February 1, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Poets celebrating birthdays today include Langston Hughes and Galway Kinnell. It’s also the birthday of writer Meg Cabot and the start of Black History Month. And Emily Dickinson’s “A Day” is our poem for today. Thank you for reading, listening to, and sharing Bidwell Hollow.
Today is the birthday of Langston Hughes (affiliate link), born in Joplin, MO in 1902.
After high school, Hughes went to New York City to attend Columbia University. There he spent time in Harlem, connecting with other artists such as Arna Bontemps and Carl Van Vechten.
As the Harlem Renaissance took hold, so did Hughes’ career. He published poetry collections, such as “The Weary Blues” (1926) and “Let America Be America Again” (1938). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935.
And Hughes published prose and wrote plays. His play, “Mulatto,” premiered on Broadway in 1935. He opened theater companies in Harlem and Los Angeles.
Hughes’ writing connected with people because it reflected their lives as they were. He didn’t glamorize or gloss over what it was like to be black in America.
This is most exemplified with a made-up character Hughes introduced in 1942 named Jesse B. Semple. Called Simple for short, the character first appeared in a column Hughes wrote for The Chicago Defender.
Simple, a poor black man, shares stories from his life. He covers his misfortunes in all aspects of life, including money and women. Simple’s tales rang true to many black Americans.
Hughes took Simple from The Chicago Defender to The New York Post. And he published Simple books from the 1950s to the mid-1960s.
Today, many view Hughes as a major part of African-American literature and history.
Hughes, who passed away in 1967, once wrote, “Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people—the beauty within themselves.”
Also born today, in 1967 in Bloomington, IN, was Meg Cabot (affiliate link). She’s the author of nearly 80 books, which have sold over 25 million copies.
Cabot’s books include “The Princess Diaries” series. The series started in 2000 with the first book, “The Princess Diaries.” It’s the story of a New York city teenager who discovers she’s the princess of a small European country.
Disney turned the book into a film in 2001 starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. When Disney called to option the book’s movie rights, they told Cabot they wanted to kill the teenage princess’ father.
Cabot said Disney told her, “’Well, we have this actress, who’s a really big actress, that we want to play the grandmother. And we wanna make her role much bigger, and kinda raise the stakes, and give her a lot more lines, and we think we can give her a lotta the dad—the dad lines.’ And I was like, ‘Well who’s the actress?’ And they were like, ‘Julie Andrews.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, kill the dad.’”
To date, 18 books make up “The Princess Diaries” series, published in 38 countries. Disney released a second “Princess Diaries” movie in 2004.
Cabot’s writing career started as a kid writing Star Wars fanfiction. In college, she wrote romance novels.
But it wasn’t until her father died of cancer that Cabot started sending her manuscripts to publishers.
“If there’s something you really want to do, you need to do it. The worst thing that can happen, I thought, is someone can die who you love, not that you can get a rejection from some dumb publisher,” she said.
Lincoln Signs the 13th Amendment Resolution
On this date in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint resolution submitting the proposed 13th Amendment to U.S. states for approval. The Amendment banned slavery in the United States.
The U.S. Senate approved the resolution in 1864. And the House of Representatives approved the resolution on Jan. 31, 1865.
Lincoln didn’t have to sign the resolution. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require a President’s signature before an Amendment goes to the states for ratification. But Lincoln’s signature was symbolic.
Three-fourths of the states ratified the Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865. It became part of the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 18 of that year.
And born today in Providence, RI in 1927 was poet Galway Kinnell (affiliate link). He wrote plain-spoken poetry that everyday folks could understand.
Kinnell published his first volume of poems, “What a Kingdom It Was,” in 1960. Then he produced 18 collections of his poetry over the next 46 years. His last volume was 2006’s “Strong Is Your Hold.”
In 1983, Kinnell won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for his collection, “Selected Poems.” The following year, Kinnell received a MacArthur Fellowship.
Along with writing poems, Kinnell took up causes such as the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.
Kinnell said, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”
In his poem, “Another Night in the Ruins,” Kinnell wrote:
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes…
I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”
But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while
Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.
– Emily Dickinson, Public Domain