Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
Garrison Keillor comes to The Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD for an Evening of poetry, Sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. Tickets $60
Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet come to The Wayne Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:00PM
High Point, NC
Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet come to the High Point Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM
by Barbara Crooker
Cold morning. November, taking a walk,
when up ahead, suddenly, the trees unleave,
and thousands of starlings lift off, an immense
river of noise; they braid and unbraid themselves
over my head, the gray silk sky embroidered
with black kisses, the whoosh of their wings,
their chattering clatter, patterns broken/formed/
reformed, a scarf of ragged ribbons. Dumb-
struck, mouth open, I say holy and I say moley,
And then, they’re gone.
Barbara Crooker, “Murmuration” from Some Glad Morning. ©2019 University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)
Today is Thanksgiving. Millions of people will sit down to turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, to commemorate the celebratory dinner that took place in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims had fled religious persecution in England and endured a harsh ocean voyage on a ship called The Mayflower to land at Plymouth Rock. They were ill-prepared for winter and most of them perished or became severely ill during their first winter. The tales of turkey and sauce and stuffing are mostly untrue, however, most likely, the autumn feast was one of seal, swan, or goose. They didn’t have pie, either, because they hadn’t yet grown wheat; the same goes for mashed potatoes.
The first Thanksgiving probably wasn’t the first celebration of mingled cultures, either. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans often paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. In 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés invited members of the local Timucua tribe to a dinner in St. Augustine, Florida. In the winter of 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site called “Berkeley Hundred” on the banks of Virginia’s James River, they gleefully read a proclamation designating the date as “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” And Native Americans, themselves, had a long tradition of feasting in celebration of the fall harvest long before the Pilgrims ever set foot on shore.
It wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. He only did that after being pestered for years by Sarah Hale, author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” For 36 years, she’d been sending letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians, pleading for the establishment of a national holiday.
Lincoln asked all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife and to heal the wounds of the nation.” He declared Thanksgiving to be on the last Thursday of every November, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up a week in 1939 to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Not many people liked that date. They called it “Franksgiving,” and it was later moved to the fourth Thursday in November.
About that pesky turkey. Alexander Hamilton once remarked that, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day,” but the true origin of that bird’s holiday popularity is up for grabs. Some say it’s popular because the big bird can feed many people; some say turkey became popular because it was featured in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in 1843, when Scrooge sends the Cratchit family a turkey. Regardless, Americans eat about 240 million turkeys a year during the holidays. The White House is now famous for pardoning its two Thanksgiving turkeys every year, and giving them cute names like Mac and Cheese, Tater and Tot, Flyer and Fryer, and Honest and Abe.
Today is the birthday of American composer Virgil Thomson (1896). He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, on a steady diet of church music, Civil War Songs, the blues, and barn-dance music. Starting when he was five, a cousin gave him piano lessons. Later, he frequently accompanied showings of silent films.
Thomson is best known for collaborating on operas with avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, like Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), which featured an all-black cast and caused an immediate sensation at its premiere, and The Mother of Us All (1947). Thomson met Stein in 1921, in Paris, where he’d gone on a fellowship after touring with the Harvard Glee Club. He felt his music worked well with her poetry because, “Poetry alone is always a bit amorphous […] and poetry as spontaneously structured as Gertrude Stein’s had long seemed to me to need musical reinforcement. I do not mean that her writing lacks music; I mean that it likes music.”
In Paris, Thomson quickly fell in with the art and literature crowd, befriending Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, though he always disdained the “Lost Generation” nickname the group earned. He scoffed, “We were no more lost than any other group of people is at any time.” He referred to the nickname as “personal publicity for Ernest Hemingway.”
Virgil Thomson received a Pulitzer Prize for composing the music for the film Louisiana Story (1948). He died in 1989. He had a famous habit of falling asleep and snoring during live musical performances, but insisted he always woke up if something interesting happened.
When an interviewer asked Virgil Thomson if opera should be considered art or entertainment, he answered, “It better be both if it’s going to be any good.”
Delaney disliked school and might have spent her life working menial jobs. One of those jobs, however, was that of an usher at a theater, where she saw a production of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, which inspired her to borrow a typewriter. She locked herself up and quickly wrote her first play. Delaney submitted A Taste of Honey to a director, and the play opened at the Theatre Royal when its author was 19 years old.
The play featured a working-class white teenager in the north of England who gets pregnant while in a relationship with an African sailor, and is then consoled by a gay friend. While some viewers dismissed the work as “sordid,” other critics loved it. One wrote that A Taste of Honey was “the first English play I’ve seen in which a coloured man and a queer boy, are presented as natural characters, factually without a nudge or shudder.” Another critic called the work just as “fresh” and even more mature than John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.
Delaney continued to write plays, fiction, and work in film, radio, and television. Her career was prolific and diverse, although none of her later productions approached the popularity of A Taste of Honey. In her teens, Delaney wrote this line for one of the play’s characters: “Women never have young minds. They are born three thousand years old.”
It’s the birthday of the playwright Murray Schisgal (books by this author), born in 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. Schisgal has written more than 50 plays, known for their absurdist humor. His most famous play, Luv, debuted in 1964 and was his only major Broadway hit. He also co-authored the screenplay for the wildly successful 1982 film Tootsie, for which he won many awards.
A high school dropout, Schisgal worked as a radio operator in the Navy during World War II before finishing his education by attending night school. He earned a law degree, worked as a lawyer, and taught junior high English in East Harlem.
Schisgal’s plays often lampoon American fads, including commodity culture, the environmental movement, fashionable malaise, and sexual liberation. Luv took aim at exaggerated self-pity, featuring three characters’ melodramatic suicide attempts. According to one critic, the playwright’s protagonists highlight the American tendency to go around “wrapped in a cloak of borrowed pain.” Another critic said: “Mr. Schisgal doesn’t necessarily deny that things are tough all over; he just sees how preposterous it is that we should take such pleasure in painting the clouds black. If the avant-garde, up to now, has successfully exploded the bright balloons of cheap optimism, Mr. Schisgal is ready to put a pin to the soapy bubbles of cheap pessimism.”
On this day in 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese revealed that proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran were illegally diverted to support Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Three weeks earlier, a Lebanese magazine had broken the story that the United States — in violation of its own arms embargo — had sold weapons to Iran in an attempt to gain freedom for American hostages being held in Lebanon. Because President Reagan had publicly stated that he would never negotiate with terrorists, it came as a shock to the American public when his administration admitted to doing just that.
To make things even worse, in 1982 Congress had passed the Boland Amendment, which specifically prohibited sending federal money to the Contra rebels for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government. Meese’s revelation that the money from the arms sales was used to support a guerilla war against the leftist Nicaraguan government infuriated Congress. The day that the news broke, Reagan’s National Security Advisor, John Poindexter, resigned. His aide, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, was fired.
The following summer, Congress held hearings on what had become known as “the Iran-Contra affair.” Eleven administration officials were found guilty of a number of charges ranging from perjury to conspiracy. Reagan accepted responsibility for the arms sales, but denied any knowledge of the Nicaragua piece, and it has never been established exactly what his role was in the conspiracy. Notes from 1985, taken by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recorded that Reagan said that he could answer charges of illegality, but not the charge that “big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®