Today in Literary History – June 10, 1915 – Novelist Saul Bellow is born

The Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Saul Bellow was born on June 10, 1915. In addition to the Nobel he won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award three times. Bellow, whose parents were Jewish refugees from St. Petersburg, Russia, was born in Lachine, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. When he was nine years old …

Today in Literary History – June 8, 1949 – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is published

George Orwell's explosive dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (sometimes re-released as 1984) was first published on June 8, 1949. Orwell completed the manuscript in 1948 and simply inverted the date to provide a year in the not too distant future. Orwell himself died from tuberculosis eight months after its publication, at the age of forty-six. Orwell …

Today in Literary History – June 5, 1910 – Short Story Writer O. Henry dies

The great short story writer O. Henry (whose real name was William Sydney Porter) died on June 5, 1910 at the age of only forty-seven. O. Henry's short stories are famous for their surprise endings. Sadly, there wasn't much surprise in the ending of William Porter's life. He was an alcoholic who was negligent about …

Today in Literary History – June 3, 1771 – Clergyman and Wit Sydney Smith is born

Sydney Smith, the Anglican cleric, writer and famous wit, was born on July 3, 1771. After a brilliant career at Oxford University Smith took Holy Orders. He served as the priest at several small rural parishes, including Combe Florey, later the home of Evelyn Waugh. Smith was one of the founders of The Edinburgh Review …

Today in Literary History – June 2, 1962 – Novelist Vita Sackville-West dies

Vita Sackville-West, the Bloomsbury era novelist, poet and memoirist died on June 2, 1962 at the age of 70 at her home in Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England. She wrote 13 novels during her life and the was the inspiration for the title character of the novel Orlando by Virginia Wolff, one of her many …

Today in Literary History – May 31, 1669 – Samuel Pepys stops writing his diary

On May 31, 1669 Samuel Pepys made his last entry in the diary that he had kept since January 1, 1660. He wrote that he was concerned about damaging his eyesight by writing by candlelight. Pepys diary is one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted written undertakings, providing a portrait of its author and his …

Today in Literary History – May 26, 1897 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula is published

Bram Stoker's Gothic horror novel, Dracula, was published in London on May 26, 1897. Stoker was the business manager for the Lyceum Theatre but he also wrote horror and supernatural books on the side. Dracula came out of his long interest in folktales about vampires in Eastern Europe. Stoker researched accounts of vampires and shapeshifters, …

Today in Literary History – May 25, 1938 – Raymond Carver is born

Raymond Carver, the masterful short story writer and poet, was born on May 25, 1938. Carver was born in Oregon and raised in the state of Washington. He married at the age of 19 (to his pregnant 16 year-old girlfriend) and moved to California. He attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop but left before graduating. He …

Today in Literary History – May 24, 1941 – Bob Dylan is born

Bob Dylan, singer, songwriter, musician and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, was born in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941, as Robert Zimmerman. I have been listening to, enjoying, admiring, obsessing over and being confounded by Dylan for half a century. When I was nine years old, in 1966, …

Today in Literary History – May 22, 1859 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is born

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the immortal Sherlock Holmes, was born on May 22, 1859. Doyle was raised as a Catholic and received a Jesuit education, although he later rejected Christianity and became a believer in spiritualism and supernaturalism, including communicating with the dead. Doyle originally trained as a doctor, but was not …

Today in Literary History – May 21, 1688 – Poet Alexander Pope is born

Alexander Pope, the great satiric poet, was born on May 21, 1688. Pope suffered from many physical ailments including Pott's disease, a form of tuberculosis affecting the spine. He was hunchbacked and stood at only four feet six inches. In addition he had severe respiratory difficulties and abdominal pains. Pope came from a Catholic family …

Today in Literary History – May 19, 1935 – T.E. Lawrence dies after a motorcycle accident

T. E. Lawrence, known to history as "Lawrence of Arabia" and the author of the classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, died on May 19, 1935, at the age of forty-six. He had resigned from the RAF just a few months earlier and had moved permanently into his holiday cottage in Dorset. Lawrence was an avid …

Today in Literary History – May 17, 1873 – World War I novelist Henri Barbusse is born

Henri Barbusse, the French novelist who was a war hero turned pacifist, was born on May 17, 1873. His father was French and his mother was English. He was a poet and journalist well known in Paris literary circles before World War I, publishing a novel L'enfer in 1908. Barbusse was 41 and in poor …

Today in Literary History – May 16, 1912 – Studs Terkel is born

Studs Terkel, the longtime radio host and Pulitzer Prize-winning oral historian, was born on May 16, 1912. His parents ran a "men's hotel," a rooming house in Chicago during the depression. Terkel later credited his upbringing with making him interested in people's stories and comfortable with asking questions. Terkel earned a law degree from The …

Today in Literary History – May 15, 1886 – Emily Dickinson dies

Emily Dickinson, who is now considered one of the most important American poets, died on May 15, 1886, in almost complete obscurity. She was 55 years old and had spent most of her life living in her family mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her neighbours considered her to be an eccentric recluse. In her later years …

Today in Literary History – May 13 (or May 12a), 1916 – Sholom Aleichem dies

Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish author and playwright died in New York on May 13, 1916, at the age of fifty-seven. Aleichem, who was born Sholom Rabinowitz in what is now Ukraine, wrote humorous stories, novels and plays about life in the Jewish shtetls like the one he himself grew up in. One of his best …

Today in Literary History – May 12, 1812 – Edward Lear is born

Edward Lear, the British poet and master of the limerick, was born on May 12, 1812. Lear began his career as an artist, specializing in natural history paintings. He made watercolour illustrations of birds for the British Museum and for private ornithologists and was compared favourably with John James Audubon. Later, he worked for the …

Today in Literary History – May 7, 1927 – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is born

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the novelist and screenwriter, was born on May 7, 1927 in Cologne, Germany. Her family was Jewish and she and her parents managed to escape to England in 1939. Her father committed suicide after the war, despondent that most of his family had died in the Holocaust. Jhabvala moved to India in …