Born OTD in 1928, American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries. Angelou’s most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing & expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family and travel.

Maya Angelou’s seven volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer. Loving the … More

Born OTD in 1759, English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft’s life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships, 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 work as important influences.

Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th century who did not believe women should receive a … More

First published OTD in 1914, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a semi-biographical novel by the Irish writer Robert Tressell, published after his death from tuberculosis in 1911, about a house painter’s efforts to find work in the fictional English town of Mugsborough (based on the coastal town of Hastings) to stave off the workhouse for himself and his daughter. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature.

‘The present system means joyless drudgery, semi-starvation, rags and premature death; and they vote for it and uphold it. Let … More

Born OTD in 1947, Irish civil rights leader and former politician, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she was convicted of incitement to riot in 1969, for which she served a short jail term. After being re-elected in the 1970 general election, Devlin declared that she would sit in Parliament as an independent socialist.

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin was infuriated that she was later consistently denied the floor in the … More

Born OTD in 1922, internationally known Trinidadian calypsonian, Lord ‘Kitch’ 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”, which he sang live on a report for Pathé News.

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

Over the last century the novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ has been credited with having more influence on the growth of the labour & trade union movement than Marx & Engels. Yet for a long time little was known about the author, a house-painter called ‘Robert Tressell.’ Ian Hernon has traced his life from Victorian Ireland & South Africa to Edwardian Hastings &, ultimately, Liverpool. It is the story of how arguably the greatest novel about the English working class sprang to life from Tressell’s bitter experience & first-hand observations. It is also the personal story of a workmate & single parent who was much-loved in life & venerated after his premature death before his masterpiece was published.

That masterpiece has particular resonance in today’s political climate of austerity and division. With a preface by Len McCluskey, General … More

Born OTD in 1957, English writer and lyricist, Nick Hornby. “Rob Fleming is a London record shop owner in his mid-thirties whose girlfriend, Laura, has just left him. At his record shop, called Championship Vinyl, Rob and his employees, Dick and Barry, spend their free moments discussing mix-tape aesthetics and constructing desert-island, “top-five” lists of anything that demonstrates their knowledge of music. “

Rob, recalling his five most memorable breakups, sets about getting in touch with the former girlfriends. Eventually, Rob’s re-examination of … More

Born OTD in 1889, English comic actor, filmmaker, & composer, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin’s childhood in London was one of poverty & hardship, as his father was absent & his mother struggled financially, & he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum. Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls & later working as a stage actor & comedian.

Social commentary was a feature of Chaplin’s films from early in his career, as he portrayed the underdog in a … More

OTD in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. pens his Letter from Birmingham Jail while incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting against segregation. ‘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 racism, and reflects on the healing power of love.

The letter responded to several criticisms made by the “A Call for Unity” clergymen, who agreed that social injustices existed … More

Born OTD in 1939, Irish poet, playwright and translator, Seamus Heaney. The poems in Seamus Heaney’s collection The Spirit Level keep discovering the possibilities of ‘a new beginning’ in all kinds of subjects and circumstances. What is at stake, in poem after poem, is the chance of buoyancy and balance, physical, spiritual and political. Private memories, classical scenes, humble domestic objects – a whitewash brush, a sofa, a swing – are endowed with talismanic significance, while friends and relatives are invoked for their promise and steadfastness.

Throughout the collection, Heaney addresses his concerns, which inevitably include the political situation in his native Northern Ireland, in a … More