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January 29, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History

Today is Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. It’s the birthday of writers Anton Chekhov, Robin Morgan, and Thomas Paine. And it’s on this date, in 1845, that Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” published for the first time. Our poem for today is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Block City.” Thank you for reading, listening to, and sharing Bidwell Hollow.

Anton Chekhov

Born today in 1860 in Taganrog, Russia was Anton Chekhov (affiliate link). He’s considered by many to be the father of the modern short story.

But Chekhov didn’t start out writing serious fiction. He was a medical student in Moscow in 1880. His family was in financial trouble. To help out, he began writing short humorous stories for comic magazines. His first of these appeared in the March 1880 issue of a St. Petersburg weekly titled Strekoza, or Dragonfly.

Hundreds of Chekhov’s comedic stories published in magazines and newspapers, all under pseudonyms.

One of the more prestigious publications, Oskolki, or Fragments, began publishing Chekhov’s writing. But Oskolki’s editor, Nicolas Leykin, required that stories not exceed two-and-a-half pages in length. Thus Chekhov had to tell a story in fewer words.

It wasn’t until 1885 that Chekhov published using his real name. And that was only because the editor of the St. Petersburg newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times) refused to publish Chekhov’s work under a pen name. Chekhov, who was by that time a physician, had wanted to preserve his real name for when he published in medical journals.

But stories written by Anton Chekhov began appearing in Novoye Vremya.

And then, in 1888, Chekhov published his first serious piece of literature. “Steppe” appeared in the Russian literary journal Severny Vestnik. It’s a short story about a nine-year-old boy traveling across the plains of southern Russia.

“Steppe” started Chekhov’s literary career. The piece became the first of more than 50 short stories Chekhov published in his life. These stories include what’s now called “The Little Trilogy.” The trilogy includes the stories, “The Man in a Case,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love.”

Along with short stories, Chekhov wrote plays, many of which are still revered today. Among his most renowned dramas are “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard.”

And Chekhov even worked as an investigative journalist. He visited Sakhalin Island, a penal colony for imperial Russia. He observed the island’s conditions and took a census of its inhabitants. He published his findings in nine articles in Novoye Vremya in 1893-1894.

Chekhov died of tuberculosis in 1904.

Robin Morgan

Also born today, in 1942 in Lake Worth, FL, was the poet and writer Robin Morgan (affiliate link).

Affiliate link

Morgan spent her early years in show business, first on radio and then television. She starred from age seven to 14 on the TV show, “Mama.”

But then Morgan started focusing on writing. She began publishing poems in literary magazines at 17.

Her first poetry collection, “Monster,” published in 1972. It sold 30,000 copies within its first six months. Many called the book “the anthem of the women’s movement.”

Not all were happy with “Monster,” though. The volume contained a poem, “Arraignment,” in which Morgan blamed writer Sylvia Plath’s widower, Ted Hughes, for Plath’s death.

Hughes threatened to sue the publisher, Random House. Random House withdrew the book. That triggered the publication of, with Morgan’s permission, underground, pirated editions.

In total, Morgan has published more than 20 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

This includes her “Sisterhood is Powerful” anthology, published in 1970. It’s considered by some a foundational text for modern feminism. And in 1995 the New York Public Library included the anthology on its list of most influential books in the 20th century.

“The Raven” is Published

Affiliate link

On this date in 1845 Edgar Allan Poe’s (affiliate link) “The Raven” published for the first time.

Poe sold the poem to a political journal, The American Review, for $9. The journal planned to publish the poem in its February 1845 issue under the pseudonym Quarles.

But the New York Evening Mirror got a copy of the poem, likely off of The American Review’s printing proofs. And the Mirror published “The Raven” under Poe’s name on Jan. 29, 1845.

The poem was popular and newspapers across the country reprinted “The Raven.” Copyright law at the time didn’t force publishers to compensate Poe for printing his work, though.

Poe became famous for but made very little money from the poem.

“The Raven” was reportedly a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln. And in 1996 the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens became the only major sports team named after a poem.

Thomas Paine

Also born today, in Thetford, England, in 1737 was Thomas Paine (affiliate link).

Paine came to America in 1774. Two years later, he wrote the first document that advocated for American independence from Britain. That document was the 50-page pamphlet “Common Sense.” It published on Jan. 10, 1776.

Throughout the American Revolution, Paine published the “Crisis” papers. Paine wrote the papers to boost morale throughout the colonies.

The first Crisis paper published on Dec. 19, 1776. It begins with the now-famous sentence, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

After the Revolutionary War, Paine published “Rights of Man” in 1791. The book defended the French Revolution and championed humanity’s natural and civil rights. Paine also used the book to argue for government support of the elderly, education, and the poor.

Then, in 1794, Paine published “The Age of Reason.” The book advocates for the philosophy of Deism. And it made Paine unpopular for what some viewed as his attack on Christianity.

Thomas Paine died in New York in 1809. Six people attended his funeral.

“Block City”

What are you able to build with your blocks?

Castles and palaces, temples and docks.

Rain may keep raining, and others go roam,

But I can be happy and building at home.


Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,

There I’ll establish a city for me:

A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,

And a harbor as well where my vessels may ride.


Great is the palace with pillar and wall,

A sort of a tower on top of it all,

And steps coming down in an orderly way

To where my toy vessels lie safe in the bay.


This one is sailing and that one is moored:

Hark to the song of the sailors on board!

And see on the steps of my palace, the kings

Coming and going with presents and things!

– Robert Louis Stevenson, Public Domain

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