You can find the books relating to our author picks at our bookshop, on our list of Sharon’s Birthday Picks.
In This Week’s Author Birthdays:
Rainer Maria Rilke – December 4
On this day, December 4, in 1875, poet Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague, then part of Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. Bridging traditional and modern writers, his works invoke “images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety.”
Writing in both German and French, he was author of one novel, multiple collections of poetry, and several lyrical letters that have also been bound into collections, and has been associated with other mystical poets such as Rumi and Khalil Gibran. He died of leukemia in 1926; he was 51 years old.
Joan Didion – December 5
On this day, December 5, in 1934, Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California. A journalist and an author, she was considered, along with Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson, as one of the pioneers of the counterculture’s “New Journalism”, with works such as 1968’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In 1991 she wrote the earliest mainstream media article to suggest the Central Park Five had been wrongfully convicted.
In 2005 she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir of the year following the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne (with whom she had written the screenplay for the original 1976 film A Star is Born). She died in 2021 from complications of Parkinson’s disease; she was 87.
Jason Reynolds – December 6
On this day, December 6, in 1983, Jason Reynolds was born in Washington, DC. His first novel, 2014’s When I Was The Greatest, won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and eight more novels followed, including Ghost which was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, and As Brave As You which won the Kirkus Prize, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teen, and the Schneider Family Book Award.
In 2017 he wrote the Marvel Comics novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man, and Long Way Down, a novel in verse that was named a Newbery Honor book, a Printz Honor Book, and best young adult work by the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards. In 2019, he wrote Look Both Ways, for which he won a Carnegie Medal and from 2020 to 2022 he was the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Whew! Today, he turns 40.
Willa Cather – December 7
On this day, December 7, in 1873, Willa Cather was born in Gore, Virginia. Known for her lyrical and personal works about frontier life on the Great Plains (her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine years old), some believe she was a lesbian due to her mannish style in hair and clothing, her cadre of female friends (she lived with editor Edith Lewis for the last 39 years of her life), and because she sometimes referred to herself as “William”, but there is no direct evidence to support that belief.
In 1922, she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, set during WWI. The author of O Pioneers! and My Ántonia died in 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage; she was 73.
James Thurber – December 8
On this day, December 8, in 1894, James Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio. Although author of 35 books (9 published after his death) he was perhaps best known for his short stories and cartoons, many of which were published in The New Yorker magazine. Blind in one eye due to a game of “William Tell” gone awry, the young Thurber turned to writing to interact with his world.
In his career he wrote for the Columbus Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, and New York Evening Post before settling at The New Yorker with his friend, E.B. White. He died at age 66 of pneumonia. In 1997, the Thurber Prize was established in his honor, awarded annually to outstanding works of American humor.
John Milton – December 9
On this day, December 9, in 1608, John Milton was born in London, England. Author of the epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton was a fiery advocate of republicanism (the belief that heads of state should not be based on heredity), and was a civil servant to the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell, but it was later, during the Restoration, that he completed most of his best known works.
Although he was celebrated internationally, when he dictated Paradise Lost to his aides (due to blindness most likely brought about by glaucoma) he was impoverished and ignored in England, remaining unrepentant in his views and beliefs. He died in 1674 at age 65 of kidney failure.
Emily Dickinson – December 10
On this day, December 10, in 1930, Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Perhaps poetry’s most famous recluse. Most of her friendships came through correspondences. While many knew she was a writer, only about a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime and those were drastically edited to fit literary conventions of the time.
After her death in 1886 (at age 55, most likely of kidney disease), her younger sister found almost 1,800 poems tucked away at her residence. The first collection of her poems was published four years later – but again, heavily edited. It was not until 1955 that her poems became available in unedited form.
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