January 12 – Haruki Murakami

Happy Birthday Haruki Murakami!


Haruki Murakami (村上 春樹) (born January 12, 1949) – Japanese novelist – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2015)

Read the Wikipedia article about Haruki Murakami

Read an interview of Murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki, as the author calls his own novel for short [Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage], sold a million copies in two weeks when it came out last summer in Japan. (Murakami was born in Kyoto to two literature teachers, and grew up in the port city of Kobe. These days he lives near Tokyo, having spent periods in Greece, at Princeton and Tufts universities – where he wrote his masterpiece, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle– and recently in Hawaii.)

Murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1Q84). Sometimes dreams act as portals between these realities.

Read about Murakami’s writing style in this 2014 Atlantic article “The Mystery of Murakami – His sentences can be awful, his plots are formulaic—yet his novels mesmerize”

Page after page, we are confronted with the riddle that is Murakami’s prose. No great writer writes as many bad sentences as Murakami does. His crimes include awkward construction (“Just as he appreciated Sara’s appearance, he also enjoyed the way she dressed”); cliché addiction (from a single, paragraph-long character description: “He really hustled on the field … He wasn’t good at buckling down … He always looked people straight in the eye, spoke in a clear, strong voice, and had an amazing appetite … He was a good listener and a born leader”); and lazy repetition (“Sara gazed at his face for some time before speaking,” followed shortly by “Sara gazed at Tsukuru for a time before she spoke”). The dialogue is often robotic, if charmingly so.

Murakami’s impoverished language situates us in a realm of utter banality, a simplified black-and-white world in which everything is as it appears. When, inevitably, we pass through a wormhole into an uncanny dimension of fantasy and chaos, the contrast is unnerving.

Murakami writes genre fiction—formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call “literary fiction.” The other ingredient, which we tend to think of as antithetical to genre fiction, is a hostility to tidy resolution.

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January 6 – C.D. Wright

Happy Birthday C.D. Wright!

Carolyn D. Wright (born January 6, 1949) U.S. poet – One With Others (2011)

Read about C.D. Wright here and here

Born in Arkansas in 1949, Wright wrote over a dozen books of poetry and lyric prose. Her writing is fierce, funny, and as attuned to morality as a compass needle to the north. She was a pioneer of what can be described as “documentary poetry.” Calling herself a “humble factotum” she would alight on a subject and describe it as accurately as possible using the poet’s tools — tone, metaphor, music, voice — rather than the journalist’s, but the goal was essentially the same: to tell the Truth with a capital T.

She was a believer in Emily Dickinson’s mandate to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Though by “slant,” both Dickinson and Wright meant something other than the kind of bias that word summons now. They advocate looking at the world from viewpoints and angles most people don’t choose: Dickinson gets her eyes right into the grass to see her “narrow fellow,” and Wright, too, walks right up to her subjects…

[by Craig Morgan Teicher]


Watch an interview with C.D. Wright:

“One with Others” is a mix of poetry and prose in which Wright examines a racist event. The work began as an homage to an anonymous self-taught, literary friend who lived in the Arkansas Delta in the 1960s. Wright was a teenager when she first met the woman and continued to have a relationship with her until she died a few years ago in New York City.

Wright (Minute 16:25): I felt even though I was a white woman from the Ozarks, that I had a footnote to add to all the wonderful literature about civil rights…


C.D. Wright reads from One With Others

Wright (Minute 10:35): V liked to say, if religion is the opiate of the masses, fundamentalism is the amphetamine that busted us up.

(18:10) Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t know what we’re watching. She’s in her puffy chair, a few feet from her designated death bed.  When she sleeps it’s in her pleather chair in front of her television. …She says to me, “I am Rafferty the poet: eyes without sight, mind without torment, going West on my journey. ”


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January 5 – Umberto Eco

Happy Birthday Umberto Eco!

January 5


Umberto Eco (born January 5, 1932) – Italian novelist, essayist – The Name of the Rose (1980)

Read Umberto Eco’s obituary in the New York Times and the Guardian

Read about Eco’s literary legacy in this 2016 Guardian article

Eco’s first, watershed novel, The Name of the Rose, was published in 1980. An artful reworking of Conan Doyle, with Sherlock Holmes transplanted to 14th-century Italy, the book’s baggage of arcane erudition was designed to flatter the average reader’s intelligence.

Yet the success of The Name of the Rose weighed heavily on Eco. When the French director Jean-Jacques Annaud released his film of the novel in 1986, Eco refused to speak to the newspapers about it. Each night when he returned to his flat in Milan he said he could “barely open the door” for the accumulation of interview requests. In private, Eco judged Annaud’s film a travesty of his novel, and found the monks (apart from the one played by Connery) “too grotesque-looking”. Yet Eco approved of Annaud’s Piranesi-like sets, which he concurred were “marvellous”.

His second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), was a thriller set amid shadowy cabals and conventicles such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucian Society. Eco saw modern-day political parallels with these and other sects; indeed, the P2 masonic lodge and the far-left fringe of the Red Brigades indulged a similar secrecy and fanaticism. Eco was fond of the Italian term dietrologia, which translates, not very happily, into “behindology” and presumes that secret cliques, camarillas and consortia are everywhere manipulating political scandals. In all his work, fiction and non-fiction, Eco displayed a classically Italian enthusiasm for conspiracy and arcana.

In 1971, Eco became the first professor of semiotics at Bologna, Europe’s oldest university. His lectures at the university, avidly attended by semioticians, analysed the James Bond novels, the Mad comic magazines and, with equal fizz-bang, photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Throughout his Bologna professorship, Eco denied that he was “intellectually slumming it” by speaking of Donatello’s David in the same breath as, say, plastic garden furniture.

When the entire world is a web of signs, he said, everything cries out for exegesis. Marginal manifestations of culture should not be ignored, he explained: in the 19th century, Telemann was considered a far greater composer than Bach; by the same token, in 200 years, Picasso may be thought inferior to Coca Cola commercials. (And who knows, Eco added jokingly, one day we may consider The Name of the Rose inferior to the potboilers of Harold Robbins.)


Umberto Eco speaks about words and the semiotics of translation

Umberto Eco [Minute 10:20]: Should a translation lead the reader to understand the linguistic and cultural universe of the source text, or transform the original by adapting it to the reader’s cultural and linguistic universe?

The question is not as preposterous as it seems when we consider that translations age. Shakespearean English is always the same, but even if modern Italian readers read Shakespeare in an Italian translation of the 19th century, we feel uncomfortable.


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January 3 – Savitribai Phule

Happy Birthday Savitribai Phule!

January 3

Savitribai Phule (b. 1831) – Indian poet, teacher, educator of women

Read about Savitribai Phule here and here and here

Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in a poor farming family in Naigaon, a place situated on Pune-Satara Road, some 50 km from Pune. In 1840, at the tender age of nine, she was married to thirteen-year-old Jyotirao Phule.

She never received formal education before her marriage; it was her husband, Jyotirao Phule, who wished to educate her, a venture which met fierce resistance from his family. In 1841, Jyotirao started her education and training to become a teacher.

On 1 January 1848, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule established India’s first open school for girls in the city of Pune, with a batch of nine girls, mainly from Shudra and Atee Shudra communities, also making her first and youngest female school teacher of modern India, at age of seventeen.

In 1854, Savitribai published her first collection of poems, Kavyaphule, making her first modern poetess of Marathi literature.

In 1897, during the third pandemic of bubonic plague, Savitribai and Yashavantrao [her son] opened a clinic in the area of Sasane Mala, Hadapsar near Pune, area free of infection. Savitribai personally took the affected to the clinic, Yashavantrao treated them. It is while caring for plague patients, she contracted disease herself. She left the world on 10 March 1897, only losing to plague with vision of a better world in her eyes.

[Excerpt from this article]

Two of Savitribai Phule’s poems:

Go, Get Education

Be self-reliant, be industrious

Work, gather wisdom and riches,

All gets lost without knowledge

We become animal without wisdom,

Sit idle no more, go, get education

End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,

You’ve got a golden chance to learn

So learn and break the chains of caste.

Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.


Rise, to learn and act

Weak and oppressed! Rise my brother

Come out of living in slavery.

Manu-follower Peshwas are dead and gone

Manu’s the one who barred us from education.

Givers of knowledge– the English have come

Learn, you’ve had no chance in a millennium.

We’ll teach our children and ourselves to learn

Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.

An upsurge of jealousy in my soul

Crying out for knowledge to be whole.

This festering wound, mark of caste

I’ll blot out from my life at last.

In Baliraja’s kingdom, let’s beware

Our glorious mast, unfurl and flare.

Let all say, “Misery go and kingdom come!”

Awake, arise and educate

Smash traditions-liberate!

We’ll come together and learn


Slumber not but blow the trumpet

O Brahman, dare not you upset.

Give a war cry, rise fast

Rise, to learn and act.


More poetry by Savitribai Phule at:


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January 2017

January LitBirthdays

January is National Hot Tea Month

January 1

 Happy New Year!

 Edward Morgan Forster

Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi

René de Ceccatty

January 2

André Aciman

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Isaac Asimov

Lynda Barry

January 3

Rodrigo de la Cadena

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Savitri Bai Phule

January 4

Harlan Coben

Gao Xingjian

January 5

Hayao Miyazaki 宮崎 駿

Umberto Eco

January 6

Carl Sandburg

Karin Slaughter

Idris Davies

January 7

Nicholson Baker

Shobhaa Dé

Zora Neale Hurston

January 8

Stephen Hawking

Terence Dean “Terry” Brooks 

Gaston Miron

Fanny Bullock Workman

January 9

Simone de Beauvoir

Hayim Nachman Bialik

Thorvald Steen

January 10

Peter Barnes

Louise Carver

Fran Walsh

January 11

Alan Paton

Siti Nurhaliza

Sulamith Wülfing

January 12

Jack London

Ferenc Molnár

Inoue Takehiko 

January 13

Shahnon Ahmad

Flora Nwapa

Jay McInerney

January 14

LL Cool J

Emily Hahn

Albert Schweitzer

January 15

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sonya Kovalevsky

Giles Milton

Moliere (Jean Baptiste Poquelin)

Mikki Doyle (Miriam Leventhal)

January 16

Garth Ennis

Robert W. Service

Laura Riding

January 17

Anne Bronte

Benjamin Franklin

Brian Thomas Helgeland

January 18

A.A. Milne

A.A. Milne too

Sally Morgan

January 19

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe too

Breda Smolnikar

January 20

Ernesto Cardenal

Nancy Kress

Uni Arge

January 21

Judith Merril 

Richie Havens

Eva Ibbotson

January 22

Subhash Ram Prajapati

Arkady Gaidar

Francis Bacon

January 23

Elvira Lindo

Derek Walcott

January 24

Marguerite Durand

Edith Wharton

Vítězslava Kaprálová

January 25

Gloria Naylor 

Virginia Woolf

David Grossman

January 26

Shinjo Mayu

Jules Feiffer

Henry Jaglom

January 27

Eliette Abécassis

Mordecai Richler


January 28


José Martí 

Arnaldur  Indriðason

Frank Darabont

January 29

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

Leslie Bricusse

Anton (Pavlovich) Chekhov

Germaine Greer

Grazyna Miller

January 30

Lady Anne Clifford

Jack Spicer

Anton Tammsaare

January 31

Daniel Tammet

Arnold Geulincx 


Kenzaburō Ōe

Dempsey Books are on Amazon.com

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January 2 – Lynda Barry

Happy Birthday Lynda Barry!


January 2

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Lynda Barry (b. 1956) – U.S. cartoonist, writer

Watch this excellent 1 minute biography of Lynda Barry:

Read an interview with Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry: When I work on a book, I usually start with a question. …for Picture This, the question I had was “Why do we start drawing, and why do we stop? And why do we start up again?”

I was at a conference here in Chicago a couple years ago, the Cusp Conference, and there were all these designers, these really fancy designers who had done the interior of like the Chevy Volt, or they had designed the Segway… just these fancy, fancy designers. We’re having drinks. I always set up my little gear, my rig. And I usually just start painting. And if I do that, people come over and talk to me. And then I’ll hand them a brush. I’m interested in being able to teach painting someday. But the only way I could teach it is to watch how people naturally take the brush, and what they naturally want to do.

The designers were all freaked out. I’d hand one the brush. They go “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. Mary, you do it!” “No! Hey, come on, Bruce!” “No, no, no!” I thought “This is sort of interesting. What I could do to get them to try it?”

And I made up this game. The game is actually in Picture This. You draw a square and divide that in half, and then you divide that in quarters, and you keep going to see how close you could get. But if the lines touch, you get electrocuted.

As soon as I said that, they wanted to do it. So I thought “What just happened? What changed this from ‘I can’t touch this brush in front of other people’ to ‘If I’m going to get electrocuted, I absolutely will do it’?”

So my theory was, here were these designers all looking at this blank piece of paper, and each one was going to have to make a thing to show that they really were as good as their reputations. As soon as that was removed and we made the paper a place, for this game, we were ready to play.


Visit Lynda Barry’s teaching blog The Nearsighted Monkey



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LitBirthdays Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year!

Good Morning!

(Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds (dubbed by Betty Noyes) sing and dance Good Morning! in the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain)

A Sunny Day!

(The Three Tenors – Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, José Carreras  – sing about their sunny day, O Sole Mio)

24 Hours in New York – On the Town

New York New York


The Ladies Face Another Day

Natural Women

(Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain sing Natural Woman in the 1998 Divas concert)


Mending Hearts

Dolly Tammy Loretta1

Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette sing
Silver Threads and Golden Needles



Gladys Patti Dionne

Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick sing
Everything You Touch Is a Song


or long medley with “There’s a Place…”

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