Literary Birthdays – Week of July 11 – 17, 2010

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July 11

Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung

Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai (白先勇; pinyin: Bái Xiānyǒng,) (b. 1937) – Chinese novelist, short story writer – Taipei People (1971)

Read the Wikipedia article for Pai Hsien-Yung and a short bio here

Read about Pai Hsien-yung’s groundbreaking novel Crystal Boys
(Powerpoint slides)

Watch Kenneth Pai (Pai Hsien-Yung) talk about his production of the Chinese classic (Kunqu-style) opera The Peony Pavilion

Read excerpts from Taipei People here

“I’ve never seen such a thing in all my born days!” Suddenly my aunt laughed behind her hands. “A forty-year old great big hunk of a man letting a baby-doll of a little girl lead him around by the nose! Why, he caters to her every wish.” It’s a miracle, my aunt wondered out loud with a shake of her head; the two of them must be fated for each other.
… Each morning Wang Hsiung would carry Little Beauty to school in his pedicab; in the afternoon he would bring her home. He always polished his pedicab bright and shiny; he had little bamboo sticks topped with woollen balls in rainbow hues, paper-cut phoenixes and little pinwheels stuck all across the handlebar; the vehicle was decorated like an Imperial Palace carriage. Each time Wang Hsiung went out to transport Little Beauty he made himself spic-and-span, even on the hottest days he was always respectably attired. As Little Beauty marched through the gate, chin in the air, hair shaking, haughty as a little princess, Wang Hsiung brought up the rear, holding her schoolbag, his back straight and his face solemn, every inch the Imperial Guard to her Royal Highness.
…Once I saw him seated by himself under the eaves, at his feet a multicolored pile of glass beads; he was holding a golden thread and stringing the beads with the utmost concentration. As he reached out to catch the glass beads that were rolling in all directions, his gigantic paws looked really clumsy, yet rather engaging. When Little Beauty got home that day and came to the garden, Wang Hsiung decorated her from head to foot with bracelets and necklaces of glass beads.
*  *  *
Three weeks after school started, one Saturday around noon Little Beauty returned home where we were all waiting for her so we could eat lunch together. The girl flung open the living-room door and walked in, her face stormy; Wang Hsiung was following behind with her schoolbag.
“Beginning next week, I don’t want Wang Hsiung to take me to school any more!” she said to my aunt the minute she sat down. …

(from “A Sea of Blood-red Azaleas” in Taipei People, pages 154-164)

Read the short story State Funeral


July 12

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (standing)

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (standing)

Oscar Hammerstein II (b. 1895) – U.S. lyricist for musicals – South Pacific (1949)

Read about Oscar Hammerstein here

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to Year
It’s got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
To be Afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made
And people whose skin
Is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
Before it’s too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

(Listen to a snippet from the original Broadway cast recording: here)

Pablo Neruda (b. 1904) – Chilean poet

Read about Pablo Neruda here and here

July 13

Helga Koenigsdorf
Helga Königsdorf (b. 1938) – German novelist – Fission (Hydra)(2000)

Read a biography of Helga Königsdorf here

About Fission

A graceful 1986 meditation on ethnic identity, the mixed blessings of scientific discovery, and the nature of disability, written by a former East German novelist and teacher of mathematics and science. Its narrator tells the story of (historical figure) physicist Lise Meitner, a Jewish woman partly responsible for the discovery of atomic fission.

(From Kirkus Editorial Review)

“Fission” is grounded in fact. The ghost is the physicist Lise Meitner. She was key to the discovery of uranium fission, which resulted eventually in the nuclear bomb. A Jew, she fled Germany and though she did not share  as she should have the Nobel Prize for the discovery, she received many other scientific awards and continued to work in her field until she died in 1968.

Author Helga Konigsdorf grew up in the former East Germany and now has Parkinson’s disease. She was a professor of physics and mathematics and, like the narrator, has experienced the ways illness and pain shrink the possibilities and dimensions of life. In an introspective poetic meditation, she finds the connection between Meitner’s efforts to prevail against all obstacles to pursue science. She reviews her own decisions, questions, disagrees and argues with Meitner, and in the end achieves some peace by acknowledging that the purpose of life is simply in living it. “I have been given a message,” she  realizes , and will pass it on so that part of it will join with that of others to form a new message even after she has been forgotten. “We are immortal as long as continuity is vouchsafed to this life.” This small, powerful book quietly affirms human existence in the face of suffering.

(Review by Emily Mitchell for SeniorWomenWeb)

Read excerpts of Fission here

I swallow the green capsules and am prepared for hallucinations. So it doesn’t surprise me. I have to admit, I even feel a kind of curiosity. I am determined not to lose control. To distinguish between reality and delusion. At least to the extent that it is possible through the use of logic. And here it is as clear as daylight. The woman before me in my swivel chair has been dead for fifteen years.
She immediately registers her protest against being nothing but a product of my abnormal dopamine levels. … This first instance of extrasensory perception actually does make me uneasy. Especially the apparition’s independence. And why, of all people, must it be Lise Meitner? This physicist who participated in the discovery of uranium fission. Something that is causing quite enough trouble right now. Truly.
*  *  *
A gray fall day dawns. I struggle against the morning dizziness. All ambition has vanished into thin air. What I am able to accomplish from here on in will be of no consequence. No task that could keep me going.
This is something with which she is familiar. She was in just such a state after she left Germany in 1938. Says Lise Meitner. In other words, she is back. Sitting in my room again. And this time I am already less surprised.
The Siegbahn Institute in Stockholm was incredibly empty. A handsome building in which a cyclotron and many other large X-ray and spectroscopic instruments were being constructed. …She was utterly lonely and in despair. She had a job, but no assignment that would have given her a right to anything. Sixty years old. For nine months she had been living in a tiny hotel room.
At sixty they won’t expect anything from me either. At sixty I will be a professor emerita. What are we talking about? If I am still alive at sixty, I’ll be a basket case. Incapable of language. My tongue is already less agile than it once was. Gradually the paralysis will spread. My hand already refuses to do my bidding. My expression frozen, I will be completely locked inside myself.

Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka (b. 1934) – Nigerian playwright, novelist, memoirist, political activist – Ake: The Years of Childhood(1989)

Read about Wole Soyinka here and here

Watch Soyinka speak to UNESCO about Haiti in March 2010


July 14

Angelique Kidjo Angélique Kidjo (b. 1960) – Beninese singer/songwriter – “Afirika” Black Ivory Soul 2002

Read about Angélique Kidjo here

Watch Angélique Kidjo perform Afirika at the 2010 World Cup Concert

Laura Numeroff and friends

Laura Numeroff (b. 1953) – U.S. children’s book author – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (1985)

Read about Laura Numeroff here and here

Laura Numeroff talks about her book Raising a Hero

Read the Happy Birthday Author blog
post about Laura Numeroff


July 15

Dorothy Fields

Dorothy Fields (b. 1905) – U.S. lyricist

Read about Dorothy Fields here

Listen to Judy Garland sing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” – lyrics
by Dorothy Fields


July 16


Ross King Ross King (b. 1962) – Canadian scholar,  historian –  Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

Read the Wikipedia article about Ross King

Read a New York Times book review of  King’s book The Judgment of Paris

The standard account of the rise of Impressionism describes Édouard Manet as a misunderstood pioneer whose noble struggles paved the way for Monet, Cézanne, Degas and others. King presents a somewhat different drama: his Manet, a yellow-gloved, upper-class dandy eager for attention, sought out controversial subjects to épater le bourgeois, and far from toiling away just for art’s sake built himself an exhibition hall near the Pont de l’Alma, lined in red velvet, in hopes of selling big.

Watch Ross King talk about Meisonnier


July 17

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Hebrew: שמואל יוסף עגנון) (b. 1888) – Hebrew novelist, short story writer, 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature winner – The Day Before Yesterday / Only Yesterday (1945)

Read the Authors Calendar biography of Shmuel Yosef Agnon

Read the Wikipedia article about S. Y. Agnon


Michael Gilbert Michael Francis Gilbert (b. 1912) – U.K. mystery writer –  Smallbone Deceased> (1950)

Read the Authors Calendar biography of Michael Gilbert

Read the U.K. Telegraph obituary for Michael Gilbert

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