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+
Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake
by Anne Porter
I watched them
As they neared the lake
In a wide arc
With beating wings
They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment
Until they touched
The surface of the lake
Composed their wings
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.
Anne Porter, “Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake” from Living Things, Zoland Books. Used by permission of Steerforth Press. (buy now)
Photographer Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco on this date in 1902 (books by this photographer). His father worked in the timber industry, a business he’d inherited from his father before him. Adams would later condemn the lumber industry for its effect on the redwood forests he loved. Adams was an unruly boy — hyperactive and most likely also dyslexic — and he was expelled from several schools. He later recalled:
“Each day was a severe test for me, sitting in a dreadful classroom while the sun and fog played outside. Most of the information received meant absolutely nothing to me. […] Education without either meaning or excitement is impossible. I longed for the outdoors, leaving only a small part of my conscious self to pay attention to schoolwork.”
His parents finally gave up and began homeschooling him when he was 12. When he was 14 they gave him two gifts. One was a camera–a Kodak #1 Box Brownie. The second gift was a family trip to Yosemite National Park.
It’s the birthday of playwright Russel Crouse, born in Findlay, Ohio (1893). His play State of the Union (1946) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Crouse is also famous for writing books for musicals. When we think of musicals, we tend to think of the people who wrote the music and the lyrics, like Rodgers and Hammerstein for The Sound of Music. But all the dialogue or words that are not sung are called the book, and Crouse wrote books — in fact, he co-wrote the book for The Sound of Music, as well as Anything Goes.
It was on this day in 1950 that the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas embarked on his first reading tour of the United States (works by this author). He had always wanted to travel to America because he’d grown up in Wales watching American cowboy movies and American cartoons. The man who arranged for the reading tour picked him up at the airport and they drove toward Manhattan. When Thomas saw the skyline he said, “I knew America would be just like this.”
He was immediately put in the literary spotlight, but he claimed not to enjoy his new fame. In an interview with the New York Times Book Review, he said he missed being a young unknown poet. He said, “Then I was arrogant and lost. Now I am humble and found. I prefer that other.” When asked why he came to New York, Thomas said, “To continue my lifelong search for naked women in wet mackintoshes.”
The tour lasted until June, and Thomas spent that time traveling to various American universities, where he attended faculty parties and gave readings to packed houses of several thousand listeners at each performance. Thomas himself had never finished college, and he was terrified of academics. So he got terribly drunk at all the faculty parties, shouting obscenities and hitting on all the women. Everyone was shocked and horrified.
When the time would come for Thomas to give his reading, even though he had been nearly incapacitated a few hours beforehand, he would always come out on stage and stun the audience with his performance. He had a deep, sonorous voice, and audiences would hang on his every word. He didn’t just read his own poetry. He recited a huge number of poems by other poets, and finished the show with one or two poems of his own. After the shows, he was mobbed by fans.
The reading tour seemed to go on and on. He traveled all the way to California and back. In letters to his wife he complained that the tour was wearing him out. He wrote, “I’m hardly living. I’m just a voice on wheels.” He also grew less impressed with America, which he described as “This vast, mad horror, that doesn’t know its size, or its strength, or its weakness, or its barbaric speed, stupidity, din, self-righteousness, this cancerous Babylon.”
President George Washington established the United States Post Office on this date in 1792. He did so by signing the Postal Service Act. Prior to the Revolutionary War, there were very few official standards when it came to mail delivery. Some people hired couriers, or asked friends to deliver letters for them. Taverns served as informal mail-gathering centers. The British government established the post of postmaster general in 1707, but that task was managed from Britain, and it didn’t have too much practical effect on how the mail was handled in the colonies. Benjamin Franklin was named postmaster general in 1737, but was fired and sent back to America after he abused the power of his office to spy for the colonies.
A printer named William Goddard brought the original plans for a formal American postal service before the Continental Congress in 1774. Goddard published a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and he wanted to make sure that it would be delivered to his readers. His paper supported American independence, and postal agents working for the British crown constantly undermined his delivery efforts. He decided to draw up plans for an independent colonial post. Benjamin Franklin backed Goddard’s plan, and Franklin was named the first Postmaster General when the Constitutional Post began operations in 1775. Franklin held the position for about year, during which time he established overnight mail delivery between New York and Philadelphia, and standardized delivery rates.
The Postal Service Act guaranteed a free press and the inexpensive delivery of newspapers. It also made it illegal for postal officials to open private mail, and laid the legislative groundwork for Congress to expand the Post Office as the new nation grew. It established 75 regional post offices and 2,400 miles of postal routes, and it set the framework that the U.S. Postal Service still operates within today.
It’s the birthday of author Richard Matheson (books by this author), born in Allendale, New Jersey (1926), writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. His work inspired Anne Rice and Stephen King, who once said, “Without Richard Matheson, I wouldn’t be around. He is as much my father as Bessie Smith is Elvis Presley’s mother.” He wrote for television shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Several of his sci-fi novels and stories have been made into movies, including I Am Legend (book, 1954; film, 2007), A Stir of Echoes (book, 1958; film, 1999).
His novel Bid Time Return (1975) — the story of a man who falls in love with the photograph of a woman from the past and goes back in time to meet her — was made into the movie Somewhere in Time in 1980; the book was eventually reissued under the new title.
It’s the birthday of the filmmaker Robert Altman, born in 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri. Altman—whose surname translates to “old man” in German—was a five-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Director.
Before he began his career in cinema, Altman served in the military as a bomber crewman. He flew over 50 missions in the last years of WWII before being discharged in 1946. Had he reenlisted a few years later as the military had hoped, he would have been sent to combat in the Korean War—the conflict that would later become the setting for his hit 1970 black comedy M*A*S*H.
M*A*S*H was a political parody engendered in the era’s widespread cultural opposition to the Vietnam war. In a stroke of luck, Altman was offered the chance to direct it only after 14 other directors had passed on it first. The movie would be his big break, providing him the funds and fame to begin an ambitious career of production—with an average of one movie finished a year. His films include Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Gosford Park, A Prairie Home Companion and The Long Goodbye.
Altman’s films bucked any single genre or tradition. He dabbled in a bit of everything. Nashville embraced the unusual form of musical satire enormous in scope, while McCabe and Mrs. Miller adapted the traditional western for a modern audience. Altman was also not one for a classic narrative structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, in creating each movie he sketched only a basic plot—what he called the film’s “blueprint”—and encouraged his actors to improvise their lines freely. He had radical ideas about sound and dialogue for the time. He would often arrange for scenes of overlapping chatter, with multiple actors speaking at the same time, because, he said, “it is what we do in life.”
Altman said, “I never knew what I wanted, except that it was something I hadn’t seen before.”
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