February 19 Writer Birthdays

1869 – Hovhannes Tumanyan, Armenian poet, writer, translator, literary critic, journalist, and public activist who is considered the national poet of Armenia; his work was mostly realistic, focusing on everyday life.

1896 – André Robert Breton, French writer, poet, and anti-fascist who was one of the founders of the Surrealist movement.

1902 – Kay Boyle, O. Henry Award-winning American novelist, short-story writer, poet, educator, and political activist.

1903 – Louis Slobodkin, American sculptor and children’s author and illustrator who also wrote nonfiction books about art and an autobiographical novel about his brief career as a sailor.

1904 – Maurice O’Sullivan (Muiris Ó Súilleabháin), Irish-language author, noted for his memoir Twenty Years a’Growing.

1917 – Carson McCullers, American novelist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, and playwright best known for her novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the Southern United States; much of her work is set in the deep South

1926 – Ross Thomas, Edgar Award-winning American author of witty crime fiction.

1937 – Terry Carr, American science-fiction author and editor.

1940 – Jill Krementz, well-known American photographer, author, and children’s writer.

1943 – Homer Hickham, American author whose autobiographical novel Rocket Boys was the basis for the film October Sky; he was a NASA engineer and trained the first Japanese astronauts.

1952 – Ryu Murakami, a Japanese novelist, short story writer, essayist, screenwriter, film director, and science-fiction writer whose novels explore human nature through themes of disillusion, drug use, surrealism, murder, and war.

1952 – Amy Tan, award-winning Chinese-American writer of novels, nonfiction, children’s books, and memoirs whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese-American experience; she also sang vocals for the all-writer rock group, Rock Bottom Remainders.

1955 – Siri Hustvedt, American novelist, poet, and essayist.

1958 – Helen Fielding, English novelist best known for creating the character Bridget Jones.

1958 – Theresa Rebeck, influential Edgar Award-winning American playwright, television writer, and novelist.

1963 – Laurell K. Hamilton, bestselling American fantasy and romance writer; she is author of the “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” series, which includes novels, short stories, comic books, and is considered a major influence in the fields of paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

1964 – Jonathan Lethem, American essayist, and author of genre-bending literary novels and short stories.

1970 – K.R. Meera, Indian author who writes in Malayalam.

1971 – Jeff Kinney, American children’s author and cartoonist best known for the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books.

1984 – Marissa Meyer, American writer of children’s and young-adult science fiction.

Month of Letters, Days 15, 16, and 17

On Saturday, Feb. 15, I mailed a Postcrossing card to Steyer, Germany. Steyer is along the Rhine River, a little south of Mannheim.

The card showed an illustration (below) of historic sites in the Charlottesville, Virginia, area.

Days 16 and 17 were easy. Feb. 16 was Sunday, and the following day was the George Washington Birthday holiday. Postcrossing carries no obligation to mail anything on days the Post Office is closed. But the holiday did give me a little extra time to complete some MailArt on an envelope for a letter I ended up sending today (Feb. 18).

February 18 Writer Birthdays

1855 – Jean Jules Jusserand, Pulitzer Prize-winning French scholar of history and Medieval English literature, author, and Ambassador to the U.S. during World War I; Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., features a memorial to him.

1883 – Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek writer and philosopher, best known for his novel Zorba the Greek.

1909 – Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award-winning American novelist and short-story writer; also known as a historian and environmentalist.

1922 – Helen Gurley Brown, American author, publisher, and businesswoman who was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years.

1925 – Jack Gilbert, award-winning American poet whose work is known for its simple lyricism and straightforward clarity of tone, as well as a resonating control over his emotions; many of his poems are about his relationships with women.

1925 – Krishna Sobti (Hindi: कृष्णा सोबती), Hindi fiction writer and essayist, best known for her 1966 novel Mitro Marajani, an unapologetic portrayal of a married woman’s sexuality.

1926 – A.R. Ammons, National Book Award-winning American poet; much of his work was inspired by his childhood on a North Carolina cotton and tobacco farm during the Great Depression.

1929 – Len Deighton, British novelist, military historian, graphic artist, and food writer who is best known for his spy novels.

1931 – Toni Morrison, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, essayist, editor, and educator who is one of the most acclaimed writers of her time; her novels are known for epic themes, exquisite language, and richly detailed African-American characters.

1934 – Audre Lorde, Caribbean-American writer, poet, librarian, and activist.

1935 – Janette Oke, Canadian author of inspirational and Christian historical fiction, usually set in the pioneer era.

1936 – Jeanne Auel, bestselling Finnish-American author known for her Earth’s Children series of books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores early humans, especially interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals.

1950 – Bebe Moore Campbell, American journalist, teacher, and bestselling author of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature.

1950 – John Wilden Hughes, Jr., American film director, producer, and screenwriter who wrote or directed some of the most successful films of the 1980s and 1990s, including National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles.

1955 – Lisa See, bestselling American writer and novelist whose work is often inspired by her Chinese-American background.

1957 – George Pelecanos, American author of detective fiction, mostly set in Washington, D.C.; he is also a television writer and producer.

1961 – Douglas Rushkoff, American media theorist, writer, and graphic novelist, known for his connection with early cyberpunk culture.

February 17 Writer Birthdays

1836 – Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (born Gustavo Adolfo Claudio Domínguez Bastida), Spanish Romanticist poet, short-story author, playwright, literary columnist, and artist; one of the most important figures in Spanish literature, he is considered the most-read Spanish writer after Cervantes.

1864 – Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson, Australian bush poet, journalist, and author who wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing on the rural and outback areas; his best known poems include “Waltzing Matilda,” regarded widely as Australia’s unofficial national anthem.

1899 – Jibanananda Das, popular Bengali poet who is credited with introducing modernist poetry to Bengali Literature

1912 – Andre Norton, pen name (eventually changed legally) of Alice Mary Norton, American science-fiction author who also wrote under the pen names Andrew North and Allen Weston; she was the first woman to be named Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, the first woman to be SFWA Grand Master, and the first inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. The annual award for best young-adult novel, given by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, is named after her.

1912 – Virginia Sorensen, Newbery Award-winning American novelist and children’s author.

1913 – Russel B. Nye, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, biographer, professor, and popular-culture specialist.

1914 – Julia de Burgos, Puerto Rican poet and advocate of Puerto Rican independence; she served as Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, and was a civil-rights activist for women and Afro-Caribbean writers.

1918 – William Bronk, National Book Award-winning American poet.

1924 – Margaret Truman, American biographer and mystery writer known for the popular Capital Crimes series; the daughter of U.S.President Harry Truman, she was also an actress, journalist, radio and television personality, and coloratura soprano.

1928 – Robert Newton Peck, American author of young-adult novels, best known for the semi-autobiographical novel, A Day No Pigs Would Die; he has also written nonfiction books, songs, poetry, and three television specials.

1929 – Chaim Potok, American rabbi, short-story writer, and bestselling National Book Award-nominated author, most celebrated for his book The Chosen; his work was significant for exploring the conflict between modernity and traditional aspects of Jewish thought and culture.

1930 – Ruth Rendell (Baroness Rendell of Babergh), Edgar Award-winning English author of crime novels, thrillers, and psychological murder mysteries; she created the Inspector Wexford mysteries.

1951 – Meena Alexander, Indian poet, scholar, novelist, writer, and professor.

1955 – Mo Yan, Nobel Prize-winning Chinese novelist and short-story writer “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history, and the contemporary.”

February 16 Writer Birthdays

1927 – Luísa Dacosta (born Marie Louise Pinto Saraiva dos Santos), Portuguese short story writer, poet, and anthologist.

1927 – David Bryon Davis, American historian and authority on slavery and abolition in the Western world.

1927 – Shahidullah Kaiser, Bangladeshi novelist and writer.

1944 – Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, best known for his book Independence Day.

1953 – Roberta Williams, American video game-designer and writer.

1954 – Iain Banks, Scottish author of fiction and science fiction.

1956 – Paul Gilroy – British author, professor, and historian of black culture.

1331 – Coluccio Salutati, Tuscan humanist, writer, orator, and man of letters who was one of the most important political and cultural leaders of Renaissance Florence; he amassed a collection of 800 books, at the time the largest library in Florence.

1829 – Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, an American novelist, historian, and biographer from the prominent southern Percy family.

1831 – Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov (Никола́й Семёнович Леско́в), Russian novelist, short-story writer, and journalist who also wrote under the pseudonym M. Stebnitsky; he was praised for his unique writing style and innovative experiments in form and was admired by Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky.

1834 – Ernst Haeckl, German natural philosopher and promoter of Darwin’s ideas in Germany.

1838 – Henry Adams, American historian and novelist whose posthumously published autobiography won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize; he was descended from two U.S. presidents.

1883 – Elizabeth Craig, Scottish journalist and cookbook author.

1886 – Van Wyck Brooks, American historian and biographer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History and the National Book Award for The Flowering of New England.

1904 – George F. Kennan, American diplomat and Cold War figure, ambassador to the Soviet Union, and author of seventeen books, including a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner.

1915 – Elisabeth Eybers, South African poet who wrote mainly in Afrikaans and translated some of her own work into English.

1957 – Levar Burton (Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.), American actor, director, author, and TV host for the PBS children’s series about books, Reading Rainbow; he is also well known as an actor for his roles as Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the young Kunta Kinte in the seminal television miniseries Roots.

1958 – Natalie Angier, American science journalist and nonfiction author.

1968 – Warren Ellis, English author of fiction and comic books.

1973 – Maureen Johnson, American author of young-adult fiction.

February 15 Writer Birthdays

1564 – Galileo Galilei, Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, mathematician, and writer who played a major role in the Renaissance’s scientific revolution; called the “father of observational astronomy,” the “father of modern physics,” and the “father of science,” he is known for confirming the phases of Venus, discovering the four largest satellites of Jupiter (the Galilean moons), and observing and analyzing sunspots; his insistence that the earth revolved around the sun, along with his views on science and the church, led to his conviction for heresy and his house arrest for the rest of his life. The Catholic Church pardoned him in 1992.

1883 – Sax Rohmer, English novelist, best known for his Fu Manchu series.

1896 – James Phinney Baxter III, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian.

1898 – Masuji Ibuse, Japanese novelist and short-story writer.

1909 – Miep Gies, (born Hermine Santruschitz), Austrian/Dutch activist who hid Anne Frank, Anne’s family, and four other Jews from the Nazis in an annex above Anne’s father’s business during World War II; she later wrote a book, Anne Frank Remembered, but her biggest contribution to literature was her gathering of the pages of Anne’s diary after the Nazis ransacked the hiding place and arrested the people hiding there, and saving the diary until after the war to give to Anne’s father, the only survivor among the eight Jews who hid there; she died in 2010 at the age of 100.

1928 – Norman Bridwell, American’s children’s book author and illustrator, known for the “Clifford The Big Red Dog” books.

1937 – Gregory Mcdonald, American mystery writer, author of the Fletch books.

1945 – Jack Dann, American science-fiction and fantasy writer and anthologist.

1945 – Douglas Hofstadter, Pulitzer Prize-winning American professor of cognitive science.

1948 – Art Spiegelman, Swedish-born American cartoonist, best known for his graphic novel Maus.

1954 – Matthew Abram “Matt” Groening, American cartoonist, writer, producer, animator, and voice actor, best known as creator of the animated television series, The Simpsons.

Month of Letters, Day 14

This morning I drove my son to school, which put me just a block from one of my favorite neighborhood cafes. Naturally, I stopped in for breakfast, bringing with me a blank card, a box of stationery (for subsequent pages), and the address of a pen pal in Massachusetts.

It’s a good thing I had a whole box of stationery. It was a really long letter.

The card was a beach scene. Despite the mild weather this month, I’m sick of winter and longing for spring. Even better, summer. It helped that I was sitting in a restaurant with murals of the sun-splashed Greek islands on the walls around me. My table was just beneath Santorini. Maybe that’s why I stayed for quite a while and wrote for so long.

Then I went next door to the Hallmark store and bought more stationery, to replenish my supply.

Here is my beachy card. It’s not Santorini, but it makes me think of summer.

Photo Friday: The Eyes of Abe

This week, in honor of it being Presidents’ Day weekend, I offer a photo I took a few years ago at Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. I was set to attend a conference in Salt Lake City and convinced my husband (my son needed no convincing) that we should all go, and make it a cross-country family road trip.

On the way out, we took a northerly route, first heading up to Wisconsin to see Bob’s family, and then crossing the Mississippi and continuing west, including a stop in De Smet, South Dakota, the original Little Town on the Prairie, where one of my writer heroes, Laura Ingalls Wilder, lived. Then we drove to western South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and the Badlands. (We would take a more southerly route on the way home, including Arches National Park, the Four Corners Monument, Mesa Verde, and part of Route 66.)

I’d been a newborn the last time I’d visited Mount Rushmore, so I had no memory of being there. The monument impressed me a lot more than I had expected. It is quite beautifully, artistically carved. I especially liked Abraham Lincoln’s eyes. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to believe they’re cut from stone.

Abe Lincoln is watching you.

The College Admissions Process Continues….

Jon Morgan on the campus of JMU.

Last weekend, for the third week in a row, we visited yet another college campus. This time, it was James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

It’s not the best-known or most prestigious of the schools Jon Morgan has applied to, but it is a strong university overall, and it has an excellent music department, with lovely facilities. I think it may actually be one of his very best choices.

In fact, in one respect, JMU ranks second in the country (and first among public schools). The Wall Street Journal/US College Rankings 2020 survey asked undergraduates how likely they would be to recommend their school to others. I was not surprised to hear that JMU was second on the list (first was a small, private, religious school I’d never heard of). Most college students I know will say nice things about their school, but the JMU students I’ve spoken with seem by far the most enthusiastic — including his cousin Annie, who is a sophomore there and one of the student ambassadors who talks with prospective students about JMU.

Jon Morgan’s application cited music as his most likely major (possibly as a double major with something STEM-ish) so he was required to come to campus for an audition. His concentration would be Music Composition, not Performance, but all music students audition, and are asked to complete a piano placement test. As a prospective composition student, he also had an interview scheduled.

I wasn’t sure how he’d do in the audition. On one hand, he is an exceptional pianist. On the other hand, he has been so busy with school and with college applications that he has not practiced much at all in recent weeks. I was wondering if he should have chosen to audition on violin instead. He’s not quite as good on violin as he is on piano, but he is a solid player and has practiced it a lot more lately, due to the frequency of orchestra concerts he’s performed in over the last month or two.

I shouldn’t have doubted him; we sat in the hallway outside during his piano audition, and he sounded great. There was also a sight-reading component; he has always had a real gift for sight-reading, so that was easy for him.

Every student is required to take a brief test in piano and basic music theory for piano, not for admissions decisions, but for placement into the appropriate-level coursework. (I believe that students who do not play piano can opt out of the test by declaring themselves beginners.) He took the test, and scored into the highest group. He’s been taking lessons since he was six or seven and is especially strong in music theory, so I was not surprised.

Jon Morgan often says he isn’t good at talking about his music; I think that is common among high-school students, especially nerdy, introverted boys. But from what he said, the professors he spoke with at his interview did a great job of drawing him out. This was not a portfolio review; faculty will evaluate his compositions later. At this meeting, they told him to brag (that’s the way they put it) about his musical accomplishments. They asked him about his favorite composers, about how he goes about writing music, about his goals for studying composition, and so forth. He has had to answer similar questions at several schools, and on most of his applications, and I think he is getting more comfortable talking about himself. He felt that the interview went well.

And now we wait….

February 14 Writer Birthdays

1404 – Leon Battista Alberti, Italian Renaissance humanist author, playwright, poet, artist, architect, priest, linguist, philosopher, mathematician, musicologist, and cryptographer.

1818 – Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) American writer, orator, memoirist, social reformer, abolitionist, women’s suffragist, and statesman who escaped from slavery to became a leader of the abolitionist movement; he
described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller and promoted the cause of abolition. He was the first African-American nominated for Vice President of the United States, as the running mate of Presidential nominee Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

1869 – Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, Russian Bolshevik who was a writer, librarian, teacher, and politician; she was the wife of Vladimir Lenin.

1861 – Andrew C. McLaughlin, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian, best known for A Constitutional History of the United States.

1890 – Nina Hamnett, Welsh artist and writer who was an expert on sailors’ chanteys; she became known as the Queen of Bohemia.

1944- Carl Bernstein, American journalist and author, most famous for his reporting, with Bob Woodward of the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post and the book All the President’s Men that described the team’s work on uncovering the facts.

1952 – George Shannon, American teacher, librarian, storyteller, and popular author of children’s books.

1977 – Tow Ubukata, Japanese novelist, science-fiction writer, and anime screenwriter.