Thursday Feb. 4, 2016

0:00/ 0:00

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face—the face of one long dead—
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
    Never through martyrdom of fire was led
    To its repose; nor can in books be read
    The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
    That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
    Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
    These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
    And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

“The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Public Domain.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of Betty Friedan (books by this author), born in Peoria, Illinois (1921). She's the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), a book that The New York Times described as being "one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century." Friedan wrote about what she called "the problem that has no name," found particularly among educated suburban women in the years after the end of World War II, women who were leading ostensibly idyllic domestic lives as busy housewives and mothers and yet who felt inexplicably unfulfilled, unhappy, and restless.

She wrote:

"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?'"

Friedan once led tens of thousands of women — and quite a few men — down New York's Fifth Avenue and over to the New York Public Library in a strike for women's equality. She held signs that said things like "Don't Cook Dinner — Starve a Rat Tonight!" and "Don't Iron While the Strike Is Hot."

She went on to write several more books, including a memoir, Life So Far (2000). She died on this day in 2006, her 85th birthday.

It's the birthday of Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris, born on this day in Detroit, Michigan (1902).

It's the birthday of the poet Gavin Ewart (books by this author), born in London, England (1916). He's the author of many books of poetry, including Pleasures of the Flesh (1966) and The Learned Hippopotamus (1987). He started his poetic career early, when he was just 17 years old, with a poem in the prestigious British literary journal New Verse. He published his first book of poems when he was 23, and his work was compared to T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But when World War II broke out, he stopped writing poetry, and he became an advertising copywriter and didn't publish another book until 1964, when his collection Londoners came out. His poetry is often described as light verse:

"For nursery days are gone, nightmare is
real and there are no good Fairies.
The fox's teeth are in the bunny
and nothing can remove them, honey."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Robert Coover (books by this author), born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). His first novel, The Origin of the Brunists (1966), is about the lone survivor of a mining accident who goes on to start a religious cult. He said he writes "Because art blows life into the lifeless, death into the deathless."

He went on to write many experimental novels, including The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. (1968), The Public Burning (1977), and A Child Again (2005) and most recently, Noir (2010).

It was on this day in 1789 the electoral college unanimously elected George Washington as the first President of the United States.

It's the birthday of MacKinlay Kantor (books by this author), born in Webster City, Iowa (1904), who decided that he wanted to be a writer when he was 17 years old, and for the next four years, he helped his mother edit the local newspaper. He went on to write the Civil War novels The Jaybird (1932) and Long Remember (1934), and he spent 25 years researching Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp where almost 50,000 Union soldiers were held. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

It's the birthday of writer Stewart O'Nan (books by this author), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He worked for years as an aerospace engineer, and when he came home from his work every day he would go down to his basement and write. In 1994, he published his first novel, Snow Angels, about a murder in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He often writes about characters who feel trapped by their circumstances and end up doing horrible things.

He said, "My own life isn't terribly interesting, even to myself, and that ... [is] why I write about people and places so different from the ones I know."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®