Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant
5 August 1850 – 6 July 1893
Maupassant was a popular 19th-century French writer. He is one of the fathers of the modern short story. A number of his stories often denote the futility of war and the innocent civilians who get crushed in it - many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s.
Until he was thirteen years old Guy lived with his mother in Normandy in the countryside near the sea. With her brother Alfred, she had been the playmate of the novelist Gustave Flaubert, who was destined to have a guiding influence on her son's life. She was a woman of great literary accomplishments, very fond of the classics, especially Shakespeare. Growing up in this setting made him very fond of nature and outdoor sports; he went fishing with the fishermen off the coast and spoke Norman with the peasants. At the age of 14 he ate roast monkey with Algernon Charles Swinburne, the famous poet. He was deeply devoted to his mother.
He entered a seminary school but deliberately managed to have himself expelled. Then he was sent to the Rouen Lycée, where he proved a good scholar, writing poetry and acting in plays. The Franco-Prussian War broke out soon after his graduation from college in 1870; he enlisted as a volunteer and fought bravely.
In 1880 he published his first masterpiece, "Boule de Suif", which met with an instant and tremendous success. The decade from 1880 to 1891 was the most fertile period of Maupassant's life. Made famous by his first short story, he worked methodically and produced two or sometimes four volumes annually. He combined talent and practical business sense, which made him wealthy. His editor, Havard, commissioned him to write new masterpieces and Maupassant continued to produce them without the slightest apparent effort. At this time he wrote what many consider to be his greatest novel, Pierre et Jean.
With a natural aversion to society, he loved retirement, solitude, and meditation. He traveled extensively in Algeria, Italy, England, and Sicily, and from each voyage he brought back a new volume. He cruised on his private yacht "Bel-Ami," named after his earlier novel. Maupassant was one of a fair number of 19th-century Parisians who did not care for the Eiffel tower; indeed, he often ate lunch in the restaurant at its base, not out of any preference for the food, but because it was only there that he could avoid seeing its otherwise unavoidable profile. He and forty-six other Parisian literary and artistic notables attached their names to letter of protest, ornate as it was irate, against the tower's construction to the then-Minister of Public Works.
In his later years he developed an exaggerated love for solitude, a predilection for self-preservation, and a constant fear of death and mania of persecution, compounded by the syphilis he had contracted in his early days. He was considered insane in 1891 and died two years later, a month short of his 43rd birthday, on July 6, 1893. Guy de Maupassant is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.
Maupassant is one of the fathers of the modern short story. He delighted in clever plotting, and served as a model for Somerset Maugham and O. Henry in this respect.
Edgar Allan Poe
January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849
Poe was an American poet, short story writer, playwright, editor, literary critic, essayist and one of the leaders of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and of the macabre, Poe was one of the early American practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of detective fiction and crime fiction. He is also credited with contributing to the emergent science fiction genre.
Poe's legacy includes a significant influence in literature in the United States and around the world as well as in specialized fields like cosmology and cryptography. Additionally, Poe and his works appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, television, video games, etc. Some of his homes are dedicated as museums today.
-Born Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts
-Parents both died when he was young; was taken in by the Allen family of Virginia, but never officially adopted
-Attended University of Virginia; left school when he gambled away his tuition
-Served in the Army at Fort Independence on Castle Island, Boston, MA
-Wrote poems, stories, and longer fiction, such as “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and many others
-Moved to Baltimore, MD
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious and "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance," according to the friend who found him, Dr. John E. Snodgrass. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died early on the morning of October 7. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness, and he may have attempted suicide in 1848. Poe finally died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. The precise cause of Poe's death is disputed and has aroused great controversy
Aug. 31, 1908 - May 18, 1981
Saroyan was an American author who wrote many plays and short stories about growing up impoverished as the son of Armenian immigrants. These stories were popular during the Great Depression. Saroyan grew up in Fresno, the center of Armenian-Americans in California, where many of his works are set (although he sometimes gave the city a fictional name). Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "In Armenian it is sor-row'yan, accent on row. In America it is mispronounced with... 'roy.'"
Many of Saroyan's stories were based on his childhood experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley, or dealt with the rootlessness of the immigrant. The short story collection My Name is Aram (1940), an international bestseller, was about a young boy and the colorful characters of his immigrant family. It has been translated into many languages.
William Saroyan's stories celebrated optimism in the midst of the trials and tribulations of the Depression. Several of Saroyan's works were drawn from his own experiences, although his approach to autobiographical facts often takes poetic license in his writing.
His advice to a young writer was: "Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell." Saroyan worked tirelessly to perfect a prose style that was full of zest for life and was seemingly impressionistic. The style became known as "Saroyanesque".
During World War II Saroyan joined the US army. He was stationed in Astoria, Queens, but he spent much of his time at the Lombardy Hotel in Manhattan, far from the Army personnel. In 1942 he was posted to London in as a part of a film unit and narrowly avoided a court martial, when his novel, The Adventures of Wesley Jackson (1946) turned out to be pacifist.
William Saroyan is buried with other Armenian artists and intellectuals at the Pantheon Park in Yerevan, Armenia. "Everybody has got to die," he had said, "but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case."
Frank R. Stockton
April 5, 1834 - April 20, 1902
Stockton was an American writer and humorist, best known today for a series of innovative children's fairy tales that were widely popular during the last decades of the 12th century. Stockton avoided the didactic moralizing common to children's stories of the time, instead using clever humor to poke at greed, violence, abuse of power and other human foibles, describing his fantastic characters' adventures in a charming, matter-of-fact way in stories like "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" (1885) and "The Bee-Man of Orn" (1887), which was published in 1964 in an edition illustrated by Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are.
His most famous fable, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (1882), is about a man sentenced to an unusual punishment for having a romance with a king's beloved daughter. Taken to the public arena, he is faced with two doors, behind one of which is a hungry tiger that will devour him. Behind the other is a beautiful lady-in-waiting, whom he will have to marry, if he finds her. The story’s unresolved ending has sparked more than a century of discussion, which has made the story a staple in English classes in American schools, especially since Stockton was careful never to hint at what he thought the ending would be.
Born in Philadelphia, Stockton was the son of a prominent Methodist minister who discouraged him from a writing career. He supported himself as a wood engraver until his father's death in 1860; in 1867, he moved back to Philadelphia to write for a newspaper founded by his brother. His first fairy tale, "Ting-a-ling," was published that year in The Riverside Magazine; his first book collection appeared in 1870.
In 1868, Stockton joined the staff of the new magazine Hearth and Home, working as an assistant editor under Mary Mapes Dodge, author of Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. He contributed not only fairy tales, but also stories and articles on a variety of subjects for adults. In 1874, Stockton was made assistant editor of Saint Nicholas Magazine, a new magazine for children, again under Mary Mapes Dodge. He worked there until 1878, when he was forced to resign the position due to failing eyesight. He continued to write, however, dictating to his wife or a professional secretary, and produced a large body of popular work for children and adults through the end of the century. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1902. His collected works, 23 volumes of stories for adults and children, were published between 1899 and 1904.
Kurt Vonnegut (Jr.)
Nov. 11, 1922 – Apr. 11, 2007
An American novelist known for works blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973).
As a high school student in Indianapolis, Vonnegut worked on the nation's first daily high school newspaper, The Daily Echo. His siblings had attended private schools, but financial difficulties during the Great Depression meant that Vonnegut had to attend public schools. He has said that he gleaned the basis of his political and social beliefs from his junior civics class.
He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1942, serving as editor for the student newspaper. While at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army. On May 14, 1944, Mothers' Day, his mother, Edith Lieber Vonnegut, committed suicide. Later in life, Vonnegut faced more absurd tragedy when his sister died of cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train accident. These extraordinary events helped shape the fiction he would create.
Vonnegut's experience as a soldier and prisoner of war had a profound influence on his later work. As a scout with the 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut was cut off from his battalion and wandered alone behind enemy lines for several days until captured on December 14, 1944. Imprisoned in Dresden, Vonnegut witnessed the February 13–February 14, 1945 bombing of Dresden, which destroyed most of the city. He was one of just seven American prisoners of war in Dresden to survive, in their cell in an underground meat locker of a plant known as Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). "Utter destruction", he recalled, "carnage unfathomable."
The Germans put him to work gathering bodies for mass burial. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes." This experience formed the core of one of his most famous works, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a theme in at least six other books. Vonnegut was freed by Red Army troops in May 1945. Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a "ludicrously negligible wound."
Although many of his novels involved science fiction themes, they were widely read and reviewed outside the field, not least due to their anti-authoritarianism. For example, his short story “Harrison Bergeron” graphically demonstrates how an idea such as egalitarianism, when combined with too much authority, results in horrific repression. Up until his death, Vonnegut was outspoken and critical of what he saw as abuses of power. Shortly before he passed away, he was quoted as saying "The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected."
Vonnegut died of brain injuries sustained in a fall at his house. Nearly all obituaries and tributes written for him included his trademark phrase "so it goes," used often by Vonnegut to explain the unexplainable and deal with death.
He writing is not without humor, however. Vonnegut often peppered his writing with comic non-sequiturs, such as
"All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental."
“Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”