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Writer's Almanac

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It’s the birthday of writer Peter Matthiessen, born in New York City (1927). He grew up in a wealthy family in Connecticut, where he went to boarding school before joining the Navy during WWII. He went on to Yale and later studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. Matthiessen published his first short stories in The Atlantic Monthly, but he was barely scraping by teaching creative writing courses, when one of his Yale professors, Norman Holmes Pearson, asked if he would work for the newly formed CIA.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

On this day in 1881, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. When Clara was only 10, her brother David fell off the roof of the family barn. At first, he seemed fine, but the next day he developed a headache and fever. The doctor diagnosed “too much blood” and prescribed the application of leeches to help draw out the extra blood. Clara took over as her brother’s nurse and spent two years at his bedside applying leeches (though David did not get any better until he tried an innovative “steam therapy” several years later).

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 20, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 20, 2024

Shakespeare’s sonnets were first published on this day in 1609, most likely without Shakespeare’s permission. The book contained 154 sonnets, all but two of which had never been published before. Shakespeare (or perhaps the publisher Thomas Thorpe) dedicated the collection to “Mr. W.H.” whose identity has never been known. The poems are about love, sex, politics, youth, and the mysterious “Dark Lady,” and they have given young lovers and the hopelessly romantic words for the ages.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 19, 2024

Today is the birthday of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska (1925). When he was four years old and living in East Lansing, Michigan, white supremacists set fire to the family’s home. The East Lansing police and firefighters—all white—came to the house when called, but stood by and watched it burn. When he was six, his father was murdered.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 18, 2024

It is the birthday of comedy writer-cum-actress Tina Fey, born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (1970). She was a high school honor student, a member of the drama club, and she performed in a summer theater group. She enrolled at the University of Virginia where she studied playwriting and acting, and after graduation in 1992 she moved to Chicago, where she took night classes at the improv training center The Second City, while working at a YMCA during the day. In 1994, she began performing with The Second City, traveling around the country and doing eight shows a week for two years. Three years later, she was hired as a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live and she quickly rose to head writer.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 17, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 17, 2024

The Supreme Court ruled that school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment on this date in 1954. An eight-year-old girl named Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas, had to travel 21 blocks every day to an all-black elementary school, even though she lived just seven blocks from another elementary school for white children. Her father, Oliver Brown, asked that his daughter be allowed to attend the nearby white school, and when the white school’s principal refused, Brown sued.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 16, 2024

It is the birthday of one of the first well-known female mathematicians of the Western world. Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in Milan (1718). Her father, Pietro, was a wealthy businessman and her mother, Anna Fortunata Brivio, was an aristocrat whom her father married to raise his status in Milan society.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

It’s the birthday of writer Katherine Anne Porter, born Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas (1890). Her mother died when she was two years old, and her father didn’t pay much attention to young Callie or her brothers and sisters. She was raised by her grandmother, Catherine Anne Skaggs, in the town of Kyle, which had about 500 people. Catherine Anne Skaggs traced her family back to Daniel Boone.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It was on this day in 1804 that Lewis and Clark departed on their journey. Even though this was the official start date of the trip, it had taken years of preparation. Lewis and Clark spent the winter before they departed near St. Louis at Camp Dubois, on the Mississippi River. They gathered supplies, recruited more people, and in the final days, packed the boats.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 13, 2024

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 13, 2024

It’s the birthday of novelist Daphne du Maurier, born in London (1907). She came from a family of actors and writers, and her first two big successes were books about her family — Gerald (1936), a biography of her father; and The Du Mauriers (1937), the story of her family beginning in the early 18th century. She was inspired to write about her family after she found a stack of old letters in a drawer, letters belonging to her “grandfather and his father before him.”

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