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 Sharon Olson
In the place in the brain that handles names––
Hannibal, Hannaleah, Atlee Hammacher––
the names are beginning to disappear, slowly.
Kissinger is still there, with Joyce Brothers and Idi Amin,
but my friends’ relatives’ names pop in and out
along with my sister-in-law’s maiden name,
my sixth-grade teacher,
my first boss.
Some of my former lovers’ last names are gone,
last time I checked all the first names were still there,
but no dates.
Fellows I went on dates with are also gone.
The room in the brain that keeps the names is airy,
breezy, the wind wanders through
ruffling the papers stacked on ancient card tables.
Use rocks, they say,
so I am looking for rocks to weight them down.
So nice to find you here, I know you––
perhaps I was once in love with you.
I have an idea:
we will be like Brando and Schneider,
we will do it without touching, without names.
“Untitled” by Sharon Olson from The Long Night of Flying. © Sixteen Rivers Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the anniversary of the Broad Street Riot in Boston, on this day in 1837.
It was a hot, humid Sunday afternoon. Fire Engine Company 20 — made up primarily of Protestant “Yankees,” descendants of the original English settlers — was coming back from Roxbury, where they had put out a fire. Most of the firemen went to a nearby saloon afterward to have some drinks. When they left the saloon, they started walking down Broad Street toward the fire station and passed a group of about 100 Irish immigrants on their way to join a funeral procession around the corner on Sea Street. Most of the firemen lived in the working-class districts of Boston where ethnic tensions were particularly high, and some of them were suspected of having been involved in the burning of a convent a few years earlier. But still, the two groups almost walked by each other without incident, except that a 19-year-old fireman named George Fay either insulted someone or hit someone, and soon the firemen and the Irish were fighting. In no time at all, it turned into a full-scale brawl, and then a riot. Other Yankees, many of them young men, broke into Irish homes, smashing and looting. At least 800 men were fighting in the streets, with plenty more onlookers.
Finally, the mayor of Boston, Samuel Eliot, intervened and sent in about 800 state militia with fixed bayonets to disperse the riot. Eighteen men were prosecuted, 14 of them Irish immigrants, and three of those immigrants were put in prison; the rest of the Irish men and all of the Yankees were let off.
It’s the birthday of the German composer who said, “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.” That’s Richard Strauss, born in Munich in 1864. He’s known for writing what he called “tone poems” inspired by literary characters. He wrote Don Juan (1889) and Don Quixote (1897), and operas too, of course. In 1905, he wrote the opera Salome, based on the play by Oscar Wilde.
It was on this day in 1935 that listeners first heard FM radio, when the American inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong gave a demonstration in Alpine, New Jersey. Armstrong demonstrated the clarity of FM compared to AM radio by playing classical music and the sound of water being poured.
Today is the birthday of American novelist William Styron (books by this author), born in Newport News, Virginia (1925). Styron’s novels often addressed messy, unwieldy themes of crime, punishment, and redemption against the backdrop of history: Nazi death camps in Sophie’s Choice, the rebellion of slaves in The Confessions of Nat Turner. As a child, he read voraciously. “I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. “I read poetry, I read drama, I read novel after novel. I read until I realized I was causing damage to my eyes. It was a kind of runaway lust.” After a stint in the Marine Corps, he found himself miserable in New York, editing at McGraw-Hill. He managed to get himself fired, which left him free to compose his first novel, Lie Down In Darkness (1951), about the suicide of a young woman. The novel received the prestigious Prix de Rome. He was compared to William Faulkner and James Joyce and was vocal about his disdain for creative writing classes for young writers. “It can be an awful waste of time,” he said. “I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style only comes after long, hard practice and writing.”
Styron moved to Europe, drank a lot of cognac, married Rose Burgunder, a poet, and befriended several other young American writers, including George Plimpton, James Jones, and James Baldwin. In 1953, the group founded the influential literary journal Paris Review. Baldwin often bunked on Styron’s couch and was an early reader for The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), rightly predicting the controversy that would surround a novel written by a white man in the voice of a black man. He told Time magazine, “Bill’s going to get it from all sides, from whites and blacks.” The Confessions of Nat Turner won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize and was a best-seller.
Styron wrote in the afternoons, in longhand, on yellow sheets of paper. “I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late,” he said. “The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage, with a hangover.” When asked if he found writing enjoyable, he answered, “I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day.” In 1985, shortly after he turned 60, in Paris to accept an award, Styron abruptly stopped drinking, a lifelong habit he had relied on to keep his mood swings at bay. He suddenly plummeted into severe, suicidal depression and was hospitalized for over a year. It was the beginning of a years-long battle with mental illness, one that culminated in the publication of his memoir, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990), which helped destigmatize the subject of mood disorders and depression. The response to the book, he told Charlie Rose, was overwhelming. “It was just by the thousands that the letters came in. I had not really realized that it was going to touch that kind of a nerve.”
Styron spent the remaining years of his life as a reluctant advocate for mental health, admitting that depression had sapped his writing. “Clinical depression is the antithesis of creativity; everything in the mind is in a deep stagnation. It’s like having a fog over the intellect.” His advice to aspiring writers was not to listen to critics. “There’s only one person a writer should listen to, pay attention to. It’s not any damn critic. It’s the reader.” William Styron died in 2006, at the age of 81, at his home on Martha’s Vineyard.