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 Joyce Sutphen
I hear it for a while before I hear it—
that is, before I realize I’m hearing
a bird call from deep in the woods behind
the house across the street. It’s an owl—
a barred owl—I guess, making the familiar
“Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” call.
If I could see her, I’d see her head swivel
a half-circle just before she leans in
and pushes out that cry—one more time—I’ve
just finished reading Brecht’s question about
the dark times and the answer: “Yes, there will
be singing. About the dark times.” Why do
these somewhat bitter words make me smile?
Why do I lift my head, shake my hair free,
and leap to my feet, clapping my hands together?
Joyce Sutphen, “The Owl.” © Joyce Sutphen. Used with permission.
Today is April Fools’ Day, a day for good-natured pranks, hoaxes, and general silliness. The earliest recorded association between April 1st and foolishness is in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in 1392, although this may be a result of misinterpretation rather than Chaucer’s intention: in “The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale,” there is a line “Since March began thirty days and two …” which is probably a reference to the May 2nd betrothal of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia and not “March 32nd” as readers interpreted it. In any case, the story features Chanticleer, a vain rooster, being tricked by a fox, and some believe that’s how the date became associated with harmless trickery.
Many cultures have lighthearted celebrations around this time of year, and, in the Northern Hemisphere, it may be related to the spring equinox. One explanation for the April Fools’ holiday seemed plausible, until it was revealed as a hoax itself — Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, said the practice dated back to the reign of Emperor Constantine who was challenged by his jesters that a fool could run the empire as well as he did. Constantine appointed Kugel the jester “king for a day,” and one of Kugel’s acts was to decree an annual day of merriment. The Associated Press ran with the story and didn’t realize Boskin had made the whole thing up until a couple of weeks later.
One April Fools’ Day announcement that was not a hoax was in 2004, when Google announced its new Gmail service. People couldn’t be blamed for thinking it was a prank, given Google’s propensity for April Fools’ leg-pulling, and the announced 1-gigabyte online storage for e-mail was far larger than anything any other company had offered.
Today is the birthday of science fiction and fantasy author Anne McCaffrey (books by this author), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1926. She’s best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series about Earth colonists on the planet of Pern living in a medieval-ish society with genetically engineered dragons, but it’s far from her only accomplishment.
McCaffrey began writing sci-fi in the late 1950s when the genre’s readership was primarily male. When Star Trek became popular in the late 1960s, it drew women in, and they responded to McCaffrey’s heroines. Female authors, especially sci-fi authors, struggled to be taken seriously; when reporters asked her more than once how she found time to write and still get her housework done, McCaffrey would answer, “You’ve got that wrong — how do I find time for housework with all my writing?” She was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Hugo Award for Science Fiction, in 1968.
McCaffrey died in 2011 at the age of 85.
It’s the birthday of the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, born in Novgorod, Russia (1873). He was a halfhearted student in his early days at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and his teachers felt he probably did not have much of a career ahead of him. He grew to be a tall, imposing man (Igor Stravinsky called him “a six and a half foot scowl”), and his hands were so big they could span an interval of 13 keys on the piano.
He escaped from Russia just before the Revolution and spent most of the rest of his life in the United States. When Vladimir Horowitz arrived in New York City, the two pianists sealed their friendship by going down into the basement of Steinway and Sons and playing Rachmaninoff’s own Third Piano Concerto (1909). Horowitz played the solo part on one piano, and Rachmaninoff the orchestra reduction on another.
Rachmaninoff was in the middle of writing his famous Second Piano Concerto (1901) when his first symphony received a lukewarm response. He stopped writing music for three years, during which he felt as though he was like a man who had suffered a stroke, losing the use of his head and hands. He was able to overcome his nervous breakdown by visiting a psychiatrist who cured Rachmaninoff by repeating the following words to him each time they met, “You will write your Concerto. You will work with great facility. The Concerto will be of excellent quality.”
Rachmaninoff’s music was very popular, particularly his piano compositions which were filled with dark and massive chords and strong melodic lines. Prokofiev once remarked, “With Rachmaninoff, all its notes stood firmly and clearly on the ground.” His most famous works include various piano concerti, Symphony No. 2 (1907), and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934).
Today is the birthday of American novelist Francine Prose (books by this author), born in Brooklyn (1947). Prose is best known for her novels Household Saints (1981), about an Italian butcher and his schizophrenic daughter, and Blue Angel (2000), a witty and dark satire on academia and writing workshops.
Prose graduated from Radcliffe College (1968), but dropped out of graduate school after reading Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which inspired her to write in earnest. Her first novel, Judah the Pious, was published in 1973, and she’s gone on to write over 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, including two young adult books, Touch (2009) and The Turning (2012). Prose is a frequent reviewer of books for New York Review of Books and teaches at Bard College. She wrote a best-selling book on the craft of writing, Reading Like a Writer (2006), in which she advises would-be writers to read widely. She said, “The advantage of reading widely, as opposed to trying to formulate a series of general rules, is that we learn there are no general rules, only individual examples to help point you in a direction in which you might want to go.”
Her best-selling novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (2014), was inspired by a series of photographs by Hungarian-French photographer Brassai. The novel features a cross-dressing heroine, auto-racing, and the backdrop of Jazz Age Paris. Pablo Picasso makes an appearance, as do several other real-life artists. Prose doesn’t consider it a historical novel, though, saying, “To be perfectly honest, by the time I got through writing the novel — five years — I was no longer precisely sure how much was ‘real’ and how much I’d made up. I see the book as a contemporary novel that happens to be set in the past.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®