Literary Stories for Jan. 2-5, 2020

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Welcome to 2020! Here are your Literary Stories from Bidwell Hollow for Jan. 2-5.

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Jan. 2

Isaac Asimov

Jan. 2 is the day Isaac Asimov celebrated his birthday, although he didn’t know his exact date of birth. Asimov was born between Oct. 4, 1919, and Jan. 2, 2020 in Petrovichi, Russia. But there’s no official record of Asimov’s birth.

To Asimov, the date of his birth didn’t matter. As he wrote in his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, “There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain, and it really doesn’t matter. I celebrate Jan. 2, 1920, so let it be.”

Asimov’s family moved to the U.S. in 1923. He grew up in Brooklyn, working at his father’s candy store.

Starting at 18, Asimov spent his adult life writing. He wrote or edited more than 500 books. Typing at 90 words-a-minute, Asimov produced 2,000-4,000 words a day. His books range on topics from science fiction to Shakespeare and the Bible, falling into nine of the ten classes in the Dewey Decimal Classification System. 

Science fiction, however, is where the writer most made a name for himself. He won ten Hugo Awards, an annual literary award given for science fiction or fantasy works. Among Asimov’s best-known books are the seven novels comprising the Foundation series and his short story collection, I, Robot.

Asimov’s contributions to science fiction were so significant that Jan. 2 is National Science Fiction Day in the United States. The unofficial holiday started in 2012. 

This year is the centennial of the writer’s birth. An event marking the occasion is planned for Jan. 4 at the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn. Sheila Williams is the Guest of Honor. She’s the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, which Asimov co-founded in 1977.

Asimov died in 1992 of complications from HIV, having contracted the disease from a blood transfusion.

John Hope Franklin

Six-year-old John Hope Franklin, his mother, and sister were preparing to head from their home in Rentiesville, Okla. to Tulsa. They were going to meet Franklin’s father, Buck, who worked as a lawyer in the city’s African American neighborhood, Greenwood. But before they left, a telegram arrived. Something was happening in Tulsa, and they should stay put, the message said.

It was May 31, 1921. What was happening that day in Tulsa was the murder of black men, women, and children by white rioters. The mob burned homes and businesses in Greenwood, a prosperous part of town, then known as Black Wall Street. The official death toll for the Tulsa Race Massacre lists 36 people. Most agree, though, that number is too low. Some estimate that rioters killed as many as 300 people that day in Tulsa.

The Franklins stayed in Rentiesville. And their patriarch, Buck, survived the massacre. He then defended other survivors of the killing. And he sued the City of Tulsa for preventing black residents from rebuilding. But for four years, his wife and kids stayed out of the city.

Finally, in 1925, the rest of the Franklins moved to Tulsa. There John Hope grew up in the segregated city until it came time for college. Because the University of Oklahoma didn’t admit black students, Buck attended Fisk University in Nashville. He graduated from there in 1935 and then earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. at Harvard University.

Over 70 years, Franklin studied and wrote about African American history. He published more than 20 books, including the work for which he’s best known, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans. The book came out in 1947 and is still required reading in many college classrooms. It’s sold more than 3.5 million copies.

Franklin broke many barriers. He was the first African-American president of the American Historical Association. And the historian was the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke University. He helped Thurgood Marshall’s team win the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that struck down segregation. And Franklin marched in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Franklin returned to Tulsa in 2008. He attended the groundbreaking ceremony for John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. The park, located in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, memorializes those killed in the Tulsa Race Massacre. Its groundbreaking was Franklin’s last public appearance. 

John Hope Franklin, born on Jan. 2, 1915, died on Mar. 25, 2009. A dedication for the park, named in his honor, took place in 2010. And in 2018, the American Library Association designated it a Literary Landmark.

Jan. 3

J.R.R. Tolkien

Jan. 3 is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. Or, in Quenya, “Jan. 3 na- i birthdaime -o j.r.r. Tolkien.” Quenya is one of the languages Tolkien created for his Lord of the Rings books. 

The novels reference about a dozen made-up languages. Quenya and Sindarin are the only ones that Tolkein fully developed, meaning you can speak and write them. You can take lessons in both dialects. And some people are fluent in Quenya or Sindarin.

Linguistics came naturally to Tolkien. He learned Latin and Greek as a child. And he created his first language when he was a teenager. Throughout his life, Tolkien learned 35 dialects, including Old Norse, Lithuanian, and Finnish.

Tolkien based much of Quenya on Finnish. For example, a syllable can’t end with a consonant cluster, such as “br” or “sk.” And, like Finnish, Quenya uses umlauts and dots.

Tolkien wrote about contrived languages in an academic paper he published in 1931 when he was a professor at Oxford University. In the document, “A Secret Vice,” Tolkien defined rules for creating a language. And he discussed making worlds in which imaginary characters spoke contrived dialects.

Tolkien had already created Quenya by the time he published “A Secret Vice.” He started work on the language in the 1910s. But he continued tweaking the dialect until the first Lord of the Rings book came out in 1954. Both Quenya and Sindarin have changed little since then.

Three novels comprise what’s known as The Lord of the Rings books: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. All came out between 1954 and 1955. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings over 17 years following the success of his first novel, The Hobbit. 

Through his novels, Tolkien took readers to Middle-earth, called Endor in Quenya. Middle-earth is a continent from Earth’s ancient past populated by men, dwarves, elves, and other creatures. Middle-earth is an example of world-building that led to today’s fantasy books, such as the Game of Thrones series. And Tolkien’s language-creating skills inspired other made-up dialects, such as Star Trek’s Klingon.

Tolkien’s books remain some of the most popular ever published. Combined, more than 250 million copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have sold. 

Jan. 4

Harlan Coben

Jan. 4 is the birthday of thriller writer Harlan Coben. He’s published 31 books, translated into 43 languages, and sold more than 80 million copies. But, as Coben said, “I’m still not even the best-selling author in my fraternity!” 

That’s because Coben’s fraternity brother was Dan Brown, author of novels such as The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s sold more than 200 million books. Both men attended Amherst College. And they lived together for a time in the Psi Upsilon fraternity house.

Coben was a senior at Amherst when he started writing. He worked for his grandfather’s travel agency in New Jersey after graduating in 1984. But he kept writing and in 1989 received a $5,000 advance for his first novel, Play Dead. The book came out in 1990. 

A year later, he published his second novel, Miracle Cure. But it wasn’t until he came up with a character named Myron Bolitar that Coben found success as a writer. Bolitar is a former basketball star-turned-coach who solves crimes. 

Coben received a $15,000 advance for his fist two Bolitar novels. The first book, Deal Breaker, came out in 1995. The novelist churned out seven Bolitar books and then wrote a standalone novel, Tell No One. Coben’s publisher, Bantam Books, paid $175,000 for Tell No One. The novel came out in 2001 and stayed on The New York Times best sellers list for four weeks.

These days, Coben makes about $4 million per book. Netflix is making an eight-part series based on his novel The Stranger. And Coben’s the creator of the Netflix show “Safe.” The writer’s net worth is an estimated $25 million. But he’s worth less than his fraternity brother, Dan Brown. Brown’s estimated net worth is $178 million. 

Jan. 5

W.D. Snodgrass

One of W.D. Snodgrass’s professors at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop told him to stop writing emotive poems. The teacher was poet Robert Lowell and, for a time, Snodgrass tried to follow Lowell’s advice. “But I came to a point where I had to rebel against my teachers, including Lowell,” Snodgrass said. “I wanted to use a much more simple and direct kind of language, something that would be common without feeling worn out or used.”

Snodgrass used that form of writing in his debut collection, Heart’s Needle. The book came out in 1959 when Snodgrass was 33. Heart’s Needle won the Pulitzer Prize and convinced Lowell that he’d been wrong about his former student. Lowell was so impressed with Snodgrass’s poetry that he based his book of poems, Life Studies, on Heart’s Needle.

William DeWitt Snodgrass was born on Jan. 5, 1926, in Wilkinsburg, Pa. He wrote more than 30 books of poetry and criticism and taught at schools such as Syracuse University and the University of Delaware. 

About being a poet, Snodgrass once said, “If you can be happy doing something else, do it. Everything pays better. Everything is more honestly rewarded. But if you’ve got to do it, then you’re a life-termer.”

Snodgrass passed away on Jan. 15, 2009.

Sources

Significant effort goes into ensuring the information shared in literary stories is factual and accurate. However, errors can occur. If you see a factual error, please let me know by emailing nick@bidwellhollow.com. I'll make every effort to verify and correct any factual inaccuracies. Thank you.

Isaac Asimov

John Hope Franklin

J.R.R. Tolkien

Harlan Coben

W.D. Snodgrass