Two years have gone by since I first suggested to President Obama that he create a new Cabinet post, and appoint distinguished fiction writer Jim Harrison as secretary for quality of life. The president still has not responded to my suggestion, and meanwhile Harrison has gone on to publish his latest book of novellas, which deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it.
In 1961, Robert Frost became the first poet to read at a U.S. inauguration when he recited "The Gift Outright" at President John F. Kennedy's swearing in. Since then, only three other poets have taken part in subsequent inaugural ceremonies: Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander. Now, there's a fifth.
Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 2:24 pm
OK, I'll admit it: I've thought about doing a liquid cleanse. Detoxing, renewing myself, clearing out my system all sounds appealing, especially post-holiday binging. As baked brie, gingerbread cookies and rich stews settle onto my hips, a detox becomes ever more alluring. I've never taken the leap, though, for one simple reason: I like eating solids.
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. The document declares that all those held as slaves within any state, or part of a state, in rebellion "shall be then, thenceforward and forever free."
Historian Bruce Levine explores the destruction of the old South and the reunified country that emerged from the Civil War in his new book, The Fall of the House of Dixie. He says one result of the document was a flood of black men from the South into the Union Army.
Since the publication of George Saunders' 1996 debut story collection, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, journalists and scholars have been trying to figure out how to describe his writing. Nobody has come very close. The short story writer and novelist has been repeatedly called "original," which is true as far as it goes — but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Saunders blends elements of science fiction, horror and humor writing into his trademark brand of literary fiction.