It’s Langston Hughes’s birthday (Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes was a versatile writer: by his mid-twenties he had published challenging essays in national periodicals, and two books of poetry. I’m now reading his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, when he was 28.
This passage evokes a domestic scene in a small Kansas city, modeled on Lawrence, where Hughes spent several boyhood years. Hughes was proud of his humble roots, and the creativity it wrung from hardship, like the largely homemade blues songs by the itinerant laborer Jimboy. Here he has returned after a long absence seeking work. In Hughes’s prose, we can hear the poetry woven through it.
One of the favorite books of my boyhood — back in another century, a different millennium– was Huckleberry Finn. Read it several times.
It’s dispiriting to see articles about schools these days putting Huck in the literary dustbin, because of concerns over trigger words that were authentic to the culture Twain was portraying. But then, that’s happened a lot to other classics too. Continue reading Who Knew? Wikipedia Can Be Funny!→
Dog Days Tale: Honesty Is the Best Policy – Mostly
My brother Mike picked up the ringing phone: “Nonantum Times,” he said, listened a moment, then handed me the receiver.
I put my hand over it and raised an eyebrow at him. “Ted Epstein,” he whispered.
Ted Epstein was a lawyer in downtown Boston. He was also a board member for the Nonantum Times, the new low-budget suburban weekly newspaper of which I was the founding editor. That is to say, he was one of my bosses.
“Ted!” I said into the phone. “Got any good news for me?”
There was an awkward pause on the other end. Then, ”l’m afraid not, Chuck,” he said.
“Oh no,” I said, “don’t tell me our first big investigative scoop isn’t gonna happen.”
[NOTE: This is the first in a series of “summer reading” posts, for the “dog days” of August. Taking a break from current politics, religion, and other disasters, most are personal reminiscences, mainly true.]
When I was a boy, it seemed like I was always outgrowing things, especially shoes and pants. Even though I was pretty hard on clothes, scuffing up shoes and wearing holes in the knees of my jeans, sometimes there was still some wear in the clothes when I outgrew them.
Then my mother would sigh and say, “Well, at least we can still get some use out of them,” and hand the shirt or the pants down to one of my brothers.
Since I was the oldest, though, there was no one to hand clothes down to me. I liked that. It meant my new clothes would really be new.
Often enough, when I needed new clothes my mother would bring out a thick catalog from Sears of Montgomery Ward and order them by mail. To do this she unrolled the measuring tape from her sewing box and measured my arm and chest and the length of my leg. To figure out my new shoe size, she had me stand with one foot on a piece of paper, while she placed the side of a knife against my big toe, my heel and on both sides where my foot was widest, and then made a mark at each spot with a pencil. Continue reading Dog Days Stories: Who Needs A Machine Gun?→
Spilling The Two Secrets I Know About Garrison Keillor
About now, I figure, Garrison Keillor has about wrapped up his last PHC show, at the Hollywood Bowl, the one the rest of us get to hear and blubber over tomorrow evening.
A friend of mine was at last week’s Tanglewood show, and texted that half an hour after it was off the air, the place was still going nuts and he was doing curtain calls & encores. Of course the rest of us didn’t get to hear that. I bet the same thing is going on now at the H-Bowl; wonder if it will make it to the website later.
The thought of all those encores just rubs in the separation anxiety. Makes me wonder if he’s letting it all hang out on this very last time. Maybe if he’s even telling those two secrets I know about him.
Well, to heck with wondering: I’ll tell them here, to all three of you who might pause to read them here . . . .
New: A Religious Autobiography From “Interesting Times”
“May you live in interesting times.”
That’s a curse, remember? And 2016 marks fifty years for me among Friends–a half century of almost nonstop “interesting times.”
I’ve begun putting my experience of this era on paper, in a “religious autobiography, called Meetings. It’s now available.
If I believed in reincarnation, I’d be burning incense & spinning prayer wheels asking that on the next go-round, could the higher powers arrange for the times to be possibly a bit less interesting? Say with fewer wars, more time to catch my breath, smell the roses, take the long walks on the beach–
We Interrupt These Lenten Meditations for a Few Stray Words of Wisdom:
I’ve not read any of Saul Bellow’s novels, or non-fiction either.
But the following quote from a new book of his essays may force me to banish this ignorance. It comes out of his reflections on life & culture among the outwardly well-educated, usually solvent and seemingly liberal:
“People who have the best of everything also desire the best opinions. Top of the line.” He added: “As the allure of agreement — or conformism — grows, the perils of independence deepen. To differ is dangerous.”
That says so much in so few words, one can only add a few more of his stray comments: