LitBirthdays February 5 – 11, 2012

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Thursday February 9| Friday February 10| Saturday February 11|

February is

Black History Month



Sunday February 5

Susan Hill
Susan Hill (b. 1942) – U.K. novelist, screenwriter – The Woman in Black (1983 novel, 2012 film)

Read about Susan Hill here

It’s hardly a surprise she does not know what kind of literary person she is. Perhaps the key to the mystery – the odd juxtaposition of commonsense and creative catharsis – can be found in Scarborough, where she was born in 1942, to an RAF serviceman, and a self‑employed dressmaker. “Yorkshire is so much part of me,” she says, recalling her first 16 years, living by the sea in postwar Britain. “Those were my formative years.” When her father got a white-collar job in a Coventry aircraft factory the family moved south to the Midlands, but by then her course was set.

Even as a classic only child, “I was always wanting to tell stories, to my friends, to my dolls. I was always writing.” Her defining moment came at the age of eight. “I wrote a nativity play for my class. I learnt so much from that: about editing, adaptation and revision. I learned that a play, like any piece of writing, is never really finished.” The storytelling became a way of making sense of herself. “I was an only child who was never really good at anything else. I had no other option. I could write; I wanted to write; I wrote,” she concludes, simply. “Otherwise, I was unemployable.”

[from the U.K. Observer / Guardian article by Robert McCrum, January 15, 2011]

Of all the contemporary novelists who are compared to Dickens, Susan Hill probably has the best claim. Her protean ability to turn her hand to almost every genre from literary fiction, short stories and plays to ghost, children’s and detective novels; her entrepreneurial flair in starting up a small publishing business; her energetic and occasionally exasperating blogging both on the Spectator website and on Facebook are reminiscent of Boz [Dickens’s pen-name]. So, too, is her preoccupation with innocence, violence, greed and the supernatural.

[from a Prospect magazine article by Amanda Craig, January 26, 2011]


Born February 5

Andrew Greeley


Jermain Wesley Loguen

Jovan Dučić


Monday February 6

Bob Marley (b. 1945) – Jamaican singer / songwriter

Read about Bob Marley here


Born February 6

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Melvin B. Tolson

Anne Spencer

Christopher Marlowe


Tuesday February 7

Ashok Banker
Ashok K. Banker (b. 1964) – Indian novelist – Ramayana Series

Read about Ashok Banker here

Read a Wired magazine interview with Ashok Banker here

WIRED: What made you decide to write in English?

BANKER: My mother tongue was English, not Hindi, and in fact, there are more English-speaking people in India than in the US – it’s one of our two official national languages in fact. I grew up speaking only English, learned Hindi only later in school because it was a compulsory subject (as were either Marathi or French – I took French), and English remains the only language I’m completely fluent in even today. So I have no idea what cultural stereotype you have of me, and am not responsible for it but it’s as offensive as my asking someone named Johnson why he chose to write in English instead of Swedish!

WIRED: What made you decide to write your Ramayana series? Since it’s not just an epic for Hindus but also a true story, did you receive any criticisms from the literature scene there or the Hindutva movement?

BANKER: Here’s the interesting thing: I’m not Hindu. The only challenges I faced then, and face now, and will always face I suppose – as will every other writer who isn’t white, Judeo-Christian and/or American – is of getting read and getting published in the UK and USA. Writing is what I do, it’s what I love to do. It’s like breathing. I write. The real challenge is in getting American or British agents and editors to even look at any work by a non-white, non-Judeo/Christian, non-American author, regardless of how good that work may be.

To be honest, I’ve all but given up on getting published anywhere outside India and have stopped trying. The system itself is designed in such a way that it’s become all about pleasing agents and editors, not about writers talking to readers directly. At least in India, the onus of success or failure is still left to the author: If you have something to say here, at least you get a chance to say it and then publishers will see whether enough readers want to read what you have to say or not before deciding to continue publishing you.

In the US and UK publishing industries, particularly in the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy, it’s like a coloured man trying to exercise his right to vote in an all-white Southern town in the 1950s. …SFF as a rigid, white-dominated, Judeo-Christian-pushing, American nationalistic genre has jumped the shark. The old guard is dead and gone and the young (and old) turks running the show are fighting a losing battle against the very progressiveness and futurism that the genre is supposed to espouse! SFF’s pathetic cries of outrage and refusal to change with the times are proof of SFF’s own snobbishness and bias. SFF is dead and rotting. Long may it stay dead! We who love the elements that make great SFF don’t need the label so Klansmen can recognize work by other Klansmen. We don’t care if our milk was drawn by brown hands, black, or white. We just want our milk!

Ashok Banker imagines he is interviewing Ravana, the bad guy in the Hindu myth, the Ramayana (Read the entire article here)

ASHOK K BANKER: It was really hard tracking you down. Once upon a time you were the most high-profile personality in Indian mythology. Why so media shy now?

RAVAN: Every god has his day. I’ve done my time, paid for my crimes. I’m retired now. Let me chill. What do you expect me to do? Go on We the People and bicker? Try to out-shout Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN? Take primetime abuse from Prabhu Chawla or Arnab Goswami? Besides, last time I agreed to a photo-shoot it took three days for the idiot from Getty Images just to get all ten head-shots of me! I was so fed up at the end, I fed him to my pet pisacas. On a tv shoot for a news channel in Delhi, the cameraman had to move back so far to get me in the frame, that he ended up in Noida. And then there was this pinko Malayali reporter who tried to blame the whole Hindutva right-wing fundamentalist problem on me. I told him to go find a Ram Mandir to hide in…fast!

*   *   *   *   *

AKB: A fascinating theory. Yet modern critics claim the opposite. They say that the entire Ramayana story was a form of racism, with the ‘Aryan’ north Indians attacking the darker south Indians and calling them rakshasas.

RAVAN: When you say the word ‘Aryan’ which by the way is a Western mispronunciation – the correct word is ‘Arya’ without an ‘n’ at the end – who would you say were the most famous Aryas in ancient Indian itihasa or mythology?

AKB: I suppose…Rama Chandra, Krishna…

RAVAN: Stop right there. What do you think the name Rama means. And Krishna too?

AKB: Err…

RAVAN: I’ll tell you, since your one brain is obviously on a permanent coffee break. They both mean the same thing, black!

AKB: That’s true. The Puranas clearly describe both Rama and Krishna as dark-skinned. The colour of a crow’s feather in fact, is the exact phrase used by Valmiki, and Vyasa too.

RAVAN: There you go. The term Arya is never used with reference to race in a single Purana – and in fact the whole race argument is negated with regard to the people of the Indian sub-continent because despite our darker skins, we are Caucasian too, just like Europeans and Americans! Do your research, you cut-rate Valmiki!

AKB: So you’re saying that there’s no merit in the racism or Aryans, sorry Aryas, versus South Indians or tribals theory?

RAVAN: That theory is as stupid as the German people who now claim that the Holocaust never occurred at all! It’s revisionism of the worst sort. I repeat: Arya is not a racial description. It is an adjective meaning noble or pure! All this hindsight, it’s all political. Kamban’s translation placed Ayodhya in south India, and all the tribes and castes mentioned were entirely south Indian, as were the food items, clothes, customs, jewellery, etc. What happened to this north-south argument then? Some legitimate historians in Europe now insist that Ayodhya was in Kazakhstan or some nearby place! I am as Arya as Rama or Krishna or any other person of noble spirit and character. You don’t qualify because you’re just a turd in the shape of a human being…

Read about Ravana here and here


Born February 7

Gay Talese

Chris Rock

Eubie Blake

Charles Dickens


Wednesday February 8

Eva Strittmatter Eva Strittmatter (b. 1930) – German poet

Read about Eva Strittmatter here and here

Her poems of ‘simple things’ are universal in their appeal. She writes of her garden and of the forest, of children who grow up and away, of lovers who enchant and betray. She writes with a melancholy typical of that generation that came of age in the blasted ruin that was postwar Germany. [Grace Andreacchi’s Amazing Grace blog, January 4, 2011]

Zikadennächte / Cicada Nights

Zikadennächte. Man sollte sie Cicada nights. They ought to be
auf einem Ton nachsingen. singing one tune.
Wie will man die Anti-Melodie How can we put the Anti-Melody
Der Zikaden in Worte zwingen? of cicadas into words?
Die Wärme der Steine. Der graue Geruch The warmth of the stones. The gray smell
Und das Flüstern der Gräser im Finstern. and the whisper of grass in the darkness.
Verkrüppelte Kiefern am Felsenabbruch. Crippled pines on broken rocks.
Und hinter Wermut und Ginstern And behind the wormwood and broom
Der südliche See, der da ist und schweigt, The southern sea, where there is silence,
Überschritt von den Zikaden: overrun by the cicadas:
Ein im gewordener Geiger geigt I become a violinist playing
Auf einem Silberfaden. on a silver thread.


Born February 8

Nancy Oliver

Mae Street Kidd

Ron Tyson

John Grisham


Thursday February 9

Rankin Taxi
Rankin’ Taxi (b. 1953) – Japanese reggae singer/songwriter

Read about Rankin Taxi here and here

A series of new antinuclear songs [appeared after the Fukushima nuclear disaster], some now receiving tens of thousands of views online. Among them is “You Can’t See It, And You Can’t Smell It Either” by the veteran Japanese reggae artist who goes by the name Rankin’ Taxi.

Set to an infectious up-tempo dancehall reggae beat, the song describes radiation as a threat to the powerful and weak alike. Rankin’ Taxi’s broadside against nuclear power — Tokyo Electric Power and Kansai Electric Power are both singled out in the song — is heard against a video montage of hydrogen explosions and other coverage of the Fukushima power plant, juxtaposed with the lyrics “It’s safe, It’s safe.”

Despite his video having been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube — including a version with the lyrics translated into English — the singer is circumspect about the potential for protest songs to change attitudes toward nuclear power in Japan. “I sang it, and people listened, but it came after the fact so it was almost like salt in the wound,” he said.

“There are still people pushing nuclear power. They are laying low at the moment, but they will be back when people have forgotten about Fukushima.”

[from “Japan’s New Wave of Protest Songs” by Dan Grunebaum,
New York Times June 30, 2011]

Watch Rankin’ Taxi perform “You Can’t See It” here

Watch Rankin’ Taxi’s “Fallujah” music video here


Born February 9

Carole King

Alice Walker

Cassandra Steen

Amy Lowell


Friday February 10

Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak (b. 1890) – Russian novelist – Doctor Zhivago (1957)

Read about Boris Pasternak here


Born February 10

Johan Harstad

Michael Anthony

Roberta Flack

Ivri Lider


Saturday February 11

Geoarge Washington by Rembrandt Peale
 George Washington (Old Calendar / Julian Calendar: February 11, 1732) – U.S. president

Read about George Washington here and here

Read about the letter Washington sent to the Jewish congregation
of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790, and read the letter

… If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.


Born February 11

Celeste O. Norfleet

Jarena Lee

Florynce Kennedy

Lydia Maria Child


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