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 Figure on the Hill
by Jeffrey Harrison
When I saw the figure on the crown of the hill,
high above the city, standing perfectly still
against a sky so saturated with the late-
afternoon, late-summer Pacific light
that granules of it seemed to have come out
of solution, like a fine precipitate
of crystals hanging in the brightened air,
I thought whoever it was standing up there
must be experiencing some heightened state
of being, or thinking—or its opposite,
thoughtlessly enraptured by the view.
Or maybe, looking again, it was a statue
of Jesus or a saint, placed there to bestow
a ceaseless blessing on the city below.
Only after a good five minutes did I see
that the figure was actually a tree—
some kind of cypress, probably, or cedar.
I was both amused and let down by my error.
Not only had I made the tree a person,
but I’d also given it a vision,
which seemed to linger in the light-charged air
around the tree’s green flame, then disappear.
Jeffrey Harrison, “The Figure on the Hill” from Into Daylight. Copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey Harrison. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Tupelo Press, tupelopress.org. (buy now)
It is the birthday of American merchant Johns Hopkins, born on a tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (1795). After working for his uncle for seven years, he started a dry goods business with his three brothers. They sold goods to farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, and they often took moonshine as payment. Back in Baltimore, they bottled the moonshine and sold it to city folk as “Hopkins’ Best.” Johns invested his profits in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, turning his modest Hopkins’ Best earnings into a sizeable fortune.
With no wife or children, he began to ponder the fate of his tremendous fortune after his death. In 1867, he incorporated The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. When he died in 1873, his $7 million fortune was divided between the two institutions.
Today is the birthday of Malcolm X (books by this author), born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska (1925). When he was four years old and living in East Lansing, Michigan, white supremacists set fire to the family’s home. The East Lansing police and firefighters—all white—came to the house when called, but stood by and watched it burn. When he was six, his father was murdered. Police declared his death a suicide, which invalidated the family’s life insurance policy. Little’s mother never recovered from her husband’s murder, and entered a mental institution when the boy was 12. When he was 14, he told his high school teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer. The teacher told him to be realistic and consider a career in carpentry instead. Little dropped out of school the following year.
He was arrested for larceny in 1946, and while in prison, an older inmate encouraged him to use his time to educate himself. Little began checking out books from the prison library, and when he found his vocabulary too limited for some of them, he copied out an entire dictionary word for word. He also began a correspondence with Elijah Mohammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, and once released, became one of their most prominent organizers. He took the surname “X” to symbolize his lost African heritage.
But in 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam when he learned that his mentor was having multiple affairs, contradicting his own teachings. Seeking clarity, Malcolm that year made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Here, for the first time, he related to people of all races, and returned to America with a new message. He stopped preaching the rigid separatism that had been his trademark, and instead called for people to work together across racial lines.
At the end of 1964, over many conversations, Malcolm X dictated his life story to the writer Alex Haley. The book was almost finished when, in February of 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed while speaking at a rally at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was 39 years old. A few months later Alex Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). It has since seen over 40 editions and sold in the tens of millions.
It’s the birthday of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (books by this author), born in Chicago (1930), the youngest of four children. Her father was a prominent real estate broker, and active in the fight against segregation. When Hansberry was eight, her parents bought a house in a white neighborhood. The house came with a restrictive covenant, which stipulated that it couldn’t be sold to a black person, so Hansberry’s father arranged for a white co-worker to buy it for him. Once the family moved in, they were subjected to violent harassment from many of their white neighbors. Her father filed discrimination charges and the case went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which declared restrictive covenants unconstitutional.
Hansberry decided to become a writer after she saw a performance of Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock in college. She moved to New York, took some writing classes, and went to work for Paul Robeson’s magazine Freedom. She wrote her first play, A Raisin in the Sun, in 1957. It was inspired by her family’s experience with racism in that white neighborhood in Chicago. The play opened on Broadway in 1959, and it was a big success, going on to play for more than 500 performances over two years. It was the first Broadway play to be written by a black woman. For most of the audience, it was the first time they had seen the life of a regular black family portrayed on stage or in film.
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