LitBirthdays May 8 – 14

May is

Jewish-American Heritage Month


National Bicycle Month

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May 8

Sirkka Hämäläinen1
 Sirkka Hämäläinen (b. 1939) – Finnish economist, Bank of Finland governor (retired)

 Read about Sirkka Hämäläinen here

Sirkka Hämäläinen on leadership:
A good leader is capable of constructive and empathetic criticism and can make even tough decisions with justice and consequence. The challenge is to make every employee a kind of independent entrepreneur. At this point it’s really challenging to clearly define the common goals, activity manners and values and to maintain high ethics and morals. The core of leadership will be motivating and defining boundaries for the “employee-entrepreneur” as well as continuously fulfilling the need for training.

(For readers of Finnish language:
An interview with Sirkka Hämäläinen “Women Are Different”)

“When in 1992, Finland was in difficulty and it was publicly discussed why the country had 400,000 to 600,000 people unemployed, I was frequently in the media.  And then I was asked why I never smile on television, ” Hämäläinen says.

“I do not behave according to expectations, such as women must always have a smile.”

Sirkka Hämäläinen was the first woman to be on the Board of the Bank of Finland, and so far she is the only woman to have been in the Bank of Finland and the Executive Board of the European Central Bank.

“When I went to the European Central Bank Executive Board in Frankfurt, the experience was quite a shock. In Finland,  women had become equal partners working alongside men, but at the ECB I felt like I was back in the past “, Sirkka Hämäläinen says.

Sirkka Hämäläinen says that it is difficult for women to operate in their own way when they are the only woman at the job. But as more women have entered management, men also have begun to to accept the different language and practice of women.

Born May 8

Beth Henley (b. 1952) – U.S. playwright – Crimes of the Heart

Gary Snyder (b. 1930) – U.S. poet

May 9


Nada El-Hage (b. 1958) – Lebanese poet, journalist – ثواب العشق  Veils of Passion (2010)

Read about Nada El-Hage here

Visit her website (Arabic and English)

A review (in French language) of Nada El-Hage’s poetry book Veils of Passion

“A secret voice that brings forth inner music through words … translucent, phosphorescent, velvety … words that are as light and elusive as the wind.”

Excerpt from a poem in Veils of Passion

A single word sufficient to lead to rock tombs,
A single word sufficient for springs to gush,
One look to cut off the prisoner’s head,
And in the scattered shards of mirrors
A single point sufficient to push us off balance so that we fly
Of what importance are words
When we extend our wings?

An interview in Lebanese Arabic with Nada El-Hage

The aria “Salam Al-Huriya”– poem by Nada El-Hage

Born May 9

Lucian Blaga (b. 1895) – Romanian philosopher, poet, playwright – Poems of Light

Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles) (b. 1970) – U.S. rapper

May 10

Nayantara Sahgal
Nayantara Sahgal (b. 1927) – Indian novelist – Rich Like Us (1985)

Read about Nayantara Sahgal here and here

Nayantara Sahgal: “The difficulty here is the way people use the word ‘tradition’. To my mind it is not something static, it is something we make as we go along.  So tradition is something that moves. It’s not something that obscurantist leaders and fundamentalists understand. They will insist that tradition is something back there and we have to hark back and tie ourselves to it, insisting that women can’t move forward because that’s tradition.

Excerpt from Relationship, a memoir / correspondence by Nayantara Sahgal and E.N. Mangat Rai

I sometimes tried to tell Gautam how dissatisfied I was with our relationship, how I felt I was carrying a burden alone — not only of our marriage, but of our children, of everything big and small that had to do with a household. We were not building anything together. There was no meeting of our minds. He said that was nonsense. … Suddenly I realized how cramped I had been, how stunted. And when in ‘59 I met a man who seemed to me interesting, someone I could talk to, I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to have lunch with him. Gautam did not see the need for this. Why did I want to see any man alone? Why alone? If l wanted to talk, why couldn’t I talk in his presence? How could I explain that I was not myself in his presence?

In the middle of this strained state of affairs I had got tickets to take the children to a pantomime, an annual feature in Bombay, with this man and his wife and daughter. When we bought the tickets, Gautam had been willing to go. On that evening his mood came upon him again — and it used to happen just like this, with last-minute cancellations and excuses — and he said he was not going. Ordinarily this would have finished the evening for both of us, as I would always rather have stayed home than endure scenes on my return. But this time I went and stayed out all night. Because after the pantomime and after dropping the children home I met Kjeld at a friend’s flat and we sat and talked till about 3 am. I was starved for adult companionship, for give·and·take, for naturalness, and our talk was personal, and friendly. Given time it could have become much more. Gautam found me there. He was incensed and in a terrible state and came near to hitting my …

(Read more here)

Amazon description of the book Relationship:  “The letters speak of a growing and passionate involvement, of the authors’ joy and pain at discovering an intellectual companionship while at the same time being forced to face the realities of their own lives and positions. These letters provide a mirror of the times when a kind of idealism and commitment still seemed possible. They give the reader an insight into the life and thoughts of one of India’s most successful writers, and one of the most distinguished civil servants of his generation.”

David Frost interviews Nayantara Sahgal and Fatima Bhutto, two members of South Asian “dynasty” families
Sahgal on India-Pakistan relations:  There’s a lunatic fringe on both sides, which would not like us to get closer, but the people on both sides want to get together.

Born May 10

Olga Bancic (b. 1912) – Romanian activist (French resistance, WWII)

Bono (Paul David Hewson) (b. 1960) – Irish singer/songwriter

May 11

Andre Gregory2
Andre Gregory  (b. 1934) – U.S. theater and film director / writer – My Dinner With Andre (1981)

Read about Andre Gregory here and here

Read about the making of My Dinner With Andre in
Frank Beacham’s Journall (blog)

Andre Gregory: “You could say in certain ways that My Dinner with Andre is a radio drama,” he said. “In one place, the Andre character talks about ‘preserving the culture.’ Of course, that’s a passive culture that tells you what to think, what to feel and what to look at. If you go to see a movie like Titanic, it doesn’t leave anything open to your imagination. As audience members, you don’t need to do any work.

“This film, like certain radio dramas, actually encourages you to think and to feel,” he continued. “It’s a bit like Lawrence of Arabia because the audience has to feel the forest. If you go see Atlantic City, which is the film Malle made just before this, it’s tragic to see the culture crumbling. Old buildings collapsing—an old world film. I was staggered tonight by the people mentioned in the film. We remembered in the 1970s when there would be lines around the block to get into a new Fellini movie or Antonioni movie. An active culture was more alive back then.”

Watch excerpts from My Dinner With Andre, starring
Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn

Read My Dinner With Andre (film transcript)

Born May 11

John Michael Hayes (b. 1919) – U.S. screenwriter – Rear Window (1954)

Irving Berlin (b. 1888) – U.S. composer and lyricist

May 12

Wu Wenjun Wu Wenjun (b. 1919) – Chinese mathematician – Wu’s Formula

Read about Wu Wenjun here and here

Wu Wenjun: “I was initially struck by the power of the computer. I was also devoted to the study of Chinese ancient mathematics and began to understand what Chinese ancient mathematics really was.”
Wu saw that the philosophy behind ancient Chinese mathematics was the development of algorithms rather than the axiomatic abstract approach begun by the ancient Greeks and developed in the West. In 1977 Wu introduced a new way of studying geometry on a computer. With his new ideas Wu could take a problem in elementary geometry and transform it into an algebraic question about polynomials. He wrote the important book Mechanical Theorem Proving in Geometries (1984).

Read an article about Wu Wenjun and his mathematical achievements here

His work started from the observation of the correspondence between plane geometry and analytic geometry. Specifically, one can transform a problem in elementary geometry into a set of polynomials and, by solving the polynomials, deduce the correctness of the theorem.

Wu started his research on geometry theorem proving in 1976 … Wu continued refining and extending his method and added a dazzling array of application
domains whose proofs can be automated. They include plane geometry, algebraic differential geometry, non-Euclidean geometry, affine geometry and nonlinear geometry. Not limiting the applications to geometry alone, he also gave mechanical proofs of Newton’s gravitational laws from Kepler’s laws, and many new results from the fields of CAGD, machinery design, chemical equilibrium, celestial mechanics. His work turned theorem proving from one of the less successful research areas in automated deduction to one of the most successful. Indeed, there are few areas for which one can claim that machine proofs are superior to human proofs. Geometry theorem proving is such an area.

(from “Wen-Tsun Wu’s Academic Career and Contributions” by Gao Xiaoshan, Acta Mathematica Scientia, Vol 29 No. 3)

Born May 12

Claribel Alegria (b. 1924) – Nicaraguan poet, novelist, documentarist – No me agarran viva / They Won’t Take Me Alive (1983)

Andrey Andreyevich Voznesensky (b. 1933) – Russian poet

May 13

Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert (b. 1964) – U.S. comedian – I Am America (And So Can You!) (2007)

Read about Stephen Colbert here and here

Read about Stephen Colbert and his Irish ancestors in an excerpt from Faces of America by Henry Gates

Stephen’s family tree taught me a great deal about our shared history, the shared history between Ireland and the United States. Stephen Tyrone Colbert was born in Washington, DC, on May I3, 1964, the youngest of the eleven children of Dr. James William Colbert, Jr., and Lorna Tuck Colbert. His father was a prominent doctor and an academic. In the early I960s, he served as the president of Physicians for President Kennedy and was the nation’s youngest dean of a medical school — heading St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution. When Stephen was born, his father was working for the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC, but in 1969, he changed jobs yet again and moved his family to South Carolina. This had a profound effect on his five·year-old son.

“It was like moving to the moon,” said Stephen. “We moved to a place called James Island, which is just across the harbor from Charleston. It was very sleepy. You know, dogs sleeping in the street. When I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I picture that town where I grew up. Stephen spent the rest of his childhood in and around Charleston and has repeatedly told interviewers that he felt alienated by southern culture.

Watch Stephen Colbert at his satiric best when testifying before Congress (they didn’t laugh)

Watch Colbert being questioned about his testimony by Representative Lamar Smith

Born May 13

Clive Barnes (b. 1927) – British-born U.S. theatre and dance critic

Daphne du Maurier (b. 1907) – English novelist, short story writer and playwright – The House on the Strand 

May 14

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer  (b. 1965) – Irish novelist – Artemis Fowl series

Read about Eoin Colfer here and here

Colfer talks about the end of Artemis Fowl in this U.K. Guardian article

“One more book, and then that’ll be the end of that,” he said. “He will be faced with a choice where he can be kind to somebody and he won’t gain anything, or he can be unkind and he will find a million dollars in a suitcase, and he will choose the nice way, and that will be the end,” he explained. “That’s how I’m going to finish it, on a very simple choice.”

The child mastermind has changed through the series, Colfer continued, from being “pretty much your standard bad guy … kind of two dimensional”, to someone with “a bit of a conscience”.

Eoin Colfer’s advice to aspiring fantasy novel writers

“And please don’t put in a Gandalf. That is the plague of magical and fantasy books everywhere.”

Born May 14

Sofia Carmina Coppola (b. 1971) – U.S. film director,, screenwriter – Lost in Translation (2003)

Che Guevara (b. 1928) – Argentinean political activist – Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War

Luis Llorens Torres (b. 1876) – Puerto Rican poet, playwright, politician – “Love Without Love”

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