Monthly Archives: December 2015

The True Story of an Episode in a Short Life

Katherine Anne Porter was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools sold more copies than any other novel that year, but her short stories are what she received the most acclaim for.

Long before all of this, she wrote A Christmas Story, “the true story of an episode in the short life of my niece, Mary Alice…” who died at 5 and a half years old. The story covers the last day Porter spent with her niece, right before Christmas.Porter

It begins with Mary Alice asking her aunt why they celebrated Christmas. Porter explains with a combination of Biblical and folk stories and records the child’s precocious reactions. When they buy a gift for Mary Alice’s mother, she says she will “say” it is from Santa.
“You don’t believe in Santa anymore?”…..”No, I don’t,” she said….”but
please don’t tell my mother, for she still does.”

The Galvin Rare Book Room has a lovely copy of this story, illustrated by Ben Shahn, and signed by both Miss Porter and Shahn. (PS3531.O752 C5 1967) Come take a look.

A Christmas Hymn

Richard Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987,

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur


and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989. He uses everyday experiences to illuminate his large body of work. He also wrote the lyrics for several songs in Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 musical “Candide,” including “Glitter and Be Gay” and “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Also in the 50’s, composer Richard Winslow asked his friend, Wilbur, to write a hymn to be performed at a Wesleyan University Christmas concert. The result was “A Christmas Hymn” or “A stable-lamp is lighted.” Using a line from the New Testament book of Luke, he included the repeated line “And every stone shall cry.” In an interview, Wilbur said, “If you write a hymn and are serious about it, you have no business filling in with maverick notions of your own. A hymn has to be perfectly orthodox…It is a great challenge.”

He obviously met that challenge for since its publication, the hymn has been adopted by the Episcopal, Lutheran and other churches. It was also included in the University’s 43rd Annual Service of Lessons and Carols on December 7. Sung by the Women’s Chorale, the hauntingly beautiful melody was the perfect accompaniment to Wilbur’s stirring words.

wilbur2There is a copy of The Poems of Richard Wilbur in the Rare Book Room, “inscribed with pleasure for the Boatwright Memorial Library” by the author. It includes “A Christmas Hymn” and many other wonderful poems. Come take a look.