LitBirthdays September 4 – 10, 2011

Go To September 5;    September 6;    September 7;   September 8;   September 9;   September 10;

September is

Be Kind to Editors and Writers


September 4 

Joan Aiken (born September 4, 1924) – U.K. novelist, historical fiction – Black Hearts in Battersea (1964) Joan Aiken

Read about Joan Aiken here and here

Joan Aiken talks about writing fantasy tales

I started The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the first of my alternate-history fantasies, in about 1952, and then it got broken off because my husband fell ill and died, and I had to get a job, and couldn’t get on with it. So there’s a seven-year gap. When I finally had a good, well-paid enough job so I could get back and go on with the book, I found it took off exactly as though there had never been a gap. At that point, the alternate world wasn’t so important. I just knew vaguely that it wanted to be in the reign of James the Third and the Channel Tunnel with the world coming through from Europe, so I could give myself scope if I wanted to, to change things, alter the course of history. The next book was the sequel, Black Hearts in Battersea, which I did at a sort of breakneck pace because it was such fun. There I used the alternate worlds idea much more.

Why do we want to have alternate worlds? It’s a way of making progress. You have to imagine something before you do it. Therefore, if you write about something, hopefully you write about something that’s better or more interesting than circumstances as they now are, and that way you hope to make a step towards it.

The Guardian obituary for Joan Aiken

Aiken created a historical period that never existed – but might have done. It began with The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase (1962), a dramatic, gothic adventure, set in a landscape of thick woods inhabited by wolves. It is the 1830s, and King James III is on the throne: the Hanoverians have never arrived, and England is joined to France by a channel tunnel; America was once invaded by the Romans, and some of its inhabitants still speak Latin.

Dickensian in flavour (a taste Aiken always said she acquired from her mother, who read Dickens aloud to her as a child), the books are rich in atmosphere and intrigue. They also include memorable characters, such as the resourceful Cockney heroine Dido Twite and the wicked governess Miss Slighcarp, who is every bit as dangerous as the ever-lurking wolves themselves.

Read Aiken’s short story “The Third Wish”

Mr. Peters waited, to make sure that it was all right and had suffered no damage in its struggles. Presently the swan, when it was satisfied with its appearance, floated in to the bank once more, and in a moment, instead of the great white bird, there was a little man all in green with a golden crown and long beard, standing by the water. He had fierce glittering eyes and looked by no means friendly.

“Well, Sir,” he said threateningly, “I see you are presumptuous enough to know some of the laws of magic. You think that because you have rescued—by pure good fortune—the King of the Forest from a difficulty, you should have some fabulous reward.”

“I expect three wishes, no more and no less,” answered Mr. Peters, looking at him steadily and with composure.

“Three wishes, he wants, the clever man! Well, I have yet to hear of the human being who made any good use of his three wishes—they mostly end up worse off than they started. Take your three wishes then—” he flung three dead leaves in the air “—don’t blame me if you spend the last wish in undoing the work of the other two.”

Listen to a BBC-4 Tribute to Joan Aiken

Aiken: Adult books tend to be for entertainment … whereas children, when they read, are reading to learn about life, unconsciously. Or they should be.

Joan Aiken’s thoughts about writing for children

Details are vitally important in children’s fiction. Of course, children will read the bald kind of story, one that lacks detail, if it has plenty of action and keeps moving; but that is not the kind of story they go back to fondly again and again.

I remember my daughter once picking up a woman’s magazine and starting to read a serial in it; the story was laid in the south of France, and the heroine reported, “We went into the chateau and were served with wine and little cakes.” My daughter flung down the magazine in utter scorn, exclaiming, “What’s the use of that if she doesn’t tell you what sort of little cakes?”

[The Way to Write for Children, page 63, by Joan Aiken]


Born September 4

Antonin Artaud (born September 4, 1896) – French playwright, poet, theatre director

 Richard Wright (born September 4, 1908) – U.S. novelist, essayist, poet – Native Son

September 5

Bob Newhart  Bob Newhart (born September 5, 1929) – U.S. comedian

Read about Bob Newhart here

Bob Newhart talks about what brought him from “man on the street” to The Ed Sullivan Show

Listen to a classic, disarming Bob Newhart routine


Born September 5

Werner Herzog (born September 5, 1942) – German film director, screenwriter – Rescue Dawn (2006)

Robert Fergusson (born September 5, 1750) – Scottish poet

Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara) (born September 5, 1946) British (Parsi) singer/songwriter for the rock band Queen – “Somebody To Love”


September 6

Sergio Aragones


Sergio Aragonés (born September 6, 1937) – Spanish-American cartoonist, comic book author – Groo: The Hogs of Horder (2010)

Read about Sergio Aragonés here and here

An Amazon review of Sergio Aragonés’ comic compilation Actions Speak (2002)

Back in the sixties, when I was a reader of Mad magazine, there were these little wordless cartoons on the side of pages of the regular features. These tiny little cartoons were the work of Sergio Aragones, and they were well worth seeking out (with a sharp eye, or a good set of eye glasses!) In later years Sergio, would at last have full pages devoted to his work, but for me those early tiny cartoons almost hidden amongst the pages of Mad, were well-worth the eye-strain.

(Philip S Wolf, 2009)


Born September 6

Edward Einhorn (born September 6, 1970) – U.S. playwright, children’s book author – A Very Improbable Story: A Math Adventure (2008)

Christopher Brookmyre (born September 6, 1968) – Scottish novelist – Pandaemonium (2009)

Robyn Davidson (born September 6, 1950) – Australian “life” writer – Tracks (1979)


September 7

Elia Kazan by Ara Guler

Elia Kazan by Ara Guler

 Elia Kazan (born September 7, 1909) – U.S. theater director, filmmaker – Elia Kazan: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers) (2000, Editor William Baer)

Read about Elia Kazan here and here

Mr. Kazan studied at Yale University’s drama school for two years and then joined the Group Theater in New York as an actor and assistant stage manager. The Group Theater, whose members included Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Clifford Odets, Franchot Tone and Stella and Luther Adler, was the most important of the Depression’s experiments in modern theater. The Group specialized in the Stanislavsky ”Method” form of acting, with the actor experiencing internally the emotion he is to emulate onstage, relating the character’s feelings to his own experience.

Mr. Kazan was an early disciple. But several years later, working as an assistant stage manager for the Theater Guild, he saw another theory, embodied in the actor Osgood Perkins. ”There was no emotion,” Mr. Kazan wrote. ”Only skill. In every aspect of technical facility, he was peerless.”

From then on, Mr. Kazan sought to combine the two — the psychological and the professional, or technical — in his work. ”I believed I could take the kind of art Osgood Perkins exemplified — externally clear action, controlled every minute at every turn, with gestures spare yet eloquent — and blend that with the kind of acting the Group was built on: intense and truly emotional, rooted in the subconscious, therefore often surprising and shocking in its revelations. I could bring these two opposite and often conflicting traditions together.”

By combining these techniques, Mr. Kazan became known as an actor’s director — to many in the arts, he was the best actor’s director there ever was.

[From the New York Times obituary, September 29, 2003]

Elia Kazan talks about making the film On the Waterfront

Kazan: In Brando there is both an ambivalent side — and the ambivalence consists of a toughness, an exterior toughness — and a tremendous desire for gentleness and tenderness. The best scenes in the movie from my point of view are the love scenes with Eva Sainte, where he is asking her to understand him. He’s great in those scenes. Why? Because he’s a tough guy revealing a side to himself that you did not expect. And the side to himself that he didn’t recognize that exists, because they recognize it in the audience, was some sort of tenderness … people wanted to reach out for him, to help him. At the same time he was a son-of-a-bitch and a bad person and a betrayer. Still, you wanted to help him. And she did too. And that came off, that part of it came off. He has that ambivalence in him. I was lucky I had him. It worked out well because he is both hearty and indifferent and at the same time wants you to love him very much.


Born September 7

(Janet) Taylor Caldwell
(born September 7, 1900) – British-American novelist – Captains and the Kings

Houshang Moradi Kermani (born September 7, 1944) – Iranian novelist and short story writer (young adult books); screenwriter – Stories of Majid


September 8

Boris Ryzhy (born September 8, 1974) – Russian poet Boris Ryzhy

Read about Boris Ryzhy here and here

Poem videos at


Born September 8

Michael Frayn (born September 8, 1933) – U.K. playwright, novelist, nonfiction writer – Copenhagen

Kimberly Peirce (born September 8, 1967) – U.S. film director, screenwriter – Stop-Loss (2008)


September 9

Aleksandar Hemon
Aleksandar Hemon (born September 9, 1964) – Bosnian-American fiction writer, essayist

Read about Aleksandar Hemon here and here

Hemon is wary of tidy labels for his work. “I am not a novelist,” he declared after the PEN celebration, amid the din of the Oasis Bar in a midtown W Hotel. “I am a writer, which means I write stories, I write novels, and I would write poetry if I knew how to. I don’t want to limit myself.”

“The trouble with calling a book a novel, well, it’s not like I’m writing the same book all the time, but there is a continuity of my interests, so when I start writing a book, if I call it ‘a novel,’ it separates it from other books. I cannot really describe all the points of continuity from my previous books to this one — I could, but I don’t care to — it’s just one big flow of language for me, and then you parse it and publish it.

Aleksandar Hemon in conversation with Colum McCann

Hemon: What I do know is this: I spent the day reading books that are out of print. I read them as part of my research for a future project. And then I spent time staring out the window imagining people and situations in places I have not visited (and probably won’t), at the time I did not experience. It will be a while before I put the pen on the paper, if indeed I ever do. But I will continue obsessing about these people—they have names already—and I will keep imagining landscapes, their lives and deaths, and I will love them. I will spend years doing that, not really talking to anybody about it. It is crazy, there is no reason to do it. But that’s what I’ve been doing all these years and it is well past any need for justification.

Read more about Hemon here


Born September 9

Leo Tolstoy (born September 9, 1828 – September 9: New Calendar) – Russian novelist – Anna Karenina

Sonia Sanchez (born September 9, 1934) – U.S. poet, playwright, college professor – Morning Haiku (2008)


September 10

Shlomo Sand

Photo by Polskey (Olivia Grabowski-West)

Shlomo Sand (born September 10,. 1946) – Israeli historian – The Invention of the Jewish People (2008)

Read about Shlomo Sand here and here

Shlomo Sand discusses the concepts of nationhood, Jewish and European, and the ideas of French philosopher Ernest Renan
Shlomo Sand: Now you have to understand that Europe was constructed – not Britain, by the way – Europe the continent was constructed between1850 to 1950 on the basis of anti-Semitism. Less Britain than France; less France than Germany; less Germany like Ukraine, Poland, and all this. I mean, anti-Semitism, or Judeophobia is a better word. Judeophobia was a factor, a very important factor, to construct nations in the 19th century.

Read a partial transcript here


Born September 10

Franz Werfel (born September 10, 1890) – Czech-Austrian novelist, poet, playwright – The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933)

Charles Kuralt (born September 10, 1934) – U.S. journalist – On the Road with Charles Kuralt (television series)

Andrei Makine (born September 10, 1957) – Russian / French novelist – Human Love


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