Literary Birthdays – Week of May 2 – 8

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May 2


Kwon-taek Im
(or Im Kwon Taek) (born May 2, 1936) – Korean film director, screenwriter – Chihwaseon (2002)

Read the Wikipedia entry for Im Kwon-taek

Read more about Im Kwon-taek here


May 3

Leslie Marmon Silko (born May 3, 1948) – Native American (U.S.) novelist, poet, essayist – The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright (1986)

Read about Silko here and  here

Read a conversation with Silko from
Conversations with Leslie Marmon Silko
by Ellen L. Arnold and Leslie Silko

When I first moved to Tucson from Laguna, New Mexico, going from the high mountain plateau country into the Sonoran Desert, it was a radical change. I had a sense of leaving the Pueblo country behind, and I was leaving an unhappy marriage. … I was in the hills alone a lot and started to feel very sad about how people treated snakes. I started to pay attention to them. I like to see them and am amazed at how forgiving they are, how they really don’t want to hide or harm things — you know, they only eat when they’re hungry.

… I was having trouble, and I went out on the side of the building on Stone Avenue in downtown Tucson, where I worked, in desperation. I had sold the novel, not just because I needed money, which I did, but the MacArthur Fellowship was finished, and I thought if I sold it, it would force me to finish it. … I left my typewriter and all my notes and went outside and painted a great big snake on the side of the building. I started working on the mural. I just said to myself, “I think I’ll just paint for a while, and maybe it will let my mind settle so I can gather myself.” As I painted I didn’t think about the book at all. The mural got more and more elaborate. And finally I said to myself, “If I can bring this off, I know I can finish this novel.”

It’s a great big huge snake. It’s got skulls on its stomach, and then it has this slogan in my broken Spanish, “The people are cold, the people are hungry, the rich have stolen the land, the rich have stolen freedom.” The last line is “The people demand justice, otherwise revolution.” I put it up on top, and I wrote it in Spanish because no one in Tucson understood it. … He had the skulls on his stomach and the reflection in his eyes got a skull too. And there was the spider, and she weaves the web and the plants. And there’s rain and night and day. The snake’s coming out of night into day. I realize now that it was a unifier. It always was a unifying figure or image.

Watch “An Evening with Leslie Marmon Silko” (Arizona State University, October 2009) [1 hour]

May 4

Rey Valera (born May 4,. 1954) – Filipino songwriter

Read the Wikipedia entry for Rey Valera

Listen to Sharon Cuneta perform
“Mr. DJ”  (written by Valera)

Lyrics to “Mr. DJ”

Mr DJ, can I make a request?
Puwede ba ‘yung love song ko? / Would you play a love song?
Mr DJ, para sa ‘kin ito / Mr DJ, it’s for me
Sana ay okay sa iyo / Hope you are okay

Hihintayin ko / I’ll wait
na patugtugin mo / for you to play it
Thank you ulit sa iyo / Thank you again

Kahit na luma na ang aming awit / Even our old songs
Nais pa ring marinig / that he would still hear
Kahit man lang sa aking alaala / At least in my memory
ay makasama ko siya / would hurt him

Nasaan man siya / Where she
mayro’n mang iba / loves anyone else
ito’y para sa kaniya / but him

At sana’y nakikinig siya / And I hope he remembers
naaalala kaya niya? / will he remember?
Ang love song namin noon / the love song
na niluma na ng panahon / from old times

Mr DJ, salamat sa iyo / Mr. DJ, thank you
sumasabay din ako / I still believe
sa love song namin noon / that was our love song
na niluma na ng panahon… / like in old times


May 5

Nellie_Bly_Elizabeth Cochrane

Elizabeth Cochrane (Nellie Bly) (born May 5, 1864) – U.S. journalist

Read a biography of Nellie Bly

… The assignment that made her known to virtually all literate Americans, however, was a stunt story: her trip around the world in an attempt to beat Jules Verne’s time in his tale Around the World in Eighty Days. …She began the trip alone and carrying only one small suitcase, on 14 November 1889 and returned to New York on 25 January 1890, for a successful time of seventy-two days, six hours, ten minutes, and eleven seconds, according to the World.

The route Nellie Bly took around the world described below.

“Her trip differed from the Verne itineray in that she didn’t cross India by train but sailed via Ceylon. Traveling alone, she became a role model of independence for women everywhere.”



May 6

Sujata Bhatt (born May 6, 1956) – Indian/U.S. poet Sujata Bhatt

Read about Sujata Bhatt at

Poem for a Reader Who Was Born Blind

I want to apologize
for all the colours
I mentioned in my poems –

What could they possibly mean
to you?

But you told me you can
understand the colours in ways
I will never know.

Today, thinking of you
I imagined myself blind –

The afternoon sun on my face –
I listened to Engkhjargal Dandarvaanchig
sing a traditional
Mongolian song – a shepherd’s song –

There were horses – somewhere –
I could hear horses within his voice –
and the purest blue
within his voice –
a vast blueness –
prairie dog cough – the smell of snow
and his harhira singing, his voice
so low as if he were inside the mountain,
singing to us from the deepest part
of a cave. I could feel his muscles –
the blueness moved into the fox,
the prairie dog, the horses –

And then, the blueness
started to seep into my chest –

Read “In Her Green Dress, She Is” at the
Very Little Bird

In her green dress, she is
the background and the foreground –

A green dress the colour
of iris stems,
the ones in the background –

Read more here

Watch / listen to Sujata Bhatt read her poem
“The Voices”


May 7

Volker Braun (born May 7, 1939) – German poet, playwright, essayist


Read the Wikipedia entry for Volker Braun

Read Shigekuni’s blog review of Volker Braun’s Trotzdestonichts oder Der Wendehals

Now, to clear up that strange long title: “Trotzdestonichts” is not an existing German word, it’s a neologism, derived by switching around the elements of the word “nichtsdestotrotz” which, roughly, means “nonetheless” in English. You might translate it with “lessthenone”, I guess.  A “Wendehals” is a “turncoat”. Thus, the title might be translated as “Lessthenone, or The Turncoat”, but, of course, a few things would be lost in that translation. … There is, however, one specific historical meaning that the word carries: it can refer to the end of the GDR and the takeover by West Germany (BRD). And so we have, in the title, a pun that contains in nuce, already, the theme of the book. How people were affected by that specific historical “turnabout”, how some became turncoats, how it overturned and switched around meanings for people living there, how even everyday life had to be read anew, how old readings of one’s own history had to be reversed etc. But I make the book sound more serious and heavy-going than it is, really.

Watch an interview with Volker Braun (in German)


May 8

Beth Henley Beth Henley (born May 8, 1952) – U.S. playwright – Crimes of the Heart

Read about Beth Henley here and here

Watch / listen to Beth Henley read from her essay “The Plays That Changed My Life”

“Being very thin and sprightly she made a dashing green bean man.  How thrilled I was by her transformation from my mother to a green elf. She had eclipsed species and gender. The magic faded — when I saw the play.”


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