Literary Birthdays – March 21 – 27

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March 21

Ved Mehta (born March 21, 1934) – Indian-U.S. essayist, autobiographer – The Red Letters: My Father’s Enchanted Period (2004)

Read a biography of Ved Mehta on his website

Read excerpts from Mehta’s The Red Letters

My mother stopped briefly in New York on her way to Charleston, and eager to introduce my parents to some of the people who were closest to me in New York, I arranged a dinner party for them in my apartment. I invited William Shawn, the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker, who edited my writing; his wife, Cecille, and their two grown sons, Wallace and Allen; and my friend and amanuensis, Gwyneth Cravens. Despite tremendous good will all around, I expected the evening to be difficult. I was bringing together the two men who had had the greatest influence on me — my father and Mr. Shawn. After I had gone blind, two months short of my fourth birthday, everyone at home thought that my father should plan for a modest life for me, like that of a small-time shopkeeper, but my father never faltered in his ambition that I should aspire to the highest intellectual attainments.
* * * *
When I saw Gwyn at the office the morning after the dinner party, I said to her, “I was quite confused at the strange turn things took last night. What do you think happened?”
“I was puzzled myself,” she said. “I couldn’t have imagined a nicer group of people, and yet everything seemed to go awry.”
We did what we often did with a messy draft of writing — tried to put the material in some kind of order.
“What happened after I gave my father the brandy?” I asked.
“He seemed to drink it quickly. He started talking about your accomplishments with a great deal of fatherly pride. Then without any warning, he shifted into a stream of self-accusations, but not at all in a maudlin, drunken way. He seemed suddenly to drop his social mask and to speak from the heart. His suffering was evident. He said he had always felt responsible for what he called the tragedy of your blindness — how he blamed himself for not acting promptly when you got sick. Though he suspected you had meningitis, he delayed by a day driving you to a hospital where you could be properly diagnosed and treated. I said something reassuring, but without pausing he went on to explain the reason for his delay…

Watch a video interview of Ved Mehta where he talks about his life and his writing (starts at minute 7:00)

Watch Charlie Rose interview Ved Mehta (2002)

March 22

Beverley Knight (born March 22, 1973) – U.K. singer/songwriter Beverley Knight 2

Read the Wikipedia biography of Beverley Knight

Read Beverley Knight’s description of her songwriting process

Watch Beverley Knight perform Soul Survivor live
(co-written with Chaka Khan and Guy Chambers)

Soul Survivor

There’s a time and place for change
Ain’t too many things that stay the same.
I’ve been there through every phase
Seasons come and go, but I remain.

I’m the one who holds the cards
Every hand I play
I raise the stakes.
Doubters wonder from afar
How I’m even trailing in my wake.

I’m a Soul Survivor
I’m a Soul Revivor
[we came, we saw, we won
it’s far from done
And time will heal the pain.
The road is long
It gets you down
But we will do it all again]

Where’s the man to quantify
Everything I’m worth and who I am?
He should look me in the eye
Tell me where he figures in my plan!

There ain’t nobody gonna make me stop
Turn the lock, rip me off
‘Cuz I’m right where I should be
Ain’t nobody gonna hold me back
Change the track, make me slack
You can’t find another “Me”.

I’m a Soul Survivor
I’m a Soul Revivor
[we came, we saw, we won
it’s far from done
And time will heal the pain.
The road is long
It gets you down
But we will do it all again].

Never underestimate
All the strength that lives
Inside of you
I am here to demonstrate
What no ordinary mind can do.


March 23

Plantu (Jean Plantureux) (born March 23, 1951) – French cartoonist / political satirist

Read the Wikipedia biography of Plantu

Plantu – March 22, 2016

Plantu Belgium Attacks

Read about Plantu on the World People’s Blog

Visit Plantu’s website

Plantu’s cartoons for International
Women’s Day (March 8)

Emmy Noether (born March 23, 1882) – German mathematician – Noether’s Theorem

Read the Wikipedia biography of Emmy Noether

Read The Great Math Wizettes blog post about Noether

Read “Noether’s Theorem in a Nutshell”

March 24

Kate Webb Kate (Catherine Merrial) Webb (born March 24, 1943) – New Zealand journalist / war correspondent – On the Other Side: 23 Days with the Viet Cong (1972)

Kate Webb’s bio

Read about Kate Webb’s experience as a Viet Cong prisoner during the Vietnam War

The story Webb wrote about her capture and release reflected what was the greatest strength of her Vietnam reportage, her neutrality. Webb never embraced one side or the other in the conflict. The labels “hawk” and “dove,” which have long since entered the American lexicon, never had meaning in the context of Webb’s view of the war. Objectivity transcended ideology. Her sense of the conflict had more to do with a personal philosophy than politics. “I still don’t lean to one side or the other in this war,” she told Tony Clifton. “My reaction is a woman’s reaction: how very sad it all is, what a bloody awful waste.”
From:  On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American  Experience in Vietnam by Joyce Hoffmann, page 235

Read the New York Times article about and obituary for
Kate Webb

March 25


Toni Cade Bambara (born March 25, 1939) – U.S. novelist, short story writer, essayist – “My Man Bovanne”

Read about Toni Cade Bambara here and here

Read “Medley” by Toni Cade Bambara

I could tell the minute I got in the door and dropped my bag, I wasn’t
staying. Dishes piled sky-high in the sink looking like some circus act.
Glasses all ghostly on the counter. Busted tea bags, curling cantaloupe
rinds, white cartons from the Chinamen, green sacks from the deli,
and that damn dog creeping up on me for me to wrassle his head or
kick him in the ribs one. So, l definitely wasn’t staying. Couldn’t even
figure why I’d come. But picked my way to the hallway anyway till the
laundry-stuffed pillowcases stopped me. Larry’s bass blocking the view
to the bedroom.
“That you, Sweet Pea?”
“No, man, ain’t me at all,” I say, working my way back to the suitcase
and shoving that damn dog out of the way. “See ya round,” l holler, the
door slamming behind me, cutting off the words abrupt.

Quite naturally sitting cross-legged at the club, I embroider a little
on the homecoming tale, what with an audience of two crazy women
and a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels. Got so I could actually see shonuff
toadstools growing in the sink, cantaloupe seeds sprouting in the muck.
A goddamn compost heap breeding near the stove, garbage gardens on
the grill.

“Sweet Pea, you oughta hush, cause you can’t possibly keep on lying
so,” Pot Limit’s screaming, tears popping from her eyes. “Lawd hold my
legs, cause this liar bout to kill me off.”

“Never mind about Larry’s housekeeping, girl,” Sylvia’s soothing
me, sloshing perfectly good bourbon all over the table. “You can come
and stay with me till your house comes through. It’ll be like old times
at Aunt Merriam’s.”

I ease back into the booth to wait for the next set. The drummer’s
fooling with the equipment, tapping the mikes, hoping he’s watched,
so I watch him. But feeling worried in my mind about Larry…

[excerpt from “Medley”]

March 26

Robert Frost (born March 26, 1874) – U.S. poet

Read the Wikipedia biography and the Authors Calendar biography of Robert Frost

Watch an excerpt from a Robert Frost documentary

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

(excerpt from “Two Tramps in Mudtime”)

March 27

Ai Qing (艾青) (Jiang Haicheng) (born March 27, 1910) – Chinese poet

Excerpt from “Snow Falls on China’s Land”

Snow falls on China’s land;
Cold blockades China

Like a grief-stricken old woman
Closely following behind,
Stretching out her icy claws,
Tugs at the travelers’clothes.
With words as old as the land,
Her nagging never ends.
Coming from the forests
In horse-drawn carts,
You, there, farmers of China,
Wearing fur hats,
Braving the blizzard —
Where are you going?
* * *
I love this wretched land,
An endless stretch of desolate hinterland;
Yes, it brings out my devotion.
— I see them,
Our forebears,
Leading their flocks of sheep,
Blowing on the reed pipes,
Overwhelmed in this great desert dusk; …

“Dayanhe, My Nanny,” written in prison in 1933, with which Ai made his debut, demonstrates this so-called “prosy” beauty:

Dayanhe, to make a living,
After using up her milk to feed babies,
Started to work with her two arms that had carried me;
With a smile she washed our clothes,
With a smile she sliced frozen turnips,
With a smile she cleaned pigs’ troughs,
With a smile she fanned the stove fire that stewed meat,
With a smile she went to the square with a basket
to spread beans and wheat grains for sunshine.
Dayanhe, to make a living,
Started to work with her two arms that had carried me.

Repetition is conspicuous here, and Payne sees this trait as a weakness
in Ai’s poetry — a fault that many readers find in Whitman, too.

[Excerpt from Guiyou Huang’s “A Newer Realm of Poetry: Whitman and Ai Qing” in Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 15.4 (1998)]

Read Ai Qing’s obituary here:

Michael Aris (born March 27, 1946) – U.K. Himalayan Buddhist scholar – Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives: A Study of Pemalingpa, 1450-1521, and the Sixth Dalai Lama, 1683-1706 (1989)

Read the New York Times and The Independent obituaries for Michael Aris

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