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Photo of James Merrill.

March 3-4, 2018 – James Merrill, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays

Welcome to the weekend of March 3-4, 2018. Birthdays today include poet James Merrill and biographer Ron Chernow. Tomorrow’s birthdays include writers Patricia Kennealy-Morrison and Khaled Hosseini and poet Francis King. Our poem this weekend is “In the Next Yard” by Helen Hoyt. Thank you for spending time at Bidwell Hollow. See you back here on Monday. Have a great weekend.

James Merrill

Today is the birthday of James Merrill (affiliate link), born in New York City in 1926. He’s the son of Merrill Lynch founder Charles Merrill. But it’s with literature that James Merrill made his name.

Merrill started writing at a young age. At 16, Merrill’s father took some of his poems and had them privately published as “Jim’s Book.”Photo of James Merrill.

His education at Amherst College was interrupted by military service during World War II. But he returned to school in 1945 and had the following year his second poetry collection privately published.

Merrill’s first publicly printed volume, “First Poems,” released in 1951. Also in the 1950s, Merrill produced his play, “The Immortal Husband,” a second poetry collection, and his first novel, “The Seraglio.”

Though his early work was well received, it’s in the 1960s and 1970s that Merrill earned his greatest successes.

His “Nights and Days” won the 1966 National Book Award in Poetry and he won a Bollingen Prize for “Braving the Elements” in 1972. Then Merrill delivered “Divine Comedies” in 1976.

The collection contains poems Merrill wrote with the help of a Ouija board. The book includes the long narrative poem, “The Book of Ephraim.” The poem is a string of 26 consecutive poems following the Ouija board’s alphabet, A to Z.  “Divine Comedies” won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

A second National Book Award followed in 1978 for “Mirabell.” And he won the first-ever Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry in 1990.

Much of Merrill’s later work focused on the AIDS crisis that devastated his friends, and with which he himself struggled.

James Merrill, who wrote:

You and the stars

Seem both endangered, each

At the other’s utter mercy. Yet the gem

Revolves in space, the vision shuttles off.

A toneless waltz glints through the pea-sized funhouse.

The day is breaking someone else’s heart.

Ron Chernow

Cover of Ron Chernow's "Grant."

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Also born today, in Brooklyn in 1949, was biographer Ron Chernow (affiliate link).

Chernow won a National Book Award for 1990’s “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance.” He also wrote a bestselling book about John D. Rockefeller.

But in 2004, Chernow published a biography of the United States’ first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. The book became a New York Times bestseller. And it inspired playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda to write a musical based on Hamilton.

“Hamilton,” the musical, opened in 2015. It’s the most Tony Award-nominated musical in history. Chernow served as a consultant on the production.

After “Alexander Hamilton,” Chernow released a biography of George Washington. For that work, he received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.

Chernow released “Grant,” about Civil War General and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant, last year.

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison

Tomorrow is the birthday of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison (affiliate link), born in New York City in 1946. She’s the author of the fantasy novel series the Keltiad and the murder mystery series the Rock and Roll Murders.

It’s in rock and roll that Kennealy-Morrison began her writing career. She worked as an editorial assistant at Jazz & Pop magazine before becoming editor-in-chief at 22 in 1968.

It was as editor of Jazz & Pop that Kennealy-Morrison interviewed The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. The two kept in touch and a relationship bloomed. They married in 1970, a year before Morrison died in France.

She wrote a book about her time with Morrison. “Strange Days: My Life with and Without Jim Morrison” published in 1992.

Khaled Hosseini

And Khaled Hosseini (affiliate link) was born March 4, 1965, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Hosseini’s family received asylum and left Afghanistan for the U.S. in 1980. By 2001, he was a doctor in California when he started writing his first novel.

That book, “The Kite Runner,” came out in 2003. It tells the story of an Afghan boy from the end of Afghanistan’s constitutional monarchy to the time of the Taliban.

“The Kite Runner” spent over a hundred weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Over eight million copies of the book have sold.

Hosseini followed “The Kite Runner” with “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Also set in Afghanistan, the second novel focuses on two women, Mariam and Laila. It explores both characters’ pasts and their friendship.

A 2003 trip to Afghanistan inspired Hosseini to write “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” On that trip, he heard about the struggles of Afghani women. The stories he heard helped him create the characters, Laila and Mariam.

But writing “A Thousand Splendid Suns” wasn’t easy for Hosseini. “It was a real challenge to write from the standpoint of not one, but two, different women from different social backgrounds,” he said.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” debuted at number one on The New York Times bestsellers list in May 2007. It held the top spot for 15 weeks, remaining on the list for nearly a year.

Combined, “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” have sold more than 38 million copies worldwide.

Hosseini’s third novel, “And the Mountains Echoed,” published in 2013. Three million copies of the book sold within its first five months.

Francis King

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Also born tomorrow is Francis King (affiliate link), born in 1923 in Adelboden, Switzerland. His father worked in the United Kingdom’s Civil Service, and King spent his early years in India.

King was nine when he returned to England. His parents remained in India, where his mother cared for his dying father.

King published his first novel, “To the Dark Tower,” while still an undergrad at Oxford University in 1946. He graduated from Oxford three years later with three books already under his belt.

King published books in every decade from the 1940s to the 2000s. In total, he produced 32 books, 28 of which were novels. He also wrote poems, short stories, and biographies.

King passed away in July 2011.

“In the Next Yard”

O yes, you are very cunning,

I can see that:

Out there in the snow with your red cart

And your wooly grey coat

And those ridiculous

Little grey leggings!

Like a rabbit,

A demure brownie.

O yes, you are cunning;

But do not think you will escape your father and mother

And what your brothers are!

I know the pattern.

It will surely have you—

For all these elfish times in the snow—

As commonplace as the others,

Little grey rabbit.

– Helen Hoyt (1887-1972), Public Domain

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