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+
From Our House to Your House
by Jack Ridl
It is 1959. It is the cusp of the coming revolution.
We still like Ike. We are still afraid of Sputnik.
We read Life magazine and Sports Illustrated
where the athletes grow up shooting hoops
in the driveway, playing catch in the backyard.
We sit on our sectional sofa. My mother loves
Danish modern. Our pants have cuffs. Our hair
is short. We are smiling and we mean it. I am
a guard. My father is my coach. I am sitting
next to him on the bench. I am ready to go in.
My sister will cheer. My mother will make
the pre-game meal from The Joy of Cooking.
Buster is a good dog. We are all at an angle.
We are a family at an angle. Our clothes are
pressed. We look into the eye of the camera.
“Look ’em in the eye,” my father teaches us.
All we see ahead are wins, good grades,
Christmas. We believe in being happy. We
believe in mowing the lawn, a two-car garage,
a freezer, and what the teacher says. There is
nothing on the wall. We are facing away
from the wall. The jungle is far from home.
Hoses are for cleaning the car, watering
the gardens. My sister walks to school. My
father and I lean into the camera. My mother
and sister sit up straight. Ike has kept us
safe. In the spring, we will have a new car,
a Plymouth Fury with whitewalls and a vinyl top.
“From Our House to Your House” from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron by Jack Ridl. Copyright © 2013 Wayne State University Press, with the permission of Wayne State University Press. (buy now)
Today is the birthday of the composer George Gershwin, born Jacob Gershvin in Brooklyn, New York (1898). He was the middle child in a tight-knit family of recent Russian Jewish immigrants. When his father bought a piano for his brother Ira, George sat right down on the bench and started to play. At 15, he left school to work on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger, a sort of house musician for the music companies. Gershwin had an ear for arrangement, and before long, he was writing his own songs. His first one earned him just $5, but soon he was turning out hits such as “Swanee,” which sold in the millions.
Encouraged by this early success, Gershwin partnered with his brother Ira and began composing full Broadway operas. The two produced popular musicals, including Funny Face (1927) and Strike Up the Band! (1930). At the age of 25, Gershwin premiered his “Rhapsody in Blue,” and later “An American in Paris,” which featured accompaniment written for taxi horns. These compositions became orchestral standards. In 1935, he composed his folk-opera, Porgy and Bess, which features such classic songs as “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” In 1936, at the end of its original run in Washington, D.C., the cast successfully protested segregation at the National Theatre, leading to the venue’s first-ever integrated performance.
It’s the birthday of Thomas Stearns Eliot (books by this author), born in St. Louis, Missouri (1888). At the age of 27, he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), and at 34, wrote “The Waste Land” (1922). At the height of his career, when he was writing poetry, plays, and literary criticism, and serving as director of the British publisher Faber & Faber, he was the 20th century’s single most influential writer. He was dry and enigmatic, and he spoke very, very slowly. Yet, he loved the Marx Brothers and was said to harbor a weakness for squirting buttonholes and exploding cigars. Somebody once said to Eliot that most editors are failed writers. Eliot said: “Yes. So are most writers.”
On this day in 1957, 20 years after George Gershwin died, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. It was not immediately successful. It only became famous when it was turned into a film in 1961 and won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It’s based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, but it is set in the gang-ridden streets of New York.
During the weeks leading up to the opening of West Side Story, the news was full of stories of gang violence and racial confrontations. At the end of August, Strom Thurmond filibustered for more than 24 hours to try to prevent passage of the Voting Rights Act. The day before the show’s opening, federal troops forcibly integrated Little Rock High School.
In general, critics responded favorably to West Side Story, but all the major Tony Awards went instead to Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, a bubbly, nostalgic musical about a small town in Iowa.
It’s the 71st birthday of American novelist Jane Smiley (1948) (books by this author), who has been called “The Balzac of the American Midwest” for her explorations of farm life, family strife, and financial upheaval in novels like At Paradise Gate (1981), A Thousand Acres (1996), and Some Luck (2014).
Smiley was born in Los Angeles, California, but was raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was two, and her mother worked as a journalist. She calls herself a “bit of an out-to-lunch child” and says, “I was always pretty good at school, but all I ever wanted was a horse.” Smiley rode horses regularly, and even fancied becoming a jockey, but when she reached 6-foot-2, she realized she was too tall to be a jockey and set her sights on writing instead.
Smiley went to Vassar College to appease her mother. She says: “She wanted me to be an intellectual. I was her eldest child, and she thought that being a writer was the best thing you could be.” After college, she lived on a Maoist commune in Connecticut and backpacked through Europe for a year. Her boyfriend carried her typewriter. When she came home, she worked in a teddy-bear factory in Iowa before being accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It was her fellow student, novelist Leonard Michaels, who suggested her pen name. Smiley had married and was using the name Jane Whiston. Michaels said nobody would remember that name and asked what her maiden name was. When she said, “Smiley,” he answered, “That’s the one. People will remember that.”
She describes her first three novels, Barn Blind (1980), At Paradise Gate (1981), and Duplicate Keys (1984), as “practice.” She went on to write a murder mystery, a medieval epic (The Greenlanders, 1988), and a college satire (Moo, 1995). She’s been compared to Charles Dickens, but considers herself mainly a comic writer, saying “Somehow, after Moo, I lost my investment in sobriety as a literary tone. And I became lively and satiric.”
Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres (1991), in which she transplants Shakespeare’s play King Lear to a 1,000-acre Iowa farm headed by patriarch Larry (Lear in the play). The book was an international best-seller and was made into a film (1997) starring Jason Robards.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®