Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was published on this date in 1962 (books by this author). Carson was a marine biologist, but she was also a crafter of lyrical prose who contributed to magazines like The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, and who had already published three popular lyrical books about the sea. One of these — The Sea Around Us (1951) — had won the National Book Award. In the course of her work, Carson became aware of the ways that chemical pesticides were harming plants and wildlife. She felt it was important to make the public aware of this, but she was not an investigative journalist and didn’t feel confident enough to write what she called the “poison book.” She began trying to interest magazines in the subject as early as 1945. In 1958, Carson’s friend mentioned that she was finding a lot of dead birds in her Massachusetts bird sanctuary. Carson, in turn, wrote to E.B. White, who was an editor at The New Yorker. She suggested that White write an article about pesticides. He said the magazine would be keen to publish such an article, but he encouraged her to write it herself. The article became a multiyear project that Carson pursued through personal tragedies like the death of her mother, and her own diagnosis with breast cancer in 1960.
Read more about Rachel Carson here: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor | A poem each day, plus literary and historical notes from this day in history
Over the weekend, Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Ashbery passed away at the age of 90. “Part of what makes Ashbery so absurdly good is his faith in the essential goodness of the absurd,” wrote Matthew Bevis in the June 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine. “He’s one of our most truly encouraging poets on account of his willingness to let himself go, to let the social self (call it ‘character’ or ‘personality’) deliquesce into the anarchic, labile, inner chemistry of selfhood.” Below is a selection of Ashbery’s work, which began appearing in Harper’s in 1969.
• “Whatever the Old Man Does is Always Right,” “Commotion of the Birds,” “Featurette,” and “But Seriously” (with an introduction by Ben Lerner), August 2016
• “Absent Agenda,” October 2010
• “The Water Inspector,” February 2000
Source: [Memento Mori] | John Ashbery (1927–2017) | Harper’s Magazine
“This country has dangled the sword of nuclear holocaust over the world for more than half a century and claims that someone else invented terrorism.”
Paraphrased from “If Not Empire, What?: A Survey of the Bible” by Berry Friesen and John K. Stoner
According to today’s Writer’s Almanac, Stone wrote:
“Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.”
Can you relate?
It’s the birthday of John Steinbeck. See The Writer’s Almanac for Feb. 27 for more details.
In Chapter 17 of The Grapes of Wrath, he wrote
The cars of the migrant people crawled out of the side roads onto the great cross-country highway, and they took the migrant way to the West. In the daylight they scuttled like bugs to the westward; and as the dark caught them, they clustered like bugs near to shelter and to water. And because they were lonely and perplexed, because they had all come from a place of sadness and worry and defeat, and because they were all going to a new mysterious place, they huddled together; they talked together; they shared their lives, their food, and the things they hoped for in the new country. Thus it might be that one family camped near a spring, and another camped for the spring and for company, and a third because two families had pioneered the place and found it good. And when the sun went down, perhaps twenty families and twenty cars were there.
In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.
Where: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 121 Wall St., New Haven
Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series
Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection
Celebrated for his powerful and carefully crafted poems, Komunyakaa has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Louisiana Writers Award. About his work, the poet Toi Derricotte wrote for the Kenyon Review, “[Yusef Komunyakaa] takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” The Beinecke Library acquired the papers of Yusef Komunyakaa in 2014.
Today is the birthday of the man known as “The O. Henry of Harlem,” American poet Langston Hughes (1902). In 1926, he was working as a busboy at a hotel in New York City when the poet Vachel Lindsay arrived for dinner. Hughes placed some poems under Lindsay’s dinner plate. Intrigued, Lindsay read them and asked who wrote them. Hughes stepped forward and said, “I did.” And that’s how he came to publish his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues (1926), at the age of 24.
When asked what he wrote about, Langston Hughes answered, “Workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago — people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter — and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.”
For more visit www.writersalmanac.org.
Today is the birthday of Colette who said
“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
Feb. 27 is the birthday of writer John Steinbeck, whose great novel of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath, gives an eloquent and sympathetic voice to the dispossessed. In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” You can watch him deliver his Nobel speech above.
And for insights into how Steinbeck reached that pinnacle, you can read a collection of his observations on the art of fiction from the Fall, 1975 edition of The Paris Review, including six writing tips jotted down in a letter to a friend the same year he won the Nobel Prize. “The following,” Steinbeck writes, “are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.”
For the entire list of tips and more, visit: John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for the Aspiring Writer and His Nobel Prize Speech | Open Culture
And more tips here:
Here’s one way to become a better writer. Listen to the advice of writers who earn their daily bread with their pens. During the past week, lists of writing commandments by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard (above) and William Safire have buzzed around Twitter. (Find our Twitter stream here.) So we decided to collect them and add tips from a few other veterans — namely, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman.
Source: Writing Tips by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell | Open Culture
And one tip from me: Don’t get too hung up on tips but write if that is what you want to do. Just write. Your style will develop. Your words will come out. Your story will come out. Try various things. Start at the end. Or start at the beginning. Try outlining if you’re comfortable with it. Or not. Do what comes naturally. If you like what you do, then you’ll find yourself trying to do more. If you don’t like what you do, then read a book and try it again when you feel you’re ready.