Portal:Books/Selected Biography
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Portal:Books/Selected Biography

Selected biography 1

Portal:Books/Selected biography/1

Sir John Vanbrugh in Godfrey Kneller's Kit-cat portrait.

Sir John Vanbrugh (; 24 January 1664 (baptised) - 26 March 1726) was an English architect, dramatist and herald, perhaps best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. He wrote two argumentative and outspoken Restoration comedies, The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697), which have become enduring stage favourites but originally occasioned much controversy. He was knighted in 1714.

Vanbrugh was in many senses a radical throughout his life. As a young man and a committed Whig, he was part of the scheme to overthrow James II and put William III on the throne. He was imprisoned by the French as a political prisoner. In his career as a playwright, he offended many sections of Restoration and 18th century society, not only by the sexual explicitness of his plays, but also by their messages in defence of women's rights in marriage. He was attacked on both counts, and was one of the prime targets of Jeremy Collier's Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage. (Full article...)

Selected biography 2

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Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling ( RUD-y?rd; 30 December 1865 - 18 January 1936) was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He was born in India, which inspired much of his work.

Kipling's works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including "The Man Who Would Be King" (1888). His poems include "Mandalay" (1890), "Gunga Din" (1890), "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" (1919), "The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands" (1899), and "If--" (1910). He is seen as an innovator in the art of the short story. His children's books are classics; one critic noted "a versatile and luminous narrative gift." (Full article...)

Selected biography 3

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Chinua Achebe in 2008

Chinua Achebe (; born Albert Chin?al?m?g? Achebe, 16 November 1930 - 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic who is regarded as the most dominant figure in modern African literature. His first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), occupies a pivotal place in African literature and remains the most widely studied, taught and read African novel. A titled Igbo chief himself, Achebe sought to escape the colonial perspective that predominated African literature, and drew from the traditions of the Igbo people, Christian influences, and the clash of Western and African values to create a uniquely African voice. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. Along with Things Fall Apart, his No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) complete the so called "African Trilogy"; later novels include A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). In addition to his seminal novels, Achebe's oeuvre includes numerous short stories, poetry, essay collections and children's books.

Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern British Nigeria, Achebe excelled at Government College Umuahia and won a scholarship to study medicine, but changed his studies to English literature at University College (now the University of Ibadan). He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) and soon moved to the metropolis of Lagos. He gained worldwide attention for his novel Things Fall Apart in the late 1950s which exerted a significant influence on subsequent literature. Achebe wrote his novels in English and defended the use of English, a "language of colonisers," in African literature. In 1975, his lecture "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" featured a criticism of Joseph Conrad as "a thoroughgoing racist;" it was later published in The Massachusetts Review amid controversy. (Full article...)

Selected biography 4

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Left to right: Candido Portinari, Antônio Bento, Mário de Andrade and Rodrigo Melo Franco

Mário Raul de Morais Andrade (October 9, 1893 - February 25, 1945) was a Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, and photographer. One of the founders of Brazilian modernism, he virtually created modern Brazilian poetry with the publication of his Paulicéia Desvairada (Hallucinated City) in 1922. He has had an enormous influence on modern Brazilian literature, and as a scholar and essayist--he was a pioneer of the field of ethnomusicology--his influence has reached far beyond Brazil.

Andrade was the central figure in the avant-garde movement of São Paulo for twenty years. Trained as a musician and best known as a poet and novelist, Andrade was personally involved in virtually every discipline that was connected with São Paulo modernism, and became Brazil's national polymath. His photography and essays on a wide variety of subjects, from history to literature and music, were widely published. He was the driving force behind the Week of Modern Art, the 1922 event that reshaped both literature and the visual arts in Brazil, and a member of the avant-garde "Group of Five." The ideas behind the Week were further explored in the preface to his poetry collection Pauliceia Desvairada, and in the poems themselves. (Full article...)

Selected biography 5

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Lady Gregory pictured on the frontispiece to "Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography" (1913).

Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (née Persse; 15 March 1852 - 22 May 1932) was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identified closely with British rule, she turned against it. Her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, was emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime.

Lady Gregory is mainly remembered for her work behind the Irish Literary Revival. Her home at Coole Park in County Galway served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important as her creative writings for that theatre's development. Lady Gregory's motto was taken from Aristotle: "To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people." (Full article...)

Selected biography 6

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Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anna Laetitia Barbauld (, by herself possibly , as in French, née Aikin; 20 June 1743 - 9 March 1825) was a prominent English poet, essayist, literary critic, editor, and author of children's literature. A "woman of letters" who published in multiple genres, Barbauld had a successful writing career at a time when women rarely wrote professionally.

She was a noted teacher at the Palgrave Academy and an innovative writer of works for children; her primers provided a model for more than a century. Her essays showed it was possible for a woman to be engaged in the public sphere; other women authors such as Elizabeth Benger emulated her. Barbauld's literary career spanned numerous periods in British literary history: her work promoted the values of the enlightenment and of sensibility, while her poetry made a founding contribution to the development of British Romanticism. Barbauld was also a literary critic. Her anthology of 18th-century novels helped to establish the canon as it is known today. (Full article...)

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Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo

Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 - April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose influential book Silent Spring (1962) and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award, recognition as a gifted writer and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths. Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. (Full article...)

Selected biography 8

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Henry James in 1890

Henry James ((1843-04-15)15 April 1843 - (1916-02-28)28 February 1916) was an American author. He is regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language. He was the son of Henry James Sr. and the brother of renowned philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James.

He is best known for a number of novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between émigré Americans, English people, and continental Europeans. Examples of such novels include The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove. His later works were increasingly experimental. In describing the internal states of mind and social dynamics of his characters, James often made use of a style in which ambiguous or contradictory motives and impressions were overlaid or juxtaposed in the discussion of a character's psyche. For their unique ambiguity, as well as for other aspects of their composition, his late works have been compared to impressionist painting. (Full article...)

Selected biography 9

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Joseph Johnson (engraving by William Sharp after a painting by Moses Haughton)

Joseph Johnson (15 November 1738 - 20 December 1809) was an influential 18th-century London bookseller and publisher. His publications covered a wide variety of genres and a broad spectrum of opinions on important issues. Johnson is best known for publishing the works of radical thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Thomas Malthus, Erasmus Darwin and Joel Barlow, feminist economist Priscilla Wakefield, as well as religious dissenters such as Joseph Priestley, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Gilbert Wakefield, and George Walker.

In the 1760s, Johnson established his publishing business, which focused primarily on religious works. He also became friends with Priestley and the artist Henry Fuseli - two relationships that lasted his entire life and brought him much business. In the 1770s and 1780s, Johnson expanded his business, publishing important works in medicine and children's literature as well as the popular poetry of William Cowper and Erasmus Darwin. Throughout his career, Johnson helped shape the thought of his era not only through his publications, but also through his support of innovative writers and thinkers. He fostered the open discussion of new ideas, particularly at his famous weekly dinners, the regular attendees of which became known as the "Johnson Circle". (Full article...)

Selected biography 10

Portal:Books/Selected biography/10 Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Jr. (, commonly ; born May 8, 1937) is an American novelist. A MacArthur Fellow, he is noted for his dense and complex novels. His fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, genres and themes, including history, music, science, and mathematics. For Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon won the 1973 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.

Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon served two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), and Gravity's Rainbow (1973). His 2009 novel Inherent Vice was adapted into a feature film of the same name by director Paul Thomas Anderson in 2014. Pynchon is notoriously reclusive from the media; few photographs of him have been published, and rumors about his location and identity have circulated since the 1960s. Pynchon's most recent novel, Bleeding Edge, was published on September 17, 2013. (Full article...)

Selected biography 11

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John Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft, (c. 1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft (, ; 27 April 1759 - 10 September 1797) was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences.

During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. (Full article...)

Selected biography 12

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Sarah Trimmer painted by Henry Howard in 1798

Sarah Trimmer (née Kirby; 6 January 1741 - 15 December 1810) was a writer and critic of 18th-century British children's literature, as well as an educational reformer. Her periodical, The Guardian of Education, helped to define the emerging genre by seriously reviewing children's literature for the first time; it also provided the first history of children's literature, establishing a canon of the early landmarks of the genre that scholars still use today. Trimmer's most popular children's book, Fabulous Histories, inspired numerous children's animal stories and remained in print for over a century.

Trimmer was also an active philanthropist. She founded several Sunday schools and charity schools in her parish. To further these educational projects, she wrote textbooks and manuals for women interested in starting their own schools. Trimmer's efforts inspired other women, such as Hannah More, to establish Sunday school programs and to write for children and the poor. (Full article...)

Selected biography 13

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Equiano by Daniel Orme, frontispiece of his autobiography (1789)

Olaudah Equiano (/?'la?da/) (c. 1745 - 31 March 1797), known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa , was a writer and abolitionist from, according to his memoir, the Eboe (Igbo) region of the Kingdom of Benin (today southern Nigeria). Enslaved as a child in Africa, he was taken to the Caribbean and sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more but purchased his freedom in 1766.

As a freedman in London, Equiano supported the British abolitionist movement. He was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s. He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which depicted the horrors of slavery. It went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade. Equiano married an English woman named Susannah Cullen in 1792 and they had two daughters. He died in 1797 in Westminster. (Full article...)

Selected biography 14

Portal:Books/Selected biography/14

Christie in 1958

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, (née Miller; 15 September 1890 - 12 January 1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which was performed in the West End from 1952 to 2020, as well as six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. In 1971, she was made a Dame (DBE) for her contributions to literature. Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling fiction writer of all time, her novels having sold more than two billion copies.

Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, and was largely home-schooled. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed in 1920 when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, was published. Her first husband was Archibald Christie; they married in 1914 and had one child before divorcing in 1928. During both World Wars, she served in hospital dispensaries, acquiring a thorough knowledge of the poisons which featured in many of her novels, short stories, and plays. Following her marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930, she spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East and used her first-hand knowledge of his profession in her fiction. (Full article...)

Selected biography 15

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Rice in 2006

Anne Rice (born Howard Allen Frances O'Brien; October 4, 1941) is an American author of gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotic literature. She is best known for her series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, which revolve around the central character Lestat. Books from The Vampire Chronicles were the subject of two film adaptations--Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Queen of the Damned (2002).

Born in New Orleans, Rice spent much of her early life there before moving to Texas, and later to San Francisco. She was raised in an observant Catholic family but became an agnostic as a young adult. She began her professional writing career with the publication of Interview with the Vampire in 1976, while living in California, and began writing sequels to the novel in the 1980s. In the mid-2000s, following a publicized return to Catholicism, Rice published the novels Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, fictionalized accounts of certain incidents in the life of Jesus. Several years later she distanced herself from organized Christianity, citing disagreement with the Church's stances on social issues but pledging that faith in God remained "central to [her] life." However, she now considers herself a secular humanist. (Full article...)


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