Author Birthdays: Williams, O'Connor, Stewart

September 17th marks the birthday of authors William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Connor, and Mary Stewart.

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and pediatrician. He is typically regarded as a Modernist, though sometimes as an Imagist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963 for his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Williams also wrote Paterson, a five-book poem, often considered his "epic". The 1992 edition contains clarifying notes on the poem. A Library Journal review noted that "By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life."

Frank O'Connor was an Irish short-story writer who served in the Irish War of Independence; he was published in The New Yorker. One of his autobiographies, An Only Child, was even quoted by JFK in a speech he gave while president.

In addition to his own, O'Connor also wrote a book on the subject of short stories in general, called The Lonely Voice. The book discusses other authors such as Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Mary Stewart is an English writer, probably most well-known for her historical fantasy quintet, The Merlin Chronicles, which begins with the book The Crystal Cave.

Stewart has also written mystery novels, most of which have a touch of romance, such as The Stormy Petrel and My Brother Michael.

Author Birthdays: Buchan, Isherwood

August 26th marks the birthday of authors John Buchan and Christopher Isherwood.

John Buchan was a Scottish novelist and Governor General of Canada. He wrote mainly adventure fiction, five books of which contain the manly and MacGyver-like character Richard Hannay. Three other stories by Buchan feature the middle-aged reluctant hero Dickson McCunn, whose adventures start in the book Huntingtower.

Baron Buchan also wrote historical fiction, like the mystery Witch Wood, which features romance and religion in 17th century Scotland, and even a novel about a terminally ill man, his death and redemption, called Sick Heart River.

Christopher Isherwood was an English-born American author. One of his novels, Mr. Norris Changes Trains, was inspired by his life as an expatriate in Berlin in the 1930s. The main characters include the narrator, William Bradshaw, and the masochistic Arthur Norris.

Another of Isherwood's novels is A Single Man, which centers on a middle-aged gay Englishman and his recent partner's loss, which he must learn to cope with. It was recently made into a film by Tom Ford, and it stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

Author Birthdays: Ann M. Martin

August 11th is the birthday of American author Ann M. Martin.

Best known for her 14-year-long series The Baby-sitters Club, Martin has written quite a few novels and other series for children as well.

Among the other series are The Doll People and Main Street.

Among the novels are Belle Teal, which features a young girl who encounters racism, death, and abuse as she grows up, A Dog's Life: The Autobiography Of A Stray, which is told by a stray dog and gives a great perspective on the many perils homeless animals face, and the 2003 Newbery honor book A Corner of the Universe, which tells the story of a girl named Hattie, set in the 1960s.

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Have you heard of the Made in Michigan Writers Series? Published by Wayne State University Press, the series features Michigan authors in the fiction, non-fiction, short story and poetry genres.

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, by Michael Zadoorian
Short fiction stories about characters living in and around Detroit, surviving the odds.

Eden Springs, by Laura Kasischke
Using historical sources, a novella about the House of David religious colony that was based in Benton Harbor, Michigan in the early 20th century.

As If We Were Prey: Stories, by Michael Delp
Darkly humorous yet touching collection of short stories about men in a small northern Michigan town.

Birth of a Notion; Or, The Half Ain't Never Been Told: A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Thereof (From the Ha Ha Dark Side)
by Bill Harris
Using prose and poetry, Harris studies preconceived notions of “blackness” in nineteenth century American culture to the early twentieth century, investigating sources of lasting stereotypes and racist imagery.

An American Map: Essays, by Anne-Marie Oomen
Northern Michigan native Anne-Marie Oomen’s contemplative and inspirational essays from her travels across America.

If you love British period dramas

The Wingless Bird

Catherine Cookson, born poor to a young, single mother in 1906, didn’t set pen to paper until she was 44 years old. When she did, a steady stream of stories flowed from her, all set in her native county Durham, in the far north of England, and all featuring the struggles and hopes of young working class women trying to survive in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, through to the uncertain time of WWI. (one is set during WWII)

She was especially class conscious: at a time in England when each class was in its own track and changing lanes was barely possible, it was hard not to be. Still, her stories were prescient about the winds of change which would blow through England after WWI and rearrange the possibilities for classes to rise, mingle and even inter-marry. Many of her stories seem patterned after her own life, for she did rise from a washerwomen to be the famed and beloved authoress of over 100 books.

Tyne Tees Studios took 18 of those stories and adapted them to a television series which aired in England in the 1990s. We own 17, and my favorite is whichever one I am watching at the time. Here is a list by production date, but it doesn’t matter the order you watch them – each stands alone. They are all a delight: the wild beauty of the north country settings; the lovely, lilting north country accents; the marvelous acting by many familiar British actors and actresses; and the rousing life stories of north country heroines. For quintessential Cookson try The Wingless Bird or The Tide of Life.

Blasts from the past

Remember the Cold War, maybe "duck-and-cover" at school or a bomb shelter at home? Deborah Wiles captures all that and a lot more -- Breck Girls! -- in her new youth novel Countdown, starring 11-year-old Franny and a cast of colorful family and friends. Wiles, an award-winning author, says on her web page that all her books are "personal narrative turned into fiction."

A mother's devotion

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam is a novel based on one woman's experience in the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence. Rehana Haque is a widow whose children, Sohail, 20, and Maya, 17, are both deeply involved in the resistance to the Pakistani takeover. When Sohail asks her to use the building she owns behind her house as a guerilla refuge and a place where a wounded Bengali major is recovering, she reluctantly agrees. But soon, Rehana is caught up in the turmoil and realizes that although she fears for her children's lives, she must support them as the invasion ensues. A heart-wrenching story that may be the first volume of a proposed trilogy.

Your Tudor Tutor

Today would be the 501st anniversary for King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catharine of Aragon. I'm not sure what the correct present is for that specific anniversary, but I don't know that I'd be accepting whatever it would be from Henry.

King Henry VIII has fascinated many people, though, regrettably, mostly because of his six marriages (two of which ended in divorce, and two more in beheading). However, it may interest you that these are not his only...accomplishments.

Some notable books on the Tudor king which do not focus on his matrimonial issues include The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII And The Dissolution Of The Monasteries and Henry VIII: The King And His Court.

However, if you'd like to go the more traditional route, you'll have plenty of choices: The Wives of Henry VIII, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII among them.

Of course, there are also historical fiction books that contain the infamous king. While they are not necessarily as accurate as the non-fiction, they are just as entertaining, if not more so. The oldest of these would be Shakespeare's play, given the regal name Henry VIII. Among the more recent, there is the "autobiography" by Margaret George, as well as the well-known The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Though, my personal favorite is not a book at all, but the Showtime television series The Tudors.

You may even want to take a look at his children. Each one showed off one bit of his overbearing personality. And I can guarantee one of them is probably just as interesting as he was.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #211

Perhaps this is one of the hardest blogs for me to write. I finished the book some weeks ago and have been thinking about it. I worried that whatever I write here is not going to do the book justice. My expectations were naturally high for Julie Orringer's debut novel The Invisible Bridge, coming 7 years after her prizewinning collection of short stories How to Breathe Underwater, and it did not disappoint.

This stunning and richly detailed WWII saga is not (as a lot of early readers feared) just another Holocaust novel. It opens with 22 year-old Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew, a highly prized scholarship to study architecture in Paris and an unlikely love affair with the much older Klara, amidst the growing tide of anti-Semitism which eventually forces their return to Hungary. Throughout the hardships and injustices, Andras's love for Klara acts as a beacon. "Orringer's triumphant novel is as much a lucid reminder of a time not so far away as it is a luminous story about the redemptive power of love."

Cinematic in its settings, moving without being sentimental, "Orringer writes without anachronism, and convincingly." Don't just take my word for it, read the New York Times review.

Julie Orringer grew up in New Orleans and Ann Arbor. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Cornell University, and was a Stegner Fellow and Marsh McCall Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University and the Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. Visit Julie's website.

**= Starred reviews

BBC Historical Drama: Part 4

Part 4 – Sarah Waters, William Golding, Anne Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Flora Thompson, John Balderston

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical fiction based in England. With images from those books/novels in mind, I started checking out different historical dramas, the best of which I've seen are from BBC. Step into the 1800s and get involved of the lives of Nan Astley, Edmund, Helen Graham, Fancy Day, and Laura Timmins!

Tipping the Velvet is a colorful passionate drama about a lesbian, Nan Astley, and the relationships she finds, including one with her music hall co-star, Kitty. When Kitty decides to marry a man, Nan must find a way to survive the heartbreak of her first love. The book the screenplay was adapted from shares the same title and was written by Sarah Waters.

Based off of William Golding’s unforgettable sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth tells the story of a young aristocrat that sets sail to a new governmental post in Australia. However, Edmund soon discovers how naïve and unaware he is hurtling into this adventure.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a miniseries based off of one of the published works of lesser known Bronte sister, Anne Bronte. In this controversial (at the time it was written) story, Helen Graham tries to rescue herself and her son from her husband who has become a lecherous drunk.

Under the Greenwood Tree is a light romance, a bit different that better known works by Thomas Hardy. Fancy Day is a young woman who comes home to take care of her ailing father. She returns home to her small village, to the unexpected advances of three distinct gentlemen.

Developed from Flora Thompson’s trilogy, Lark Rise to Candleford, is an ongoing BBC Series that’s in its third season. In this series, Laura Timmins moves from the smaller village of Lark Rise, to the larger town of Candleford, to live with her cousin and find work. Laura finds herself surprised at the vast difference of the pace of life and scandals that occur in Candleford in comparison with Lark Rise.

Berkeley Square tells a story from an early 20th century perspective, more specifically; 1902 (had to throw this in the mix!). Berkeley Square is actually based on a play written by John L. Balderston. In this play and miniseries, three young nannies get jobs with well-to-do London families in this coming-of-age-tale that has been compared with Road to Avonlea.

If you’ve missed previous parts of my BBC Historical Drama blog, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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