O, Tannenbaum

The tree is up, and the lights are lit. Today, we plan to hang the ornaments, set up toy train tracks and a train around the base, and top it all off with a Weeping Angel.

The tree is up.

We originally put it up more than a week ago, but there was a problem with some of the lights. Bob took the tree apart and tried to fix the strands that wouldn’t light, but he was unable to. Finally, he just added a set of working lights to fill in the dark spots where the broken ones were. Apparently he can’t easily remove the old lights, because they’re connected to the tree itself and to the lights that are working. So the new strand is wrapped around the tree over some of the old lights that refuse to glow. It’ll do.

Today, we will add the ornaments. I use the word “we” optimistically. Last year, my husband and son kept saying they wanted to decorate the tree. But when the time came, my son got bored quickly, and my husband remembered other things he had to do. And I ended up hanging most of the ornaments myself.

December 19 Writer Birthdays

1036 – Su Tung-p’o, Chinese writer who was considered the greatest poet of the Chinese Sung Dynasty, and who was often under fire for satirizing government policies.

1723 – Susanne Katharina Seiffart von Klettenberg, German abbess, writer, poet, artist, and philosopher who was a friend of the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his mother; he shaped a character, “Beautiful Soul,” after Klettenberg in his novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

1753 – John Taylor of Caroline, American writer and politician who authored books on agriculture and politics and served as a Virginia State Delegate and U.S. Senator.

1796 – Manuel Breton de los Herreros, prolific Spanish playwright and librarian.

1820 – Mary Ashton Livermore, American journalist, nonfiction author, lecturer, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s rights, including reproductive rights.

1852 – Flora Shaw (Lady Lugard), English journalist, writer, and novelist for children and young adults. As a journalist she traveled around the world covering politics and economics and was widely regarded as one of the greatest journalists of her time; she is credited with coining the name, “Nigeria.”

1861 – Italo Svevo, Italian novelist best known for The Confessions of Zeno.

1875 – Carter Woodson, U.S. African-American author, historian, and journalist who was born to parents who were former slaves and grew up to earn a PhD and become a pioneering writer of Black history.

1895 – Ingeborg Refling-Hagen, Norwegian novelist and poet who was arrested for her work with the Resistance during World War II; her writings and activities in support of the arts made her a significant cultural figure in Norway during much of the 20th century.

1900 – Thelma L. Strabel, U.S. novelist who specialized in tales of the American South and sea adventures; she is best known for her novel Reap the Wild Wind, which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and became a successful film.

1901 – Oliver La Farge, Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. author and anthropologist whose work focused on Native American culture.

1908 – Gisèle Freund, German-born French photographer and photojournalist, famous for her documentary photography and portraits of writers and artists; her best-known book, Photographie et société, is about the uses and abuses of the photographic medium in the age of technological reproduction.

1910 – Jean Genet, French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, autobiographer, and political activist.

1910 – Jose Lezama Lima, Cuban poet and lawyer who was one of the most influential figures in Latin American literature.

1916 – Manoel Wenceslau Leite de Barros, award-winning Brazilian poet who is regarded by critics as one of the great names of contemporary Brazilian poetry.

1916 – Ann Mari Falk, award-winning Swedish writer, children’s author, and translator.

1922 – Hanny Michaelis, award-winning Jewish Dutch poet and translator who lived in hiding during World War II; h er parents were sent to Sobibór in 1943 and never returned; much of her work has a prevailing tone of loneliness and despair, although her last collection of poems also has moments of hope and humor.

1923 – Robert V. Bruce, Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. author and historian who specialized in the history of the American Civil War period; he is best known for the book The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–1876.

1928 – Eve Bunting, prolific Irish author of children’s and young-adult books.

1929 – Barbara Kimenye, prolific British-born Ugandan writer who was one of East Africa’s most popular and bestselling children’s authors; she is best remembered for her Moses series, about a mischievous student at a boarding school for troublesome boys.

1942 – Jean-Patric Manchette, French crime novelist and screenwriting credited with reinventing and reinvigorating the crime novel genre; his books are violent explorations of the human condition and French society.

1944 – Richard Leakey, award-winning Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and politician who was the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, and who, like his parents, is a groundbreaking paleoanthropologist whose work has shed light on the origins of humanity.

1946 – Miguel Piñero, Puerto Rican poet, playwright, actor, and leading member of the Nuyorican literary movement; he co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Café.

1950 – Péter Tímár, Hungarian screenwriter and film director.

1952 – Sean O’Brien, award-winning British poet, critic, and playwright who is well known for his collection of poems The Drowned Book.

1954 – Tim Parks, award-winning British novelist, short-story writer, translator, and professor.

1960 – Daniel Silva, U.S. author of bestselling thrillers and spy novels; most of his books center around the character Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer, spy, and assassin.

1965 – Tridip Suhrud, Indian writer, translator, cultural historian, and political scientist.

1967 – Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. author and musician who considers himself a “self-taught modern New England transcendentalist.”

1970 – Nagaru Tanigawa, award-winning Japanese author, children’s writer, manga writer, and science-fiction writer.

1972 – Ena Lucía Portela, Cuban novelist, essayist, and short-story writer whose work focuses on lesbian subjects.

1974 – Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, Saudi Arabian-born Filipina writer, journalist, women’s advocate, environmentalist, and legislator.

1975 – Brandon Sanderson, Hugo Award-winning U.S. science-fiction and fantasy author who completed Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series as well as writing many of his own original works.

1979 – Robin Sloan, U.S. author who is best known for his bestselling debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore.

1980 – Victoria Koblenko, Ukrainian-born Dutch columnist, writer, actress, and television presenter.

1982 – Ndaba Thembekile Zweliyajika Mandela, South African author, spokesperson, AIDS activist, and political consultant who is the grandson of Nelson Mandela, the founder of the Mandela Project, and the co-founder and co-chair of Africa Rising Foundation.

1984 – Mariko Asabuki, award-winning Japanese novelist who was named one of Vogue Japan‘s 2011 Women of the Year.

December 18 Writer Birthdays

1567 – Cornelius à Lapide, Belgian writer, theologian, university teacher, and priest.

1626 – Christina, Queen of Sweden, Swedish queen who was a writer, autobiographer, mathematician, philosopher, patron of the arts, newspaper founder, and one of the most learned women of the 17th century; she was controversial for her masculine style of dressing, her refusal to marry, and her lavish spending habits. She abdicated the throne in 1654.

1760 – Knud Lyne Rahbek, Danish writer, poet, professor, critic, literary historian, and magazine editor.

1805 – Adolphe Dumas, French author and poet who was one of the group of poets who made 1830 an epoch in French literature.

1814 – Marie Colban, Norwegian novelist, journalist, memoirist, short-story writer, and translator.

1819 – Yakov Petrovich Polonsky, leading Russian Pushkinist poet who tried to uphold the waning traditions of Russian Romantic poetry during the heyday of realistic prose.

1824 – Lal Behari Dey, Bengali Indian author and journalist who converted to Christianity and became a Christian missionary himself.

1828 – Abraham Viktor Rydberg, important Swedish novelist categorized as a classical idealist; he has been called “Sweden’s last Romantic.”

1856 – Graciano López Jaena, Filipino journalist, orator, propagandist, and revolutionary, best known for his written work, La Solidaridad.

1857 – Rosa Harriet Newmarch, English poet and influential writer about music; beginning in 1897 she did extensive research on Russian music, visiting Russia often and working at the Imperial Public Library of Saint Petersburg; she became one of the first English critics to champion Russian music, and then did the same for Slovak music.

1858 – Kata Dalström (full name Anna Maria Katarina Dalström, née Carlberg), Swedish socialist, writer, and politician who has been called, “the mother of the Swedish socialist working class movement.”

1870 – Saki, pen name of British writer Hector Hugh Munro, known for his witty short stories.

1873 – Edith Joan Lyttleton, Australasian and New Zealand author who wrote as G.B.
Lancaster; she produced 13 novels, two serialized novels, a collection of short stories, and more than 250 other short stories, often writing about the formation of colonial identity and the legacy of imperialism in the lives of settlers and their descendants. She was New Zealand’s most widely read writer of the first half of the twentieth century.

1881 – Emilio Carrere, Spanish writer who is best known for his 1920 gothic historical novel La torre de los siete jorobados (The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks).

1888 – Sofía Sara Hübner Bezanill, Chilean feminist writer, journalist, and editor who was also known as Sara Hübner de Fresno and by her literary pseudonym Magda Sudermann).

1889 – Elsie Edith Bowerman, British lawyer, writer, suffragist, and RMS Titanic survivor.

1892 – María Esperanza Barrios, Uruguayan journalist, writer, and magazine co-founder who has often been cited as a precursor to the black feminist movement.

1899 – Vi Huyền Đắc, Vietnamese writer and playwright whose work denounced greed and poked fun at the Francophile Hanoi bourgeoisie.

1903 – Rokhl Auerbakh (also spelled Rokhl Oyerbakh and Rachel Auerbach), Israeli writer, essayist, historian, Holocaust scholar, and Holocaust survivor who wrote prolifically in both Polish and Yiddish, focusing on prewar Jewish cultural life and postwar Holocaust documentation and witness testimonies.

1905 – Banine (pen name for Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff), Azerbaijani and French writer who dedicated much of her writing to introducing the history and culture of Azerbaijan to France and Europe.

1907 – Christopher Fry, English poet and playwright whose dramas written in verse made him a key dramatist of the 1940s and 50s.

1908 – Bobojon Ghafurov (or Babadzan Gafurovich Gafurov), Tajik historian and academician who was the author of several books published in Russian and Tajik, including History of Tajikistan and The Tajiks.

1911 – Helen Vlachos, Greek writer, editor, author, activist, and newspaper publisher who was a legend of Greek journalism; for her refusal to acquiesce to the Greek junta’s demands that she censor her publications, for her resistance against the dictatorship, and for her contributions to freedom of the press, she was posthumously recognized as one of the World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute.

1913 – Alfred Bester, U.S. science-fiction author, screenwriter, comic-book writer, and magazine editor who won the first-ever Hugo award; he is credited with helping to invent modern science fiction.

1913 – Camil Sijaric, Yugoslavian novelist and short-story writer.

1915 – Vintilă Horia, award-winning Romanian writer and diplomat.

1917 – Ossie Davis, U.S. African-American dramatist, screenwriter, novelist, and actor who wrote the play Purlie Victorious and its musical adaptation Purlie, about a Southern Black preacher who hopes to establish a racially integrated church; he was married to actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee.

1917 – Jose Maria Rivarola Matto, Paraguayan writer, essayist, narrator, playwright, and short-story writer; one literary critic said of him, “Rivarola Matto knows how to create the characters and the ambient, and combines skillfully the serious and the hilarious. He’s maybe the only outstanding Paraguayan writer with a fine sense of humor.”

1918 – Hal Kanter, U.S. screenwriter and comedy writer who penned movies and television shows and created the pioneering sitcom Julia, starring Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse bringing up a young son alone; it was the first show to feature a Black female lead.

1923 – T.S. Satyan, Indian photographer, writer, and photojournalist.

1925 – Geulah Cohen, award-winning Israeli writer, journalist, publisher, and politician who founded the Tehiya party.

1927 – Sterling Lanier, U.S. science-fiction and fantasy writer, editor, and sculptor; as an editor, his greatest contribution was championing the publication of the manuscript for what became Frank Herbert’s bestselling novel Dune.

1927 – Marilyn Sachs, award-winning U.S. children’s and young-adult novelist who has written more than 30 books.

1932 – Na. Parthasarathy, award-winning Indian journalist, magazine editor, and writer of Tamil-language historical novels; his many pen names include Theeran, Aravindan, Manivannan, Ponmudi, Valavan, Kadalazhagan, Ilampooranan, and Sengulam Veerasinga Kavirayar.

1935 – Jacques Pépin, French chef, author, and television personality who has written many cookbooks.

1939 – Michael Moorcock, English author of science-fiction, fantasy, and literary novels.

1943 – Violet Barungi, Ugandan writer, novelist, children’s author, and editor.

1946 – Steve Biko, South African writer, political organizer, and anti-apartheid activist who published articles under the pseudonym Frank Talk, and whose best known work is the book I Write What I Like: Selected Writings and The Testimony Of Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa. After being tortured and beaten by state security officers, he died of a massive brain hemorrhage in 1977.

1948 – Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, German fantasy author, children’s novelist, screenwriter, and poet whose most famous contribution to children’s fantasy is the bestselling Little Vampire series; Sommer-Bodenburg says her vampire “is not a bloodthirsty monster, however, but an affectionate little vampire with fears and foibles who will perhaps help free children of their own fears.” The books have been adapted to theatre, radio, cinema, and television.

1949 – Koigi wa Wamwere, Kenyan writer, politician, human-rights activist, and journalist and writer, famous for opposing both the Jomo Kenyatta and the Daniel arap Moi regimes, both of which sent him to detention.

1950 – Leonard Maltin, U.S. film critic, film historian, and author.

1961 – A.M. Homes, controversial, award-winning U.S. writer; her novel The End Of Alice raised hackles for its subject matter, a convicted child molester and murderer.

1971 – Barkha Dutt, award-winning Indian television journalist, editor, and columnist.

1973 – Lucy Worsley, English historian, young-adult novelist, nonfiction author, Jane Austen biographer, curator, and television presenter. She is best known as a BBC presenter on historical topics, especially about the English aristocracy.

1974 – Mazarine Marie Pingeot, French writer, journalist, essayist, philosopher, and professor.

1981 – Nives Celzijus Drpić (born Nives Zeljković), Croatian columnist, writer, model, and singer; her husband is Greek football player Dino Drpić.

Photo Friday: Providence

A few weeks ago, walking along the Alexandria waterfront, we came upon this lovely tall ship, the sloop Providence. There’s something special about seeing an 18th century replica ship in the port of an 18th century city. We do like our history here.

The original ship Providence began life as the Katy, used as a whaler, privateer, and merchant ship. In 1775, the Katy became the flagship of the tiny Rhode Island navy. At its commissioning it was renamed the Providence, in honor of its city of origin.

The ship’s career as a naval vessel did not last long. In 1779, during the war for U.S. independence, it was burned in order to keep it from falling into British hands.

December 17 Writer Birthdays

1556 – Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, Indian Muslim poet and government minister, also known as simply Rahim; he was known for his Hindi dohe (couplets) and his books on astrology.

1706 – Émilie du Châtelet (full name Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet), French natural philosopher, mathematician, writer, and translator whose most recognized achievement is her translation of and commentary on Isaac Newton’s 1687 book Principia; her commentary includes a profound contribution to Newtonian mechanics—the postulate of an additional conservation law for total energy, of which kinetic energy of motion is one element.

1807 – John Greenleaf Whittier, U.S. Quaker poet, author, and abolitionist who was one of the Fireside Poets, a group of popular 18th-century poets associated with New England; their work was known for domestic themes and messages of morality, presented in conventional poetic forms.

1823 – Teréz Ferenczy, Hungarian poet who was only just beginning to see her works published when her shocking suicide brought her poems to wider prominence, with most of them published posthumously.

1830 – Jules de Goncourt, French novelist who published books together with his brother Edmond.

1873 – Ford Madox Ford (born Joseph Leopold Ford Hermann Madox Hueffer), prolific English novelist, poet, essayist, memoirist, critic, and editor best known for his novel The Good Soldier.

1884 – Alison Uttley (born Alice Jane Taylor), prolific English novelist, essayist, short-story writer, and children’s author, bests known for a children’s series about Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig, and for a pioneering timeslip novel for children, A Traveller in Time, about the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots.

1894 – Margaret Mary Leigh, English poet and novelist who lived in Scotland and wrote about life in crofting communities; she was the cousin of novelist Dorothy L.

1900 – Mary Lucy Cartwright, groundbreaking British mathematician and author who was one of the pioneers of what would later become known as chaos theory.

1903 – Erskine Caldwell, U.S. novelist, autobiographer, nonfiction author, essayist, and short-story writer who wrote about poverty, racism, and social issues.

1907 – Christianna Brand, Malaysian-born British screenwriter, crime writer, children’s author, short-story writer, and novelist who wrote under various pseudonyms, including Mary Ann Ashe, Mary Brand, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland, and China Thompson.

1908 – Sylvia Constance Ashton-Warner, New Zealand writer, poet, novelist, autobiographer, and educator.

1916 – Penelope Fitzgerald, Booker Prize-winning British author of historical fiction; the Times included her in its list of the 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945.

1919 – Es’kia Mphahlele, South African fiction writer and human-rights activist.

1921 – Anne Golon, French author, screenwriter, and journalist who is better known to English-speaking readers as Sergeanne Golon; her most famous work is a series of novels about a heroine named Angelique.

1926 – Solomon Adeboye Babalola, Nigerian poet, professor, and translator who wrote English translations of Yoruba oral poetry and traditional chants.

1929 – William Safire, U.S. author, columnist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter, best known for his novels and for his works on writing, language, and politics.

1931 – Yvonne Keuls, Indonesian-born Dutch writer and quiz show panelist who writes award-winning novels about social problems, as well as about herself and her family, in a realistic and sometimes humorous way.

1937 – John Kennedy Toole, U.S. author of A Confederacy of Dunces; his inability to have the book published deepened his depression and feelings of persecution, and he committed suicide. The book was published posthumously and received great acclaim, including a Pulitzer Prize. His only other novel, The Neon Bible, written when he was 16, was also published after his death.

1939 – Chong Hyon-jong, South Korean writer, reporter, poet, and professor whose poetry explores the dynamic tension between pain and happiness, and between reality and dream; his later work explores the acceptance of life and the wonders of nature, focusing on reconciliation rather than conflict.

1939 – Mustapha Matura (born Noel Matura), Trinidadian playwright and poet who lived in London most of his life and was called “the most perceptive and humane of Black dramatists writing in Britain.”

1944 – Jack L. Chalker, U.S. science-fiction novelist and short-story writer who was also a teacher.

1945 – Jacqueline Wilson, three-time Newbery Honor-winning U.S. poet and author of books for children and teens.

1947 – Golrokhsar Safi, Tajikistani writer, poet, newspaper editor, and prominent Iranologist who is knwon for her contributions to modern Persian poetry and folk songs and for being Tajikistan’s national poet.

1974 – Nika Georgievna Turbina, Russian poet famous for her profound and emotional poems; she published her first collection of poetry at the age of 10.

1987 – Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, U.S. writer and poet; her work covers such topics as mental illness and coming out as a transgender woman, as well as more traditional subjects such as love, anger, and beauty.

Twilight for Tangier

I recently joined an online group, Abandoned in Virginia. Members post photographs of abandoned buildings around the state; the emphasis is on stunning images of decaying buildings that were nevertheless glorious in their day. Yesterday I posted my first image, an abandoned home on Tangier Island. And I was floored by the responses I received.

So far, more than 1,200 people have reacted to my photo; many of those left comments. Typically, 100 or so people react to a photo, maybe 200. On rare occasions, the number goes up to 600 or 700.

I’ve been trying to figure out why my photo struck such a chord. It’s a nice enough photo, but I think the reasons may have more to do with the words. I think it’s about Tangier’s story. I wrote a paragraph describing what the island is now facing:

“I visited Tangier Island this summer. A lot of lovely old houses like this one have been left to rot away. There are few jobs on the island, and it’s harder and harder to make a living out of crabbing. Even worse, the bay is rising, the island is sinking, and Tangier will be uninhabitable in a few decades. So it’s understandable that few people can take on these old houses now. The island is beautiful, with such a fascinating history. If you haven’t seen it, go while you can. It’s well worth a visit.”

I think Tangier’s story touches people. And maybe on this site, where people come to admire and lament abandoned houses, people are especially inclined to admire and lament the upcoming demise of Tangier Island. Someday in the not-so-distant future, it will become an Abandoned Island.

My trip to Tangier was in July. I posted about it several times last summer. Tangier is a tiny island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, currently about three miles long and a mile and a half wide. I say “currently” because Tangier is sinking while the waters of the Bay rise around it. The island has lost two-thirds of its land since 1850, and the pace of its demise is increasing dramatically. Without intervention, Tangier will be uninhabitable in two decades. In the meantime, its 400 or so residents make a living from the sea and the tourist trade, and try to convince legislators that the island is worth the cost of the seawalls and other infrastructure necessary to save it.

The Abandoned Houses aficionados were sorry to see this modest but once-lovely home fall into ruin, and hated the idea of the island being swallowed up by the Bay, ending its fascinating history and unique culture, and sending its resilient residents to the mainland to start anew. Those who had visited shared their experiences. Those who had not visited asked questions about how to get there (on one of two ferries — for people, not cars — one from the mainland and one from the Eastern Shore), what it’s like, where to stay on the island, where to get the best crab cakes, and isn’t there a famous cake from the island that’s so popular it’s now on the menu at Silver Diner (no, that’s Tangier’s nearby neighbor, Smith Island, famous for its many-layered Smith Island Cake). Some decried the lack of political will to save the island. One woman posted a photo of the cottage she wanted to rent when she finally vacations there — and it was the same cottage I rented for our trip!

A couple of science deniers claimed that the island is not sinking, that normal erosion, not global climate change — which doesn’t exist — is all that’s chipping away at it. They said such changes were part of a normal, cyclical process that were no cause for concern, and that the island would grow again as soon as this particular cycle ended. Scientists do not agree with that assessment, of course, and are pretty certain that the island will be uninhabitable relatively soon, though there are differing estimates of exactly how much time is left.

I’m sure the residents who used to live in a town on Tangier that’s now well under water would agree that the island is doomed. Only one town remains, and its days are clearly numbered.

If you’d like to read some of my earlier posts about my trip to Tangier (and see a few more photos of the island), try here, and here, and here.

December 16 Writer Birthdays

My own birthday is December 16, 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.

Off Topic and Out of Line

Do you get annoyed by people who think that whatever they’re concerned about should take precedence over absolutely everything else? Like when you read a article about global climate change and someone remarks in the comments section, “I can’t believe you’re all worried about fuel emissions when women and their doctors are murdering thousands of unborn children!”

I once saw a Facebook post about volunteering to collect books for a book drive. One man responded by criticizing volunteers for working to get books to underprivileged children, when there are mistreated animals who are dying and need their help more.

Sometimes it’s nothing controversial. It may even be something you agree with that just has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Yesterday on a home renovation site, somebody posted a question about her attic windows. But her post was poorly worded. A lot of people did not understand what she was trying to say, and asked for clarity. I was part of that conversation, which veered off into the regional differences in grammatical usage that had contributed to the misunderstanding. The tone was civil. Nobody was coming down on the original poster; it was just a discussion of semantics, with different responders talking about the local usage where they live. Yes, some of us are interested in this kind of thing.

And then someone named Laurie complained, “Ya’ll need to get a grip! There are dead babies in Kentucky!”

What? Yes, tornadoes tore through Kentucky this week, and people are dead. That is tragic. But nothing in the post about attic windows had anything to do with the tornadoes in Kentucky. I’m mystified as to Laurie’s point. Anytime a tragedy happens, are we supposed to suspend all conversations about everything else? Is it somehow disrespectful to dead babies in Kentucky if people in other places continue to hold conversations about home renovations, or grammar? If Laura really believes that, then why was she in this conversation in the first place? (She does not live in Kentucky, if that makes any difference.)

It seems to be a way of hijacking a conversation and wrenching it in a direction that nobody else intended for it to go. It’s narcissistic. Laurie is saying, “My concern about tornado victims in Kentucky is more important than anything you were discussing; therefore you are in the wrong to be having this discussion at all.” She believes her interests take precedence over ours, though our interests were directly related to the post and hers were not.

Why do people think they have the right to tell others what they can discuss in a public forum? Does she think that bringing up dead babies, in a conversation on a wildly different topic, gives her the moral high ground and the right to tell us what we can talk about?

I’m seeing this so much lately, people lashing out at strangers for things no reasonable person would consider offensive. Are people more unreasonable than they used to be? Is it the pandemic? Or maybe the attitudes were always there, and the rise of social media has pulled them out of hiding and put them on display for all to see.

December 15 Writer Birthdays

1754 – Shaihu Usman dan Fodio (also known as Usuman ɓin Foduye, Shehu Uthman Dan Fuduye, and Shaikh Uthman Ibn Fodio), prolific and influential Fulani scholar, religious teacher, revolutionary, military leader, writer, promoter of Sunni Islam, and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate; he wrote extensively on religion, government, culture, and society, critiquing existing Muslim elites and encouraging literacy and scholarship, for women as well as men. He was lived in what is now northern Nigeria.

1867 – Georges Polti, French writer best known for his list of thirty-six dramatic situations.

1896 – Ann Nolan Clark, U.S. children’s writer, who won a Newbery Medal for Secret of the Andes.

1896 – Betty Smith, U.S. author best known for her novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is considered one of the great novels of the 20th century.

1897 – Mary Brooksbank, Scottish poet, songwriter, musician, mill worker, women’s rights activist, and trade unionist.

1897 – Zenta Mauriņa, Latvian writer, essayist, and researcher in philology.

1905 – Irawati Karve, Indian writer, poet, sociologist, anthropologist, and educator.

1913 – Muriel Rukeyser, U.S. poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism.

1917 – Shan-ul-Haq Haqqee (Urdu: شان الحق حقی), notable Indian-born Urdu poet, writer, journalist, broadcaster, translator, critic, researcher, linguist and lexicographer.

1920 – Gamal al-Banna, Egyptian author, liberal scholar, and trade unionist best known for his criticism of Islamic traditional narratives.

1923 – Alki Zei, award-winning Greek novelist and children’s writer.

1930 – Edna O’Brien, award-winning Irish novelist, memoirist, biographer, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and short-story writer; author Philip Roth once described her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men and to society as a whole; her first novel, The Country Girls, is credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II, resulting in the book being banned, burned, and denounced from the pulpit. O’Brien now lives in London.

1931 – Shuntarō Tanikawa, Japanese poet, writer, screenwriter, translator, lyricist, children’s writer, and novelist who is one of the most widely read and highly regarded of living Japanese poets, both in Japan and abroad.

1939 – Alan Armstrong, Newbery Honor-winning U.S. children’s author.

1933 – Vasireddy Seethadevi (Telugu: వాసిరెడ్డి సీతాదేవి), Indian writer in the Telugu language who published 42 novels, 10 short-story collections, and several essays; when her novel Mareechika was banned, she took the government to court and got her book released.

1953 – Robert Charles Wilson, U.S.-Canadian Hugo Award-winning science-fiction author.

1961 – Ahn Do-Hyun, South Korean poet, writer, and university professor.

1965 – José Tolentino de Mendonça (full name José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça), Portuguese writer, poet, playwright, essayist, theologian, university professor, and Catholic priest who is regarded as one of the most original voices of modern Portuguese literature.

1966 – Simone van der Vlugt, Dutch writer, crime novelist, historical novelist, young-adult author, and children’s writer.

1969 – Marion Poschmann, award-winning German novelist and poet.

1973 – Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Icelandic author, screenwriter, playwright, actor, writer, film producer, and theater director. He began his career as an internationally competitive gymnast.

1975 – Ayesha Hazarika, Scottish comedian, broadcaster, journalist, political commentator, and political advisor.

1978 – Sameh Sami (also spelled Samy), Egyptian writer and journalist who is editor-in-chief of a movie magazine.

1987 – Mayra Dias Gomes, Brazilian writer, novelist, reporter, and media personality.

Heat Wave

I took this photo of my kitchen window this morning. Yes, it is December. While it is a bright, sunny day, the actual temperature is in the mid to low 50s. This is what happens when you install a thermometer in direct sunlight!

Gotta find a new location for that thermometer….