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Behrman, S. N. (09 June 1893–09 September 1973), playwright and essayist, was born Samuel Nathaniel Behrman in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Behrman, a teacher of Hebrew, and Zelda Feingold, soon after their immigration from Lithuania. Because no birth record survived, Behrman selected his own birthdate. Living in a tenement in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood, Joseph Behrman studied the Talmud relentlessly and instructed children in Hebrew. In 1903, at about ten years of age, his son Samuel Nathaniel chanced to hear a presidential campaign address by Socialist Laborite candidate ...

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Bonner, Marita Odette (16 June 1898–06 December 1971), educator and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joseph Bonner, a machinist and laborer, and Mary A. Nowell. Educated in the Brookline, Massachusetts, public schools, she applied to Radcliffe College at the urging of her high school faculty adviser and was one of the few African-American students accepted for admission. She majored in English and comparative literature and founded the Radcliffe chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority. A gifted pianist and student of musical composition, she won the Radcliffe song competition in 1918 and 1922. Bonner also studied German, a language in which she became fluent. During her last year in college she taught English at a Cambridge high school. After graduating with a B.A. in 1922, she taught at the Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, Virginia, until 1924 and at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C., from 1924 to 1930, when she married William Almy Occomy, a Brown graduate. The couple moved to Chicago, where they raised three children....

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Brown, William Hill (late Nov.? 1765–02 September 1793), writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Gawen Brown, an English-born clockmaker of repute, and his third wife, Elizabeth Hill Adams. He attended a Boston boys’ school and assisted in his father’s shop during vacation periods. In his lifetime Brown’s writings appeared under various initials or names such as “Pollio” or “Columbus.” His work reveals a broad acquaintance with classical and British literature and a keen awareness of contemporary American writers. His first published poems were witty treatments of political topics. “Shays to Shattuck: An Epistle” ( ...

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Graham, Shirley (11 November 1896–27 March 1977), musical composer and director, author, and political activist, also known as Shirley Graham Du Bois, was born Lola Bell Graham in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of the Reverend David A. Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Etta Bell. She accompanied them when her father held pastorates in New Orleans, Colorado Springs, and Spokane. He delighted her with stories about important blacks in American history. In his churches, she learned to play the piano and the pipe organ and to conduct choirs. In 1914 she graduated from high school in Spokane, took business school courses, and worked in government offices in Spokane and Seattle. After she married Shadrach T. McCanns in 1921, she gave private music lessons and played the organ in white movie theaters, hidden backstage. She had two sons, Robert and David, and was either widowed in 1924 or obtained a divorce in 1929. (In many respects, biographical data concerning Graham are in dispute.)...

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Shirley Graham Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117469).

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Heller, Joseph (01 May 1923–12 December 1999), novelist, playwright, and memoirist, was born in New York City, the son of Isaac Heller, a delivery truck driver, and Lena Heller (maiden name unknown). His father died when Heller was five. Heller's childhood centered on the streets of Coney Island, where he became known for his acerbic one-liners and practical jokes. His reading choices were typical for his age—books such as ...

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Christopher Isherwood Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1950. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42487).

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Isherwood, Christopher (26 August 1904–04 January 1986), writer, was born in High Lane, Cheshire, England, the son of Francis Edward Isherwood, a military officer, and Kathleen Machell-Smith. After a year (1924–1925) at Cambridge University, Isherwood went to London, where he was secretary to the violinist André Mangeot and his Music Society String Quartet, and he also worked as a private tutor. He enrolled as a medical student at Kings College, University of London, in 1928, the same year his first novel, ...

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Klaus Mann The Manns: [left to right] Thomas Mann, Erika Mann, Katia Mann, and Klaus Mann, 1931. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116959).

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Mann, Klaus Heinrich Thomas (18 November 1906–21 May 1949), writer, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize-winning author, and Katia Pringsheim. The second child and eldest son, Mann felt oppressed by his father’s celebrity, yet he exploited Thomas Mann’s connections and finances throughout his life. His only lasting emotional bond was with his sister ...

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Marqués, René (04 October 1919–22 March 1979), playwright, poet, and author, was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the son of Juan Marqués Santiago and Pura Isabel Abreu, independent farmers. Marqués spent his childhood in a rural setting that was showing rapid changes toward modernity. Efficient mechanical devices were replacing traditional farming methods, and as a result, the island experienced two migrational patterns. As fewer men were needed for farmwork, families abandoned the countryside and sought opportunities in San Juan, the capital of the island, or they went to New York City. These radical changes became important motifs in Marqués’s work, specifically in his transitional rural settings and in his strong ideological discourse....

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Robinson, Harriet Jane Hanson (08 February 1825–22 December 1911), textile mill worker, suffragist, and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Hanson, a carpenter, and Harriet Browne. When Harriet was six, her father died. Her mother then ran a boarding house in Industrial Lowell, Massachusetts, with the help of her children....

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Cornelia Otis Skinner Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0395-B).

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Skinner, Cornelia Otis (30 May 1901–09 July 1979), author and actress, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Otis Skinner, a matinee idol, and Maud Durbin, an actress. After Skinner’s mother retired from acting in 1906, the family moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where Otis Skinner resided when he was not performing. In 1920 Skinner left Bryn Mawr College during her sophomore year to study in Paris. She attended the Sorbonne and studied acting at the Comédie Francaise and the Jacques Copeau School. Returning to the United States, Skinner landed her first dramatic role in the stage adaptation of Blasco-Ibanez’s ...

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Smith, Elihu Hubbard (04 September 1771–19 September 1798), medical practitioner, man of letters, and founder of the first national American medical journal, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the son of Reuben Smith, a physician, and Abigail Hubbard. Smith entered Yale College at the age of eleven and received a B.A. in 1786. He spent an additional year in academic study under ...

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Teichmann, Howard Miles (22 January 1916–07 July 1987), biographer and writer for stage, screen, and radio, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Teichmann graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1938. He then moved to New York City, where he began his professional career as a stage manager for ...

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Tyler, Royall (18 July 1757–26 August 1826), author and jurist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Royall Tyler, a prominent merchant and revolutionary patriot, and Mary Steele. He was originally named William Clark Tyler, but in 1772 his mother, widowed the previous year, had his name officially changed to that of his father. Tyler, like his father, attended Harvard, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1776 (and he was awarded one from Yale ...