• After Chilean author Isabel Allende’s first book, The House of the Spirits, was published, her agent, Carmen Balcells, threw a party for her in Madrid, Spain. Many Spanish literary celebrities attended the party, and she was bashful. How to solve the problem? Actually, she didn’t solve it—she avoided it. She admitted, “I was so frightened I spent a good part of the evening hiding in the bathroom.” As you would expect, she began reading at a very young age. When she finished reading Tolstoy’s massive War and Peace, her uncle gave her a doll. Her family encouraged her to be creative. For example, her mother allowed her to paint murals on her bedroom walls. (Later, when she was able to drive, she painted flowers on her car. For a while, she had a job translating into Spanish romance novels that had been written in English. However, because she was a feminist, she changed the heroine’s dialogue from insipid to intelligent, and she changed the endings so that the heroine became independent and did not need a hero. She got fired. In her own life, she found romance. San Francisco lawyer William Gordon spoke fluent Spanish and met her and asked her to go on a date. After they had had one date, he drove her to the airport, and she asked him if he loved her. She says, “Poor guy, he almost drove off the road. He had to pull over, and he said, ‘What are you talking about? We just met.’” She responded by writing a contract and sending it to him. The contract said that they could have a relationship on two conditions: 1) He could date no one but her, and 2) She could redecorate his house. He agreed. By the way, on 17 July 1988, they married.
• Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, began reading and writing early in life. At age seven, she began writing rhyming couplets, causing her mother to tell her that she would be “as great as Paul Laurence Dunbar,” the great African-American poet. To make sure that Gwendolyn had lots of time to read and write, her mother gave her only one chore each day: washing the dishes after the evening meal. A fire once broke out down the street, and Gwendolyn’s mother told her about it, thinking that she would like to see it, but Gwendolyn preferred to keep on reading. When she won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book Annie Allen, lots of people didn’t believe it. She said, “Nobody believed it. Not even my little boy believed it. … And I guess I didn’t believe it either—at first.” When she learned that she had won the Pulitzer Prize, the electricity was off in her apartment because she and her husband were having a rough time financially, but her husband was trying hard to get it turned back on. When a photographer from the Chicago Tribunearrived, he plugged in his lighting equipment, making her nervous. Fortunately, her husband had managed to get the electricity turned on and the photographer’s lights worked. One person who encouraged her when she was young was author Langston Hughes. Her mother pushed past an usher at a church to get to him and told him, “My daughter writes.” Mr. Hughes read several of her poems and told her, “You’re talented. Keep writing. Some day you’ll have a book published.” Sixty years afterward, Gwendolyn said, “That did mean a lot to a 16-year-old girl.”
• In January 2012, a storm hit the home of 75-year-old author Peg Kehret: a log house near Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. On 21 January 2012, her driveway was covered with branches and fallen trees, and ice made it impossible for her to even walk on the driveway. Fortunately, two young men of about 21 or 22 stopped at her home. They knew who she was because everyone in the small town where she lives knows who she is and where she lives. They had even read in school her autobiography Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio. (She was paralyzed for several months, but she recovered. However, she still feels some effects of polio in her old age.) Ms. Kehret writes that they drove past her driveway and saw the branches and fallen trees, and said, “Miss Peg has polio problems. She can’t deal with those trees.” So they cleared her driveway for her. One tree was very heavy, so they asked a neighbor with a chain saw to cut it into pieces, and they moved it. Ms. Kehret wrote in her blog, “When they had finished, I could get my car out. They asked if I needed anything from town, and then they both wrote down their names and cell phone numbers and told me to call them if I needed any more help.I’ve always known from my mail that I have the best readers in the world, but I never expected that the memory of a book they read a decade ago would prompt two young men to be so caring.”
• In 1957, Gypsy Rose Lee, a stripper in burlesque, wrote a sensational autobiography titled Gypsy, which many people of wit and intelligence have admired. A woman of wit and intelligence herself, Ms. Lee once told the police after a police raid, “I wasn’t naked. I was completely covered by a blue spotlight.” Very likely, she wasn’t naked. She often wore a flesh-colored bodysuit underneath the clothing she took off. Critic Carl Rollyson once wrote, “With wit and sass, Gypsy Rose Lee transformed herself from a burlesque dancer into a nationwide celebrity. She also wrote her own life story, a masterpiece her biographers still struggle to match.”
• Caitlin Moran, British author of How to Be a Woman, loves Twitter. She also finds it useful in solving emergencies. For example, in 2011 someone stole her brother’s wallet while he was at Victoria station. Ms. Moran said, “I just went on Twitter and asked if there was anyone nearby who could go and give him a fiver so he could get the tube [subway] to my house. And within 12 minutes, someone had.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.
THE TROJAN WAR
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John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce