home away from home

On Monday evening of Thanksgiving week, each year, the Writers House community gathers at 3805 Locust in Philly, cook like crazies, get warmed by each other's company, and (each in iturn) speak very gratitudinously. "Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action." (So said W.J. Cameron.)

Photos by John Carroll

who speaks for whom

On Aldon Nielsen's blog, Aldon has something to say about Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro? and the tapes of the interviews Penn Warren conducted for this book, which are now available. See my earlier post, "know what is happening in your heart".

disaster is my muse

The recording of my interview with Art Spiegelman last February has now been segmented into short, thematically organized clips. Go here to the Writers House Fellows' Spiegelman page, where you'll have the option of streaming or downloading that segments that interest you, or the whole interview, or indeed the whole presentation Art gave the previous night. There are also video recordings of all.

infectious disease ditty

Leprosy....I'm not half the man I used to be..." A line from Dr. Helen Conrad Davies' song--a ditty she adapted for the purpose of teaching infectious diseases. Helen has long been famous for this course. Apparently every other class or so she sings a song about the disease at hand. I've known Helen for years -- have great respect for her as a reformist teacher and community-maker within the Med School world here at Penn. For one thing, she was the first woman to be hired in microbiology here and has been a pioneer in efforts to make life easy, or at least equitably hard, for women on the faculty. She has for years lived in one of the college houses here, spending whatever time it takes to help lost, confused, even homesick undergrads.

I'd been hearing about her songs for years, and then our Narrative Medicine group, "Word.Doc," invited her to the Writers House to lead a discussion in disease prevention. Of course she sang her songs. A new Kelly Writers House podcast features her intro to leprosy and then a sing-along, to the tune of the Beatles' "Yesterday."

Factlet: "Yesterday" is the most covered song in the history of music. There are some 3,000 versions recorded.


1. Writers House podcasts
2. the mp3 recording
3. the KWH calendar entry, which includes a brief bio profile of Helen Davies

yo la tengo!

I've heard that the members of the band Yo La Tengo got the group's name from a wonderful anecdote often told by baseball's best language guy, Roger Angell. The story is about bad defense, about the bumbling '62 Mets (they lost an all-time record 120 games!), about the early days of Spanish-speaking players - and (after all) about language.

There's a web page honoring Elio Chacon, the Mets' Venezuelan shortstop that year, a mediocre player at best. On this page are some loving comments about Elio, including one that quickly retells the famous story, so let me defer to this fellow for the summary:

My favorite Met story of all-time involves Elio Chacon. Stop me if you've heard this one... It seems that in 1962, Chacon and CF Richie Ashburn were having a communications problem. On short fly balls they would inevitably collide even after Ashburn would scream "I got it!" After the third or fourth time this happened Ashburn takes Chacon aside and asks him, "Elio, how do you say 'I got it!' in Spanish?" Chacon replies, "yo la tengo!" So the next day a batter hits a short fly to center field. Chacon runs out and Ashburn runs in and Ashburn yells, "yo la tengo! yo la tengo!" So Chacon backs off. Ashburn gets set to make the catch -- and left fielder Gus Bell smashes into him!

In the great Ken Burns 9-part (9 innings, 9 parts) documentary Baseball, Angell re-tells the story. Here's the Angell excerpt (audio only).

As some readers of this blog already know, I had the huge pleasure of hosting Angell's visit to the Writers House a few years ago. There are video and audio recordings of his talk and my hour-long interview with him the next day. Go here. Earlier I wrote something about Angell's wonderful appreciation of the most intimidating pitcher of all time, Bob Gibson.