Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History – January 17, 2018
Today is Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. It’s the birthday of poet William Stafford and the youngest Brontë sister, Anne. Also celebrating birthdays today are writers Tiya Miles and Sebastian Junger. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Snow-Flakes” is our poem for today. Also, our Bidwell Hollow podcast is now available on iTunes and Android.
Born today in 1820 in Yorkshire, England, the youngest of the six Brontë children. That would be Anne (affiliate link).
We don’t know a lot about Anne. But we do know she and her sister, Emily, spent years creating together an imaginary world. They wrote stories and poems about that world, which they named Gondal.
Anne’s older sister, Charlotte, discovered some of those poems. The sisters felt Charlotte had invaded their privacy, but their oldest sibling had an idea. Emily and Anne should combine some of their poems with hers and publish them as a collection.
Emily and Anne agreed under two conditions. The collection would publish under pseudonyms and all references to Gondal were removed. The collection, “Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell,” came out in 1846. Acton Bell represented Anne.
A year later, Anne published her first novel, “Agnes Grey.” And her second novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” released in 1848. Both books published under the pseudonym Acton Bell.
Those were the only two books Anne would create. She died of tuberculosis in 1849.
It’s the birthday of poet William Stafford (affiliate link), born in 1914 in Hutchinson, KS.
Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II. Because of this, the government interned him in work camps in Arkansas and California. He published a memoir of this experience, “Down My Heart,” in 1947.
He then became an English professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR. Stafford taught there until 1980.
Over the years Stafford published several books of prose and poetry. He won a 1963 National Book Award in Poetry for this collection “Traveling Through the Dark.” In his acceptance speech, he said, “Out of the wilderness of possibility comes a vine without a name, and his poem is growing with it.”
Stafford served as U.S. Poet Laureate in 1970. He received the Robert Frost Medal in 1993, the year he passed away.
Also born today, in Cincinnati, OH in 1970 was Dr. Tiya Miles (affiliate link). She’s the author of, most recently, “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits.”
The book focuses on the role of African-Americans and Native Americans in the founding of Detroit. It’s Native American and African-American history that’s been the center of Miles’s work. Along with writing, Miles is a history professor at the University of Michigan.
Miles, who had been studying African-American history, developed an interest in Native American history through her husband, Joseph Gone. Gone is a member of the Gros Ventre tribe. He and Miles met when they were students at Harvard.
“Until him, I had a single focus — African-American history,” Miles said. “But, when I began looking into it, oh my God — Native-American history is just as fascinating and full of struggle and challenge and resistance and strength as African-American history.”
Miles received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2011. She said that honor gave her the courage and confidence to complete her first novel, “The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts,” in 2015.
The book is about three present-day women who visit a former plantation where Native Americans owned slaves. The basis for the story comes from Miles’s research into the real Chief Vann House Historic Site in Chatsworth, Georgia.
Today is also the birthday of Sebastian Junger (affiliate link). He made a name for himself with 1997’s “The Perfect Storm: A Story of Men Against the Sea.”
The book tells the story of six fishermen who died when their boat gets caught in a vicious storm off the coast of New England.
Junger was an unknown freelance journalist when he read a newspaper article about some fishermen lost at sea. He wrote an outline for a book and sent it to an agent. The publisher W. W. Norton & Company paid Junger a $35,000 advance.
To write “The Perfect Storm,” Junger moved into his parents summer house at Cape Cod. A piece of plywood nailed to two sawhorses served as his writing desk. For three years Junger worked on the book, living off the advance and money he made doing part-time tree trimming work.
The book was a hit when it released. It spent more than 129 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. It’s sold more than 4.1 million copies. A movie version of the book came out in 2000, starring George Clooney, Diane Lane, and Mark Wahlberg.
Junger has published several books and magazine articles since “The Perfect Storm.” He co-directed a 2010 documentary about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He earned an Oscar nomination for the film, “Restrepo.”
Photojournalist Tim Hetherington was Junger’s co-director on that film. A year after “Restrepo’s” release, Hetherington was killed while covering the civil war in Libya.
Hetherington’s death put an end to Junger covering war. About this Junger said, “You don’t go to war unless you’re excited by it. You don’t leave it until you’re tremendously saddened by it.”
And today in Boston in 1706 Benjamin Franklin (affiliate link) was born.
Franklin participated in the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The goal was to establish a government for the United States of America. But near the end of the Convention, there was concern the delegates wouldn’t come to an agreement. Franklin addressed his fellow delegates.
In a speech recorded by future U.S. President James Madison, Franklin implored his fellow delegates to support the Constitution. It wasn’t a perfect document, he admitted, but he argued there would never be a perfect Constitution.
Thirty-nine of the Convention’s 42 delegates ended up signing the Constitution.
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (affiliate link), Public Domain