January 25, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. It’s the birthday of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. It’s also the birthday of writers Virginia Woolf and Gloria Naylor. Burns provides our poem for today, which you’ll find below. Thank you for reading and listening to Bidwell Hollow.
It’s the birthday of the man regarded as the national poet of Scotland. That would be Robert Burns (Books by Burns; affiliate link), born in the village of Alloway, Scotland in 1759.
The son of a tenant farmer, Burns took over the farm when his father died in 1784. Burns spent much of the next two years writing poems, published as “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” in 1786.
The collection proved popular, selling out its first print run within a month. The book’s success caused Burns, who had been thinking about emigrating to the West Indies, to stay in Scotland.
Burns spent the final 10 years of his life writing poetry, and also collecting, adapting, and writing Scottish folk songs. Burns died at 37 in 1796.
Tonight in Scotland, and around the world, Burns Suppers will take place in the poet’s honor.
Started in 1801 by Burns’s friends, a Burns Supper features a toast to Burns and recitals of his poetry. Haggis, a pudding comprised of sheep’s innards, oatmeal, and spices, is served. One of the poems recited is Burns’s, “A Toast to Haggis.”
To end the evening, attendees sing “Auld Lang Syne,” an old Scottish song that Burns put to paper in 1788.
And today is the birthday of Gloria Naylor (Books by Naylor; affiliate link), born in 1950 in New York City.
Naylor won the 1983 National Book Award for First Novel for “The Women of Brewster Place.” The book contains seven connected stories of women living in a New York City housing project. Oprah Winfrey turned the book into an ABC miniseries starring herself, Robin Givens, and Cicely Tyson in 1989.
Growing up, Naylor spent a lot of time reading in the library. Yet she didn’t see herself reflected in what she read.
“In all of my early reading, I was never given anything to read that had been written by black Americans, and I believed for years that black people didn’t write books,” she said.
Naylor decided to tell her story. She published an essay in Essence magazine in 1979 that would end up as a chapter in “The Women of Brewster Place.”
Naylor’s novels focused on the black American experience. They touched on issues such as sexism, poverty, morality, and racism. Her other novels include 1985’s “Linden Hills” and 1992’s “Bailey’s Cafe.
Also born today in London in 1884 was Virginia Woolf (Books by Woolf; affiliate link).
Many know Woolf for her novels, such as “Mrs. Dalloway,” published in 1925. But she also championed equality for women. This is particularly true in two book-length essays she wrote, “A Room of One’s Own” and “Three Guineas.”
In “A Room of One’s Own,” published in 1929, Woolf advocates for women to be financially independent. She argues that a lack of money has hindered female writers. She wrote, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom, and women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time.”
“Three Guineas” published in 1938, as the world stood on the precipice of world war. The essay is a reply from Woolf to a man who’s written a letter asking her to support his efforts to prevent war. Woolf’s writing laments the absence of women leaders and lackluster support for educating women.
Woolf knew a thing or two about breaking convention. Her fiction pushed novels beyond the Victorian era. They used stream of consciousness. And her novels often included aspects of life left out of Victorian stories.
But Woolf battled mental illness most of her life. She had her first breakdown at 13 when her mother died, and her first known suicide attempt at 29.
In 1941, at 59, Woolf succeeded in taking her own life. In a note to her husband, Leonard, she wrote, “I have fought against it but cannot fight any longer. I owe all my happiness to you but cannot go on and spoil your life.”
Today is the birthday of Stephen Chbosky (Books by Chbosky; affiliate link).
Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1970, Chbosky wrote a coming-of-age story inspired by his teenage years. The book, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” published in 1999. It received the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2000 Best Book for Young Adults award.
Because of its depiction of teenagers dealing with issues such as drugs and sex, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” often appears on the ALA’s Top Ten Most Challenged Book Lists. It last made the list in 2014.
Chbosky wrote and directed the film version of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” starring a 12-year-old Emma Watson.
The writer’s most recent project is the movie “Wonder,” which he directed and wrote. The film features Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson and is an adaption of R. J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name.
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians” Premiers
And on this date in 1961, Walt Disney Productions released “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.” The movie’s based on the children’s novel, “The Hundred and One Dalmatians.”
The book, written by Dodie Smith, released in 1956.
A Red, Red Rose
O my luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
O I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
– Robert Burns, Public Domain