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 …

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 …

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' …

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 …

Today in Literary History – March 29, 1895 – World War I memoirist Ernst Jünger is born

Ernst Jünger, the German soldier, essayist and philosopher, was born on March 29, 1895. He is most famous for his searing World War I memoir Storm of Steel, which was first published in Germany in 1920. Jünger served in the German army on the Western Front throughout the First World War. He was wounded many times, …

Today in Literary History – March 27, 1988 – hardboiled crime writer Charles Willeford dies

One of my favourite "hardboiled" writers, Charles Willeford, died in Miami, Florida on March 27, 1988, of a heart attack at the age of 69. An orphan, Willeford joined the Army at the age of 16. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star for outstanding bravery, …

Today in Literary History – March 26, 1969 – John Kennedy Toole, author of “A Confederacy of Dunces” dies

John Kennedy Toole, the author of the posthumously published novel A Confederacy of Dunces, took his own life on March 26, 1969, at the age of 31. He had laboured over his serio-comic novel of an eccentric New Orleans loner for years but couldn't get it published, at least not without making changes that he …

Today in Literary History – March 25, 1925 – Flannery O’Connor is born

Flannery O'Connor, the American short story writer and novelist, was born on March 25, 1925. She lived most of her life in Georgia, although she took breaks to study at the University of Iowa's prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and spent time at the Yaddo writers colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. O'Conner suffered from lupus, …

Today in Literary History – March 24, 1919 – poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is born

American poet, publisher, bookseller and political activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born on March 24, 1919. As he turns 99 years old he is still active in literary causes. A widower, he lives alone in the same San Francisco apartment he has lived in since 1980. Ferlinghetti is most closely associated with the San Francisco bookstore …

Today in Literary History – March 22, 1941 – poet Billy Collins is born

American poet Billy Collins was born on March 22, 1941, in New York City. He was the United States Poet Laureate for two terms as well as being the New York State Poet Laureate. Collins is regularly described as "America's favourite poet." Collins writes in a low-key, witty style that seems simple and "non-poetic" at …

Today in Literary History – March 20, 1852 – “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is published

Harriet Beacher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published on March 20, 1852. Stowe was a New England school teacher, an ardent Christian and an active abolitionist. Parts of Uncle Tom's Cabin had already been serialized in an abolitionist newspaper when the book was published. It was successful well beyond the publisher's or Stowe's expectations …