — he was executed, and she went insane and killed herself. Min herself had an intense, secret love affair with a woman named Yan, one of her commanders, a dedicated Revolutionary.
But she was whisked away from Red Fire Farm after she caught the eye of a film crew sent out by Jiang Ching, Mao’s wife, to find the perfect actress for a new film. Jiang Ching didn’t care about finding someone who could act — she wanted a “perfect peasant-type face,” and Min said her own fit that description, with “weather-beaten skin, calloused and blistered hands, broad smile, wide-set eyes and big nose.” She ended up being chosen from 20,000 candidates to play the lead role in a film, a pet project of Jiang Ching’s. But partway through production, Mao died, and Jiang Ching was suddenly hated, as was anyone connected with her. No one wanted to talk with Min or treat her like a human being.
She had a friend who helped get her to the United States. She didn’t know any English, so she applied to the University of Chicago because it was the only school where she didn’t have to actually prove that she knew English. She had a friend fill out her application and check the box saying that she spoke English, and she managed to make it the United States. When the University of Chicago found out that she didn’t know a single word of English, they kicked her out, but she was allowed to stay in the country for six months, and was told that she would be deported if she couldn’t learn to speak English in that amount of time. So she watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She started writing as a way to improve her English, and slowly she wrote a memoir about her experiences in Communist China, a book called Red Azalea (1994). It became a New York Times best-seller, and since then she has written six novels, including Becoming Madame Mao (2001), about Jiang Ching, and The Last Empress (2007).
Anchee Min wants her young daughter to understand that everyone suffers. She said, “Whenever I tell her a fairy tale, I always say, ‘Then they lived happily ever after. Of course, you have to keep in mind that hearts change, and you can be crushed.'”
Her most recent book is The Cooked Seed: A Memoir (2013).