Today in Literary History – April 21, 1910 – Mark Twain dies (no exageration)

Mark Twain, the great American humorist and creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, died on April 21, 1910, at the age of seventy-four. He had been in poor health for some time and was severely depressed by the deaths of his wife and two of his daughters in addition to several close friends. He …

Today in Literary History – April 19, 1824 – Lord Byron dies in Greece

Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet, adventurer and sexual libertine, died on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece at the age of thirty-six. Byron had been in self-imposed exile from Britain since 1816, due to his scandalous romantic entanglements, including a sexual affair with his married half-sister, Augusta Leigh, whose daughter he may or may …

Today in Literary History – April 18, 1947 – novelist and poet Kathy Acker is born

Kathy Acker, the postmodern novelist and punk poet was born in New York City on April 18, 1947. She died in 1997 at the age of 50 in Tijuana, Mexico, where she was pursuing alternative treatments for breast cancer. Acker came from a wealthy New York family, but her father, Donald Lehman, left her mother …

Today in Literary History – April 15, 1755 – Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is published

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language was first published on April 15, 1755. Its full title was: "A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: IN WHICH The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS, AND ILLUSTRATED in their DIFFERENT SIGNIFICATIONS BY EXAMPLES from the best WRITERS. TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED, A HISTORY of the LANGUAGE, AND An ENGLISH GRAMMAR, By SAMUEL JOHNSON, A.M. In TWO VOLUMES." Popularly know as  Johnson's Dictionary it wasn't the first …

Today in Literary History – April 14, 1939 – John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is published

John Steinbeck's classic novel of the American Dust Bowl, The Grapes of Wrath, was first published on April 14, 1939. It won the The National Book Award for the best novel of 1939 and The Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel follows the Joad family, "Okies" who are forced by drought, the Great Depression and …

Today in Literary History – April 13, 1939 – Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney is born

Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, one of the major poets of the 20th century, was born on April 13, 1939, in Northern Ireland. He was born at home in a farmhouse, the first of nine children. Heaney's family was Catholic and he was raised in a predominantly Protestant community. His poetry often dealt with Ireland's …

Today in Literary History – April, 12, 1916 – Beverly Cleary is born

Beverly Cleary, the beloved author of books for children and young readers turns 102 years old today. She was born on April 12, 1916. She published her first book, Henry Huggins, in 1950 when she was a school librarian sensing children's desire for books that rang true with their own lives. As of a 2006 …

Thought of the Day

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month." --Theodore Roosevelt

Today in Literary History – April 10, 1925 – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is published to not so great reviews

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece novel about the Jazz Age (a term he coined), was published in New York on April 10, 1925. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald its original reception was disappointing. It sold only 20,000 copies in the first year, out of an expected 75,000. It did get good reviews from The New …

Today in Literary History – April 9, 1945 – theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is executed by the Nazis

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, spy and anti-Nazi dissident, was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the collapse of the Nazi regime. He was condemned for his part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer is best known for two influential books, the posthumously published Letters and …

Book Review – Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Yunte Huang is an English professor at UC Santa Barbara and the author of a wonderfully eye-opening earlier book, Charlie Chan: the Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, which traced the Charlie Chan story from the real-life Honalulu police investigator, Chang Apana, who inspired Earl Derr Biggers' fictional detective, …

Today in Literary History – April 8, 1979 – writer Breece D’J Pancake takes his own life

The American short story writer Breece D'J Pancake committed suicide on April 8, 1979, at the age of 26. He left behind a very slim body of work, just 12 stories, only six of which were published during his life. Like a lot of avid readers I kept hearing Pancake's (arrestingly unusual) name mentioned by …

Today in Literary History – April 6, 1917 – painter and writer Leonora Carrington is born

Leanora Carrington, the Surrealist painter and short story writer, was born on April 6, 1917, into a wealthy British family. She lived most of her long life in Mexico, where she died in 2011 at the age of 94. Carrington became fascinated by the paintings of the Surrealists at a young age. Despite her parents' …

Thought of the Day

"Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive." --Marcus Tullius Cicero

Book Review – Vengeance by Zachary Lazar – Questions of Truth and Trust, Guilt and Innocence in a Prisoner’s Story

  Vengeance, Zachary Lazar's fourth novel, begins with a narrator (unnamed throughout the novel, but undeniably Zachary Lazar) visiting the notorious Angola prison (population 6,400 mostly black inmates) in Louisiana with his photographer friend Deborah to cover the prison's all-inmate "passion play" about the crucifixion of Jesus. Deborah is clearly Deborah Luster, to whom the …

Today in Literary History – March 3, 1783 – Washington Irving is born

The American short story writer Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783. He is responsible for the enduring stories of Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, The Headless Horseman and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Irving's parents were Scottish immigrants to the American colonies and Irving was born in New York just as the American …

Today in Literary History – April 2, 1805 – Hans Christian Andersen is born

Hans Christian Andersen, the author of numerous fairy tales and children's stories, was born in Denmark on April 2, 1805. His fairy tales have become part of western culture's common currency (despite the Disneyfication of some of his stories). Tales such as "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Little Mermaid," "The Nightingale," "The Princess and the …