MAY LITERARY BIRTHDAYS

(Complete list of May authors here.)

Featured Authors

Walt Whitman, May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892

Whitman, an essayist, journalist, and extremely influential American poet, sometimes called the father of free verse (though he wasn't), was born on Long Island, NY. His major work was the controversial (for its at-times sexual nature) Leaves of Grass (1855), which includes "Song of Myself," whose protagonist identifies with the common people rather than as some heroic, removed, figure; Ralph Waldo Emerson liked the book and talked it up. Whitman's also been called "America's first poet of democracy" and his life and writing influenced the beat poets. During the Civil War, he volunteered as an army nurse, writing about the experience in "The Great Army of the Sick" in 1863 (a newspaper article) and then in Memoranda During the War.

Extensive Walt Whitman Archive, with manuscripts, published works, biography, criticism, images, audio recordings, teaching materials, bibliography, etc.; both the The Academy of American Poets' Whitman's page  and The Poetry Foundation's Whitman page, each with biographical sketch, linked poems and prose, articles, podcasts, etc.; full text of Song of Myself from the Modern American Poetry website; full text of Leaves of Grass at Bartleby.

Elizabeth Coatsworth, May 31, 1893 - August 31, 1986

Coatsworth, born in Buffalo, NY, and a graduate of Vassar (BA 1915) and Columbia (MA 1916), was the wife of Henry Beston (married 1929) and lived with him in Hingham, Mass., and then on a farm in Nobleboro for decades; she's buried in the cemetery on Chimney Farm. Coatsworth travelled widely, spending time in England, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and the Yucatan. She incorporates her travel memories into her writing. 

Coatsworth wrote over 90 books, most of them children's books, including Five Bushel Farm (1939), a Maine pioneer story; The Enchanted: An Incredible Tale (1951); and Giant Book of Cat Stories (1953). She won the 1931 Newbery Award for her children's book, The Cat Who Went To Heaven (1930), which is set in Japan.

Her first novel, Here I Stay: A Maine Novel, was published in 1938. She also wrote a number of autobiographical books and poetry. Her daughter (with Beston), Kate Barnes (1932-2013), was also a writer and Maine's first poet laureate.

The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi has a short autobiography, photos, letters, and some material pertaining to Coatsworth's writing, as well a concise biographical sketch of her life and work. The New York Times ran Coatsworth's obituary in 1986. There's also an entry on Coatsworth in Maine: An Encyclopedia.

May Sarton, May 3, 1912 - July 16, 1995

May Sarton, writer of many novels, poems, journals, and memoirs, was born Eleanor Marie Sarton in Wondelgem, Belgium, on 3 May 1912 and emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1916, settling in Massachusetts. Sarton lived in New Hampshire as an adult, moving to York, Maine, in 1973, where she lived until the end of her life, on 16 July 1995. As the article on her at Wikipedia correctly notes, "May Sarton's best and most enduring work probably lies in her journals and memoirs, particularly Plant Dreaming Deep ... (1958-1968), Journal of a Solitude (1972-1973, often considered her best), The House by the Sea (1974-1976), Recovering (1978-1979) and At Seventy (1982-1983). In these fragile, rambling and honest accounts of her solitary life, she deals with such issues as aging, isolation, solitude, friendship, love and relationships, lesbianism, self-doubt, success and failure, envy, gratitude for life's simple pleasures, love of nature (particularly of flowers), the changing seasons, spirituality and, importantly, the constant struggles of a creative life." She is one of my favourite journal writers.

A comprehensive Sarton bibliography is found on the Celebration of Women Writers page, as is a biographical sketch. The Poetry Foundation's page on Sarton has a biographical sketch, a bibliography, and linked poems. Sojourner's magazine provides a short death notice


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