Literary Birthdays – Week of May 17 – 23

May 17

Dennis Potter (b. 1935) – British screenwriter, novelist – The Singing Detective

Watch a Dennis Potter interview:

May 18
Omar Khayyam
(b. 1048) – Persian poet, mathematician – The Rubaiyat

Excerpt from The Rubaiyat:

Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain–This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.

Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

The Revelations of Devout and Learn’d
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn’d,
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return’d.

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answered, “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell:”

Listen to Khayyam’s verses sung in Persian:

May 19
Malcolm X
(Malcolm Little) (b. 1925) – U.S. political activist – “Message to the Grass Roots” (1963)

Listen to Malcolm X – “Message to the Grass Roots”:

Read the transcript of “Message to the Grassroots”

Lorraine Hansberry (1930) – U.S. playwright – A Raisin in the Sun

May 20
Honoré de Balzac
(b. 1799) – French novelist, playwright

Excerpt from The Duchess of Langeais (1833):

Between him and the light stood a woman. Her face was hidden by
the veil that drooped from the folds upon her head; she was
dressed according to the rule of the order in a gown of the
colour become proverbial. Her bare feet were hidden; if the
General could have seen them, he would have known how appallingly
thin she had grown; and yet in spite of the thick folds of her
coarse gown, a mere covering and no ornament, he could guess how
tears, and prayer, and passion, and loneliness had wasted the
woman before him.

An ice-cold hand, belonging, no doubt, to the Mother Superior,
held back the curtain. The General gave the enforced witness of
their interview a searching glance, and met the dark, inscrutable
gaze of an aged recluse. The Mother might have been a century
old, but the bright, youthful eyes belied the wrinkles that
furrowed her pale face.

“Mme la Duchesse,” he began, his voice shaken with emotion,
“does your companion understand French?” The veiled figure
bowed her head at the sound of his voice.

“There is no duchess here,” she replied. “It is Sister Theresa
whom you see before you. She whom you call my companion is my
mother in God, my superior here on earth.”

See the trailer for the 2008 remake of the film The Duchess of Langeais:

Cher (Cherilyn Sarkisian) (b. 1946) – U.S.  singer/songwriter/actress –
First verse of  Cher’s song Believe
After love, after love [repeat]
No matter how hard I try
You keep pushing me aside
And I can’t break through
There’s no talking to you
So sad that you’re leaving
Takes time to believe it
But after all is said and done
You’re going to be the lonely one, Ohh Oh

Do you believe in life after love
I can feel something inside me say
I really don’t think you’re strong enough,
Do you believe in life after love
I can feel something inside me say
I really don’t think you’re strong enough,

Joe  (John Robert) Cocker (b. 1944) – British singer –
Listen to Joe Cocker songs at his website:

May 21
Manly Wade Wellman
(b. 1903) – U.S. fiction writer – The Beasts from Beyond (1950)

Visit the Manly Wade Wellman website for a biography and complete bibliography:

May 22
Arthur Conan Doyle
(b. 1859) – Scottish detective fiction writer (Sherlock Holmes series) – The Sign of the Four

Excerpt from the short story “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” (1893)

“It is very neatly tied. I had already made a note of that effect,” said Lestrade complacently.

“So much for the string, then,” said Holmes, smiling, “now for the box wrapper. Brown paper, with a distinct smell of coffee. What, did you not observe it? I think there can be no doubt of it. Address printed in rather straggling characters: ‘Miss S. Cushing, Cross Street, Croydon.’ Done with a broad-pointed pen, probably a J, and with very inferior ink. The word ‘Croydon’ has been originally spelled with an ‘i’, which has been changed to ‘y’. The parcel was directed, then, by a man–the printing is distinctly masculine–of limited education and unacquainted with the town of Croydon. So far, so good! The box is a yellow, half-pound honeydew box, with nothing distinctive save two thumb marks at the left bottom corner. It is filled with rough salt of the quality used for preserving hides and other of the coarser commercial purposes. And embedded in it are these very singular enclosures.”

May 23
Pär Lagerkvist
(b. 1891) – Swedish essayist, novelist, 1951 Nobel Prize winner – Barabbas (1950)

Read about Pär Lagerkvist here

Two poems by Pär Lagerkvist


Carl Linnaeus (b. 1707) – Swedish taxonomist – Systema Naturae (1735)


About litbirthdays

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1 Response to Literary Birthdays – Week of May 17 – 23

  1. Rob V. says:

    Here’s my take on Doyle’s 150th birthday – compared to Poe, of course.

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