Category Archives: Literary Birthdays

Literary Birthdays: James Michener

February 3 is the birthdate of James A. Michener (1907 – 1997), Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. And, while a quick look at my reading list might tell you that I really, really prefer women authors, I have read several of Michener’s works. Most of them (and all of the ones I have read) are historical in nature and researched by a team of assistants.

His works of fiction include:

Tales of the South Pacific (1948)–won Pulitzer Prize
The Fires of Spring (1949)
The Voice of Asia (1951)
The Bridges at Toko Ri (1953)
Sayonara (1954)
Hawaii (1959)
Report of the County Chairman (1961)
Caravans (1963)
The Source (1965)
The Drifters (1971)
Quality of Life (1971)
Centennial (1974)
Chesapeake (1978)
The Covenant (1980)
Space (1982)
Poland (1983)
Texas (1986)
Legacy (1987)
Alaska (1988)
Journey (1988)
Caribbean (1989)
The Eagle and the Raven (1990)
Mexico (1992)
Recessional (1994)
Miracle in Seville (1995)
Matecumbe (2007)

If you only have time for one, I recommend Centennial. Happy Reading!


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Thesaurus Day?

                                                                               According to Holiday Insights, today is Thesaurus Day because it is the birth date of Peter Mark Roget (1779), the author of the reference book Roget’s Thesaurus

Roget was a British doctor, theologian, and lexicographer (dictionary writer in a practical and theoretical sense). He was so obsessed with making lists that his family and friends noted it as a character trait as early as eight years old. His lists were thought to help battle his depression, a result (in part) of grief–his father and wife died young and evidently an uncle committed suicide in his presence.

Most of Roget’s life was focused on a concern about medical education, and he helped to found the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

Around 1805, Roget began compiling the list that was to eventually become the Thesaurus. When he retired in 1840, he devoted many years to getting this “list” ready for publication. When it was published in 1852, it was called Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.

To Roget, the thesaurus was a coping mechanism. To the rest of the world, the Thesaurus has become an invaluable tool for writers and students wanting (or needing) to expand their vocabularies.

Happy Reading!

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Literary Birthdays: Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice

Today is the birth date of Kentucky-born novelist Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice (1870-1942).

Rice wrote the bestselling Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1901), which is set in Louisville, Kentucky (my hometown!).  (It was made into a movie starring W.C. Fields in 1934.) The book is “a social commentary on residents of the ‘Cabbage Patch’ area just west of today’s Old Louisville,” according to “Old Louisville in Literature.” This geographic area of focus is described in the book: “It was not a real cabbage patch, but a queer neighborhood, where ramshackle cottages played hop-scotch over the railroad tracks. There were no streets, so when a new house was built the owner faced it any way his fancy prompted.” The book focuses on the insurmountable poverty of the Wiggs family in this shantytown, and their various successes overcoming their economic and social circumstances. The book is available for free from Project Gutenberg, as are many of her works.

Other full-length works by Rice include

  • Lovey Mary (1903)
  • Sandy (1905)
  • Captain June (1907)
  • Mr. Opp (1909)
  • A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill (1912)
  • The Honorable Percival (1914).

Happy Reading!

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Happy Birthday, Zora Neale Hurston

Today is the birth date of Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Book 393 in the 1001 Books List: Their Eyes were Watching God.

Written in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in central and southern Florida in the early 1900s. It is the story of a woman named Janie Crawford, who is in her early forties and African American. Much of the story is told in flashbacks via her best friend Pheoby.

Janie’s story is understood in three periods divided by her marriages to three different men.

Logan: Janie is result of a rape and is raised by her grandmother who arranges her marriage to an older farmer, Logan Killicks, when she fears Janie is becoming too sexual. Janie’s grandmother thinks the marriage will provide stability for Janie, but Janie thinks love is more important. It turns out, though, that Logan is more concerned with having a servant than with loving a wife. Instead of being forced to work on the farm, Janie runs away with Joe Starks.

Joe: Joe takes Janie to Eatonville, where he sets up as a shopkeeper and gets himself appointed mayor of the town. Janie soon learns, though, that Joe is very concerned with image and wants a “trophy” wife who does not participate in the seedier side of life (much of which is happening on the porch of his store). Joe dies, though, leaving Janie financially independent and the object of pursuit from many eligible suitors.

Tea Cake: Janie, though, falls in love with a drifter / gambler named Vergible Woods but called Tea Cake. So she sells the store and they move to the Everglades. Then, the Okeechobee hurricane hits, and while they survive, Tea Cake is injured trying to save Janie from drowning. Somehow, he is bit by a rabid dog, and he gets rabies. Out of his mind from the disease, he tries to kill Janie, but instead she shoots him in self defense. She is arrested for murder. At her trial, his friends (all black and male) oppose her and a group of local white women show up to support her. She is acquitted and the friends forgive her and want her to stay in town, but she decided to return to Eatonville. The story ends with her going back to find everyone gossiping about her.

This is a great book, a classic for many reasons, but especially because of how it tackles race and gender. I hope you will give it a try! Happy Reading.


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Happy Birthday, Carl Sandburg

Today is the birth date of Carl Sandburg. Sandburg is mostly known for his poetry. The most famous or well-known quote from Carl Sandburg is probably his description of Chicago as: “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,/Stormy, Husky, Brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.” 

In addition to writing poetry, Sandburg also wrote non-fiction (in fact he won his first Pulitzer prize for a biography of President Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln: The War Years) and fairy tales in a collection he entitled Rootabaga Stories.  These stories were originally created for his own daughters because he wanted them to have stories of American experience, since he thought European fairy tales of knights and princesses were culturally specific to European experience. Instead, he set his stories in the Midwest in a place called Rootabaga Country, populated by farms and corn fairies. These stories are also filled with what is often called “nonsensical” language (think Jabberwocky or even Dr. Seuss), but they were not simply intended for children. Sandburg himself wrote that these stories were  “. . . attempts to catch fantasy, accents, pulses, eye flashes, inconceivably rapid and perfect gestures, sudden pantomimic moments, drawls and drolleries, gazings and musings–authoritative poetic instants–knowing that if the whir of them were caught quickly and simply enough in words, the result would be a child lore interesting to child and grown-up.”

Happy Reading!


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Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Today is the birth date of Jane Austen (1775-1817), one of the greatest literary writers of all time. All of her novels are on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.  To celebrate, pick up a copy of one of her books (most of which are available for free from Google Books or at Project Gutenberg

  • Mansfield Park (Book 65 on the 1001 Books List)
  • Lover’s Vows (play within MP)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Book 64 on the 1001 Books List)
  • Emma (Book 66 on the 1001 Books List)
  • Persuasion (Book 69 on the 1001 Books List)
  • Sense and Sensibility (Book 62 on the 1001 Books List)
  • Northanger Abbey (Book 70 on the 1001 Books List)

I am not sure if my favorite is Pride and Prejudice or Emma, honestly. I may have to reread them both! Until tomorrow, Happy Reading!

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Happy Birthday, Emily

Today is the birthday of American poet Emily Dickinson. On this day in 1830, Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts where she lived in what most scholars consider relative seclusion most of her life. Her poems were published posthumously and usually edited severely for many years. Despite unfavorable reviews in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, an unaltered collection of her poetry became available in 1955 when The Poems of Emily Dickinson was published by Thomas H. Johnson.

Dickinson’s poetry is usually divided into five categories. The first is referred to as the “Flowers and Gardens” poems and it should not be a surprise that she wrote about such topics since in her lifetime since she was more known for being a botanist than a writer while alive. The next category is often called the “master poems.” Another category of Dickinson poems is referred to as the “morbidity” poems or the poems about life and death. Dickinson also wrote “gospel poems.” And maybe lesser known, the poems about “the undiscovered continent” are often about visiting the mind or the spirit as if they were tangible, physical places.

One of Dickinson’s short poems that really appeals to me is “How happy is the little stone.”

How happy is the little stone  
That rambles in the road alone,  
And doesn’t care about careers,  
And exigencies never fears;  
Whose coat of elemental brown         5
A passing universe put on;  
And independent as the sun,  
Associates or glows alone,  
Fulfilling absolute decree  
In casual simplicity.  

 Sometimes I wish life were more simple. See you next week. Until then, Happy Reading!

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