My own birthday is December 16. I’m tempted to add my own name to the list, but that seems presumptuous. And while it’s silly to feel pride about something over which I had no control, I am proud to share my birthday with some pretty wonderful writers. In fact, I have yet to find a date with a better array of writer birthdays (though tomorrow’s list will have some impressive entries, too). Judge for yourself….
1717 – Elizabeth Carter, English poet, classicist, writer, editor, translator, and linguist who was one of the Bluestocking Circle; she was renowned for the first English translation of the Discourses of Epictetus, and for translations from the French and Italian; much of her original literary output took the form of poetry and correspondence. She also befriended writer Samuel Johnson and edited some editions of his periodical The Rambler.
1770 – Ludwig van Beethoven, superstar German composer and pianist who is considered one of the greatest composers of all time, despite the fact that he was completely deaf by about the age of 40.
1775 – Jane Austen, important English novelist whose fiction is set among Britain’s landed gentry and their poorer relations and neighbors; she is known primarily for her six major novels, which use biting irony and humor to critique and comment on the British upper class and explore the dependence of women on marriage for social standing and economic security. Her works are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism.
1787 – Mary Russell Mitford, English author and dramatist best known for “Our Village,” a series of sketches of village scenes and vividly drawn characters based upon life in Three Mile Cross, a hamlet near Reading in Berkshire, where she lived.
1847 – Augusta Mary Anne Holmès, French composer, poet, writer, lyricist, pianist, and librettist of Irish descent who wrote the texts to almost all of her vocal music herself, including songs, oratorios, and the libretto of her opera La Montagne noire. She published some of her work under the pseudonym Hermann Zenta.
1863 – George Santayana (pseudonym of Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás), Spanish-American writer known for pithy quotations.
1865 – Olavo Brás Martins dos Guimarães Bilac, Brazilian Parnassian poet, journalist, and translator, best known for writing the lyrics to the Brazilian Flag Anthem.
1866 – Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, Russian painter, art teacher, art theorist, and essayist who is considered one of the founders of abstract art.
1867 – Amy Wilson Carmichael, Irish-born Christian missionary who wrote many books about her experiences running a mission in India.
1875 – Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa, prolific Sri Lankan author, occultist, linguist, and theosophist (theosophy teaches spiritual emancipation, social improvement, and reincarnation) who wrote on topics including religion, philosophy, literature, art, science, and occult chemistry, and who wrote in many European languages.
1895 – Marie Hall Ets, Caldecott Medal-winning U.S. children’s book writer and illustrator.
1899 – Noel Coward, influential Tony Award-winning British playwright, composer, actor, and director known for his wit and flamboyant style; he was knighted in 1969.
1900 – Victor Sawdon (V.S.) Pritchett, British short-story writer, memoirist, essayist, literary biographer, and critic.
1901 – Margaret Mead, influential and sometimes controversial U.S. anthropologist, author, and editor; she was best known for her studies of the nonliterate peoples of Oceania, especially with regard to various aspects of psychology and culture, and for her work on women’s rights, child rearing, sexual morality, nuclear proliferation, race relations, population control, environmental pollution, and world hunger. In 1979 she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
1909 – Edgar Austin Mittelholzer, Guyanese novelist who was the first from the West Indian region to establish himself in Europe and gain significant European readership; his novels include diverse characters from a variety of places in the Caribbean, and range in time from the early period of European settlement to the 20th century.
1917 – Arthur C. Clarke, Sri-Lankan-based British science-fiction writer, essayist, screenwriter, futurist, and undersea explorer whose fictional creations sometimes led to real-world science; he won multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, and in 2000 was knighted in 2000. Along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, he is considered one of the “Big Three” of science-fiction literature.
1921 – Andrée Blouin, Central African writer, historian, and human-rights activist.
1924 – Nicolas Sidjakov, Caldecott Medal-winning Latvian-born U.S. illustrator best known for his work on Baboushka and the Three Kings.
1925 – Kerima Polotan-Tuvera, award-winning Filipina fiction writer, essayist, and journalist; some of her work was published under the pseudonym Patricia S. Torres.
1928 – Philip K. Dick, Hugo Award-winning U.S. science fiction novelist, short-story writer, and essayist known for his dystopian futures and explorations of philosophy and theology in his work; his most celebrated novel is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Many of his books and stories have been made into movies.
1930 – Bill Brittain, Newbery Honor-winning U.S. author best known for his writings of the fictional New England town of Coven Tree.
1932 – Lin Zhao (born Peng Lingzhao), prominent Chinese writer, editor, and dissident who was imprisoned and later executed by the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution for her criticism of Mao Zedong’s policies; while in prison, she wrote hundreds of pages of critical commentary about Mao Zedong using hairpins and bamboo slivers with her own blood as ink.
1938 – Frank Deford (Benjamin Franklin Deford III), U.S. sportswriter and author.
1941 – Lesley Stahl, U.S. television journalist and author, best known for her work on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
1945 – Abdolkarim Soroush (born Hossein Haj Faraj Dabbagh), Iranian Islamic thinker, writer, reformer, Rumi scholar, public intellectual, and professor who is arguably the most influential figure in the religious intellectual movement of Iran, his role in reforming Islam having been compared to Martin Luther’s role in reforming Christianity; Time magazine has named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
1947 – Trevor Zahra, award-winning Maltese writer of more than 130 books for children and adults, including adventure stories, poetry, folktales, novels, short stories, folktales, workbooks, and translations.
1952 – Susan Estrich, U.S. author, journalist, professor, lawyer, political commentator, and feminist advocate; several of her books discuss her experiences as a survivor of rape.
1956 – E.B. Lewis, two-time Caldecott Medal-winning U.S. illustrator of children’s books.
1961 – Ana Clavel, Mexican writer whose recent novels have incorporated “multimedia” elements such as art, photography, and video.
1970 – Farzana Doctor, award-winning Canadian novelist and social worker.
1971 – Seyhan Kurt, French-born French and Turkish poet, writer, anthropologist, and sociologist whose work is considered mystical, humanist, existentialist, and sufist.
1977 – Juan Gómez-Jurado, award-winning Spanish journalist, screenwriter, columnist, and bestselling author who is one of the most successful Spanish authors of all time.