What a Literary Feast Day! Tennessee Williams & Robert Frost Born; F. Scott Fitzgerald's First Novel Published
"I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth that has the appearance of illusion." - Tennessee Williams. The Glass Menagerie
His "real" name was Thomas Lanier Williams, III. But we know him by the nom de plume affixed to the classic American plays that made him famous. Here are snippets from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, Night of the Iguana, and a full-length version of The Glass Menagerie, in which a young Sam Waterston channels the young Tennessee Williams in my favorite version of this enduring "memory play."
Robert Frost - Winner of Four Pulitzer Prizes - Reads His Most Famous Poem
F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise
Minnesota-born Fitzgerald was only 23 years old when this novel was published, launching him into the fame, fortune, and eventual self-recrimination that would be chronicled in his later books and stories. This is part one of an audiobook, capably read by Kristin Hughes and posted by Stephen King. The screen is black because the only video will be on the movie monitor of your mind. It's the next best thing to reading it yourself.
TAGS: Writers & Writing, Famous Birthdays
With #Selma Movie Nominations in Mind - Here Are Black & White Photos from the Actual March on March 21, 1965
Since one picture is worth a thousand words, I need say very little here about today's anniversary of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The photos in this video montage were taken by Stephen Somerstein, a photographer for the student newspaper at the City University of New York (CUNY). Over the years, I've seen video footage of the march in wonderful film documentaries like Eyes on the Prize. But these black-and-white images tell the story in a more reflective way. The march that began on March 21, 1965, was the third attempt to organize a peaceful 54-mile walk in support of African-American voting rights. Two weeks earlier, six hundred marchers were attacked by Alabama state police when they reached the Pettus Bridge six blocks from where they'd started. The incident, which became known as Bloody Sunday, was broadcast on national television. Americans were outraged over this blatant act of brutality directed against people who were simply asking for the right to vote. They would be successful on today's date because they now had the support of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the FBI, the federalized Alabama National Guard, and 25 thousand other Americans - of all creeds and races - who marched with them. These images show that the March from Selma to Montgomery was about more than civil rights. It was about standing up for something you believe in whatever the cost. The triumph of the human spirit over anyone or anything that seeks to make us less than who we really are.
TAGS: Historical Figures & Events
Moms Mabley Sings "Abraham, Martin & John" (1969) & The Pointer Sisters Live (1975) - Birthdays for Moms & Ruth Pointer
We were not supposed to listen to Moms Mabley when I was a kid. Her humor was too risque. So of course, we listened to her whenever we visited our friends. Some of them knew her off-color jokes by heart and would recite them in the cafeteria while the nuns patrolled the aisles to make sure we were behaving ourselves. I still laugh when I recall the way we tried to imitate Moms' raspy voice, retelling her jokes as if we knew all about the life we were being protected from. Example: A burglar breaks into Moms' bedroom. She wakes up and says, "What do you want - I hope."
Anyway, in 1969, at the age of 75, she sang an unforgettable version of "Abraham, Martin & John," which made it to Number 2 on the music charts. It was one year after Dr. King's assassination. This voice we associated with vulgarity perfectly expressed the pathos of the moment. See for yourself in the following clip from her performance on The Merv Griffin Show. I suppose I could have tweeted this, but I had to have it on my website. I just had to.
Ruth Pointer Turns 68?
Here she is with her sisters in a live concert recorded in 1975. This was when they were doing their '40's thing. And they're terrific. You can see and hear the craft that led to later hits like "Jump" and "Neutron Dance" and so many others. And let's go ahead and include "Jump" too. It's a celebration. Happy Birthday, Ruth!
Four Good Reasons to Love John Updike - "Playing with Dynamite" & "A&P" via the New Yorker Fiction Podcast & Two Fine Interviews
"Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing the open sea." John Updike (via BrainyQuote)
To be honest, I don't have time today to write a considered piece on one of my all-time favorite writers. But I can't walk away from the blogosphere without some tribute to the great John Updike (March 18, 1932 to January 27, 2009). So here are a few place markers.
First, treat yourself to Updike's 1992 short story, "Playing with Dynamite," read by Roger Angell and discussed with New Yorker Fiction Editor, Deborah Treisman in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. There's an audio player on that website, so you can listen without downloading to an MP3 player.
Second, here is early Updike, the short story, "A&P," also from the New Yorker Fiction Podcast.
Below are video clips from Updike's interviews with Charlie Rose of PBS and Charles McGrath, a former fiction editor at the New Yorker who was also Editor of the New York Times Book Review. But before getting to those, let's look at the video farewell, which was broadcast in 2009 on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.
TAGS: Writers & Writing
YouTube's Viral "First Kiss" Video, Imagine You're an Astronaut, and Emily's Monologue from "Our Town"
First the Astronaut
Imagine we are astronauts who have crashed on the moon. We look across the vastness of space and see the beautiful blue Earth. But we can't get back because our ship is damaged. All we can do is look at that brilliant blue beautiful orb in the black sky and dream of being home.
But suppose we managed to fix our ship, and landed back home. How would we feel when we first set foot upon the Earth? What would we observe and savor? How intensely would we experience the sights and smells, the flavors, the feeling of a gentle rain?
That's how we should walk on the Earth with each step.
From the Page-a-Day Zen Calendar
Monday, March 10, 2014
A Walking Exercise from Thich Nhat Hanh
Now Emily's Monologue from Our Town - Do You See the Connection?
And Finally, First Kiss
Here's the viral YouTube video by Tatia Pllieva, in which 20 strangers kiss for the first time.
Notice the halting, seeking tenderness as each man or woman encounters something unknown in the other.
But here's the real trick. How do you make the millionth one just as sweet?
Even after 30 or even 50 years together, the only valid question you can ask of the person you're about to kiss is, "Who are you today?" If you think you already know the answer, you may be wrong. You may know patterns, you may know the past, you may even know a resume' -- but do you ever really know the person you're about to kiss?
Emily, the astronaut, and these first kissers - they're all reminding us of the same thing.
The Precious Moment.
Ain't it grand?
The Legacy of "Bloody Sunday" in #Selma, Gutting the Voting Rights Act, and a Clip from "Eyes on the Prize"
On March 7, 1965, six hundred American citizens left Selma, Alabama, on a peaceful march to the state's capitol in Montgomery in support of African-American voting rights. Within a few blocks they were attacked by police who used billy clubs and tear gas to turn them back. The incident was captured on live TV by ABC news, which interrupted its scheduled programming to show the rest of America what was happening in the sovereign state of Alabama. And the nation was appalled.
It took another two weeks and two more tries before the marchers were able to complete the 54-mile trek to the state capitol. But instead of the original six hundred marchers, there were now 25 thousand supported by a federal court order and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Last year, in its review of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, an ideologically divided Supreme Court invalidated the heart of the legislative victory that began on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. In that decision, nine states with a history of discrimination were released from the requirement to seek federal approval before making any changes to their election laws. Basically, the court was saying that there had been oversight enough in the past almost-five decades and no more was needed. The New York Times article on the court's decision can be found here.
Only time will tell if the court's optimism was justified. Has there been enough social rehabilitation in the Deep South to warrant the removal of federal oversight? I look at our country's enormous progress in the areas of social justice and civil rights and would like to think so. But I also look at news reports about Trayvon Martin and the shooting of another black youth for playing loud music. I see racist comments on YouTube, in social media and elsewhere on the Internet, and I wonder if the fox would feel less constrained to attack the chicken coop if he knew the farmer was no longer standing by with a shotgun.
While researching my novel series, I learned that black disenfranchisement was a key goal of white Americans in the post-civil-war South. There was good reason for them to feel this way. Recently freed slaves sometimes "sold" their votes or were too easily convinced to cast ballots for disreputable characters whose interests bore little resemblance to the public good. The abuses of Reconstruction set the stage for literacy tests, property requirements, and the outright intimidation of any African-American who wanted to vote.
It took the Civil Rights Movement to change all that. The question now is whether we have changed enough as a country, especially in the nine states where abuses were most egregious, to render federal protection unnecessary. Five conservative justices on the Supreme Court believe we have. I'm not a historian, but I remember school studies about what happened when federal troops pulled out of the South at the end of Reconstruction. Will history repeat itself? Should we be concerned that voter ID laws like the one recently enacted in Texas will become a 21st-century variant of black disenfranchisement? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I think we owe it to ourselves as a nation to remember Nick Carraway at the end of The Great Gatsby. After witnessing the events that led to the demise of his friend, he wanted the world to stand at "moral attention" forever. In another time, he might have called it mindfulness. Whatever we decide to call it, wouldn't it be nice if we did not have to be shocked into right thinking by a live broadcast, as we were on this day in 1965, when evidence of human nature's lower impulses forced us to stand up and say who we really are.
What follows here is a six-and-a-half minute video clip from the award-winning documentary, Eyes on the Prize, which shows what happened on this day 49 years ago. A young John Lewis and Hosea Williams led the march, and the rest, as we all know, is history.
Before Madea There Was Medea, and Hell Hath No Fury. Happy Birthday Pier Paolo Pasolini & Hats Off to "The Great Beauty" Oscar Win
It seems fitting somehow that this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film should go to the Italian nominee, The Great Beauty. The film is certainly worthy in its own right. As the voice-over during Sunday's Academy Awards reminded us, it is also part of a long legacy of achievement from the Italian film industry, which includes work by masters like Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, De Sica, Leone, Wertmuller, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who would have celebrated his 92nd birthday today had he not been murdered in 1975 for reasons that remain mysterious.
Before becoming a film director, Pasolini was already a famously controversial poet, novelist, and essayist. Although the literary critic, Harold Bloom, considers him one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century, his work continues to stir controversy. His first film, Accatone, was about the life of a pimp. Pasolini's subject matter also included Christ, cannibals, sexual depravity, and great works of classical Greek drama like Oedipus Rex and Medea. A member of the Italian Communist Party, he was not a slave to the party line and often expressed his disagreement with it.
To honor him on his birthday, here is Maria Callas in a nine-minute clip from the English-subtitled version of Pasolini's Medea, which he released in 1969. Yes, it's true. Long before Tyler Perry gave us his Madea, there was another with a similar name. That Medea is probably the single most brilliant example of the old saying: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." And she did not need a frying pan to make her feelings known either.
Also, if you're wondering why The Great Beauty garnered this year's foreign language Oscar, the trailer for that film is offered here as well.
I'm a storyteller whose background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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