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 Eric Nixon
At one age
It seems as if life is going
Firmly in a certain direction
And you head that way
Chugging along at full speed
And after a time set adrift
In a place that’s unfamiliar
And completely unknown
From where you thought
From where you planned on being
Stunned, wondering what happened
Some people in this place
Break down completely
Pining away for the life
They feel is due to them
They feel should be theirs
Some people though
Go through a period
A type of reinvention
Where they pick themselves up
And rebuild their lives
With what they’ve been given
With what they have in-hand
And are surprised to see
They are now in a better place
Than they would have been
Before the life-altering change
“Reinvention” by Eric Nixon from Equidistant. © Double Yolk Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of James J. Hill, one of America’s most successful railroad tycoons, born in southern Ontario (1838). By 1870, Hill had established his own railroad company and laid track to the Red River Valley in western Minnesota and the Dakotas. He eventually began construction of a line from the Twin Cities to Seattle. The land he purchased was full of valuable resources, and thousands of settlers followed his railroad across the Great Plains. By 1893, the track was finished, and his Great Northern Company ran the only private transcontinental railroad.
It’s the birthday of scholar and critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (books by this author), born in Keyser, West Virginia (1950). He is known for his books on literary history, and he wrote about the life and work of Phillis Wheatley, the first published black poet in the United States.
In the winter of 2001, Gates was looking through a New York auction catalog when a manuscript by a slave named Hannah Crafts caught his eye.
In the manuscript Crafts, an escaped slave, wrote from her own life about the distinctions slaves made among themselves based on skin color, house-versus-field jobs, and class. She wrote about sex, but argued against slaves marrying and having children on the grounds that slavery is hereditary and can’t be escaped. She portrayed the relationship of a white mistress and black slave as full of mutual intimacy.
Gates was convinced the manuscript authentic, and thus, was the first novel by a female slave and possibly the first novel written by any black woman. He purchased the manuscript at auction for $8,500 and turned Crafts’ manuscript into The Bondwoman’s Narrative. He published it in 2002 and It quickly became a national best-seller.
It’s the birthday of blues singer and guitarist B.B. King, born in Itta Bena, Mississippi (1925). He was born into a black sharecropping family on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. He lived with his mother, who was very religious and made sure that he sang in the church choir. When his mother died, he had to survive by doing farm work. His uncle taught him guitar, and he bought an eight-dollar guitar for himself to learn on. He found he could make more money playing on street corners than he did doing farm work. He started by singing gospel, and everybody appreciated it but nobody gave him any money. So he tried singing secular, blues music, and used lyrics he knew from gospel songs, but sang “my baby” instead of “my Lord.” And from then on, passersby paid him.
He joined the Army during World War II and then moved to Memphis where he worked as a deejay using the on-air name “Beale Street Blues-Boy,” later shortened to B.B. He wrote in his autobiography: “Imagine my situation: Before Memphis, I never even owned a record player. Now I was sitting in a room with a thousand records and the ability to play them whenever I wanted. I was the kid in the candy store, able to eat it all. I gorged myself.” He performed with his red guitar, called Lucille, toured the country for two decades playing in black clubs and dance halls, and performed often in jails. In the song “Riding with the King,” he sang: “I stepped out of Mississippi when I was 10 years old / With a suit cut sharp as a razor and a heart made of gold / I had a guitar hanging just about waist high / And I’m gonna play this thing until the day I die.” He said, “Some people smoke and drink, but just holding the guitar and strumming a few notes seems to do it for me.”
King died in May, 2015; he was 89.
Today is the birthday of H.A. Rey (books by this author), born Hans Augusto Reyersbach in Hamburg, Germany (1898). He grew up near the Hagenbeck Zoo, and spent many happy hours watching and drawing the animals, and learning to imitate their sounds. When he was in his 20s, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, changed his last name to “Rey” because it was easier for Brazilians to pronounce, and went to work selling bathtubs.
It was in Rio that he was reunited with Margret Waldstein, a young artist he’d met back in Hamburg, when Margret was still a girl. She convinced him to leave the bathtub trade and together they opened an advertising agency. They were married in Brazil in 1935. They went to Europe on their honeymoon and decided to move back there, but couldn’t return to Germany because they were both Jews, and by this time the Nazis were in power. The Reys settled in Paris instead, and began collaborating on children’s books, with Margret writing the copy and Hans providing the illustrations.
They were living in Paris when the Second World War broke out. “It seems ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books,” Rey wrote to a friend. “[But] life goes on, the editors edit, the artists draw, even during wartime.” One of their collaborations, Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (1939), is about a lonely giraffe who opens her home to a family of monkeys. The youngest monkey was named Fifi, and he was always getting into scrapes; the Reys liked him so much, they decided to write a book that was just about him.
The Reys were at work on their Fifi book when they found out that the Nazis were going to invade Paris. Rey hastily built two bicycles out of spare parts; he and Margret gathered up a very few belongings — including their manuscript — and left the city just two days before the Nazis invaded, funded by the advance they had received for The Adventures of Fifi. They cycled 75 miles in two days, staying in farmhouses and barns. At one point, they were stopped by an official, who thought they might be German spies. He searched their bag, found the monkey manuscript, and released them. The Reys crossed Spain and Portugal, eventually making their way to Lisbon; from there, they sailed to Brazil, where they made arrangements to move to the United States.
They finally arrived in New York City four months after they’d left Paris, and moved to Greenwich Village. Within a week, they had found a publisher for their monkey book, but the publisher thought “Fifi” was a strange name for a boy monkey, so they changed his name. Curious George was published in 1941, and the Reys wrote and illustrated six more stories about him — stories like Curious George Rides a Bike (1952) and Curious George Goes to the Hospital (1966). Each book begins the same way: “George was a good little monkey, but he was always very curious.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®