January 24, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Jan. 24, 2018. It’s Edith Wharton’s birthday, and it’s the birthday of singer/songwriter Neil Diamond. Claude McKay’s “On Broadway” is our poem for today. If you enjoy Bidwell Hollow, please share us with others. Thank you for reading, listening to, and sharing Bidwell Hollow.
Born today in 1862 in New York City was Edith Newbold Jones. We know her today as Edith Wharton (Books by Wharton; affiliate link).
Wharton’s family, which were well-to-do, moved to Europe after the Civil War. They returned to New York in 1873, and Wharton grew up a member of the city’s high society.
As was common in those days, Wharton received her education at home. With access to her father’s library, she spent a good deal of time reading.
She started writing prose and poetry at a young age, but her family offered little support. She did some of her earliest creative work on brown paper discarded from packages.
At 11 she wrote a story that began: “‘Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?’ said Mrs. Tompkins. ‘If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing room.'”
Wharton showed the story to her mother, who said, “Drawing-rooms are always tidy.”
Despite the lack of familial encouragement, Wharton continued to write. She published some short story collections and became a bestselling author for the first time with 1905’s “The House of Mirth.”
Wharton married in 1885 and divorced in 1913. That year she permanently moved to France, settling in Paris.
During World War I, Wharton ran charities helping women and orphaned refugee children. And after the war, the French government awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
Wharton’s books often reflected her upper-class background. This was no more reflected than in her 1920 novel, “The Age of Innocence.” Set in 1870s New York high society, it’s the story of a man whose upcoming marriage is threatened by the arrival of another woman.
“Age of Innocence” won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making her the first woman to win a Pulitzer.
But her win was not without controversy. The Pulitzer jury actually selected Sinclair Lewis’s “Main Street” for the prize. But Columbia University trustees overturned the decision. Their concern was that “Main Street” wasn’t “wholesome” enough to win the Pulitzer.
When Wharton learned of the controversy, she wrote to Lewis, “When I discovered that I was being rewarded — by one of our leading Universities — for uplifting American morals, I confess I did despair. Subsequently, when I found the prize shd [sic] really have been yours, but was withdrawn because your book (I quote from memory) had ‘offended a number of prominent persons in the Middle West,’ disgust was added to despair.”
In all, Edith Wharton published 38 books before she passed away in 1937.
Today is also the birthday of singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, born in Brooklyn in 1941.
Diamond’s songwriting credits include The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” and his own “Cracklin’ Rose” and “Sweet Caroline.” The latter song is sung in the eighth inning of every Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
About songwriting, Diamond told an interviewer in 2014, “I hate it. But all right, nobody told me it was gonna be easy. And so what? I’m a ditch-digger when I’m writing songs. My back hurts? Who cares? I gotta get that ditch dug deep and strong and it’s gotta serve its purpose. There are no shortcuts. There are only long cuts. That’s what it is.”
On Monday, Diamond announced he’s retiring from touring due to Parkinson’s disease.
Gold Discovered in California
On this date in 1848, John Wilson Marshall spotted flecks of gold in California’s American River. Marshall had been building a water-powered sawmill for John Sutter.
Word of gold in California got out and people, mostly men, flocked to the U.S. territory in hopes of striking it rich. In 1849, an estimated 80,000 people came to California. By 1853, about 250,000 had arrived in California looking for gold.
By the early 1860s, the gold rush was over. But that didn’t stop a man named Samuel Clemens from making his way to California. That’s where he heard a tale he turned into a story, published under a pen name. The story was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and it became the first commercial success for Mark Twain.
C. L. Moore
It’s the birthday of the writer C. L. Moore (Books by Moore; affiliate link). She was born Catherine Lucille Moore in 1911 in Indianapolis.
Moore worked as a bank secretary in the 1930s. She spent time writing after hours on an interior balcony of the bank.
Her first professional story published in Weird Tales magazine in November 1933. To keep her employer from knowing she was the author, she used the pen name C. L. Moore.
Moore published more work in Weird Tales. And in 1934 she released her first science fiction story, “The Bright Illusion,” in Astounding Science Fiction.
Moore married fellow writer Harry Kutner. The two became a writing duo. They wrote stories together, publishing under pseudonyms such as Lewis Padgett and C. H. Liddell.
But when Kutner died of a heart attack in 1958, Moore stopped writing stories. She transitioned to TV screenwriting, before leaving writing altogether.
Moore received several accolades from the science fiction and fantasy communities during her lifetime. She died in 1987 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998.
About me young and careless feet
Linger along the garish street;
Above, a hundred shouting signs
Shed down their bright fantastic glow
Upon the merry crowd and lines
Of moving carriages below.
Oh wonderful is Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.
Desire naked, linked with Passion,
Goes strutting by in brazen fashion;
From playhouse, cabaret and inn
The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze
All gay without, all glad within;
As in a dream I stand and gaze
At Broadway, shining Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.
– Claude McKay, Public Domain