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Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History – January 3, 2018

The Letter

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper

Like draggled fly’s legs,

What can you tell of the flaring moon

Through the oak leaves?

Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor

Spattered with moonlight?

Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them

Of blossoming hawthorns,

And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness

Beneath my hand.


I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against

The want of you;

Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,

And posting it.

And I scald alone, here, under the fire

Of the great moon.

– Amy Lowell, Public Domain

Today in 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.Image of Martin Luther. Photo by Skara Kommun. Online Image. Taken on Dec. 5, 2011.

The trouble started in 1517 when Luther sent his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg. Luther argued against some practices of the Catholic Church, such as selling indulgences.

On June 15, 1520, the Pope declared 41 sentences of “Ninety-Five Theses” were heresy. Luther had 60 days to recant and another 60 days to let the Pope know he had recanted.

Luther responded by publishing in November 1520 a defense of his views. For good measure, he referred to the Pope as the Antichrist. Then in December 1520, Luther and his supporters gathered in Wittenburg, Germany. There they burned books supportive of the Catholic Church and Church doctrine.

The Pope decided enough was enough and today in 1521 issued the “Decet Romanum Pontificem.” The document tossed Luther out of the Church and triggered the Protestant Reformation.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Today is the birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien, born in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Tolkien was a professor at Oxford College when one day he wrote the words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” That sentence grew into the book we now know as “The Hobbit,” published in 1937. “The Hobbit” begat, 17 years later, a spin-off story. This story was so massive that Tolkien’s publisher broke it into three books (“The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “Return of the King”).

Today, “The Hobbit” and the three books, known as the Lord of the Rings series, have sold more than 250 million copies.

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge

Also born today, in 1879, was a woman who would become the first First Lady of the United States to hold an undergraduate degree.

Grace Anna Goodhue was born in Burlington, VT. She enrolled at the University of Vermont in 1898. Goodhue was a founding member of the Vermont chapter of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. She graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in teaching in 1902.

She married Calvin Coolidge in 1905. She became First Lady when her Vice-President husband became President of the United States in 1923.

A year later, the Coolidge’s youngest son, Calvin, Jr., died. Grace penned a poem titled “Open Door” on the fifth anniversary of her son’s death.

[bctt tweet=”Today is the birthday of the first #FirstLady to hold an undergraduate degree. Who was she?” username=”BidwellHollow”]

Pietro Metastasio

And today in 1698 in Rome Antonio Domenico Bonaventura Trapassi was born.

Trapassi, the son of a Papal soldier, wrote plays as a boy. His work attracted the attention of an Italian jurist named Gian Vincenzo Gravina. Gravina adopted the boy, renamed him Pietro Metastasio, and paid for his education.

Metastasio moved to Naples in 1719. He went into the legal profession, but continued to write. In 1721 prima donna Marianna Benti-Bulgarelli took the principal role in Metastasio’s libretto, “Gli orti esperidi.” The two became lifelong friends.

In 1730, Metastasio left the law and joined the imperial court in Vienna. He served as poet laureate to the court the rest of his life.

Many composers over the years, including Mozart, have set Metastasio’s words to music.

Alma Flor Ada

Also celebrating a birthday today is children’s author Dr. Alma Flor Ada. She was born in 1938 in Camagüey, Cuba.

Ada’s grandmother taught her to read by using a stick to write the names of plants and animals in the dirt. Her grandmother also read her Cuban poems and folktales. And her uncle and father told her stories.

When she was 15 Ada spent summer at a school near Philadelphia, PA. Her class read “The Merchant of Venice,” in which the principal antagonist is Jewish. As a result, two Jewish kids in Ada’s class were bullied.

At the time, Ada recalled a lesson her father had taught her about prejudice. A Jewish man had cheated her father out of some money. But her father instructed her that a man had cheated him. It didn’t matter that the man was Jewish.

Ada tried to get her summer school teacher to teach she and her peers a similar lesson, but the teacher declined. She credits that experience with encouraging her to make a career out of teaching the importance of diversity.

Most of Ada’s children’s books are published in English and Spanish.

Ada’s won many awards, including the Ohtli Award for promoting Mexican culture abroad, the Christopher Medal, the Virginia Hamilton Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Ada has been a professor emerita at the University of San Francisco since 2004.

Ada’s books include “¡Pío Peep!: Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes,” “My Name is Maria Isabel,” and “The Golden Coin.”

Ada said, “It’s important for all children to be able to find themselves mirrored in the books they read, along with their parents, their relatives, and their communities, and to find their experiences reflected in respectful and interesting ways. At the same time, literature can become a window into other worlds, enriching and expanding our own experience. So one thing I hope my books can do is to provide mirrors for some children and windows for others.”

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