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 Tess Gallagher
I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
Tess Gallagher, “Choices” from Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by Tess Gallagher. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org. (buy now)
From the time she was young, she knew that writers didn’t make very much money, so she sat down and made a list of all the things in life she would never be able to have — a nice car, fancy clothes, and eating out at expensive restaurants were all on the list. But young Mary decided she wanted to be a poet anyway.
Oliver went to college, but dropped out. She made a pilgrimage to visit Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 800-acre estate in Austerlitz, New York. The poet had been dead for several years, but Millay’s sister Norma lived there along with her husband. Mary Oliver and Norma hit it off, and Oliver lived there for years, helping out on the estate, keeping Norma company, and working on her own writing. In 1958, a woman named Molly Malone Cook came to visit Norma while Oliver was there, and the two fell in love. A few years later, they moved together to Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Oliver said: “I was very careful never to take an interesting job. Not an interesting one. I took lots of jobs. But if you have an interesting job you get interested in it. I also began in those years to keep early hours. […] If anybody has a job and starts at 9, there’s no reason why they can’t get up at 4:30 or five and write for a couple of hours, and give their employers their second-best effort of the day — which is what I did.”
She published five books of poetry, and still almost no one had heard of her. She doesn’t remember ever having given a reading before 1984, which is the year that she was doing dishes one evening when the phone rang and it was someone calling to tell her that her most recent book, American Primitive (1983), had won the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, she was famous. She didn’t really like the fame — she didn’t give many interviews, didn’t want to be in the news. When editors called their house for Oliver, Cook would answer, announce that she was going to get Oliver, fake footsteps, and then get back on the phone and pretend to be the poet — all so that Oliver didn’t have to talk on the phone to strangers, something she did not enjoy. Cook was a photographer, and she was also Oliver’s literary agent. They stayed together for more than 40 years, until Cook’s death in 2005. Oliver passed away in 2019.
She said: “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”
You are as gold
as the half-ripe grain
that merges to gold again,
as white as the white rain
that beats through
the half-opened flowers
of the great flower tufts
thick on the black limbs
of an Illyrian apple bough.
Can honey distill such fragrance
As your bright hair —
For your face is as fair as rain,
yet as rain that lies clear
on white honey-comb,
lends radiance to the white wax,
so your hair on your brow
casts light for a shadow.
It’s the birthday of best-selling novelist Hannah Webster Foster (books by this author), born in Salisbury, Massachusetts (1758). She went to a women’s academy, married a minister, had six children, and settled into life as a minister’s wife. She was almost 40 years old when she wrote an epistolary novel called The Coquette; or, The History of Eliza Wharton (1797). Foster did not put her name on the novel — it was attributed to “A Lady of Massachusetts.”
The Coquette was a huge success. It was one of the best-selling novels of 18th-century America, and its popularity continued well into the 19th century — it was reprinted eight times between the years 1824 and 1828. Hannah Foster died in 1840, and it wasn’t until 1866 that her name was printed on the book.
The story of Eliza Wharton was based heavily on the true story of Elizabeth Whitman. Whitman was a beautiful, spirited, and accomplished minister’s daughter from a well-known family. She became pregnant out of wedlock and died after giving birth to a stillborn child at a roadside tavern, lonely and abandoned. Elizabeth Whitman was a distant relative of Hannah Foster’s husband. The man who supposedly impregnated her was Pierpont Edwards, son of the famous preacher and theologian John Edwards, who started the Great Awakening movement and delivered the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Naturally, all of New England was fascinated by the story, and Foster capitalized on the gossip by turning it into a novel. Elizabeth Whitman became Eliza Wharton, and Pierpont Evans became Major Peter Sanford, the dashing man who steals Eliza away from the boring but safe Reverend Boyer.
The Coquette opens with a letter from Eliza to her friend Miss Lucy Freeman: “An unusual sensation possesses my breast; a sensation, which I once thought could never pervade it on any occasion whatever. It is pleasure; pleasure, my dear Lucy, on leaving my paternal roof! Could you have believed that the darling child of an indulgent and dearly beloved mother would feel a gleam of joy at leaving her? But so it is.”
It’s the birthday of naturalist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould (books by this author), born in New York City (1941). When he was a boy, he was fascinated by garbage trucks and decided that he wanted to be a garbage collector so he could examine all of the strange things that people throw away. But after he saw his first dinosaur skeleton at the Museum of Natural History, he decided to become a paleontologist instead.
He became famous for his monthly columns in Natural History magazine, which were collected in books like The Panda’s Thumb (1980) and The Flamingo’s Smile (1985). He liked to write about the messy randomness of evolution. He was one of the best-known popular science writers because he used analogies that anyone could understand. In his book Full House (1996), he used the history of baseball batting averages to explain the evolution of large animals. He wrote about everything from the changing face of Mickey Mouse, to the inefficiency of IQ tests, to his own cancer. He loved the fact that when he was diagnosed with cancer, the average life expectancy was eight months, and he lived for 20 more years. He wrote an article about it, exploring the many meanings of the word average. He died on May 20, 2002.
Stephen Jay Gould said, “Homo sapiens [are] a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree.”
It’s the birthday of Czech poet and novelist Franz Werfel (books by this author), born in Prague (1890). He was one of the most important members of the German Expressionists, who wrote about inward emotions instead of outward reality.
His father was a Jewish glove maker, but his nanny was Catholic and she often secretly took him to Catholic masses. He became obsessed with religion as a boy, and he built altars and performed religious ceremonies in his bedroom. For the rest of his life he was torn between Judaism and Christianity, and he was always fighting with his father. When his father tried to make him work at the family glove factory, he stole important accounting documents from the office and flushed them down the toilet. He ran away and hung out at cafés with writers like Max Brod and Franz Kafka. He wrote his first book of poems, The Philanthropist (1911), about his hope that human beings could get along despite the increasing tensions in Europe. He wrote, “My one and only wish, O Man, is to be thy brother!”
After serving in World War I, he became a pacifist and got arrested for reciting anti-war poems in a café. He began to write historical fiction, and in 1933 he came out with his most famous novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It was the first novel about the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. It was published around the world. It became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in the United States, even though the U.S. government pressured the translator to delete hundreds of passages that were too inflammatory.
Werfel was living in France when the Nazis came to power. He had to go underground and burn all the manuscripts he had been working on because they were too dangerous to carry. He was hiding out for several weeks in Lourdes [Loord], France, where he heard the story of St. Bernadette, the 14-year-old girl who had seen visions of the Virgin Mary. Werfel vowed that if he escaped the Nazis, he would write his next novel about the girl. When he reached the United States, he wrote The Song of Bernadette (1941), and it became a best-seller.
Franz Werfel said, “Religion is the everlasting dialogue between humanity and God. Art is the soliloquy.”
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