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Photo of Edgar Allan Poe.

January 19, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History

Today is Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. It’s also the birthday of singer/songwriters Dolly Parton and Janis Joplin, writer Patricia Highsmith and publisher John H. Johnson. Today’s poem and a podcast version of this post are below. Thank you for reading, listening to, and sharing Bidwell Hollow.

Edgar Allan Poe

It’s the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe (affiliate link), author of poems such as “The Raven,” and stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher.”Photo of Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe was 18 and in Boston when he published his first poetry collection, “Tamerlane, and Other Poems.” He left his name off the pamphlet, though, signing the copy as “A Bostonian.”

Money trouble caused Poe to enlist in the U.S. Army, joining as Edgar A. Perry. After a stint at Boston Harbor’s Fort Independence, Poe was transferred in November 1827 to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, SC. Poe remained on Sullivan’s for 13 months.

Sixteen years after leaving the island, Poe used it as a setting for “The Gold-Bug.” It’s the story of a man who believes a bug is leading him to buried treasure on Sullivan’s Island.

“The Gold-Bug” is the first time cryptography was used in a work of fiction. The story inspired future writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote “Treasure Island.”

Poe seemed not to forget Sullivan’s Island, and today Sullivan’s Island doesn’t forget Poe. On the island, you’ll find a restaurant named Poe’s Tavern and the Edgar Allan Poe Library.

John H. Johnson

Affiliate link

Today is also the birthday of the man who created the largest black-owned publishing company in the United States. That’s John H. Johnson (affiliate link), born in 1918 in Arkansas City, AR.

While in college, Johnson worked at Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Co. Supreme was at the time the largest black-owned company in the U.S. Part of Johnson’s job was to read clippings from black newspapers across the country. This exposure gave Johnson a business idea.

He couldn’t get a bank to loan him money for his idea, so he reached out to Supreme’s 20,000 customers. Johnson offered them a discount charter subscription for a publication he was starting. The effort raised $6,000, which he used to launch Negro Digest in 1942. The magazine’s monthly circulation reached 50,000 within its first year.

Johnson parlayed this success into his next venture, Ebony magazine, which he launched in 1945. Ebony featured black Americans on its covers and published black writers within its pages. Writers who’ve published in Ebony range from Langston Hughes to Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Johnson received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.

Janis Joplin

Also born today in 1943 in Port Arthur, TX was Janis Joplin (affiliate link).

The first line of a song by poet Michael McClure inspired Joplin to write one of her most popular songs, “Mercedes Benz.” The song begins, “Come on, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz.”

Joplin wrote the song at a bar in Port Chester, NY in 1970. She recorded it on a lark later that year in a studio in Los Angeles. Joplin died of a heroin overdose three days later.

At least 30 artists have covered “Mercedes Benz” since 1971. The song’s chorus begins:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends…

Patricia Highsmith

Affiliate link

It’s also the birthday of writer Patricia Highsmith (affiliate link), born in Fort Worth, TX in 1921.

Highsmith wrote thrillers, such as “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Strangers on a Train.” But she did write one love story, 1952’s “The Price of Salt.”

The idea for “The Price of Salt” came to Highsmith in 1948. She was a freelance comic book writer in New York City, making extra money by working at Bloomingdale’s during the Christmas shopping season.

A woman who came into the store one night enthralled Highsmith.

Highsmith left work that night and drafted an eight-page outline for “The Price of Salt.” It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old woman in New York City in a relationship with a thirty-something suburban housewife.

“The Price of Salt” published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. The book’s paperback version sold nearly one million copies.

Highsmith didn’t admit to writing the book until 1984.

Dolly Parton

And today is the birthday of singer and songwriter Dolly Parton (affiliate link), born in 1946 in Locust Ridge, TN.

Parton grew up the fourth of 12 kids in a one-room log cabin. She left for Nashville after graduating high school in 1964.

Her big break came in 1967 when country singer Porter Wagoner hired Parton to join his television show. That same year she had her first hit, the song “Something Fishy.”

Parton recently received two Guinness World Records. One record is for the most decades with a top 20 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. The other record is for the most hits, 107, on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart by a female artist.

Parton has written over 700 songs, including her hits “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.” She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.

About songwriting, Parton said, “I love getting on a big writing binge and staying up a couple days working on a song and knowing at the end of those two or three days that I’ve created something that was never in the world before. It’s like a feeling of creating, not that the same stories ain’t been told before, but it ain’t been told through my point of view.”


From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were–I have not seen

As others saw–I could not bring

My passions from a common spring–

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow–I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone–

And all I lov’d–I lov’d alone–

Then–in my childhood–in the dawn

Of a most stormy life–was drawn

From ev’ry depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still–

From the torrent, or the fountain–

From the red cliff of the mountain–

From the sun that ‘round me roll’d

In its autumn tint of gold–

From the lightning in the sky

As it pass’d me flying by–

From the thunder, and the storm–

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view–

– Edgar Allan Poe, Public Domain

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