Literary Birthdays – Week of February 22 – 28

February 22
Ishmael Reed (born February 22, 1938) – U.S. novelist, poet, essayist – Japanese by Spring (1993) *

Reed’s poem “beware: do not read this poem” from Conjure (1972)

tonite, thriller was
abt an ol woman, so vain she
surrounded herself w/
many mirrors
it got so bad that finally she
locked herself indoors & her
whole life became the

one day the villagers broke
into her house, but she was too
swift for them. she disappeared
into a mirror

each tenant who bought the house
after that, lost a loved one to
the ol woman in the mirror
first a little girl
then a young woman
then the young woman/s husband

the hunger of this poem is legendary
it has taken in many victims
back off
from this poem
it has drawn in yr feet
back off from this poem
it has drawn in yr legs
back off from this poem
it is a greedy mirror
you are into this poem.
the waist down
nobody can hear you can they?
this poem has had you up to here
this poem aint got
no manners
you cant call out frm this poem
relax now & go w/ this poem
move & roll on to
this poem

do not resist this poem
this poem has yr eyes
this poem has his head
this poem has
his arms
this poem has his fingers
this poem has his fingertips
this poem is the reader & the
reader this poem

statistic: the us bureau of missing persons report
that in
1968 over 100,000 people disappeared
leaving no solid clues
nor trace
a space in the lives of their friends

See Ishmael Reed reading some of his poetry at Litquake 2007:

* Used copy of Reed’s novel Japanese by Spring for sale at

James Russell Lowell (born February 22, 1819) – U.S. poet, social critic, abolitionist


My heart,

I cannot still it,
Nest that had song-birds in it;
And when the last shall go,
The dreary days to fill it,
Instead of lark or linnet,
Shall whirl dead leaves and snow.
Had they been swallows only,
Without the passion stronger
That skyward longs and sings,–
Woe’s me, I shall be lonely
When I can feel no longer

The impatience of their wings!

A moment, sweet delusion,

Like birds the brown leaves hover;
But it will not be long
Before their wild confusion
Fall wavering down to cover
The poet and his song.

For an excellent portrait of James Russell Lowell and his somewhat antagonistic relationship with Edgar Allan Poe, see the Edgar A. Poe Calendar for February 22, 2009:


February 23

W.E.B. DuBois (born February 23, 1868) – U.S. civil rights activist, author – The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America (1924) (reissued February 2009)
Listen to W.E.B. DuBois speak about the Pan-African Congress in this
1952 recording by
audio documentarian Tony Schwartz
(Smithsonian Folkways records).

February 24
Grant Allen (born February 24, 1848) – Canadian novelist, essayist, science fiction writer – The Woman Who Did (1895)

February 25

Mary Coyle Chase (born February 25, 1906) – U.S. playwright and journalist – Harvey

Read about Mary Coyle Chase here

Watch this Youtube excerpt from the
1950 film Harvey, starring James Stewart:

George Harrison (born February 25, 1943) – British songwriter, musician (The Beatles)

February 26
Victor Hugo (born February 26, 1802) – French novelist, playwright, poet – Les Misérables
Excerpt from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“What dost thou want, Djali?” said the gypsy, hastily, as though suddenly awakened.
“She is hungry,” said Gringoire, charmed to enter into conversation.
Esmeralda began to crumble some bread, which Djali ate gracefully from the hollow of her hand.
Moreover, Gringoire did not give her time to resume her revery. He hazarded a delicate question.
“So you don’t want me for your husband?”
The young girl looked at him intently, and said, “No.”
“For your lover?” went on Gringoire.
She pouted, and replied, “No.”
“For your friend?” pursued Gringoire.
She gazed fixedly at him again, and said, after a momentary reflection, “Perhaps.”
This “perhaps,” so dear to philosophers, emboldened Gringoire.
“Do you know what friendship is?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the gypsy; “it is to be brother and sister; two souls which touch without mingling, two fingers on one hand.”
“And love?” pursued Gringoire.
“Oh! love!” said she, and her voice trembled, and her eye beamed. “That is to be two and to be but one. A man and a woman mingled into one angel. It is heaven.”

February 27

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (born February 27, 1807) – U.S. poet
Excerpt from The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Longfellow’s famous poem about Paul Revere

February 28

Jeanne Cherhal (born February 28, 1978) – French songwriter, singer
First verses of Voilà
Album: L’eau (Water)

C’est une histoire ancienne et pourtant c’est dans ma tête
J’ai beau lui dire vas-t’en, elle reste là
C’est un vieux souvenir, un craquement d’allumette

J’ai beau lui dire fous le camp, il bouge pas

It’s an old story, still in my head
I tell it in vain to go; it stays
It’s an old memory, the crack of a match
I tell him in vain to get the hell out, he doesn’t

Voilà voilà voilà voilà
Si seulement dans ce qu’on est, on pouvait faire un choix
Seulement voilà voilà voilà voilà
Peut pas

Here, Here, Here, Here
If only in this I could make the choice
Only — here, here, here, here
I can’t

C’est comme une habitude, un peu comme une manie
J’aime la solitude jusqu’à la tyrannie
Viens pas me déloger de ma carapace quand j’hiberne
Ou d’avance désolée pour mes coups dans tes lanternes

It’s like a habit, a little like a mania
I love the solitude before the tyranny
Don’t come and knock me out of my shell when I’m hibernating
Where I grieve in advance for my punch in your eyes

See the music video of Voilà on Youtube:

About litbirthdays

researching author birthdays
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4 Responses to Literary Birthdays – Week of February 22 – 28

  1. litbirthdays says:

    Thanks, Poe-man! I found some purdy birdies (I like purdy birdies) and a poem to go with them. Voila Auspex.

  2. He really doesn’t do a lot of short stuff, other than some boring sonnets. But there’s always the classic “June”:

    (As an aside, a day in June is no more rare than a day in any other month of the year! Sorry, James…!)

  3. Let’s not forget James Russell Lowell, born February 22, 1819.

    • litbirthdays says:

      Indeed, let’s not forget him. I’m looking for something of his that’s short and fits in — any suggestions welcome.

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