BY JOANNA CLEARY
March: (sort of) spring, daylight savings, and St. Patrick’s Day. Even better, however, this month also happens to hold the birthdays of several talented writers, both famous and not. While the list goes on and on, spanning from Robert Frost to Henrik Ibsen to Dr. Seuss, here are six lesser known, but equally gifted, authors born in March:
Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994)
“I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me? And wait until I reveal how truly irresponsible I am. Responsibility rests upon recognition, and recognition is a form of agreement.”
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Best known for his novel Invisible Man (1952), which serves as a critical commentary on many of the social struggles African Americans faced in the early twentieth century, Ellison’s legacy lives on in the voice he carved for people of colour in a time where minority voices were suppressed even more than they are today.
Fun Fact: Ellison’s father loved literature and hoped that his son would grow up to become a poet; ironically, Ellison never dabbled in verse throughout his writing career.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (March 1, 1892 – July 24, 1927)
Is your body also
– Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, ‘Green Frog’
Seen as “the father of the Japanese short story,” one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after this writer.
Fun Fact: Akutagawa was named “Ryūnosuke” (which means “Son [of] Dragon”) because he was not only born in the Year of the Dragon, but also in the Month of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, and at the Hour of the Dragon.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806 – June 29, 1861)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘How Do I Love Thee?’
Having begun to write poetry from the age of six, one of the works this English writer is best known for is her sonnet “How Do I Love Thee?”
Fun Fact: Browning’s father forbade his twelve children from ever marrying, prompting him to disown his daughter when she married her husband, Robert Browning, after a secret love affair.
Jeffrey Eugenides (March 8, 1960 – Present)
“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, ‘the happiness that attends disaster.’ Or: ‘the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.’ I’d like to show how ‘intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members’ connects with ‘the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.’ I’d like to have a word for ‘the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.’ I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.
– Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
This American novelist and short story writer’s novel Middlesex, a controversial work exploring an intersex protagonist’s coming-of-age story, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Eugenides is also well-known for his 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides.
Fun Fact: In college, Eugenides took a year away from his studies to volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.
Emily Pauline Johnson (March 10, 1861 – March 7, 1913)
And only where the forest fires have sped,
Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,
A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head,
And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,
It hides the scars with almost human hands.
And only to the heart that knows of grief,
Of desolating fire, of human pain,
There comes some purifying sweet belief,
Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief,
And life revives, and blossoms once again.
-Emily Pauline Johnson, “Fire-Flowers”
Because her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was an English immigrant, Johnson’s poetry explores Indigenous and mixed race identity at a time when colonialism in Canada was at its peak.
Fun Fact: In addition to writing verse, Johnson also wrote and performed in amateur theatre productions throughout her life.
Toni Cade Bambara (March 25, 1939 – December 9, 1995)
“Words are to be taken seriously. I try to take seriously acts of language. Words set things in motion. I’ve seen them doing it. Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges. I’ve felt them doing it. Words conjure. I try not to be careless about what I utter, write, sing. I’m careful about what I give voice to.”
-Toni Cade Bambara
A prominent writer in the 1960s Black Arts Movement, Bambara’s 1970 anthology The Black Woman is considered the first inherently feminist collection of writing to focus on African-American women.
Fun Fact: In 1970, this author changed her name to include the name of a West African ethnic group — Bambara — after finding the name written as part of a signature on a sketchbook that belonged to her great-grandmother.
JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, andSubterranean Blue Poetry, among others.