May 18 Writer Birthdays

1048 – Omar Khayyám, Persian poet, philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician; known for his collection of poetry that translator Edward FitzGerald titled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám.

1809 – Harriett Low Hillard, American writer and diarist who lived for several years in the Portuguese colony of Macau on the South China coast. She and her sickly aunt became the first American women to go to China; while there, she wrote a journal in the form of letters to her sister Molly.

1814 – Mikhail Bakunin, influential Russian revolutionary, writer, activist, philosopher, politician, and theorist of collectivist anarchism who is considered one of the most influential figures of anarchism and one of the principal founders of the social anarchist tradition; his book God and the State has been widely translated and remains in print.

1871 – Fanny “Franziska” zu Reventlow (Fanny Liane Wilhelmine Sophie Auguste Adrienne), German writer, artist, translator, and countess; she became famous as the “Bohemian Countess of Schwabing” in the years leading up to World War I.

1872 – Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize-winning British writer, historian, essayist, philosopher, logician, social critic, mathematician, and political activist, famed for his “varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”

1874 – Madeleine Pelletier, French writer, essayist, autobiographer, anthropologist, physician, psychiatrist, politician, activist, socialist, and suffragist.

1879 – Henry James III, Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer who was the nephew of acclaimed novelist Henry James.

1889 – Gunnar Gunnarsson, prolific Icelandic novelist, dramatist, essayist, and poet who wrote mainly in Danish (to gain a wider audience) and whose work celebrated the courage and dignity of the common people of the North; his five-volume fictionalized autobiography Kirken paa bjerget (The Church on the Mountain) is considered his best work and a masterpiece of modern Icelandic literature.

1895 – Zhang Henshui (pen name of Zhang Xinyuan), popular and prolific Chinese novelist.

1904 – Lady Margaret Pansy Felicia Lamb (known as Lady Pansy Lamb), English writer, novelist, translator, and biographer under her maiden name, Pansy Pakenham.

1907 – Irene Hunt, Newbery Medal-winning American author of books for children and teens, best known for her historical and coming-of-age novels; her most famous works are Across Five Aprils and Up a Road Slowly. According to one critic, “Brilliant characterization, a telling sense of story, an uncanny ability to balance fact and fiction, and compassionate, graceful writing mark Hunt’s small but distinguished body of work.”

1910 – Ester Boserup, influential Danish writer and economist who wrote seminal books on agrarian change and the role of women in development; she is known for her theory of agricultural intensification, also known as Boserup’s theory, which posits that population change drives the intensity of agricultural production.

1915 – Seo Jeong-ju, five-time Nobel Prize-nominated Korean poet and professor who wrote under the pen name Midang (“not yet fully grown”); he is widely regarded as one of the best poets in 20th-century Korean literature.

1925 – Lillian Hoban, American children’s writer and illustrator who often collaborated with her husband Russell Hoban.

1930 – Fred Saberhagen, American science-fiction and fantasy author of novels and short stories.

1952 – Diane Duane, American/Irish science-fiction and fantasy author who writes in the Star Trek universe, as well as her own settings.

1956 – Gisèle Pineau, French/Guadeloupean novelist, writer, and psychiatric nurse who has written books on the difficulties of her childhood as a person of color growing up in Parisian society; in particular, she focuses on racism and the effects it can have on a young girl trying to discover her own cultural identity.

1957 – Lionel Shriver, American/British journalist and author; born Margaret Ann Shriver.

1959 – Debbie Dadey, author of more than 125 children’s books, including the bestselling series, The Adventure of the Bailey School Kids.

1967 – Nina Björk, Swedish feminist, author, journalist, and columnist.

1970 – Tina Fey, American comedy writer, comedian, actress, and television personality.

And the Shutdown Continues

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a phased-in plan for easing pandemic-related restrictions, beginning this week. But we won’t be taking part. Here in Northern Virginia, the number of cases is still rising. We have nearly 1,500 in Alexandria alone. One of the criteria for beginning the reopening process is that the numbers have to have been dropping for two weeks. So the local governments banded together and requested a waiver. Northam, being a doctor himself (also, not being insane, unlike a certain White House resident) granted it. So we are still in shutdown mode, at least until the end of the month. But probably longer, unless the numbers start dropping fast.

Sure, remaining on shutdown is depressing and inconvenient — and financially devastating, for many families. And it’s wreaking havoc on the economy. But I believe it’s necessary. In fact, I’m afraid that reopening the rest of the state might be premature, but I haven’t seen detailed numbers for the rest of the state. In any case, schools all over the state remain closed for the rest of the school year. The phased-in plan seems like a good one. There will be major limitations in Phase 1, with only some businesses opening, and a lot of social distancing in place.

Unfortunately, even here in Northern Virginia, some people are ignoring the restrictions. I saw a large group standing outside a church in Del Ray yesterday. Some were in a well-spaced line to get inside. But the rest were crowded around the yard and parking lot. Most were wearing masks, but some were not. And the news showed footage from Old Town Alexandria last night, with many people out and about. We need people to take this more seriously. And let’s see if the rest of the state follows the phased-in approach and doesn’t try for too much too soon.

Below is Friday’s update from the state health department. I live in the big dark clump at the top of the map. The bottom graph shows that cases are on the decrease, but that’s not true here in Northern Virginia.

May 17 Writer Birthdays

1155 – Jien, Japanese historian, poet, and Buddhist monk.

1792 – Isabella Noel Byron (11th Baroness Wentworth and Baroness Byron née Milbanke), English writer, poet, memoirist, and mathematician who was married to Lord Byron; her memoirs were published after her death by writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.

1873 – Dorothy Miller Richardson, British novelist who was a pioneer of the stream-of-consciousness style.

1889 – Alfonso Reyes, influential Mexican poet, essayist, literary critic, and diplomat.

1908 – Frederic Prokosch, American novelist, poet, memoirist, and forger.

1914 – Chang Ch’ung-ho, Chinese writer, poet, calligrapher, professor, and opera singer.

1928 – Francesca Sanvitale, Italian novelist and journalist who was called “one of Italy’s most renowned contemporary authors.”

1929 – Eloise Greenfield, African-American poet, biographer, and children’s author known for her descriptive, rhythmic style and positive portrayal of the African-American experience.

1935 – Dennis Potter (full name Dennis Christopher George Potter, British dramatist, novelist, screenwriter, and nonfiction author.

1936 – Lars Gustafsson, Swedish playwright, novelist, and poet.

1939 – Gary Paulsen, American author of popular young-adult coming-of-age novels set in the wilderness; he is particularly known for the Brian’s Saga series, beginning with Hatchet. He also writes short stories, articles, and plays.

1944 – Priti Sengupta, Indian Gujarati poet, travel author, and writer.

1946 – Joan Barfoot, award-winning Canadian novelist and journalist.

1946 – F. Paul Wilson, American author of science fiction, horror, and medical thrillers.

1947 – Janet Holmes, New Zealand sociolinguist, writer, and academic who studies language and gender, language in the workplace, and New Zealand English.

1947 – Halima Xudoyberdiyeva, Uzbek poet, writer, and journalist who wrote about Uzbek nationhood and history, liberation movements, and feminism; she was awarded the title People’s Poet of Uzbekistan.

1948 – Esmeralda Santiago, Puerto Rican author and actress known for her novels and memoirs.

1950 – Valeriya Novodvorskaya, Belarussian/Russian writer, teacher, poet, politician, librarian, translator, pedagogue, journalist, and liberal political activist who was the founder and chairwoman of the Democratic Union party and a member of the editorial board of The New Times.

1950 – Dian Curtis Regan, American author of children’s and young-adult books.

1957 – Peter Høeg, Danish novelist and short-story writer, best known for the novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, which was made into the film Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

May 16 Writer Birthdays

1718 – Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Italian writer, essayist, mathematician, theologian, philosopher, philanthropist, and humanitarian who was the first woman to write a mathematics handbook and the first woman appointed as a mathematics professor at a university. She wrote the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus, and also wrote extensively on the marriage between intellectual pursuit and mystical contemplation. The composer Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini was her sister.

1788 – Friedrich Rückert, German poet, writer, translator, and professor of Oriental languages.

1803 – Constantina Carolina Amalia “Amelie” von Strussenfelt, Swedish writer, poet, novelist, educator, painter, and women’s rights activist whose sister was the writer Ulrika von Strussenfelt.

1884 – Eric P. Kelly, Newbery Medal-winning American children’s author, journalist, and academic.

1886 – Douglas Southall Freeman, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian, author, newspaper editor, radio commentator, and biographer of Robert E. Lee and George Washington.

1888 – Berthe-Sultana Bénichou-Aboulker, Algerian poet and playwright who wrote in French; her play La Kahena, reine berbière was the first work published by a Jewish woman in Algeria.

1890 – Gertrude Chandler Warner, American author of children’s books; best known as the first author of the beloved Boxcar Children series. The books were criticized for encouraging child rebellion by depicting children with little parental supervision; her response was that the children liked them for that very reason.

1898 – Desanka Maksimovic, Serbian poet, writer, professor, children’s author, and translator.

1905 – H.E. Bates, English novelist, journalist, essayist, and short-story writer.

1906 – Margret Rey, German-American co-author and illustrator (with her husband H.A. Rey) of the Curious George children’s books.

1910 – Olga Berggolts, Russian poet and radio broadcaster

1910 – Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, American educator, Transcendentalist writer, and translator who opened the first English-language kindergarten in the U.S.

1912 – Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, historian, and broadcaster who is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans.

1917 – Juan Rulfo, Mexican novelist and short story writer who is considered one of Latin America’s most esteemed novelists and short-story writers; he strongly influenced author Gabriel García Márquez.

1929 – Adrienne Rich, National Book Award-winning American poet, essayist, and feminist who has been called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.”

1934 – Robert Dallek, American professor, historian, and biographer who specializes in American presidents.

1934 – Yusufali Kechery, Indian poet, film lyricist, film producer, and director who is considered one of the modern era’s leading writers of Malayalam poetry.

1944 – Ahmet Emin Atasoy, Bulgarian-born Turkish poet, author, teacher, and interpreter.

1946 – Laila Stien, Norwegian novelist, poet, children’s author, and translator.

1950 – Bruce Coville, prolific, award-winning American author of children’s and young-adult novels.

Photo Friday: Chipmunk Acrobats and Readers

My husband planted tomatoes in the planters on the patio, and added cages to keep the squirrels from digging them up. The squirrels’ loss is the chipmunks’ gain. The little guys soon realized they could scramble up the side of the cage to the top and then make a death-defying leap to reach the seedy joys of our Bird Library. We moved the planter farther from the Bird Library, twice, but they can still make the leap. I’m inclined just to let them eat their hard-earned seeds, but my husband says the birds are not pleased.

Maybe we need a separate Chipmunk Library.

You can’t see it in this photo, but just off the top of the picture is a sign that reads “Library 4 Birds.” Either the chipmunks can’t read, or they don’t care.

May 15 Writer Birthdays

1856 – L. Frank Baum, American author who created the classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

1890 – Katherine Ann Porter, American novelist, essayist, short-story writer, and political activist who won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

1891 – Mikhail Bulgakov, Ukrainian-born Russian writer and playwright, best known for his novel The Master & Margarita.

1904 – Clifton “Kip” Fadiman, American intellectual, author, editor, and broadcaster.

1911 – Max Frisch, Swiss playwright, and novelist known for his ironic works.

1926 – Peter Shaffer & Anthony Joshua Shaffer, identical-twin English playwrights.

1927 – Assia Wevill, German-born poet and writer who escaped the Nazis to emigrate to Palestine and then the U.K., where she had a relationship with the English poet Ted Hughes; she killed herself and their four-year-old daughter Shura using a gas oven, similar to the suicide of Hughes’s first wife Sylvia Plath, six years earlier.

1931 – Norma Fox Mazer, American author and teacher who won a Newbery Honor and was nominated for the National Book Award.

1934 – John Keegan, British military historian and writer.

1951 – David Almond, British author of children’s and young-adult novels.

1957 – Meg Gardiner, UK-based American crime writer.

1962 – Julie Otsuka, Japanese-American author known for her historical fiction; winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and finalist for the National Book Award.

1967 – Laura Hillenbrand, bestselling American author of nonfiction books & magazine articles, best known for her book Seabiscuit, about the racehorse that became an unlikely champion.

1969 – Lauren Myracle, American author of young-adult fiction.

May 14 Writer Birthdays

1553 – Margaret of Valois, French princess of the Valois dynasty who became queen consort of Navarre and later also of France and was a well-known writer and woman of letters; she was the first woman known to have written and published her memoirs. The daughter of King Henry II of France and Catherine de’Medici, she was also the sister of kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.

1607 – Alberte-Barbe d’Ernécourt (Madame de Saint-Baslemont), French writer and soldier who was a heroine of the Thirty Years’ War.

1851 – Anna Laurens Dawes, American author, biographer, suffragist, and trustee of Smith College who served on the board of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1892-94 and the St. Louis Exposition of 1902-04 and was the daughter of a U.S. Senator. Her works covered topics including U.S. history, government, and sociology.

1876 – Luis Llorens Torres, Puerto Rican poet, playwright, lawyer, and politician.

1899 – Charlotte Auerbach, German author, professor, geneticist, zoologist, and biologist who was one of the founders of the science of mutagenesis.

1900 – Hal Borland, American author, editorial writer, and journalist who wrote about the nature.

1908 – Agnes Betty Jeffrey, Australian author and nurse who wrote about her World War II nursing experiences in the book White Coolies.

1921 – Fernanda Villeli, Mexican writer, screenwriter, actress, and activist who was one of her country’s major writers of telenovelas.

1929 – George Selden (real name George Thompson), American children’s author who won a Newbery Honor for his novel, The Cricket in Times Square; he sometimes used pen name Terry Andrews.

1935 – June Beer, Afro-Nicaraguan poet, writer, and artist who gained international acclaim for her works depicting African and feminist themes.

1937 – Zehra Nigah, award-winning Pakistani Urdu poet and screenwriter who was one of only two female Pakistani poets to gain prominence in the 1950s when the field was dominated by men.

1939 – Colette Nys-Mazure, award-winning Belgian author, poet, essayist, children’s writer, playwright, and professor who writes in French.

1944 – George Lucas, wildly popular and influential film writer, director, and producer, best known for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.

1946 – Sarah Hogg (Viscountess Hailsham), English economist, journalist, and life peer

1952 – Kathleen Ann Goonan, science-fiction novelist and short-story writer whose work is often set in New Orleans. Her writing is sometimes considered cyberpunk and often incorporates biotechnology, and jazz music; she is also an essayist, professor, literary critic, Campbell Award winner, and Nebula Award nominee.

1952 – Robert L. Zemeckis, screenwriter, director, and producer known for special-effects films.

1958 – Anna Höglund, Swedish author and artist, considered to be one of Sweden’s best illustrators.

1959 – Robert Greene, bestselling American nonfiction author and speaker who writes about power, strategy, and seduction.

1965 – Eoin Colfer, (pronounced “Owen”) Irish author best known for the Artemis Fowl series of young-adult books, though he also writes for adults.

1971 – Sofia Carmina Coppola, Oscar-winning American film director, and screenwriter; ex-wife of film director Spike Jonze, daughter of film director Francis Ford Coppola, niece of actress Talia Shire, and cousin of actor Nicolas Cage.

1974 – Jana Žitňanská, Slovak writer, journalist, and member of the European Parliament.

TV Tyrant

If I turn on the television in a room that contains other people, I generally ask, “What should we watch?” or, “So-and-so is coming on now; do you want to watch it?” or, at least, “Do you mind if I watch —“

That’s just common courtesy, right?

So why is it that my husband and I walk into the family room together, and he turns on the television to his choice of programs, without any concession to the fact that I might want to see something different? This is normal for him. No matter who else is in the room, he turns on what he wants to watch without asking for anyone else’s preference.

I’ve talked to several people — all of them women — who tell me their husbands do the same, that this is a guy thing. Is that true? If any guys are reading this, is that your modus operandi too, or do you make a point of soliciting the opinions of others in the room?

If you turn on what you want to see, regardless of who else is present, can you explain your rationale? Because it seems rude to me, and I know that my husband and my friends’ husbands are not generally rude people. So I would like to understand the reasoning.

  • Do you assume that whatever you want will be the top pick of everyone in the room?
  • Do you believe you have the right to first dibs on the remote? If so, why you?
  • Are you so focused on your own choice of television programs that you’ve failed to notice that other people are present?
  • Are you convinced that the television tastes of your wife, children, or other inhabitants of your household are so atrociously bad that they do not deserve to be indulged?
  • Do you just not care what anyone else might want?

I would like to think there are more charitable reasons, but nothing else occurs to me that could explain it.

May 13 Writer Birthdays

1840 – Alphonse Daudet, French novelist of the naturalist movement.

1907 – Daphne du Maurier (Lady Browning), English author and playwright whose stories have been described as “moody and resonant,” with overtones of the paranormal; much of her work was set in Cornwall. Her book Rebecca won the U.S. National Book Award, and has never gone out of print.

1927 – Clive Barnes, British-born theater and dance critic.

1937 – Roger Zelazny, American poet and author of science-fiction and fantasy novels and short stories. He often portrayed characters from myth, set in the modern or future world, with tension between the ancient and the contemporary, and the surreal and the familiar; his style was also influenced by that of wisecracking hardboiled detective stories.

1938 – Norma Klein, American author of popular young-adult novels.

1938 – Francine Pascal, American author of young-adult novels, best known as creator of the Sweet Valley series.

1940 – Bruce Chatwin, English novelist, journalist, and travel writer, best known for his book, In Patagonia; he is ranked among The Times‘s list of “50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945.”

1940 – Rachel Holmes Ingalls, British-based American author of short-stories, novellas, and novels.

1944 – Armistad Maupin, American writer known for the San Francisco-set series of novels, Tales of the City.

1946 – Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, award-winning Singaporean writer and poet

1947 – Charles Baxter, American author, essayist, and poet.

1947 – Stephen R. Donaldson, American science-fiction and fantasy writer best known for his ten-novel series “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.”

1947 – Alexander Keyssar, American author, professor, and historian whose work explores historical problems that have contemporary policy implications.

1948 – Natasha Lako, Albanian writer, poet, politician, translator, screenwriter, and journalist.

1950 – Manning Marable, Pulitzer Prize-winning American professor, historian, author, and Malcom X biographer.

1957 – Koji Suzuki, Japanese author whose Ring books were adapted into a manga series and a feature film; he has also written books about fatherhood.

1960 – Jen Bryant, American poet, novelist, biographer, and children’s author.

1964 – Stephen Colbert, American comedian, television personality, and author.

1967 – Masha Gessen, National Book Award-winning Russian-American journalist, author, and translator.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Mother’s Day

The last few days have been trying — even more so than the coronavirus shutdown brand of trying we’ve been living with for the past two months — and I am so far behind on posting to this blog.

Sunday was Mother’s Day. We’d planned to drive to Williamsburg to check on my mom. I am the only one of her daughters who lives close enough for a day trip, and we were all worried about her, though she keeps saying she’s fine. My mom is active and in good health and has no COVID-19 risk factors except for her age (81). But she lives alone and I wanted to make sure she didn’t need anything.

We planned on a masked, socially distanced visit, preferably most of it outside. The three of us planned to drive down Sunday and come back that night. We did not plan on the car breaking down halfway there, necessitating a call to AAA for a tow, a cab ride to a dealership, and several hours of being stranded in Fredericksburg, where the dealership service department is closed on Sundays. We could fill out a form and leave it with the key in a drop box to be looked at on Monday. But the service department handles loaner cars, and the service staff was not there. So we had no way of leaving the dealership to go on to my mother’s house in Williamsburg, or to go home.

We called my mother repeatedly, but she wasn’t answering. We tried to call my aunt and uncle, who live in Fredericksburg, but they weren’t picking it either. We tried to rent a car and discovered that every rental car agency in Fredericksburg is closed on Sundays. We called U-Haul, which was only a block or so away, and discovered that only two-seater vehicles were available there or at any U-Haul locations in town. There were three of us.

We started researching hotels in the area, figuring we could get a cab to one and just spend the night, hoping the car would be finished early on Monday. This would mean that Bob would miss work the next day. And, depending on what time our car was finished, Jon Morgan could miss his AP test for U.S. Government.

Finally, after hours of sitting outside the dealership trying to find a way out of there, we received a call from the sympathetic Toyota service manager, who said he would drive in from his house to give us a loaner car. So we did not have to spend the night.

He arrived and gave us the keys to a very nice red Camry, and we drove on to my mother’s house, where we had a nice visit — though it was nearly dark outside, so we were inside instead of outside. And we drove home late that night. Not the way I expected to spend Mothers Day.

Monday afternoon, Bob took off some time and the two of us headed back down to Fredericksbug to pick up our car, complete with its brand new water pump for the electric system. It cost more than $700, but you can hardly have anything done to a car for less than $500, so it could have been a lot worse.

I know this whole experience is a minor annoyance compared to what other people are experiencing. We were never in danger of spending the night in the parking lot of the Toyota dealership. The worst-case scenario was that we might have had to shell out for a hotel stay (though that’s a bit scary in the Time of Coronavirus). But I had high hopes for Mother’s Day, both for celebrating with my mom and for being pampered by my husband and son (admittedly, that might have been a delusional hope to begin with). And with most people’s base-level emotional state right now stuck somewhere between Stressed Out and Panic Attack, it doesn’t take a lot to feel overwhelmed.