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Mother’s Day from the Writer’s Almanac

History of Mother’s Day

It’s the second Sunday in May, which is Mother’s Day here in the United States. It’s Mother’s Day in other countries, too, including Denmark, Italy, Venezuela, Turkey, Australia, and Japan.

A woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother’s Day. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had a similar idea, and in 1905 the daughter swore at her mother’s grave to dedicate her life to the project. She campaigned tirelessly for the holiday. In 1907, she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother’s church, St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother’s Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother’s Day. She said, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She was against the selling of flowers, and she called greeting cards “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” Nevertheless, Mother’s Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home without a penny to her name, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist’s Exchange.

Reference

Mother’s Day (2014). The Writer’s Almanac. Retrieved from http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Writers' Almanac

 

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From The Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of the writer who said, “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” Thornton Wilder (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). His father was a diplomat, so Wilder and his four brothers and sisters moved back and forth between Asia and the United States. His parents were supportive, but sometimes overbearing. They dictated what Wilder did with his time, and made him work on farms in the summer so that he would be more well-rounded. They decided where he would go to college: to Oberlin, in Ohio, and then to Yale.

After some time in Rome, Wilder got a job teaching French at a boys’ boarding school. In 1926, Wilder spent the summer at MacDowell Colony, a writers’ retreat in New Hampshire, and he started work on his second novel. It was set in the Spanish colonial era of the 18th century — the story of a bridge that collapses in Lima, Peru, while five people are crossing it. The collapse is witnessed by a Franciscan friar, who becomes obsessed by the tragedy and tries to figure out why those five people had to die. Wilder finished it less than a year later and sent it off to his publisher, who almost turned it down, complaining that it was written “for a small over-cultivated circle of readers.” But when The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) was published, it was an immediate success. It won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize, and by that time, it had sold nearly 300,000 copies and been through 17 printings.

Wilder earned enough from The Bridge of San Luis Rey to quit his job and build a house for himself, his parents, and his sisters in Hamden, Connecticut. He called it “the house the bridge built.” That house was his official residence for the rest of his life.

In 1962, Wilder was 65 years old, a famous writer. He was best known for his plays, like his Pulitzer-winning Our Town (1938) and The Matchmaker (1955), which was adapted into the musicalHello, Dolly!. He had not written a novel for almost 20 years. He was tired of being in the limelight, and he wanted to escape his comfortable life in Connecticut, so Wilder got in his Thunderbird convertible and headed southwest. The car broke down just outside of Douglas, Arizona, a town on the Mexican border, and that’s where Wilder stayed for a year and a half. He was happy to be somewhere where nobody knew much about him or his writing. He rented an apartment with one bed for himself and one for all his papers. During the days he wrote, read, and took walks, and in the evenings he hung around the bar asking questions — so many questions that everyone called him “Doc” or “Professor.” When he left Douglas at the end of 1963, he had a good start on a novel. In 1967 he published it as The Eighth Day, and it won a National Book Award.

He said, “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.”

And: “The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.’ And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.”

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in American Lit, writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

zolaIt’s the birthday of of writer Émile Zola (books by this author), born in Paris in 1840. His father was an Italian engineer, and he died when Émile was seven, leaving the family to get by on a small pension. Émile’s mother hoped he would become a lawyer, but he failed the qualifying examination, and so he took a series of clerical jobs. He also wrote literary and art reviews for newspapers.

In his early career, Zola generally followed the Romantic Movement in literature, but he later began a writing style he dubbed naturalism, for which he is best known. He defined naturalism as “nature seen through a temperament” and was inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1839) to apply scientific principles of observation to the craft of fiction. Between 1871 and 1893, he wrote a 20-novel series called Les Rougon-Macquart about different members of the same fictional family during France’s Second Empire. He wrote of this project: “I want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world.” The most famous books from the cycle are The Drunkard (1877), Nana (1880), and Germinal (1885).

He was also involved in the famous Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongfully accused of passing military secrets to Germany and imprisoned on Devil’s Island. Evidence later came out that strongly implicated another man, but the evidence was suppressed to protect the original verdict. Zola published an open letter on January 13, 1898, entitled J’Accuse…!, on the front page of Paris daily L’Aurore. In it he accused the French army of obstruction of justice and anti-Semitism. He was convicted of criminal libel on February 7, but fled to England before he could be imprisoned, wearing only the clothes on his back. The following year, the government offered him a pardon, which he accepted, even though doing so implied that he was guilty. He was finally exonerated of all charges in 1906, four years after his accidental death of carbon monoxide poisoning from a stopped-up chimney.

I want to read Émile Zola’s A Lady’s Paradise.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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From The Writer’s Alamanc

It’s the birthday of lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler (books by this author), born in Tonbridge, Kent, England (1858). He studied at Oxford and taught Latin, Greek, and English at a boys’ school in northwest England for 17 years, then resigned and moved to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, built himself a one-room cottage, and began living like a hermit. Though he spent all his time writing essays and produced enough to fill two book-length manuscripts, he could not succeed in getting them published. He then came up with the idea to write “a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers.” Collaborating with his brother on the work for Oxford University Press, he wrote The King’s English (1906), which begins:

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”

The first chapter, titled “Vocabulary,” lays out the following principles:

“Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.”

The book was a success and he was commissioned to produce The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, which appeared in 1911. His biggest success, however, was A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), a collection of common mistakes in English that Fowler organized into categories, such as “Battered Ornaments,” “Love of the Long Word,” “Sturdy Indefensibles,” “Swapping Horses,” and “Unequal Yokefellows.”

T.S. Eliot said, “Every person who wishes to write ought to read A Dictionary of Modern English Usage … for a quarter of an hour every night before going to bed.”

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Writers' Almanac

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

After reading The Long Goodbye, Chandler’s become one of my favorite writers. Happy Birthday!

It’s the birthday of Raymond Chandler, born in Chicago (1888). His parents were Irish, and after his father left the family, his mother moved them back to Ireland, and he grew up there and in England. Later, he moved back to America and settled in California.

He wrote pulp fiction about the city of Los Angeles and a detective there named Philip Marlowe. Chandler’s first novel was The Big Sleep (1939), which sold well and was made into a movie in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay. Chandler wrote seven more novels featuring Philip Marlowe, who became the quintessential “hard-boiled” private eye, tough and street-smart and full of wise cracks. In Farewell, My Lovely(1940), Marlowe says: “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.”

Chandler was never any good at coming up with plots. He had to study and steal from other mystery writers like Dashiell Hammett. But he knew how to create atmosphere. One of his early stories, “Red Wind” (1938), begins: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that . meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”

Chandler is famous for his metaphors. In one novel he wrote, “She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looked by moonlight.” In another he wrote, “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Writers' Almanac

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wond...

An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the birthday of the man who wrote The Wizard of Oz: Lyman Frank Baum, born in Chittenango, New York (1856). His father was a rich oil tycoon, and the family lived at an idyllic country home in upstate New York. He was a shy and absent-minded child, and his parents sent him to military school to instill some discipline in him. Frank had a heart condition his entire life and was never able to exert himself physically. He had a heart attack at school and returned home, where he turned his creativity toward writing and publishing. When he was 15 years old, his father bought him a small printing press for his birthday, and he and his brother Harry started a newspaper called The Rose Lawn Home Journal. Frank was also interested in raising Hamburg chickens, and he published a magazine called The Poultry Record. His first book was published in 1886 and was called The Book of Hamburgs, A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of Different Varieties of Hamburgs.

He wrote a couple of plays and toured around the country before settling down in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He ran a general store that he called “Baum’s Bazaar,” where, with a cigar constantly dangling from his mouth, he liked to entertain children by telling them fairy tales and giving them candy as they gathered around on the dusty, wooden sidewalk. In 1897, he published his collection of Mother Goose stories, Mother Goose in Prose. Two years later he met the illustrator William Denslow, and the pair published Father Goose, His Book (1899), a huge success. Baum made so much money from Father Goose that he was able to buy a summer home in Macatawa Park, Michigan, where he built all of the furniture by hand.

In 1900, Baum wrote the book that made him famous, The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Denslow. The book began as a story he told to some neighborhood children; Frank thought it was so good that he stopped in the middle of the story to go start writing it down. The story of Dorothy, her dog Toto, the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man was an instant classic.

Frank Baum wrote, “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

And, “I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones.”

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Writers' Almanac

 

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From the Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of poet Charles Simic (books by this author), born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). His family survived the bombing of Belgrade during World War II and fled Eastern Europe after the war was over. They wound up in Oak Park, Illinois, and Simic went to the same high school Ernest Hemingway had gone to. The high school teachers there were always reminding kids that Hemingway had gone before them, and that inspired Simic to become a writer. He was drawn to poetry because his English still wasn’t very good, and in poems he didn’t have to use so many words.

In 1962, Simic enlisted in the Army. While stationed in Germany, he asked his brother to send him all the poems he had left behind in the United States. When he got the poems in the mail, he sat up all night in the barracks reading them and ripping them up one by one, because he thought they were all imitations of other writers. When they were all gone he suddenly realized that he had nothing left and he would have to start from scratch. So he started writing poems about simple things, household objects — a knife, a fork, a spoon, his shoes. Simic published his first book of poetry, What the Grass Says, in 1967, and he went on to publish many more collections, including School for Dark Thoughts (1978), Frightening Toys (1995), and Night Picnic (2001). His most recent collection is New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012, published in 2013.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in poetry, Writers' Almanac