Kick-ass facts about authors born in August!

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The month of August has proved to be exceptional for literature enthusiasts. The eighth month of the year has blessed us with some of the greatest sons and daughters of prose and poetry. With our detailed compilation, it becomes easy to discern while not everyone can be a great writer, a great writer can come from anywhere. Take a look!

James Baldwin


“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.”

Source: WordPress

James had a harsh childhood. Growing up in poverty as the grandson of a slave, his personal experiences of racism and gender issues reflect heavily in his work.

After his mother walked out on his biological father, following the latter’s drug problem, she relocated to Harlem. There she married David, a preacher. He was particularly harsh on young James, whipping him raw at times.

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“There is, I should think, no Negro living in America who has not felt briefly and for long periods, with anguish sharp or dull, in varying degrees or to varying effect, simple, naked and unanswerable hatred; who has not wanted to smash any white face he may encounter in a day

His stepfather’s influence made young James a preacher. He soon attracted more people to his sermons than the former. His writing was deemed to have been heavily influence by the language used in biblical verses.

 “Those three years in the pulpit – I didn’t realize it then – that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and that despair and that beauty.”

 It was when he was 15 that Baldwin met Beauford Delaney. The black painter added perspective to the fledgling James vision. Delaney encouraged him to take up art, particularly painting. It was here that Baldwin took up writing, publishing short stories and reviews. A few have been compiled in Notes Of A Native Son.

 “Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.

 You don’t need to be Billy Burns to know being black, and a homosexual in the United States of the 40’s and 50’s would lead to unpleasant repercussions. Baldwin thus, in 1948, moved to Paris with 40 dollars in his pocket. He later recalls his surprise at the warmth of Les Parisiens.
Borrowing money whenever I could—often at the last minute—I moved from one hotel to another, not knowing what was going to happen to me. Then I got sick. To my surprise I wasn’t thrown out of the hotel.

It was only in La Ville Lumière that he published his most two famous works. A frequent haunt in the city was the Café de Flore, where he wrote large parts of ‘Go Tell It On A Mountain’, which was ultimately completed on a trip to Switzerland. This work was semi-autobiographical, and dealt with his life as a black person growing up in Harlem, New York.

“Judicious men in their chairs may explain the sociology of guilt, and so explain Negro religion away. Mr. Baldwin will not have it away. In this beautiful, furious first novel, there are no such reductions.”

-Donald Brarr’s review in 1953

After his two most famous, and greatly controversial works, his writing did not reach out to the number he previously catered to, with his works dubbed “turbulent” and “greatly influenced” by his life as a civil rights activist in the movement of the 60’s. At this point, James was deeply affected by the deaths of his friends Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evans, and Malcolm X.

FACT: James Baldwin was a friend of “The Godfather” Marlon Brando for over 20 years.

In 1987, James Baldwin succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 63.

“I think Baldwin presents a perspective that is uniquely Harlem, any of the struggles students face are the same: self-identity, racism, drugs and alcohol, even though the times have changed.”

– An article in the New York Times

Percey Bysshe Shelley


“Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present.”

The poet had a very short life, but made it count. He is regarded as one of the, and in some cases THE finest poet of the English language.

The son of Sir Timothy Shelley MP, Shelley was born into a well to do family, which allowed him to receive the best of education. He attended Eton, before going on to study at Oxford for a year, only to be expelled later, for his views on religion and atheism.

He met one of his greatest influencers during his time at Eton, Dr. Lind – the physician to the royal family. It was in the doctor’s personal library that Shelley familiarised himself in philosophy and science. He paid homage to his guide in ‘The Revolt of Islam’, by basing one of his characters on him.

He started his literary journey by publishing ‘Zastrozzi’ in 1810. A Gothic novel, he highlighted his atheistic views through a number of literary mouthpieces. Well received by critics who praised his writing talent and style, he went on to publish a flurry of different literature.

“My son here has a literary turn; he is already an author, and do pray indulge him in his printing freaks.”

– Shelley’s father to Oxford bookseller Munday and Slatter

Crucial among these was ‘The Necessity Of Atheism’ which got him expelled from Oxford. His overtly atheist views created a permanent rift between his father and himself.

“Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof of the existence of a deity, QED.”

-The final verse from ‘The Necessity Of Atheism’

His adherence to the notion of “free love” resulted in a number of tumultous affairs in his personal life. While he entered into wedlock with his cousin Harriet, it was only till the daughter of William Godwin appeared before young Percy’s eye. In her he met his intellectual companion. She eventually went on to write the masterpiece, that is ‘Frankenstein’. Shelley played no small part in helping her conceive the idea. They also collaborated on other works such as, ‘History Of A Six Weeks Tour’, ‘Midas’, and ‘Proserpine’.

Fact: His belief in “free love” resulted in Shelley agreeing to his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg’s approaching Mary romatically. She however, lost interest in the latter.

Through Mary, he gained the acquaintance of Lord Byron, who became his single greatest mentor and friend. His greatest works  ‘Ozymandias’, ‘Ode to the West Wind’, ‘To a Skylark’, ‘Music’ ‘When Soft Voices Die’, ‘The Cloud’ and ‘The Masque of Anarchy’ were published only after their meeting.

Fact: In his life, Percy was entitled to a seat in the British Parliament through his father who was an MP.

Shelley died in Italy in 1922, at the age of 29 attempting to navigate a storm on the high seas from Leghorn to La Spezia in Italy.

Firm in his thought, and outspoken in action Shelley never backed down from a making his views crystal clear. Some maintain that his expulsion from University College, Oxford for the mere publication of ‘The Necessity Of Atheism’ was a dramatic overreaction. On the other hand, the poet did send this work to the deans of Oxford, and the Church of England. Clearly, an unveiled attempt at mockery.

Alfred Lord Tennyson


Source: The Guardian

No life that breathes with human breath Has ever truly longed for death.’

Tennyson came from a long line of wealth and grandeur. The 4th of 12 siblings, it could be said that poetry was Alfred’s escape from an alcoholic father, and institutionalised and opium sniffing brothers. It is widely accepted that the recurring dark themes in his works were influenced by the Tennyson menage.

FACT: Tennyson was pals with William Gladstone, the future Prime Minister of Britain.

Educated by his father, a reverend in modern and classical languages, Tennyson read at Trinity College, Cambridge. In the year of commencement, 1827, in tandem with his brother, he published his first work, ‘Poems by Two Brothers.’ Post this, in 1830, he published he published ‘Poems, Chiefly Lyrical’. As a follow up to this, he published ‘Poems’ in 1832.

Photo: Flickr.Com
Source: Flickr.Com

“There is a strange earnestness in his worship of beauty which throws a charm over his impassioned song, more easily felt than described, and not to be escaped by those who have once felt it. “

-Hallam on Poems, Chiefly Lyrical.

In 1842, his compilation of poems in the imaginatevly titled, ‘Poems’ was a resounding success. In 1850, he published, ‘In Memorium’, the elegy of which was a tribute to his late friend and mentor Arthur Hallam. The same year, he was designated the successor to Wordsworth as ‘Poet Laureate’.

“I sometimes find it half a sin,
To put to words the grief i feel,
For words like nature,half reveal,
and half conceal the soul within,” 

– Tennyson from ‘In Memorium’

In 1859, he published the ‘Idylls Of The King’, which was one of his best known works. The Victorian era witnessed great changes, accompanying tremendous doubt and uncertainty. In such times, it is widely accepted that many poets returned to the legends of the past. Tennyson followed suit by writing here on King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Guinevere and other knights of the round table.

FACT: In 1884, Tennyson was granted a peerage, which thereby made him Alfred Lord Tennyson.

On the personal front, the genius had a rather stable and conventional personal life. He loved only one woman for the majority of his life and finally married Emily Tennyson in 1850. He lived out his last year in content prosperity, shuttling between his two country homes, and London with his family.


The Penguin India Blog

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