Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Howard Nemerov won Pulitzer for poetry

Howard Nemerov
It is the birthday of poet Howard Nemerov, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1978 for his Collected Poems. He also received the National Book Award and was twice appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He grew up in New York City, was educated at Harvard, was a pilot during World War II and taught at several universities, including Brandeis and Washington University in St. Louis. His father was art historian Alexander Nemerov, who taught at Yale. His sister was photographer Diane Arbus. Among his most anthologized poems are the playful "A Primer of the Daily Round"  and the reflective "The War in the Air"

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ben Hecht wrote screenplays in two weeks

Ben Hecht
It is the birthday of writer Ben Hecht (1894), whose masterful screenplays like Scarface (1932), The Front Page (1934), Barbary Coast (1935), Gunga Din, Gone With the Wind, Some Like it Hot, Wuthering Heights (all 1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), A Farewell to Arms, Monkey Business (1957), Muntiny on the Bounty (1962) and Casino Royale (1967) entertained America for decades. He was fast and prolific. He could write a screenplay in two weeks, never spent more than eight weeks on a script and may have produced as many as 90 of them (some under pseudonyms because his work was banned in Britain because of his political stance over Palestine.) Hecht was a war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News in Berlin during World War I. With fellow reporter Charles MacArthur, he wrote a stage play The Front Page (1928), which ran successfully on Broadway, and was produced as a film, then remade three times. The comedy film Gaily, Gaily (1969) is based on Hecht's autobiography, A Jew in Love (1931).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Steinbeck won Pulitzer for Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck
It is the birthday of John Steinbeck (1902), whose novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940. He also wrote Of Mice and Men (1937) and East of Eden (1952). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. After leaving Stanford University without a degree and failing to get published in New York, Steinbeck settled into a cottage his parents owned on the Monterey Peninsula. His parents gave him free housing, paper to write on and loans so he could focus on writing. His Tortilla Flat (1935) was his first book that sold well. It was set in Monterey at the end of World War I. He served as a war correspondent during World War II. His last book, Travel With Charley (1962), is based on a 1960 road trip he took with his French poodle, Charley, in a camper around the United States.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hugo's Les Misérables was an 1862 hit

Victor Hugo
It is the birthday of writer Victor Hugo, whose best known work, Les Misérables (1862), took him 17 years to finish and publish. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. It covers 17 years in the life of an ex-convict and his journey to redemption. Hugo is said to have sent a telegram to his publisher asking about the book's reception. He simply wrote "?" The book was a sensation. The publisher sent a telegram in reply: "!" Hugo also wrote The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831), which he put off finishing for more than a year even though he had a contract with his publisher. Finally, the publisher insisted he focus on it. He worked non-stop and finished it in six months. It tells the story of Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and his relationship with Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy. The book's publication led to the city's restoration of the neglected cathedral.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frank Slaughter wrote medical tales

Frank Slaughter
It is the birthday of novelist and physician Frank Slaughter (1908), the prolific and bestselling author of modern medical adventures, historical tales and biblical stories. Slaughter lived in Jacksonville for 50 years and served as a surgeon at Riverside Hospital there for nine years. His first book, That None Should Die (1941), sold moderately in the United States but was a bestseller in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries. Many of his books were set in Florida, and one, Fort Everglades (1951) was filmed as the movie Distant Drums. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings met him while she was a hospital patient. She apparently didn't think much of his writing. She told him he should stick to surgery. He wrote 56 books that sold more than 60 million copies.

Friday, February 24, 2012

George Moore: Realism in Victorian England

George Moore
It is the birthday of Irish writer George Moore (1852), who originally wanted to be an artist and spent years as a teen and early adult in Paris in the 1870s among emerging painters like Degas, Monet, Renoir and Pissarro. Eventually he turned to writing. He was heavily influenced by the realist writing style of French novelist Emile Zola. He went to London and published Confessions of a Young Man (1886), in which he described bohemian life in Paris. Earlier he had published A Modern Lover (1883) in three volumes and A Mummers Wife (1885), both of which were sexually explicit and caused an uproar in literary circles. A later book, A Drama in Muslin (1886), satirizes the Anglo-Irish marriage trade. His book, Esther Waters (1894), tells the story of a poor kitchen maid in Victorian England who is seduced by a footman and then abandoned. She decides to raise her child as a single mother, a doubtful prospect at the time. It is considered his best novel.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Handel became wealthy as a composer

It is the birthday of German-British composer George Friederich Handel (1685), who is considered one of the greatest composers ever. He wrote operas, organ concertos, anthems and oratorios. He may be best known for his Messiah (1742) but his extensive body of work includes 42 operas, 29 oratorios and more than 120 smaller pieces. He was well regarded in his lifetime and became very wealthy. He was born in Germany and trained there and in Italy until his late 20s when he went to London. This piece, Sarabande, was used in the soundtrack of the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

James Russell Lowell, Fireside Poet

James Russell Lowell
It is the birthday of poet James Russell Lowell (1819), the first editor of The Atlantic Monthly and one of the writers known as the Fireside Poets, because their use of standard meter and structure made them easy to memorize and very popular for home entertainment around the fireplace in the 19th century. Lowell's contemporaries included William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier. His ability to capture New England dialect and his use of satire in his work inspired William Dean Howells, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stonewall Jackson: Great tactical commander

Gen. Jackson
It is the birthday of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824), who is hailed for his bold leadership in the First Battle of Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and particularly for his Valley Campaign, where his forces enveloped the Union Army at Chancellorsville. He is considered one of the greatest tactical commanders in American history. He started at the bottom of his class academically at West Point, but through hard work and determination graduated in the top half of his class. He served in the Mexican-American War and received two field promotions for his actions. His nickname came after the First Battle of Bull Run, when his brigade stood firm against the onslaught of Union forces, suffering more casualties that day than any other Confederate brigade. Scholars still debate whether another general's exclamation that Jackson's forces stood like a stone wall was meant as praise or a rebuke.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Russel Crouse's collaboration won Pulitzer

It is the birthday of playwright and librettist Russel Crouse (1893), who teamed with Howard Lindsay for 27 years to write Broadway comedies and musicals. Their play, State of the Union (1945) won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1946. The play concerns a fictional Republican presidential candidate who has an extramarital affair. It was adapted for a Frank Capra film in 1948. Crouse and Lindsay also rewrote the libretto for Cole Porter's hit Anything Goes (1934). They also wrote the librettos for The Sound of Music (1959), Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue (1936) and Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam (1950) and Mr. President (1962), as well as the play Life with Father (1939).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

McCullers wrote of outcasts and misfits

Carson McCullers
It is the birthday of writer Carson McCullers (1917), whose best known novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), was written when she was 23 years old. It is the story of a lonely deaf man in a southern mill town in the 1930s and the people he encounters. It was produced as a movie in 1968  and a stage play in 2005. Her works examine the loneliness of outcasts and misfits. She also wrote Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), The Member of the Wedding (1946) and a short story collection, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1951). A play, The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), examines her experiences with her husband, Reeves, whom she divorced, then remarried. She tried to commit suicide after remarrying him but failed. Five years later, her husband tried to get her to commit suicide with him in their Paris hotel but she fled and Reeves died there from an overdose of sleeping pills. Her closest friends in Paris were Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek

Nikos Kazantzakis
It is the birthday of Greek philosopher and writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883), whose most famous novel, Zorba the Greek, (1946), tells the story of a young Greek intellectual who puts aside his bookish life to learn to embrace life to its fullest. Kazantzakis was an early existentialist and was constantly haunted by questions of spirituality. He was influenced by Nietzsche. He also wrote an epic poem, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel (1938) and novels The Greek Passion (1948), Captain Michalis (1950) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1951). His work was condemned by the Church of Greece. Last Temptation was banned by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1957, Kazantzakis was nominated for a Nobel Prize for Literature but lost by one vote to Albert Camus, who later said Kazantzakis was much more deserving of the prize.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Poet Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda

Andrew "Banjo" Paterson
It is the birthday of Australian journalist and bush poet Andrew "Banjo" Paterson (1864), who wrote a poem, The Man from Snowy River (1890), that inspired a 1982 movie, and Waltzing Matilda (1895), that inspired a nation. Paterson began writing poetry when he worked as a clerk for a law firm and submitting them to The Bulletin, a weekly magazine. Later he covered the Second Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion for The Sydney Morning Herald. He served as an ambulance driver during World War I. Paterson's poetry was collected into several volumes. Waltzing Matilda is considered the unofficial national anthem of Australia.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trevelyan, historian with a liberal bias

G.M. Trevelyan
It is the birthday of British historian G.M. Trevelyan (1876), whose passionate trilogy on the Italian leader Garibaldi and biography of Earl Gray are among his best known works. Trevelyan wrote with an admittedly partisan bias, celebrating the Whig/Liberal viewpoint. "Without bias," Trevelyan wrote of his Garibaldi works, "I should never have written them at all." Trevelyan also wrote of English philosopher and reformer John Wycliffe, liberal statesman John Bright, England under the House of Stuart (when the arts flourished), and Italian reformer and statesman Daniele Manin. Earl Gray supported constitutional reform in British government and pushed through an act to abolish slave trade.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sax Rohmer created Dr. Fu Manchu series

Sax Rohmer
It is the birthday of English novelist Sax Rohmer (1883), who wrote the famed Dr. Fu Manchu mystery novels. The first one appeared as a magazine serial from October 1912 until June 1913. Fu Manchu was a master criminal given to unusual methods to carry out his murderous plots, including poisonous fungi and bacteria, cobras, pythons and groups of thieves and murderers. He supported his activities with white slavery and drug dealing. He was opposed in the series by Denis Nayland Smith, a detective in the Sherlock Holmes tradition but not nearly as clever. Fu Manchu became a stereotype villain and was featured not only in Rohmer's books but also in movies, television, radio and comics for more than 90 years.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Frank Harris' autobiography was too explicit

Frank Harris
It is the birthday of journalist, editor and publisher Frank Harris (1856), whose four-volume memoir My Life and Loves (1922) was banned for being too explicit. Born in Galway, Ireland, he was educated in Wales. He studied at the University of Kansas then returned to England. He was editor of several newspapers and magazines in London, including Saturday Review, for which H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were contributors. He returned to the United States during World War I and edited magazines in New York. He became an American citizen in 1921. Harris went to Germany to publish his autobiography, which contained graphic description of his claimed sexual encounters. He wrote biographies of his friends Shaw and Oscar Wilde. He established Frank Harris Publishing Company in New York to distribute his books. A collection of his works is housed at Princeton University.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Georges Simenon created detective Maigret

Georges Simenon
It is the birthday of Belgian writer Georges Simenon (1903), whose fictional French detective, Commissaire Maigret, is featured in 75 novels and 28 short stories published from 1931 until 1972. The detective was known for his pipe and his consumption of alcohol. Simenon went to Paris in the 1920s. Though married, he carried on numerous affairs, including, famously, with Josephine Baker. He lived in a farm house in eastern France during World War II and was accused of collaborating with the German during the occupation. To escape questioning, he fled to Quebec after the war. He came to the United States and traveled the country. He lived for a time in the 1950s in Anna Maria Island, Florida, and later in Nogales, Arizona. Simenon wrote more than 350 novels and novellas as well as articles, pulp novels under numerous pseudonyms and autobiographical works. He was among the most prolific writers of the 20th century, writing 60 to 80 pages a day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

'Over the river and through the wood ...'

Lydia Maria Child
It is the birthday of poet and novelist Lydia Maria Child (1802), who may be best remembered for her Thanksgiving poem Over the River and Through The Woods (1844), about going for holiday dinner at her grandfather's house on the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. Child became involved in the anti-slavery movement and published a book, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), arguing for immediate emancipation of slaves. Under a pseudonym "An American," she wrote Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times (1824), about and interracial marriage between a white woman and a Native American man. A World War II Liberty Ship was named for her.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Boris Pasternak turned down Nobel Prize

It is the birthday of Russian novelist and poet Boris Pasternak (1890), whose book Doctor Zhivago (1957) was banned in his native land and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The novel is a sweeping saga set at the end of Czarist Russia and the beginning of the Soviet Union. The ruling Communist Party's negative reaction to the prize led Pasternak to decline it. Pasternak's poetry collection, My Sister's Life (1921), revolutionized Russian poetry. He also translated plays by Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller and Pedro Calderón de la Barca into Russian.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alice Walker saved Zora from obscurity

It is the birthday of novelist Alice Walker (1944), whose book The Color Purple (1982) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her father was a Georgia sharecropper and her mother worked as a maid to put her through school. Walker began writing as a child but had to hide her writing from her family. "I had to keep a lot in my mind," she once told The New York Times. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Walker's writing deals with the struggles of blacks, especially black women, in today's society. In 1975, she wrote a magazine article that helped spur a renewed interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. She discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Fort Pierce and paid for a headstone.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Christopher Marlowe: playwright, spy

It is the birthday of English playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe (1564), who is best known for his play Doctor Faustus, which tells the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power, and Tamburlaine, which tells the story of a Central Asian emperor. Marlowe is considered by scholars to have been a great influence on William Shakespeare, who was his contemporary. Some academics speculate that while he was at Cambridge he was recruited to work as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I against the Catholics. Lengthy absences from school were for espionage work, they suggest. He was once arrested for producing counterfeit coins and some suggest that the arrest ended a spy operation in which he was involved. He died at age 29 when he was stabbed in the eye by a con man in the company of two other con men/government agents in a house later revealed as a center for spy activity.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Felix Mendelssohn, child prodigy

It is the birthday of German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809), who was a child prodigy. He began piano lessons at age 6.  He was influenced by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. He wrote music at least from the age of 12. The Overture A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826) was written when he was 17. Mendelssohn was a contemporary of Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz. He was a prolific composer, writing chamber music, piano music, concertos, operas, and symphonies. He also served as a conductor, pianist, organist and teacher.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy birthday, James Joyce!

It is the birthday of Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882), whose pioneering work,  Ulysses (1922), stands as a landmark in Modernist literature and is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. Joyce's signature stream-of-consciousness technique permeates the work as it does his Finnegans Wake (1939), considered to be his masterpiece. Joyce's works are set in Dublin, his birthplace. Joyce believed that if he could get to the heart of Dublin he could get to the heart of all the world's cities. "In the particular is contained the universal," he said.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Langston Hughes, 1902

It is the birthday of novelist and poet Langston Hughes (1902), who figured prominently during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. In grammar school, he was elected class poet, though he said that was because of the stereotype that all African Americans have rhythm. He was one of two black students in his class. He began writing in high school and discovered a love of books. He wrote for the school paper and was an editor of the yearbook. He wrote his first jazz-style poem, When Sue Wears Red, when he was in high school. His signature poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, was published in 1921. In 1925, he worked as an assistant to historian Carter G. Woodson. He wrote 16 books of poetry, 11 novels and short story collections, six non-fiction books, 12 plays (including Mule Bone with Zora Neale Hurston), and eight children's books.

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