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Friday, April 19, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Why poetry endures'

A Writer's Moment: 'Why poetry endures':   “Poetry endures when it possesses passionate and primally sincere clarity in the service of articulating universal huma...

'Why poetry endures'

 

“Poetry endures when it possesses passionate and primally sincere clarity in the service of articulating universal human concerns.”  Franz Wright

Wright, born in 1953, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his book of poetry Walking To Martha’s Vineyard.    In winning the Pulitzer, Wright joined his father James Wright in winning the prestigious award – making them the only father-child pair to win in the same category.  James Wright won for his 1972 volume, Collected Poems.

 

Unfortunately the Wrights have another distinction, both dying fairly young from cancer – James at age 53 and Franz at 62.  But in their short lives they each left us with a legacy of plowing new ground in the poetic world.   Here, for Saturday’s Poem, is  Franz Wright’s,

 

Morning Arrives

 

Morning arrives
unannounced
by limousine: the tall
emaciated chairman

of sleeplessness in person
steps out on the sidewalk
and donning black glasses, ascends
the stairs to your building

guided by a German shepherd.
After a couple faint knocks
at the door, he slowly opens
the book of blank pages

pointing out
with a pale manicured finger
particular clauses,
proof of your guilt.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Speaking to the thoughtful mind'

A Writer's Moment: 'Speaking to the thoughtful mind':   “Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.” – Theodore Roosevelt Outside of his polit...

'Speaking to the thoughtful mind'

 “Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Outside of his political career, Roosevelt, born in New York in 1858, was both a voracious reader and tireless writer.  He wrote thousands and thousands of letters and essays and had 25 books published about a range of subjects, including history, biology, geography and philosophy.

His writing about the American West, in particular, has stood the test of time and is still often used by those seeking an accurate depiction of life on the frontier and throughout America in those times.  And, of course, his concern for our environment and protecting our land for future generations had more to do with the shape of our current national park system than any other president before or after.

  When asked once about his decisive leadership in many of these things, he said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A Writer's Moment: Sports, music and inclusivity: The Hornby Style

A Writer's Moment: Sports, music and inclusivity: The Hornby Style:   “I don't want my books to exclude anyone, but if they have to, then I would rather they excluded the people who fee...

Sports, music and inclusivity: The Hornby Style

 

“I don't want my books to exclude anyone, but if they have to, then I would rather they excluded the people who feel they are too smart for them!” – Nick Hornby

 

Hornby, born in Surrey, England on this date in 1957, writes about ordinary people in ways that translate into bestsellers, like Fever Pitch, About a Boy and High Fidelity.    Fever Pitch, while written about a fan’s obsession (based on his own) with English soccer, was made an even bigger hit as an American movie adaptation, where it focused on Jimmy Fallon’s character’s obsession with the Boston Red Sox.

  

That’s the universality of writing sports – one situation or type of sport can be easily adapted into another.    I used the technique myself with my Tweens’ book Kelli’s Choice.  There, I took what I knew from my baseball playing days - and stories told to me by both my grandfather and father about their days on the diamond - and adapted it to girls’ softball, something I obviously never played.  It becomes, of course, all about the people.

 

Music has an even bigger role in Hornby's writing, mostly based on his own experiences.  Hornby has had long and fruitful collaborations with the rock band Marah and even toured in the United States and Europe with the band, joining them on stage to read from his essays.

 

Dedicated to helping kids with special needs, Hornby has donated all of his royalties from some of his books to helping kids with autism.   He is co-founder of the nonprofit Ministry of Stories, dedicated to helping children and young adults develop their writing skills, and to support teachers who inspire students to write.

 

“If you can get every kid to have found a book that he or she loves,” Hornby said, “then you've done a great job.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Seeking and portraying the lofty'

A Writer's Moment: 'Seeking and portraying the lofty':     “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share wit...

'Seeking and portraying the lofty'

 

 

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Thornton Wilder

Born in Madison, WS in April of 1897, Wilder was both a playwright and novelist extraordinaire.   He won 3 Pulitzer Prizes— 1 for the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and 2 for his plays Our Town (perhaps one of the “most performed” in American Theatre) and The Skin of Our Teeth.  He also won a U.S. National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day. 

 

Born into one of America’s most “accomplished” families – his parents were noted writers and diplomats and all 4 of his siblings were leading lights in their chosen professions ranging from education to archaeology to religion – Wilder began writing as a high school student.  Fluent in 5 languages, he also played a key role in the U.S. Military Intelligence field during World War II.

 

The Bridge at San Luis Rey, published in 1928, has been named one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century and his many theatrical successes began with 1938's Our Town.  While he continued writing novels, it was playwriting that held most of his interest from that point forward.  

                                                                                

 “Seek the lofty,” Wilder once said, “by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment each and every day.”

Monday, April 15, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'In childhood,' the vivid years

A Writer's Moment: 'In childhood,' the vivid years:     “I don't necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that's m...

'In childhood,' the vivid years

 

 

“I don't necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that's most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there.” – Beverly Cleary 

 

Cleary, who was born in Oregon on April 12, 1916 lived to be nearly 105.  She created outstanding characters that had a huge impact on generations of young people who might not have had the impetus to pick up a book or listen to a story until they saw or heard something she had written.  

 

 From The Mouse and the Motorcycle to iconic “real life” characters like Beezus and Ramona to Henry Huggins and Mitch and Amy, her characters vividly deal with the fears, joys and “daily minutiae” that children everywhere experience.

 

“Kids,” she once said, “need to feel safe, be close to their families, like their teachers, and have friends to play with.   Quite often somebody will say to me, ‘What years do your books take place?’ and the only answer I can give is, ‘In childhood’.”

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Laugh, Cry , Write a Poem'

A Writer's Moment: 'Laugh, Cry , Write a Poem':   “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down ...

'Laugh, Cry , Write a Poem'

 

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.” — Barbara Kingsolver

 

On April 8 I wrote a few words about Kingsolver’s creative writing.  She also writes poetry.   “Her poems,” one reviewer wrote, “ . . . are songs of hope and longing.”

 

“When you find yourself laughing and crying both at once, that is the time to write a poem,” Kingsolver said.   For Saturday’s Poem, here is Kingsolver’s,

                                         

           Apotheosis
There are days when I am envious of my hens:
when I hunger for a purpose as perfect and sure
as a single daily egg.


If I could only stand in the sun,
scratch the gravel and blink and wait
for the elements within me to assemble,
asking only grain I would
surrender myself to the miracle
of everyday incarnation: a day of my soul
captured in yolk and shell.


And I would have no need
for the visions that come to others
on bat’s wings, to carry them
face to face with nothingness.
The howl of the coyote in the night
would not raise my feathers, for I,
drowsy on my roost, would dream
of the replicated fruits of my life
nested safe in cartons.


And yet I am never seduced,
for I have seen what a hen knows of omnipotence:
nothing of the miracles in twelves,
only of the hand that feeds
and, daily, robs the nest.

Friday, April 12, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Stumbling upon cause and effect'

A Writer's Moment: 'Stumbling upon cause and effect':   Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the ...

'Stumbling upon cause and effect'

 

Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer's own life.”  Eudora Welty


Welty went on the trail of such writing and self-discovery in the early 1930s diving into journalism and photojournalism to help care for her family after her father died from leukemia.  Ultimately, she became one of America’s premiere writers about the American Southern Experience and the first living author to have works published by the Library of America.  Honored just before her death in 2001 with the Medal of Freedom for her life’s work, she also won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter.

 

Born in Jackson, MS on April 13, 1909 she developed a deep love of reading that was reinforced by her mother who believed that "any room in the house, at any time in the day, was there to read in, or to be read to."  

 

As a WPA employee in the mid-1930s, Welty documented daily life and the effect of WPA efforts in Mississippi through both her words and photos.  In 1971 she published one of the definitive photo books about the experience, One Time, One Place.   Many of her books and short stories are reflective of the hard times and individual hardships she observed. 

  

“All serious daring starts from within,” Welty said.  “To imagine yourself inside the life of another person . . . is what a storywriter does in every piece of work; it is his first step, and his last too, I suppose.”

Thursday, April 11, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Driven to communicate'

A Writer's Moment: 'Driven to communicate':   “A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to com...

'Driven to communicate'

 

“A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood.” – Leo Rosten

 

Born in Poland on April 11, 1908 Rosten became an American novelist, scriptwriter and humorist who also had a deep interest in the relationship of politics and the media and the intricacies of their connections. 

 

Rosten emigrated to and grew up in New York City, started writing at age 9 and worked his way through all levels of school, including earning a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.  An economist, he did a series of government information jobs during WWII but gravitated to writing doing screenplays, then feature writer and essays for Look Magazine for nearly 25 years. 

 

Fascinated by the power of of well-placed words, he once noted, “Words must surely be counted among the most powerful drugs man ever invented.”

 

Rosten died in 1997 but his quotes live on, including one of his most famous – a version of which is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  "The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable.  It is to be compassionate.  It is to matter; to have it make some difference that you lived."

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

A Writer's Moment: Becoming a 'good user' of English

A Writer's Moment: Becoming a 'good user' of English:   “How do you become a good user of English?   Well, a person should read. And read, and read. Preferably good things. I might suggest The N...

Becoming a 'good user' of English

 “How do you become a good user of English?  Well, a person should read. And read, and read. Preferably good things. I might suggest The New Yorker, for instance.” – Mary Norris  

Norris, born in Cleveland in 1952, is a longtime copy editor at The New Yorker, a magazine justly famous for the care it takes with words.  To read about common mistakes many writers make, take a look at her excellent book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.

The title, she said, references the mistake of "using I instead of me in phrases such as 'between you and me'.   How can you tell when you're messing it up? Put the 'I' first.  You might make a mistake — I hope not — and say 'between you and I,' but you would never make the mistake of saying 'between I and you.'"

  
Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978 and said that over her many years there she’s worked with all kinds of writers, great and small, but one of the easiest was the wonderful John Updike.
 
“John Updike was very careful in his prose and very attuned to details," Norris said.  "The only danger there was that it was so slick, your pencil would slide off the page! It was really beautifully done.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

A Writer's Moment: The test of 'true friendship'

A Writer's Moment: The test of 'true friendship':   “Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.” – Walter Winchell   Born o...

The test of 'true friendship'

 

“Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.” – Walter Winchell

 

Born on this date in 1897, Winchell rose from what he termed “The mean streets of New York” to become the somewhat mean writer about New York and the entertainment world.   A grade school dropout (6th grade) who ran off to join the Vaudeville stage, he became a conduit for sharing showbiz tales at the age of 15, first posting stories on theater walls and then feeding them to entertainment journals.

 

By age 20, Winchell was working for The Vaudeville News and by 30 for the New York Daily Mirror, where he started a gossip column called On-Broadway.  Ultimately, King Features made it the first syndicated column, and Winchell became a worldwide phenomenon.  At the height of his popularity 50 million people read his daily column and another 20 million tuned in for his Sunday Night radio broadcast.

 

Noted for taking a stand against Hitler, Mussolini and Facism and for his support of Civil Rights, he also was notorious for often unjustified attacks on those he thought were trying to hurt his career.   But, if he was your friend, he was a true friend no matter what.

 

“A real friend,” he said,  “is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

Monday, April 8, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'Through the eyes of another'

A Writer's Moment: 'Through the eyes of another':   “Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life.”...

'Through the eyes of another'

 “Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life.” – Barbara Kingsolver

 
Since 1993, the year of her first novel The Poisonwood Bible, every one of Barbara Kingsolver's 16 books have reached The New York Times Best Seller list.
 
Born in Appalachia on this date in 1955, Kingsolver intended to be a classical musician and, in fact, had a college scholarship to become one.  But, she said she realized that “only about 6 people a year get hired in that world.”  So she switched her focus to the study of science and on a whim tried her hand at “creative” writing. 

Kingsolver has split her adult life between homes in Appalachia and Arizona, where she wrote some of her most memorable works including Pigs in Heaven earning a reputation as a writer focusing on social justice, biodiversity and the interaction between humans, their communities and their environments.
 
 
Barbara Kingsolver
 
“Every time I write a new novel about something somber and sobering and terrible I think (of my readers) ‘Oh Lord, they’re not going to want to go here.’ But they do.  Readers of fiction read, I think, for a deeper embrace of the world, of reality.  And that’s brave."


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

A Writer's Moment: 'For Dynamic -- The Play's the Thing'

A Writer's Moment: 'For Dynamic -- The Play's the Thing':   “A novel is a static thing that one moves through; a play is a dynamic thing that moves past one.” – Kenneth Tynan ...

'For Dynamic -- The Play's the Thing'

 

“A novel is a static thing that one moves through; a play is a dynamic thing that moves past one.” – Kenneth Tynan

One of the most impactful theater critics of the mid-20th Century, Tynan was born on this date in 1928 and in his relatively short lifetime (he died at age 53 of emphysema) he became a force in the theatrical world. 

 

His understanding of what made good writing (and a good show) led to his eventual appointment as literary manager of the British National Theatre Company.  In that role he not only greatly expanded the Theatre’s reach and choice of plays but also established his own worldwide reputation.

 

Tynan's career first took off in 1952 as a young theatre critic for the London Evening Standard.   In 1954, he joined The Observer and it was there that he rose to prominence.  After becoming part of the National Theatre’s management team, he continued his writing as a film reviewer.  During the final decade of his life he lived in California, writing often for The New Yorker and doing screenplays and theatrical pieces, including the very popular Oh, Calcutta!   He also kept diaries that have been much studied, both in writing courses and by historians.


“A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time,” Tynan wrote, when asked what advice he might give to aspiring critics. “A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.”