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Photo of a plaque reading, "Solomon Northup."

Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History – January 4, 2018

A January Dandelion

All Nashville is a chill. And everywhere
Like desert sand, when the winds blow,
There is each moment sifted through the air,
A powdered blast of January snow.
O! thoughtless Dandelion, to be misled
By a few warm days to leave thy natural bed,
Was folly growth and blooming over soon.
And yet, thou blasted yellow-coated gem,
Full many a heart has but a common boon
With thee, now freezing on thy slender stem.
When the heart has bloomed by the touch of love’s warm breath
Then left and chilling snow is sifted in,
It still may beat but there is blast and death
To all that blooming life that might have been.

– George Marion McClellan, Public Domain

Today in 1853 Solomon Northup received his freedom.

Northrup was born in New York in 1807, the free son of a former slave. He married Anne Hampton and the couple had three children.

A talented fiddler, Northup took two men up on their offer to join their traveling circus. The group traveled south to Washington, D.C., where Northup was drugged. He awoke to discover himself shackled in an underground cell.

Northup’s captors moved him to Richmond, Va., then put him on a ship to New Orleans. He was then sold into slavery. For 11 years he worked as a slave in Louisiana.

Then a carpenter from Canada named Samuel Bass visited the plantation where Northrup lived. Bass was an abolitionist.

Northup wrote letters to his family and friends explaining his plight. Bass delivered these letters to New York. This set in motion a series of events that led to Northup being legally obtained out of slavery on Jan. 4, 1853.

Northup told his story in the book, “Twelve Years a Slave,” published in 1853. The book sold 30,000 copies in its first three years and made Northup a national celebrity. By the dawn of the 20th century, however, the book was out of print.

Then in 1968, a historian named Sue Eakin published an annotated version of Northrup’s work.

A film version of Northup’s book was released in 2013. The movie won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture. The film has to date grossed $187.7 million.

Harlan Coben

Born today in 1962 in Newark, NJ was novelist Harlan Coben. He’s the bestselling author of thriller books such as “Tell No One,” “Missing You,” and “Don’t Let Go.”

Coben went to high school with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. And at Amherst College, he was fraternity brothers with future bestselling author Dan Brown.

“They tell me I’ve sold something like 70 million books worldwide, and I’m not even the bestselling author in my fraternity,” Coben said.

Coben lives in New Jersey with his pediatrician wife, Dr. Anne Armstrong-Coben. The couple has four children.

[bctt tweet=”Happy birthday, @HarlanCoben!” username=”BidwellHollow”]

Jacob Grimm

Today is also the birthday of Jacob Grimm. Grimm was born in 1785 in Hanau, Germany. He was a year older than his brother, Wilhelm.

The brothers Grimm were living and working in Kasel, Germany when they compiled 86 folktales into a collection. They published the collection in 1812. Then they published another collection of 70 tales in 1815. The two-volume set was titled “Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen,” or “Nursery and Household Tales.” We know them today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The books contained such well-known tales as “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Often forgotten, though, is Jacob’s and Wilhelm’s contribution to the German language.

In 1837 the Grimm brothers were working at the University of Göttingen. They had to leave, though, after declining to swear a loyalty oath to the King of Hanover. The brothers then accepted an offer from a publisher that they had previously refused. The offer was to make a dictionary of the German language.

The dictionary’s first volume published in 1854. It only contained words from A to Biermolke (beer whey). Wilhelm died in 1859, and the second volume of the dictionary, Biermolke to E, published a year later. Jacob only made it partly through words beginning with F when he died in 1863.

A project begun by the brothers Grimm in 1837 wasn’t completed until 1961. By that time, “Deutsches Wörterbuch” (“The German Dictionary”) contained 330,000 headwords spread across 32 volumes.

By the 20th century, the Grimm brothers’ work didn’t align with how modern dictionaries are written. Thus revisions began on much of the original dictionary. These revisions were completed in 2016. This was 179 years after Jacob and Wilhelm started compiling the first German dictionary.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Today is the birthday of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. She’s the author of six “The New York Times” bestselling books, including 2005’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

After reading “Team of Rivals,” then U.S. Senator Barack Obama called Goodwin to discuss. He wanted to talk about Lincoln and leadership. That phone call triggered a relationship that continued throughout Obama’s Presidency. Obama has said if he were stuck on a deserted island, “Team of Rivals” is the book he would want with him.

“Team of Rivals” served as the inspiration for the 2012 Steven Spielberg film, “Lincoln.”

Goodwin first met Spielberg at a luncheon in New York City. At the time, Spielberg was working on a history film titled “The Unfinished Journey.”

About that first meeting, Goodwin said, “I sent him (Spielberg) some thoughts on it (‘The Unfinished Journey’) and he invited me to come see him. It was then I told him about my research for this book (‘Team of Rivals’) and we shook hands in agreement that he would get the first look at it.”

Spielberg optioned the rights to the book. Screenwriter Tony Kushner wrote the script. Goodwin served as an advisor on the film. “Lincoln” received an Academy Awards Best Motion Picture of the Year Award nomination.


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