LitBirthdays July 31 – August 6, 2011

July 31

Pam_Withers Pam Withers (born July  31, 1956) – U.S.-Canadian young adult novelist – Raging River (2004)

Read about Pam Withers here

Before I wrote Raging River, the only fiction I’d written since the age of 16 was for college assignments. Then I found myself unemployed for a year in my early forties. To keep myself out of trouble, I thought I’d write a novel. I went to the library and checked out five books on how to write a novel, as well as five teen novels. I read them all back to back, and then I sat down and wrote Raging River with no outline and with no idea where the book was going to go except that there was going to be a waterfall in the middle and they’d all wash out at the end, more or less. That is not how I recommend writing a book. I have since learned to outline.

The books on how to write a novel told me that all novels have to have tension, and one way to achieve tension is to have two characters who are very different. So, I made Jake poor and Peter rich, and I made Jake a worrywart and Peter a happy-go-lucky ADD kid. Those differences have served me very well for keeping tension throughout the series. As I like tell the kids I talk to in school presentations, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t learn to write a book by reading a book about writing a book, because it worked for me!’

Pam Withers’ website and Facebook page

Born July 31

J. K. Rowling (born July 31, 1965) – U.K. novelist – Harry Potter Series

August 1

Chuck D
 Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) (born August 1, 1960) – U.S. rapper – Autobiography Of Mistachuck (CD, 1998)

Read about Chuck D here

Chuck D talks about being black in America today
“What’s been accepted in America now is the creation of a new race, somewhere stuck between nigger and Negro. It’s the Niggro. It’s accepted by white society as being this type of person that can be derogatory to themselves, but safe for everybody else. And I was just pissed. … Who gave these people license to represent all of us as a people? And we wonder why we be in the situation we in.”

Chuck D performs “Pride”

 Francis Scott Key (born August 1, 1779) – U.S. lawyer, author of lyrics to the national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner”

Read about Francis Scott Key here and read about the poem that became the U.S. national anthem here

“Key wrote the iconic words 197 years ago in a Baltimore tavern. The country was in its second year of war with the British, and Key had just witnessed the War of 1812’s Battle of Baltimore on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. Key, an attorney, had been sent to meet with British officers on their ships in the Chesapeake Bay to negotiate the release of William Beanes, a physician from Upper Marlboro, Md., as part of a prisoner exchange.”

[Donna Leinwand, USA Today, March 1, 2011]

Defence of Fort McHenry
[from an original handwritten manuscript]

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner — O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Visit the Francis Scott Key website

Born August 1

Herman Melville (born August 1, 1819) – U.S. novelist – Moby Dick

August 2

Isabel Allende (born August 2, 1942) Chilean novelist – Paula: A Memoir (P.S.)(1994) Isabelle Allende

Read about Isabel Allende here

David Frost interviews Isabel Allende

Frost: And so what ambitions do you have now?

Allende: None.

Frost: Maybe Nobel Prize for Literature?

Allende: Are you kidding? No. I’m not a man. I’m a woman, born in the forties. We were supposed to be housewives. I’ve already done too much.

Homer Banks (born August 2, 1941) – U.S. songwriter, producer
Homer Banks

Read about Homer Banks here and here

Listen to “A Poor Man’s Son”

Millie Jackson sings “If Loving You Is Wrong” by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton, and Raymond Jackson

Homer Banks discography

Born August 2

James Baldwin (born August 2, 1924) – U.S. poet, playwright, essayist – Blues for Mister Charlie: (1964)

Bei Dao (Zhao Zhenkai) (born August 2, 1949) Chinese poet, short story writer – Unlock(2000)

August 3

 Lauren Liebenberg (born August 3, 1972) – South African novelist – The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam (2008) Lauren Liebenberg

Read about Lauren Liebenberg here

Lauren Liebenberg: You’ve come of age when you can peer through the soft-focus, sepia-tinged veil that we all love to cast over the past and recognise that not all of the whole-wheat bread you’ve been fed was so wholesome. The world as it was, the times you lived in, your own family – yup, some of it was a lie.

The U.K. Guardian
review of The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam

Don’t be misled by this one’s silly title: there is no voluptuousness, and precious little delight, in this excellent and unsettling book, longlisted for the Orange prize, about two girls growing up in rural Rhodesia. It is 1978. For six years, the black freedom fighters have been rebelling against the white government – and Nyree (nearly nine) and Cia (seven and a half) are on the losing side.

With their father absent thanks to conscription, the children are taught by their mother and grandfather to fear the “Terrs” (terrorists) and despise the “munts” (derogatory slang for black Africans). Much is made of the “toil” of the family’s European ancestor, who supposedly did his bit to bring civilisation to a barbarous land. But to the girls, the blacks are simply “Afs”, and include the much-loved farm steward Jobe and his wife, Blessing. As Nyree and Cia rattle around their neglected, lichenous mansion and vast farm, ringed by landmines, they have only the dimmest sense that their magical world is crumbling.


Born August 3

Leon Uris (born August 3, 1924) – U.S. novelist – Exodus (1958)

August 4

Barack Obama (born August 4, 1961) – U.S. president, constitutional law professor, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize – Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Read the Nobel biography of Barack Obama here and the Wikipedia article here

Barack Obama photos

Visit the Chicago Tribune’s Barack Obama Photo Album here

Listen to Barack Obama in conversation with comedian Marc Maron

(WTF podcast of June 2015)

More LitBirthdays on Barack Obama here


Born August 4

Robert Hayden (born August 4, 1913) – U.S. poet – “Those Winter Sundays” in Collected Poems

Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) – U.S. journalist (covered the White House) – Front Row at the White House (1999)

August 5

Abbé Pierre

Abbé Pierre (Henri Marie Joseph Grouès) (born August 5, 1912) – French Catholic monk and priest, human rights activist, founder of Emmaus – Mon Dieu … Pourquoi? (2005)

Read the Wikipedia article about Abbé Pierre here

Abbé Pierre became famous during the extremely cold winter of 1954 in France, when homeless people were dying in the streets. Following the failure of the projected law on lodgings, he gave a well-remembered speech on Radio Luxembourg on 1 February 1954, and asked Le Figaro, a conservative newspaper which, as he said, was read by “the powerful”, to publish his call:

“My friends, come help.  A woman froze to death tonight at 3:00 AM, on the pavement of Sebastopol Boulevard, clutching the eviction notice which the day before had made her homeless… Each night, more than two thousand endure the cold, without food, without bread, more than one almost naked. To face this horror, emergency lodgings are not enough. … For as long as the winter lasts, for as long as the centers exist, faced with their brothers dying in poverty, all mankind must be of one will: the will to make this situation impossible. I beg of you, let us love one another enough to do it now. From so much pain, let a wonderful thing be given unto us: the shared spirit of France. Thank you! Everyone can help those who are homeless.”

Quite quickly, Abbé Pierre had to organise his movement by creating the Emmaus communities on 23 March 1954. In an Emmaus community, volunteers help homeless people by giving them accommodation, and somewhere to eat and work. A number of Emmaus volunteers are also formerly homeless people themselves, from all age groups, religious or ethnic origins, and social backgrounds.

Read about Abbé Pierre in this 2007 The Economist obituary

Traditionally most saints are gentle creatures. Those enshrined in French homes, or on prayer cards stuffed into the missals of elderly churchgoers, are usually St Anthony carrying the child Jesus, or smiling St Therese of Lisieux with a bouquet of flesh·tinted roses. Odd, then, that the nearest modern France has come to a saint was a man fuelled and driven by unceasing anger, anger that the poor should suffer and that the rich did not care. For any man in authority, clerical or lay, a visit from Abbé Pierre was an unsettling experience. First there was the look of him: the coupe zéro haircut under a black beret, the straggling heard, the black cape thrown dramatically across the shoulders, the belted soutane and muddy boots from tramping through slums. Then came the disquieting blue stare, and the surprisingly loud, ringing voice. His colleagues were a strange, quarrelsome band, ex-cons and ex-legionnaires, some of whom had been homeless themselves. To raise funds they picked rags and salvaged furniture, or begged with laundry baskets in the Paris streets. Abbé Pierre called his project “Emmaus” after the place where two disciples had given shelter to the risen but unrecognised Christ. Emmaus communities caught on and thrived: by 2006 there were 150 of them in nearly 40 countries, 110 in France itself. Abbé Pierre became a thorn in the side of successive French governments, and a year before he died was still lobbying for a law establishing the right to lodging. Yet he did not relish publicity on his own account.  After regularly topping the annual poll of best-loved figures in France, in 2004 he asked to be removed from it. Celebrity helped the cause, but it appalled him.

Read an excerpt from Mon Dieu … Pourquoi? here (in French)
Le christianisme a toujours insisté sur la liberté de l’homme. Même de croire ou non, et de suivre ou non les commandements de Dieu. C’est fondamental, car si Dieu nous forçait à l’aimer, quelle valeur aurait cet amour? / Christianity has always insisted on the freedom of man. Whether to believe or not, and whether to follow God’s commandments. This is fundamental, for if God forced us to love, what value would this love have?

Mais il y a aussi des façons dominatrices dans certains amours (p.ex. celui des parents pour leurs enfants) Il y a aussi une manière plus respectueuse de l’autre : se révéler à lui tellement bon qu’il ne peut pas faire autrement que de nous aimer. C’est pourquoi Dieu s’est voilé à nous ; nous ne pouvons Le connaître que de manière indirecte. Toute la grandeur de l’homme c’est de pouvoir aimer Dieu dans la foi, sans Le toucher ou Le voir. / But there are also certain loves that are dominating in some ways (e.g., that of parents for their children) There is also a way of being more respectful of others: to be so good to him he can not help but love us. That is why God has veiled us: we can know Him only indirectly. The greatness of man is his ability to love God by faith, without touching or seeing Him.

J’ai alors réfléchi (dans le cadre trinitaire) sur la liberté des personnes divines : il est impensable que le Verbe puisse être en désaccord avec le Père. Et pourtant le Verbe est libre, mais totalement dans la lumière du Père. Le mystère de la Trinité, je l’appelle « hyper-liberté », la véritable liberté qui nous met dans l’impossibilité de nous disputer et d’avoir des vues divergentes. Alors pourquoi, à nous, ne nous a-t-elle pas été donnée? / I have reflected on (regarding the Trinity) the freedom of these divine Persons: it is unthinkable that the Word could disagree with the Father. Yet the Word is free, but completely in the light of the Father. The mystery of the Trinity, which I call “hyper-freedom,” is a true freedom that makes it an impossibility for us to dispute and have different views. So why, for us, have we not been given it?


Born August 5

Guy de Maupassant (born August 5, 1850) – French short story writer, novelist – “The Necklace” in Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant

August 6

M Night Shyamalan
 M. Night Shyamalan (Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan) (born August 6, 1970) – Indian-U.S. screenwriter – The Sixth Sense (1999)

Read the Wikipedia article about M. Night Shyamalan here

Watch M. Night Shyamalan talk about choosing filmmaking

Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was the moment when I was like, that’s it, this is what I’m doing. Twelve years old, I was unbelievably blown away. The world lost a really mediocre doctor.

Born August 6

Alfred Tennyson (born August 6, 1809) British poet – The Charge of the Light Brigade

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