Reader's Almanac

For today, February 22. Happy Birthday, Edna St. Vincent Millay: the poet was born in Rockland, Maine in 1892. She grew up in a home that valued books and learning: her mother Cora read Shakespeare and Milton to the Millay children. The family was very poor, but a wealthy patron of the arts who heard the teenage Millay recite some of her poetry offered to pay for her to attend Vassar. After Millay's graduation in 1917, she moved to Greenwich Village and moved in a circle that included the critic Edmund Wilson and Floyd Dell, editor of the left-wing magazine The Masses. In 1923 she became the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur said Millay wrote "some of the best sonnets of the century." Related SPL reading: The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, and Nancy Mitford's Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Happy Birthday, Edward Gorey. The writer and artist was born in Chicago in 1925. Upon moving to New York after college he worked edwardgoreyin the art department at Doubleday, where he illustrated books such as Dracula and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and where he worked after hours on his own drawings.  His independent career was launched in the gallery of New York City's Gotham Bookshop, which displayed his drawings, but he really hit the cultural map when he created the animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! His work has an aesthetic usually described as "Edwardian" and "macabre." He wrote over 100 books,  many of them wordless. He sometimes wrote under pseudonyms that were anagrams of his real name, such as Ogdred Weary. His designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula won a Tony Award. He also wrote and directed theatrical productions starring  papier-mâché puppets he made himself. His 1958 book The Object Lesson has earned critical respect as a work of surrealism. Perhaps his most famous work is The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book illustrated with drawings of children's deaths. Another noteworthy book is The Curious Sofa, which Gorey subtitled, "A Pornographic Work" although it is utterly lacking in nudity or explicitness, where one can find the oft-quoted line, "Still later Gerald did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan." Gorey himself classified his work as "literary nonsense," but his own approach to art is perhaps best summed up in his remark to a Boston Globe reporter: "Ideally, if anything were any good, it would be indescribable." Related reading from SPL: Gorey's 1999 book, The Headless Bust: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millenium and Amphigorey Also, a collection of selected drawings and verse.

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