Today in Literary History – December 8, 1894 – James Thurber is born

James Thurber, the humourist, playwright and cartoonist was born on December 8, 1894. He was a celebrated New Yorker staff writer and cartoonist and a member of the Algonquin Round Table that gathered some of the greatest talkers and wits of the 1930s and forties. His short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," has …

Today in Literary History – December 5, 1935 – Calvin Trillin is born

One of my favourite writers, the humourist Calvin "Bud" Trillin was born on December 5, 1935. He is a long-time staff writer for The New Yorker, where he writes both comic pieces, mostly about his food obsessions, as well as serious articles, often focused on criminal trials. He also wrote a column for The Nation …

Today in Literary History – December 4, 1903 – Cornell Woolrich is born

The mystery and thriller writer Cornell Woolrich was born on December 4, 1903. He was a prolific writer, under his own name and various pseudonyms, and was one of the trailblazers of the "noir" style of psychologically twisted crime stories. Many of his books were adapted as movies, including Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and François …

Today in Literary History – December 3, 1857 – Joseph Conrad is born

The novelist Joseph Conrad was born on December 3, 1857, as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in what was then a part of the Russian Empire and is now Ukraine. Berdichev, the town he was born in, had a primarily Jewish population and the countryside was mainly made up of Ukrainians, but the political and economic life …

Today in Literary History – December 1, 1987 – James Baldwin dies

The American novelist and essayist James Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, where he had been in a self-imposed exile from the bigotry he found intolerable in his own country. He was 63 years old and the cause was stomach cancer. Baldwin, who was black and gay, moved from his native New …

Today in Literary History – November 30, 1900 – Oscar Wilde dies

Oscar Wilde died in Paris on November 30, 1900, at the age of forty-six. (For years it was believed that he died from syphilis, but it has been proved that the cause was actually cerebral meningitis after an ear infection.) After serving a prison term for sodomy he was released from Reading Gaol in May, …

Today in Literary History – November 29, 1832 – Louisa May Alcott is born

Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, was born on November 29, 1832. Unlike her fictional creations Alcott had a very difficult and mostly unhappy life. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was an educational reformer who became entranced with Transcendentalism and moved the family to Concord, Mass., to be closer to other believers like …

Today in Literary History – November 28, 1757 – the birth of William Blake

The artist, poet and mystic William Blake was born on November 28, 1757. His work is virtually unclassifiable. He was considered to be mad by many of his contemporaries. Yet he influenced later generations of poets and painters and is now considered to be one of Britain's greatest literary geniuses. Blake apprenticed as an engraver …

Today in Literary History – November 26, 1731 – William Cowper is born

William Cowper, the poet and hymn writer, was born on November 26, 1731. He was one of the most popular poets of his day, composing mostly on scenes of nature and rural life. He had a large influence on the Romantic poets. Cowper's poems have given us many phrases that have become commonplace in English. …

Today in Literary History – November 25, 1970 – Yukio Mishama’s ritual suicide

On November 25, 1970, Japanese author Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide, seppuku, a form of hara-kiri involving ritual disembowelment, literally falling on your sword. Mishima was one of the most popular and important novelists of the Japanese post-war years. He was also very popular in the English language world. I read two of his novels …