06 March 2008

It's Somebody's Birthday Somewhere

I find biographies interesting, regardless of my previous knowledge of the person.

It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born near Durham, England (1806). She was the first to write and publish love poems in English from a woman's point of view. Many of her love poems were sonnets for or about her husband, the poet Robert Browning, whom she met after he sent her a telegram that praised her writing. She married him in 1846 in secret, when she was 40 years old. She ran away with him to Florence, Italy, because her father had forbidden her to marry.

It's the birthday of sculptor, painter, architect, and poet Michelangelo, born in Caprese, Italy (1475). During his lifetime he created some of the most important artistic work ever made, including the Pietà in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome (1499) and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-12). He also wrote around 300 poems, as well as many letters. Most of the poems are love poems. He started writing poetry when he was young, but he wrote his best poems in the last 20 years of his life.
In 1505, Michelangelo was commissioned to build a huge marble monument for Pope Julius II's tomb, and he worked on this piece for 40 years. Pope Julius kept interrupting him to make changes and to give him other jobs, and the monument was never actually completed. Only fragments of it survive today.
One of the jobs that the pope gave Michelangelo that interrupted his work on the monument was the painting of frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took him three and a half years to finish.

It is the birthday of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, born in Aracataca, Colombia (1927). He's best known as the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature, and for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He's also known as the main figure in writing known as "magical realism," which combines storytelling with elements of the supernatural.
García Márquez lived with his grandparents until he was eight years old. He was a shy boy, and his nickname in school was "the Old Man." He never liked playing sports and started telling stories from a young age. He said, "My earliest recollection is of drawing 'comics,' and I realize now that this may have been because I couldn't yet write. I've always tried to find ways of telling stories and I've stuck to literature as the most accessible."
García Márquez started writing for the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador, and he was eventually sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent. The government shut down the paper while he was in Paris, and this left him without any way of making money. He said, "For three years I lived by daily miracles. This produced tremendous bitterness in me. ... But if I hadn't lived those years I probably wouldn't be a writer."
One day in January of 1965, the complete first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude came to him suddenly while he was driving his car from Mexico City to Acapulco. He came home that night and told his wife not to bother him and locked himself in a room for eight to 10 hours a day for the next 18 months and wrote the novel. The original manuscript was 1,200 pages long, and García Márquez pawned their heater and his wife's hair dryer to pay for the postage to send the novel out to publishers.

HT: The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

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