Today in Literary History – January 18, 1989 – travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin dies

Bruce Chatwin, the British travel writer, novelist and art historian died on January 18, 1989 at the age of forty-eight. Chatwin, who was married but carried on many homosexual affairs, died from AIDS. Although he tried to keep the real reason for his final illness secret (to protect his conservative parents from knowing the truth …

Today in Literary History – January 16, 1605 – Part One of Don Quixote is published

Part One of Miguel de Cervantes's masterpiece Don Quixote was published in Spain on January 16, 1605 as El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha ("The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha"). Don Quixote is generally referred to as the first modern novel. Its plot arc and its scenes of dialogue distinguish it …

Today in Literary History – January 15, 1962 – The Derveni Papyrus, the oldest book in Europe is discovered

The Derveni Papyrus, "The Most Ancient Book in Europe" according to UNESCO, was discovered on January 15, 1962 in Derveni, Greece. The partially burned papyrus was found in a burial tomb during excavations for a new highway from Thessalonika to Kavala. The papyrus was found in the tomb's funeral pyre and the bottom part of …

Today in Literary History – January 14, 1977 – diarist and novelist Anaïs Nin dies

Anaïs Nin, the diarist and novelist, died on January 14, 1977, at the age of 73, from cervical cancer. Nin was born in France to Cuban parents. Although she lived in Paris off and on she spent most of her life in the United States. She is best known for her diaries, which she began …

Today in Literary History – January 12, 1628 – Charles Perrault, the “Father of Mother Goose,” is born

Charles Perrault, the "Father of the Mother Goose Stories," was born in Paris on January 12, 1628, the son of a wealthy lawyer. Perrault was later to become lawyer and government functionary himself. He was an aide to Jean-Baptisre Colbert, King Louis XIV's finance minister, and advised on the construction of public buildings, most especially …

Today in Literary History – January 10, 1961 – Dashiell Hammett, the great detective novelist, dies

The great mystery and detective novelist Dashiell Hammett died from lung cancer on January 10, 1961, at the age of sixty-six. He had been living a mostly reclusive life for the past decade. His health was so poor that he needed full time care and Lillian Hellman, with whom he'd had a 30 year romance …

Today in Literary History – January 9, 1890 – Karel Čapek, the science fiction writer who invented the term “robot” is born

The Czech writer Karel Čapek was born on January 9, 1890. He was a prolific writer in multiple forms -- drama, novels, essays -- but is best known now as a writer of science fiction (a category that didn't exist in his day) and as the inventor of the word "robot." The word originated in …

Today in Literary History – January 8, 1601 – Baltasar Gracián, the great 17th century aphorist, is born

Baltasar Gracián, the Jesuit philosopher and aphorist, was born in Aragon, Spain on January 8, 1601. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is the book he is best known for (and one I love). It is a collection of over 300 pithy Maxims (or aphorisms) with Gracián's commentary on them. There have been many translations of …

Today in Literary History – January 7, 1891 – Zora Neale Hurston, black feminist pioneer, is born

Zora Neale Hurston, the American novelist, short story writer and anthropologist, was born in rural Alabama on January 7, 1891. When she was three years old her family moved to Eatonville Florida, one of America's first all-black self-governing municipalities, where her father served as a Baptist minister and later as mayor. The town features in …

Today in Literary History – January 6, 1883 – Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet, is born

Khalil Gibran, the author, poet, and artist most famous for his book The Prophet, was born on January 6, 1883, in what is now Lebanon but was then the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire. Gibran grew up in poverty with an alcoholic gambling-addicted father who was sent to prison when he was caught embezzling …

Today in Literary History – January 5, 1987 – Margaret Laurence, beloved Canadian writer, dies

The beloved Canadian novelist and short story writer Margaret Laurence died on January, 5, 1987, by suicide at the age of sixty. Laurence, a lifelong smoker had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and chose to take her own life in order to spare herself and her family a prolonged and painful death. Laurence was …

Today in Literary History – January 4, 1960 – Albert Camus, existentialist author, dies

The essayist, novelist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus was killed in a car accident on January 4, 1960. Camus had been spending the holidays in the south of France at his country house (which he had bought with his Nobel Prize money three years earlier) with his wife and their twin children and his publisher …

Today in Literary History – December 31, 1933 – Edward Bunker, crimonal turned crime novelist, is born

Edward Bunker, the criminal turned crime writer, was born on December 31, 1933, in Los Angeles, California. Bunker's parents were both drawn to Hollywood by the lure of opportunities in the film industry. His mother, originally from Vancouver, was a dancer in Busby Berkeley musicals and his father was a stage hand and grip. They …

Today in Literary History – December 20, 1865 – Rudyard Kipling is born

The Nobel Prize-winning author and poet Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where his father, a British sculptor, taught at a newly opened art college. (Kipling's parents had spent their honeymoon on Lake Rudyard in the West Midlands of England and named their firstborn son in its honour.) …

Today in Literary History – December 29, 1916 – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is published

James Joyce's first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, was published on December 29, 1916, when Joyce was 34 years old. It is an autobiographical modernist novel that tells the story of Joyce's stand-in, Stephen Dedalus, up to the age of twenty -- the age that Joyce was when he left …

Today in Literary History – December 28, 2004 – Susan Sontag dies

The American essayist, cultural critic and novelist Susan Sontag died on December 28, 2004, from leukemia, at the age of 71, after having survived breast and uterine cancers. At the time of her death she was often described as a "polarizing" or "divisive" figure. Much of the controversy Sontag's career attracted can be attributed to …

Today in Literary History – December 27, 1969 – Sarah Vowell is born

One of my favourite contemporary humorists, Sarah Vowell, was born on December 27, 1969. She has written seven books on historical topics, well researched and with a decidedly liberal slant, told with sly deadpan wit. Vowell was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Wyoming and is part Cherokee. ("Being at least a little Cherokee …

Today in Literary History – December 24, 1863 – William Makepeace Thakeray dies

The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray died suddenly from a stroke on December 24, 1863. He had been in poor health for a long time due to his indolence and gluttony. He described his chief activities as "guttling and gorging." Thackeray was born in India, where his father was an official with the British East India …

Today in Literary History – December 23, 1815 – Jane Austen’s Emma is published

Jane Austen's Emma was first published on December 23, 1815 (although the copyright says 1816). It was the last novel she published before her death in 1817. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were both posthumously published in 1818. The title character of the novel is Emma Woodhouse, a pretty and intelligent 20-year-old woman who is also …