Born OTD in 1922, Trinidadian calypsonian, Aldwyn Roberts, AKA Lord Kitchener. He toured Jamaica for six months in 1947-8 with Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore) and Lord Woodbine (Harold Philips) before they took passage on the Empire Windrush to England in 1948. Upon his arrival, Kitchener performed the specially-written song “London Is the Place for Me”.

Combining factual biography with the imaginative structure and investment in the language of the novel, Anthony Joseph fully engages with … More

OTD in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. pens his Letter from Birmingham Jail while incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting against segregation. The letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. It says that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws & to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. Responding to being referred to as an ‘outsider’, King writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

This landmark missive from one of the greatest activists in history calls for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against … More

Born OTD in 1958, British writer, dub poet and Rastafarian, Benjamin Zephaniah. Zephaniah, who has travelled the world for his art and his humanitarianism, now tells the one story that encompasses it all: the story of his life. In the early 1980s when punks and Rastas were on the streets protesting about unemployment, homelessness and the National Front, Benjamin’s poetry could be heard at demonstrations, outside police stations and on the dance floor. His mission was to take poetry everywhere, and to popularise it by reaching people who didn’t read books.

His poetry was political, musical, radical and relevant. By the early 1990s, Benjamin had performed on every continent in the … More

Born OTD in 1955, American novelist, essayist and poet, Barbara Kingslover. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the Congo in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments.

“2016 Vineland Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against an upended world that seems to hold no mercy … More

Born OTD in 1915, American jazz singer with a career spanning nearly thirty years, Eleanora Fagan AKA, Billie Holiday. Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz music & pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her vocal delivery and improvisational skills

Billie Holiday, by Argentinian Carlos Sampayo and artist José Muñoz is a graphic memoir in the NBM Graphic biography series … More

Born OTD in 1928, American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou’s seven volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents & resilience of this extraordinary writer. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.

In this first volume of her six books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in … More

OTD in 1972, Actor Charlie Chaplin returns to the United States for the first time since being labeled a communist during the ‘Red Scare’ in the early 1950s. McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, academics, & labor-union activists.

Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, & the level of threat posed by a person’s real … More

The 1990 Strangeways Prison riot was a 25-day prison riot and rooftop protest at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England. The riot began on 1 April 1990 when prisoners took control of the prison chapel, and the riot quickly spread throughout most of the prison. The riot and rooftop protest ended on 25 April when the final five prisoners were removed from the rooftop, making it the longest prison riot in British penal history. The riot sparked a series of disturbances in prisons across England, Scotland and Wales, resulting in the British government announcing a public inquiry into the riots headed by Lord Woolf. The resulting Woolf Report concluded that conditions in the prison had been intolerable, and recommended major reform of the prison system.

“This book…makes a vital contribution to the continuing campaign for change. It does so because it has the insight of … More

Born OTD in 1949, American soul, jazz poet, musician, and author, known primarily for his work as a spoken-word performer, Gil Scott-Heron. Author Leslie Gordon Goffe takes a look at the up and down life of American singer Gil Scott-Heron, the so-called ‘Godfather of Rap’. This book also takes a look at Gil’s relatioship with his father, Jamaican footballer, Gillie Heron. The first black person to play professional football in the US as well as Scotland’s Celtic Football Club.

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OTD in 1854, Charles Dickens’ novel, ‘Hard Times’, begins serialisation in his magazine Household Words. Unusually for Dickens, Hard Times is set, not in London, but in the imaginary mid-Victorian Northern industrial town of Coketown with its blackened factories, downtrodden workers & polluted environment. This is the soulless domain of the strict utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind & the heartless factory owner Josiah Bounderby. However human joy is not excluded thanks to ‘Mr Sleary’s Horse-Riding’ circus, a gin-soaked & hilarious troupe of open-hearted & affectionate people who act as an antidote to all the drudgery & misery endured by the ordinary citizens of Coketown.

Macaulay attacked Hard Times for its `sullen socialism’, but 20th-century critics such as George Bernard Shaw and F.R. Leavis have … More