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Friday, November 30, 2018

Good Books; Good Friends

“Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.” – Louisa May Alcott

Born in Philadelphia on this date in 1832, Alcott grew up in Massachusetts to become one of America’s iconic writers.   While she worked to help support her somewhat impoverished family from an early age, she also sought a career as a writer in her teens and began to receive critical acclaim for her writing before age 30.  
An abolitionist and a feminist, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly but when the Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in a Union Hospital before contracting typhoid fever and nearly dying.  Her letters home – revised and published in the Boston anti-slavery paper Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches – brought her first critical writing recognition and led to her first novel, Moods, based on her own experience.      In the mid-1860s, she wrote a series of passionate, fiery novels and sensational stories under the pen name A. M. Barnard, but after the success of Little Women she concentrated her writing on books for children.

Loosely based on her childhood experiences (in Concord, Mass.), Little Women has been rated one of the top 100 books in U.S. history and remains one of America’s most popular.  The story also has been filmed many times and brought to the stage in various forms, including on Broadway.   It’s been continuously in print for 150 years.

Alcott died of a stroke at age 55 and is buried on “Authors’ Ridge” in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.  Buried near her are 3 other iconic American writers – Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau – all her lifelong friends and mentors.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Unleashing the hidden power of writing

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” – Rita Mae Brown

Born on this date in 1944, Brown has excelled in every type of writing she’s attempted, ranging from screenplays to television scripting to novels and poetry.  After a string of stand-alone novels, led by the award-winning Rubyfruit Jungle, she has written a remarkable 55 more novels, 4 nonfiction books, and 9 screenplays.  Twenty-eight of her titles are in the “Mrs. Murphy Mysteries” series and 11 in her “Sister Mysteries" series.  Since the 1990s she has published at least a title every year, including last year’s best-selling Crazy Like A Fox and this year’s Probable Claws.

Raised first in an orphanage and then by her aunt and uncle, she grew up in Pennsylvania, went to school at the University of Florida, and lived for a time as a homeless person in New York City before earning degrees in Classics, English and Cinematography.  Ultimately she went on to earn two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D.        Her first attempt at writing was ultimately made into a television special, I Love Liberty, which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Musical or Variety.  She followed that with a screenplay parody of “slasher” movies called The Slumber Party Massacre, a film that not only appeared on TV but also in limited release and spawned two sequels and a cult following that continues to this day.

Inspired by her writing success, she wrote her first novel and has never looked back and said every time she thinks about easing up, a deadline from her publisher seems to loom. "A deadline is just negative inspiration," she said.  "Still, it's better than no inspiration at all."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Feeling that 'writing energy'

“Good writing gives energy, whatever it is about.” – Marilyn Hacker

Born in New York on this date in 1942, Hacker grew up in the city, attended New York University in the early 1960s, and started writing poetry in the early 1970s.  Beginning with her National Book Award-winning Presentation Piece in 1974, she has since established herself as a preeminent voice in the tradition of Robert Lowell and Adrienne Rich.  Hacker also won the prestigious PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for King of a Hundred Horsemen by French writer Marie Étienne. 
    Since 1976 she has divided her time between the United States and France, editing literary periodicals such as Ploughshares and the Kenyon Review, and teaching at a number of colleges and universities but primarily at City College of New York, where she currently is an emeritus professor.
“The pleasure that I take in writing gets me interested in writing a poem,” she said.  “It's not a statement about what I think anybody else should be doing. For me, it's an interesting tension between interior and exterior.”

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Find a sense of adventure

A good start to another week of writing are these wise words from Canadian Cheryl Alleway, author of the novels Of Blade and Valor and Inverness Skies.  

 “Reading and writing are fundamental to this day no matter how technology grows," Alleway said.  "The ability to communicate a story that stirs emotions within others is a gift to both the writer and the reader. We need storytellers in the world. It allows us to discover, learn, feel and find our sense of adventure." 
Cheryl Alleway and her dog Loma
May your week be filled with "Writer's Moments."

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Exploring ideas and imagination

“My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams.” – Alexis Wright

An indigenous Australian, Wright was born on this date in 1950, grew up in Queensland, and broke onto the writing scene in the 1990s, making an immediate splash with her novel Plains of Promise, published in 1997, nominated for several literary awards, and on the market in numerous editions.    But it was her novel Carpentaria that earned her the biggest accolades.   Despite being rejected multiple times, it finally was picked up by an independent publisher and achieved Australia’s highest honor, the Miles Franklin Award.  
                                             This year, her biography Tracker, a tribute to economist Tracker Tilmouth, won the prestigious Stella Prize, Australia’s richest award for the leading female writer in all genres.  The book also earned the Margery Medal – the leading award for nonfiction – and a Queensland Literary Award.  Wright is currently a member of the Australian Research Council research project on literary forms, her theme focusing on forms of Aboriginal oral storytelling.  

Despite her ongoing success, she said she feels she hasn’t changed as a person or how she interacts with people around her.  “No matter what happens to you,” she said,  “you can maintain your own control about what you believe and who you are.”

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

The 'Orphan of Silence'

 Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.” – Charles Simic

Despite his disclaimer, Simic, who recently turned 80, won a Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn’t End and was a finalist for another of his poetic works.   Critics often refer to Simic’s terse, imagistic poems as “tightly constructed Chinese puzzle boxes.”

Simic said he loves what words can do, and once stated: "Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat, and the poet is merely the bemused spectator."     For Saturday’s Poem, here is Simic’s,

    The Wooden Toy
                                                  The wooden toy sitting pretty.

No … quieter than that.
Like the sound of eyebrows

                                 Raised by a villain 

                                 In a silent movie.

Psst, someone said behind my back.

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Copland's 'Simple Gifts' - A Thanksgiving Feast

“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” – Aaron Copland

Born in November 1900, Copland often was referred to as the Dean of American composers by both his peers and music critics across the nation.  He wrote prolifically about music, including pieces on music criticism analysis, on musical trends, and on his own compositions.   An avid lecturer and lecturer-performer, Copland eventually collected his presentation notes into three books, What to Listen for in Music, Our New Music, and Music and Imagination. 

In the 1980s, he collaborated with Vivian Perlis on a two-volume autobiography, Copland: 1900 Through 1942 and Copland Since 1943.  He died in 1990 leaving a legacy as “America’s musician.”  He wrote a total of about 100 works which covered a diverse range of genres, and many, especially orchestral pieces, have remained part of the standard American repertoire.   Copland was awarded the New York Music Critics' Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize in composition for Appalachian Spring, which includes his variation on the beautiful Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope you will take a few moments to listen once again to this song of thanks and joy.  Happy Thanksgiving!

(P.S.  For some added joy today, listen to the song that immediately follows – a mashup of "Simple Gifts" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow.Amazing!)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Both thanks and giving

“My father said there are two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers,” Thomas noted.  “The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.” – Marlo Thomas  

Tomorrow we celebrate both Thanksgiving and the anniversary of a program called “Thanks & Giving All Year Long.”   Started by Thomas, whose 81st birthday is today, it provides ongoing support for the wonderful work of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital – the world’s leading center for research on treating catastrophic illnesses in children. 

In 2004 Thomas had the idea of writing a children’s book and album that would both inspire young people and help fund St. Jude’s work.  For her effort Thomas won a Grammy Award; but more importantly she started a project that may go on for decades, continuing to both inspire kids and draw attention to St. Jude’s – which was founded by her father Danny Thomas. 

While winning a Grammy would be a capstone of some artists’ careers, it was only one of many, many awards for this tireless actress and writer, who has received four Emmys, a Golden Globe, the George Foster Peabody Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“I’ve always been a champion of kids pursuing their dreams,” she said.   “But sometimes in life, extraordinary circumstances may force us to temporarily put our dreams on hold. The most important thing is to never lose sight of that dream, no matter what punches life may throw in our way.”

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Intensely writing about ordinary life

“I think this is true for all artists. My senses are very important to me.” – Sharon Olds
Born in San Francisco on this date in 1942, Olds has established herself as a leading poetic voice and an often controversial writer, loved by some, hated by others, but always interesting.  In the process, she has won National Book Critics Circle Award for her amazing The Dead and The Living and both the Pulitzer Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize for Stag’s Leap – the first American woman to win these dual honors.   
                               She began her writing career after earning degrees from both Stanford and Columbia and is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.   Always interested in the “construct” of writing, she has taught writing for many years as a professor at New York University. 

“I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker,” Olds said.  “I am not a… How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things—feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual. I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.”

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