Literary Birthdays – Week of May 30 – June 5, 2010

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May 30

Agnes Varda (born May 30, 1928) – French film director, writer – The Beaches of Agnes / Les plages d’Agnès (2008)  agnes-varda

Read the Wikipedia article about Agnes Varda

Read the High Museum’s blog post about
The Beaches of Agnes

“Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Catherine Deneuve), Agnes Varda was the only female director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking.”

Read this Vitro Nasu blog post about Agnes Varda


Read Agnes Varda’s thoughts about her (and others’)  films in this 1977 interview by Gerald Peary

Women’s films? “Look, I’ve done them since 1958,” Varda lectures me.” L’Opera Mouffe was a short film about the contradictions of pregnancy. I was pregnant at the time, told I should feel good, like a bird. But I looked around on the street where I filmed, and I saw people expecting babies who were poor, sick, and full of despair.”… Most important for her feminist education was Varda’s journey to Oakland, California, to cover the Huey Newton trial for her Black Panthers: a Report (1968). “The Black Panthers were the first to say, ‘We want to make the rules, the theory.’ And that’s what made me aware of the woman situation. A lot of good men had been thinking for us.”



May 31

Svetlana Alexievich (born May 31, 1948) – Belarusian writer, 2015 Literature Nobel Prize – The Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicles of the Future (aka Voices from Chernobyl)
Svetlana Alexievich

Read about Svetlana Alexievich here and here

Read Julian Evans’ review of Voices from Chernobyl

The book begins and ends with the testimony of two widows; one the young wife of a Pripyat firefighter who went at night to fight the blaze in his shirtsleeves, the other the wife of a “liquidator”, one of the 600,000 men drafted in to bury the topsoil and shoot every animal in the zone. He is the last in his platoon to die. When he can no longer speak, she asks him, “Are you sorry now that you went there?” He shakes his head no and writes for her, “When I die, sell the car, and the spare tyre, and don’t marry Tolik.” Tolik is his brother. She doesn’t marry him.


June 1

Casper de Vries (born June 1, 1954) – South African (Afrikaans) comedian

Read the Wikipedia article about Casper de Vries

Watch Casper de Vries perform his “Learning Channel” skit

Marie Knight Marie Knight
(born June 1, 1925) – U.S. gospel singer

Read about Marie Knight here and here

Visit the official Marie Knight website and listen to
“Twelve Gates to the City”

Marie Knight singing “Every Time I Feel the Spirit”

Watch Marie Knight talk about her life and work

Marie Knight singing “I Thank You Jesus”



June 2

Dorothy West2
Dorothy West (born June 2, 1907) – U.S. novelist, short story writer (Harlem Renaissance) – The Wedding (1995)

Read about Dorothy West here and here

“Her 1948 semi-autobiographical novel, The Living Is Easy, explores racism and class-consciousness among the African-American bourgeoisie in Boston.  A second novel, The Wedding, was started in the 1960s but West didn’t complete it until the 1990s. Her editor for this book, her Martha’s Vineyard neighbor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, read West’s work in the island’s local paper and encouraged her to complete the novel. Similar to her earlier novel and to many of her short stories, The Wedding examines issues of race and class among upper-middle class African Americans, this time in the Martha’s Vineyard community, Oak Bluffs.”

Read excerpts from The Living Is Easy and from The Wedding

Excerpt from The Living is Easy (page 88)

Miss Johnson was a lady’s maid, and therefore an undistinguished Negro who deserved no more special consideration than a white servant who happened to be left a house. As the tone of a street is considerably lowered when mistress and maid live side by side, the high visibility of a Negro maid, added to this, plunged its desirability to zero.
“You want to see me, Miss Johnson?” asked Cleo, meeting her midway the room. She stared with pity and revulsion at the wrinkled monkey face, the dim eyes behind the gold-rimmed spectacles, and the mottled hands that were like burnt matchsticks. Her own hand tightened on Judy’s for the young feel of it. She was frightened in the presence of old people. She did not like to face the fact that some day she must surrender the reins of power to someone whose strength was as hers was now.
“I wanted to see you on a matter of my discretion,” Miss Johnson said, in the careful manner of speaking that had been part of her since she had come by Underground to Boston with an untutored tongue which had acquired the accent and intonation of her mistress….
“Oh, by the way, Miss Johnson,” she began, “my husband surprised me to death last night by telling me we’re moving. He heard about a house yesterday and rushed right out to rent it before anyone else. I went to look at it this morning. It’s in Brookline, and, of course, we’re very fortunate. But I’ve spent some very pleasant years in this house, and I’m leaving reluctantly. The thing is, day before yesterday I got a letter from a sister of mine, saying she was coming to Boston to put her child in a Boston school. I told my husband, and I guess he thought it would be nice for use to be together, since she’s a widow. So yesterday he got this house. I’m sure you’re not sorry. One child walking over your head is enough.”
“I love children,” Miss Johnson said quietly. “I like the noise their little feet make. When you lose your eyes, you lean on your ears.”
Judy wriggled her hand free and went to stand before Miss Johnson, lifting her small serious face. “I’ll miss you,” she said gently, and laced the gnarled fingers in her own.
Cleo wanted to snatch her child away from this childless woman who stood among the Victorian relics of her meaningless life, and had no hope of anything but heaven. “Judy, Miss Binney’s waiting,” she said coldly.



June 3

18nb0i Pedro Mir (born June 3, 1913) – Dominican poet

Read the Wikipedia article about Pedro Mir

Visit the website for Pedro Mir (in Spanish)

Read the first verse of “Hay un país en el mundo”

un país en el mundo
en el mismo trayecto del sol,

Oriundo de la noche.
en un inverosímil archipiélago
de azúcar y de alcohol.

como un ala de murciélago
apoyado en la brisa.

como el rastro del beso
en las solteras
o el día en los tejados.

Frutal. Fluvial. Y material.
Y sin embargo
sencillamente tórrido y pateado
como una adolescente en las caderas.

Sencillamente triste y oprimido.
Sinceramente agreste y despoblado.There is
a country in the world
in the same trajectory as the sun

Native to the night.
in a far-fetched archipelago
of sugar and alcohol.

like the wing of a bat
supported by the breeze.

like the trace of a kiss on aged spinsters
or the day on tiled roofs

Fruitful, fluid, and material.
And yet
torrid and trod upon.
like the hips of an adolescent

Simply sad and depressed
Sincerely wild and unpopulated.



June 4

Margrit Schriber (born June 4, 1939) – Swiss novelist – The Ugliest Woman in the World / Die hässlichste Frau der Welt (2009) margrit_schreiber_400x400

Read a short description of The Ugliest Woman in the World

here (page 13) and here

Visit Margrit Schriber’s website



June 5

Pu Songling1 Pu Songling (born June 5, 1640) – Chinese short story writer – Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Read about Pu Songling here and here

Read Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio online



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