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+
The Venus of Botticelli
by Wendell Berry
I knew her when I saw her
in the vision of Botticelli, riding
shoreward out of the waves,
and afterward she was in my mind
as she had been before, but changed,
so that if I saw her here, near
nightfall, striding off the gleam
of the Kentucky River as it darkened
behind her, the willows touching
her with little touches laid
on breast and arm and thigh, I
would rise as after a thousand
years, as out of the dark grave,
alight, shaken, to remember her.
“The Venus of Botticelli” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. Counterpoint © 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1855 that the first permanent bridge across the Mississippi River opened, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The first known ferry to cross the river had been operated in the 1840s, by a Dakota woman who took passengers across in her canoe. The bridge was considered an elegant feat of engineering, connecting Minneapolis on the west bank of the Mississippi to Nicollet Island. It was 620 feet long, constructed of wire and wood. It linked up with the shorter, simple wooden beam bridge that connected Nicollet Island to the city then known as St. Anthony on the east bank. Once the bridges were connected, they formed the first continuous crossing of the Mississippi River. Despite the cold, on this day in 1855, the city of Minneapolis sponsored a celebration in honor of the new bridge. There was a mile-long parade followed by a fancy banquet at a hotel. As one local reporter noted: “The wire Suspension Bridge over the Mississippi from Minneapolis to St. Anthony is one of the most successful and beautiful structures that exists in the United States. […] Truly this is an age of progress. Six years ago St. Anthony was a howling wilderness and Minneapolis was not known.”
It’s the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott (books by this author), born in Castries, St. Lucia, a Caribbean island nation a few hundred miles north of Venezuela. At the time of his birth, it was a British colony, and in his poetry, he writes a lot about the effects of colonialism. His poetry books include In a Green Night (1962), The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), The Prodigal (2004), White Egrets (2010), and O Starry Starry Night (2014).
Walcott said in his 1992 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”
He died in March 2017 at the age of 87.
It’s the birthday of French novelist and essayist Stendhal (books by this author), born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble, France (1783). After leaving Naopleon’s military service, he contributed to journals and periodicals using dozens of pseudonyms, including William Crocodile, Old Hummums, and Stendhal.
He published his first novel, Armance (1827) when he was 44. He went on to write his masterpieces — The Red and the Black (1830), about the social classes, professions, politics, and manners of early 19th century France; and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839).
He said, “It is better to have a prosaic husband and to take a romantic lover.”
It was on this day in 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree. Blackwell was born in England but moved to America as a young girl. She became a teacher to support her family, but she wished for more challenging and meaningful work. One day, she was sitting with a dying friend, who admitted that she thought her disease would have been more manageable if a female doctor had attended her. Blackwell was inspired, and set out to become a doctor. Even the most radical physicians discouraged her from applying. One progressive Quaker wrote to her: “Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge.” She applied anyway, and was turned down by every school but one: Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. The school’s faculty opposed letting her attend, but they decided to put the idea to the student body, who thought it was a good joke and voted unanimously to admit her. They were shocked when she actually showed up on campus.
Although her fellow students were relatively civil, the community at large treated Blackwell badly. None of the doctors’ wives would talk to her, and neither would most of the townspeople, who thought she was a bad influence on their children. At graduation, the faculty dean praised her in his speech, but his praise elicited angry letters to the New England Journal of Medicine demanding that no medical school ever again admit a woman. Blackwell left America to pursue graduate studies in Europe. Eventually, she returned to open a hospital for women in New York City, which not only offered medical services for poor women and children, but also provided a place for women to receive medical training and work as doctors and physicians.
She wrote many books and pamphlets, including her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895). She said: “It is not easy to be a pioneer — but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.”
It’s the birthday of biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude B. Elion, born in New York City (1918). After her grandfather died of cancer, she decided to become a cancer researcher. She entered Hunter College when she was just 15 years old, and graduated with a chemistry degree four years later. Elion wanted to work in a lab, but those jobs were for men only.
When World War II broke out, there was a sudden shortage of chemists, and she found a job at a pharmaceutical company as an assistant to Dr. George Hitchings. He was so impressed that he gave Elion more latitude than most assistants, and their collaboration lasted 40 years. She said, “Each series of studies was like a mystery story in that we were constantly trying to deduce what the microbiological results meant.”
Elion and Hitchings pioneered a new method of developing drugs, leaving behind the accepted trial-and-error method, and instead designing molecules with specific structures for use in pharmaceuticals. This method is now called “rational drug design.” They designed compounds to block viral infections by interrupting cell growth. They developed drugs to treat leukemia, herpes, gout, and malaria. Elion’s work and methods eventually led her colleagues to develop the AIDS drug AZT.
Elion was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1988. She said, “The Nobel Prize is fine, but the drugs I’ve developed are rewards in themselves.”
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