May 25 Writer Birthdays

1803 – Edward Bulwer-Lytton, English novelist, poet, playwright, and Member of Parliament who coined several phrases that are still used today, including “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar,” and “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He is best known for the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” which inspired the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which invites entrants to submit the opening sentence to the worst possible hypothetical novel.

1803 – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, poet, lecturer, and philosopher who was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movement.

1846 – Naim Frashëri, Albanian poet, civil servant, historian, journalist, and translator who was national poet of Albania, the pioneer of modern Albanian literature, and one of the most influential Albanian cultural icons of his century.

1899 – Boris Artzybasheff, Newbery Medal-winning Russian-born American illustrator and commercial artist known for his surrealistic style.

1908 – Theodore Roethke, Nobel Prize-winning American poet and educator who was one of the most accomplished and influential poets of his generation; his work is characterized by introspection, rhythm and natural imagery.

1925 – Rosario Castellanos Figueroa, influential Mexican poet and author who was one of Mexico’s most important literary voices of the last century; her work dealt with cultural and gender oppression and has influenced Mexican feminist theory and cultural studies.

1926 – Dhiruben Patel, Indian Gujarati novelist, playwright, children’s writer, professor, publisher, humor writer, and translator.

1927 – Robert Ludlum, bestselling American author of thriller novels, best known for the Jason Bourne books.

1932 – John Gregory Dunne, American novelist, screenwriter, and literary critic who was the younger brother of author Dominick Dunne and the husband of author Joan Didion.

1935 – W.P. Kinsella, Canadian novelist and short-story writer best known for his book Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into the film Field of Dreams.

1936 – David Levering Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning
American historian, professor, and biographer.

1938 – Raymond Carver, American short-story writer, poet, and essayist, known for minimalism and “dirty realism,” a literary movement that used spare, unadorned language to depict the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life.

1938 – Joyce Carol Thomas, National Book Award-winning African-American poet, playwright, and children’s author.

1947 – Moon Chung-hee, award-winning South Korean poet and professor whose writing presents a complex interplay of vivid emotions and sensations.

1949 – Jamaica Kincaid (born Elaine Cynthia Potter), Antiguan-born American novelist, essayist, professor, gardener, and gardening writer whose work explores themes of colonialism and colonial legacy, gender and sexuality, mother-daughter relationships, racism, class, power, and adolescence.

1952 – Al Sarrantonio, prolific American horror and science-fiction author, editor, publisher, and anthologist.

1953 – Eve Ensler (also known as simply V), American feminist playwright and author, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues, which The New York Times called “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”

1967 – Poppy Z Brite, pen name of American author Billy Martin (born Melissa Ann Brite), known for gothic horror featuring gay and bisexual characters.

On Homeschooling…

When my son was ready to start school, several people asked me why I wasn’t planning to homeschool him. Why would they make that assumption? Yes, I was a good student. But teaching is about more than knowing things. It is a skilled profession, and I am not trained for it. I suspect my son and I both lack the discipline it requires. Also, he is an only child and I felt that he needed the experience of being one of a group of kids.

By the way, nobody ever asked my husband if he planned to homeschool.

Our son graduates high school in a few weeks, and I stand by the decision to send him to public school. Yes, there are some things maybe I could have done better with one student than even a skilled teacher can do with 25. But there are many more that I could not do at all.

For instance, since 4th grade, Jon Morgan has been immersed in school orchestra. I can’t field an orchestra in my living room with a class of one! (In fact, I know many whole private schools that aren’t big enough to field an orchestra.) In high school, he has loved his AP Physics and Architectural Drawing classes. I don’t have the sophisticated lab equipment and CAD software to make those possible. And my own college calculus classes were decades ago; I couldn’t teach AP Calculus at the level of instruction his highly experienced teacher last year was able to provide. Or any level. Yes, there are resources for parents who homeschool, but they can’t match the advantages of having a teacher like my son’s AP Calculus teacher, who had taught the subject for 60+ years and really knew his stuff.

The people who thought I should homeschool also ignored the fact that I have a career. Because I work from home (I’m a writer), they thought I could easily fit a school day into my schedule! Many parents are now learning that this just does not work. There are not enough hours, and my mental energy would not stretch that far. Either my work would suffer, or his schooling would.

The last 10 weeks have proven that Jon Morgan does not do well in a less structured educational environment. The all-online work has been disastrous for him. He doesn’t know how to stay motivated and engaged without regular in-person contact with teachers and other students.

I am not saying that homeschooling does not work for some people. I’m sure it could be a good option for children whose needs cannot be filled at a traditional school, and for those whose parents are trained for it. (I have my doubts about it in cases where parents do it to avoid having their children learn real science and history, in favor of a version of science and history approved by their religious leaders.)

But I know it would have been a bad fit for my family.

May 24 Writer Birthdays

1855 – Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, English playwright and actor who specialized in farces and drawing-room comedies but also wrote an opera libretto and “problem plays” that addressed “the double standard of morality, applied unequally to men and women.”

1878 – Lillian Moller Gilbreth, American psychologist, writer, industrial and mechanical engineer, teacher, inventor, and businessperson; one of the first female engineers to earn a Ph.D., she is considered the first industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, were efficiency experts who contributed to the study of industrial engineering, especially in the areas of motion study and human factors. She is best known through two books written by two of their twelve children,
Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, which tell the story of their family life and describe how the parents applied time-and-motion studies to the organization and daily activities of their large family.

1883 – Elsa Maxwell, American gossip columnist, author, journalist, screenwriter, pianist, radio personality, actor, and songwriter; she is credited with the introduction of the scavenger hunt and treasure hunt for use as party games in the modern era.

1892 – Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, Newbery Medal-winning American children’s author and Methodist missionary in China.

1898 – Kathleen Hale, British children’s author and illustrator known for the the Orlando the Marmalade Cat books.

1899 – Kazi Nazrul Islam (best known as simply Nazrul), influential Bengali poet, writer, singer, translator, journalist, musician, composer, and anti-colonial revolutionary who was the national poet of Bangladesh and was sometimes called the “Rebel Poet”; he wrote on themes including freedom, religious devotion, opposition to bigotry and gender-based and caste-based discrimination, rebellion against oppression, and nationalist activism in the Indian independence movement.

1899 – Henri Michaux, Belgian-born French poet, journalist, and painter.

1905 – Mikhail Shokolov, Nobel Prize-winning Soviet Russian novelist, short-story writer, and war journalist; he is known especially for his novel And Quiet Flows the Don.

1928 – William Trevor (born William Trevor Cox), Irish novelist, playwright, screenwriter, short-story writer, and sculptor who was a three-time Whitbread Prize winner.

1940 – Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize-winning Russian poet and essayist whose work was denounced as “pornographic and anti-Soviet” and who was arrested for social parasitism and sentenced to hard labor until his sentence was commuted; eventually he was vindicated, and lauded “for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.”

1941 – Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman), Nobel Prize-winning American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist who has been described as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally. He was included in “The Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century,” where he was called “master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation.”

1954 – Barbro Karlén, prolific Swedish author, poet, autobiographer equestrian, and mounted police officer; her first book of poetry was published when she was 12 years old, and she had published eleven books of poetry and prose by the time she was 16. She claimed that as a young child, she had memories of being Anne Frank in a past life.

1963 – Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, short-story writer, children’s writer, and columnist; he also won the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Many of his works take place in the same fictional universe, with certain characters mentioned in more than one book.

1984 – Devapriya Roy, Indian novelist, memoirist, and biographer.

May 23 Writer Birthdays

1707 – Carl Linnaeus, Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician who formalized binomial nomenclature, the modern system of naming organisms, and is known as the “father of modern taxonomy.”

1810 – Margaret Fuller, American journalist, poet, social reformer, feminist, critic, and foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune; she died in 1850 in a boat fire.

1842 – Maria Konopnicka, Polish poet, novelist, children’s writer, translator, journalist, critic, and activist for women’s rights and Polish independence

1891 – Pär Lagerkvist, Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author of poems, plays, novels, stories, and essays, known “for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind.”

1898 – Scott O’Dell, Newbery Award-winning American author of historical novels, especially for the young-adult market; he is best known for Island of the Blue Dolphins.

1903 – Walter Reisch, Austrian screenwriter, film director, and lyricist.

1906 – Sheila Wingfield, Viscountess of Powerscourt (neé Sheila Claude Beddington), British/Irish poet and memoirist.

1908 – Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Swiss writer, journalist, poet, archeologist, philosopher, photographer, and explorer.

1910 – Margaret Wise Brown, American author of classic children’s picture books; her most famous is the often-copied Goodnight Moon.

1918 – Walter Jackson Bate, Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award-winning American biographer and literary critic.

1919 – Maurice Alfrédo Sixto, Haitian author, professor, translator, tour guide, social commentator, and ambassador.

1921 – James Blish, American author of science-fiction and fantasy novels, including some Star Trek novelizations written with his wife, J. A. Lawrence. He is credited with creating the term “gas giant” for large planetary bodies.

1933 – Joan Collins (Dame Joan Henrietta Collins), bestselling British author of novels and nonfiction books, columnist, and Golden Globe Award-winning movie and soap-opera actress.

1935 – Susan Cooper, Newbery Medal-winning English-born American author of children’s fantasy novels, best known for The Dark Is Rising series.

1936 – Peter Parnall, American children’s author and illustrator whose works deal with the natural world.

1958 – Mitch Albom, American journalist and author whose books often have an inspirational theme.

1958 – Paul Street, American journalist, policy researcher, nonfiction author, and political commentator.

1961 – Alanna Lockward, Dominican author, curator, and filmmaker based in Berlin and Santo Domingo; she was founding director of Art Labour Archives, a platform for theory, political activism, and art.

1967 – Sean Williams, bestselling Australian author of science-fiction novels and short stories; some of his books are Star Wars novelizations.

1976 – Sepideh Jodeyri, acclaimed Iranian poet, short-story writer, literary critic, linguist, translator and journalist, now living in exile in the U.S.

Friday Photo: Prairie Dog 2

Oops. When I scheduled this week’s Friday Photo, I hit the wrong date and it posted yesterday. Is Thursday the new Friday? With the pandemic shutdown in effect, sometimes it’s hard to tell. You can check out yesterday’s post if you’d like to see the photo I posted of this prairie dog’s cousin. And here is a bonus prairie dog shot, so that there is a Friday Photo when it is actually Friday.

This little critter was one of the many residents I met at the prairie dog town near the base of Devils Tower National Monument, in Wyoming.

May 22 Writer Birthdays

1009 – Su Xun, Chinese Song dynasty poet and essayist.

1790 – Bianca Milesi, Italian writer, painter, and educator who studied the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

1808 – Gérard de Nerval, pen name of French writer, translator, essayist, and Romantic poet Gérard Labrunie.

1846 – Rita Cetina Gutiérrez, influential Mexican poet, writer, educator, and feminist activist who promoted secular education in the nineteenth century.

1859 –Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish physician and writer, best known for his Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

1863 – Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary, American author and arctic explorer.

1907 – Hergé, Pen name of Belgian comic-book artist Georges Prosper Remi, creator of The Adventures of Tintin.

1913 – Dominique Rolin, award-winning Belgian writer, novelist, autobiographer who developed a unique, feminist voice in French novel-writing, blending autobiography and fiction.

1914 – Vance Packard, American journalist, editor, and author who wrote a popular series on sociology.

1922 – Mirjana Gross, Yugoslav-Croatian Jewish historian and writer.

1927 – Peter Matthiessen, National Book Award-winning American novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer, and CIA agent; he co-founded The Paris Review, which he started as a cover for his CIA activities.

1933 – Arnold Lobel, Caldecott Medal-winning American children’s author and illustrator, known for the “Frog and Toad” picture books.

1934 – Gary Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, journalist, and historian who specializes in U.S. history, politics, and religion, especially the history of the Roman Catholic Church; he is best known for his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America.

1944 – Lynn Barber, British journalist, magazine writer, editor, and memoirist.

1944 – John Flanagan, Australian fantasy writer.

1947 – Anthony Holden, British author, literary critic, translator, biographer, broadcaster, and poker player who was first president of the International Federation of Poker.

1951 – Coral Bracho, award-winning Mexican poet, linguist, and translator.

1959 – Andy Andrews, American novelist, self-help author, and motivational speaker.

1972 – Max Brooks, horror author and screenwriter; son of comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft.

1976 – Shane Koyczan, Canadian poet and “talk rock” artist.

Friday Photo: Prairie Dog

Last week’s photo was a chipmunk. In the same vein, this week I offer you a prairie dog! No, we don’t have prairie dogs here on the East Coast. A few years back, I took a road trip across much of the country with my husband and son. In Wyoming, we stopped to see Devils Tower National Monument. As we approached this remarkable, 900-foot geologic feature, we passed first through a town of about 600 prairie dogs. (I’m not anthropomorphizing; “town” is the correct term for a prairie dog community.) Here is one of the residents.

(OK, apparently I hit the wrong date when I scheduled this post, so we have a Friday Photo on a Thursday. Watch for a bonus prairie dog tomorrow, when it really is Friday.)

Despite their name, prairie dogs are actually closely related to squirrels. But unlike the squirrels in my yard, the Devils Tower prairie dogs seemed completely unafraid of us.

May 21 Writer Birthdays

1688 – Alexander Pope, English poet and translator best known for his use of satirical verse; he is considered one of the foremost poets of his time.

1901 – Suzanne Lilar, Flemish Belgian novelist, playwright, journalist, essayist, literary critic, philosopher, and lawyer who wrote in French.

1913 – Oloori Kofoworola “Kofo” Aina Ademola (Lady Ademola, née Moore), Nigerian children’s book author and educator who was the first black African woman to earn a degree from Oxford University and the first president of the National Council of Women Societies in Nigeria.

1916 – Harold Robbins, bestselling American author of popular novels, known for his deftness at blending his own life experiences, history, melodrama, sex, and high society into a fast-moving story.

1922 – Surendra Mohanty, Indian writer, author, autobiographer, and politician who wrote in Oriya.

1935 – Hisako Matsubara, award-winning Japanese novelist, short-story writer, playwright, nonfiction author, editor, columnist, and critic who has published works in Japanese, English, and German; her novels are set in recent Japanese history and address cultural changes and western influences, and her nonfiction books highlight contrasts between Japanese history and European history.

1943 – Beverley Naidoo, award-winning South African author, children’s writer, novelist, and biographer.

1944 – Janet Dailey, bestselling American author of romance novels, with many different series.

1948 – Elizabeth Buchan, British writer of novels, short stories, nonfiction, and biography; she is best known for her romantic novels.

1951 – Al Franken (Alan Stuart Franken), American comedian, screenwriter, author, actor, journalist, radio personality, and U.S. Senator.

1951 – Victoria (Torey) Lynn Hayden, American special-education teacher, university lecturer, and writer of fiction and nonfiction books based on her experiences teaching and counseling children with special needs.

1964 – Miriam Toews, Canadian writer and actress, best known for her novels set in the Mennonite community.

May 20 Writer Birthdays

1799 – Honore de Balzac, French novelist and playwright who is considered one of the founders of European realism.

1830 – Hector Malot, French novelist, memoirist, literary critic, and theatre critic.

1882 – Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian novelist, known for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages.

1890 – Allan Nevins, American historian and biographer, winner of the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Grover Cleveland.

1904 – Margery Louise Allingham, English writer of detective fiction, best remembered for her “golden age” stories featuring gentleman sleuth Albert Campion.

1919 – Berry Morgan (born Betty Berry Taylor Brumfield), Mississippi-born novelist, short-story writer, professor, and civil-rights activist.

1936 – Glenn R. Swetman, American poet, professor, short-story writer, and playwright.

1944 – Clyde Edgerton, North-Carolina-born American author and professor whose books are known for endearing characters, small-town Southern dialogue, and realistic fire-and-brimstone religious sermons.

1949 – Mary Pope Osborne, American children’s book author best known for her popular “Magic Tree House” series.

1949 – David William Thomas, Canadian actor, screenwriter, comedian, and director.

1951 – Stanley Bing (pen name for Gil Schwartz), business humorist, novelist, and columnist.

1952 – Walter Isaacson, American writer and journalist.

1955 – Sirivennela (Chembolu SeethaRama Sastry) – Indian poet and film lyricist who writes in the Telugu language; his work shows great versatility, but is best known for its optimism and humor.

1956 – Douglas Jerome Preston, American author of thriller novels, often with collaborator Lincoln Child.

1963 – Christopher Sorrentino, American novelist of Puerto Rican descent.

1966 – Dan Abrams, journalist, author, television host, legal commentator, former anchor of “Nightline,” and Chief Legal Affairs Anchor for ABC News.

1969 – Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, editor, and biographer,

May 19 Writer Birthdays

1771 – Rahel Antonie Friederike Varnhagen, German author, essayist, and letter writer who hosted one of the most prominent salons in Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries; in addition to her own writings, she is the subject of a celebrated biography, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess, written by Hannah Arendt, who cherished Varnhagen as her “closest friend, though she ha[d] been dead for some hundred years”. The asteroid 100029 Varnhagen is named in her honor.

1812 – Lady Charlotte Guest, Welsh writer, linguist, translator, art collector, and business woman who is known as the first publisher in modern print format of The Mabinogion, which is the earliest prose literature of Britain; she was a leading figure in the study of literature and the wider Welsh Renaissance of the 19th century, and was renowned as an international industrialist, pioneering liberal educator, philanthropist and society hostess.

1886 – Bernadotte Everly Schmitt, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and professor of European history.

1894 – Gudipati Venkata Chalam (popularly known as Chalam), Indian writer, novelist, and philosopher who was one of the most influential personalities in modern Telugu literature; most of his writings centered on women, especially the kind of difficulties women face—physical as well as psychological—in society.

1903 – Ernest Samuels, Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer and lawyer.

1909 – T. Harry Williams, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and Huey P. Long biographer.

1932 – Elena Poniatowska, Polish-Mexican novelist and journalist who specializes in social and political issues focused on women and the poor.

1930 – Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, African-American playwright best known for Raisin in the Sun.

1933 – Tom Feelings, American children’s author and illustrator, cartoonist, teacher, and activist who focused on the African-American experience in his work; his most famous book is The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo.

1934 – Ruskin Bond, award-winning Indian author of British descent who writes for both children and adults.

1934 – Jim Lehrer, American journalist and novelist best known as long-time host of the PBS News Hour.

1941 – Nora Ephron, acclaimed American screenwriter, playwright, novelist, memoirist, journalist, columnist, essayist, and filmmaker; as a screenwriter and playwright, she was nominated for three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Tony Award; some of her most famous scripts were for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle; her book Heartburn was based on her marriage to Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein; she also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation.

1966 – Jodi Picoult, bestselling award-winning American author, some of whose works have been made into films or TV movies; she also wrote for the DC Comics Wonder Woman series. Her books often center on families and relationships, but also take inspiration from current events.

1973 – Alice Roberts, British author, physician, biologist, paleontologist, physical anthropologist, archaeologist, professor, and television presenter.