The Dead Writer’s Almanac (April 29, 2010)

It’s the last week of April, and we are still hunting around for writers who have died, particularly those who have died in an unusual manner. But we are finding ourselves unenthused by the offerings. We could tell you about John Cleveland, who died 352 years ago today, but this noted poet and satirist merely died of a fever. Had Mr. Cleveland lived 270 years longer, he might have been able to try out a nifty little thing called penicillin. Alas, the human life span, even in the 21st century, remains quite fickle. It seems absurd to suggest that Mr. Cleveland, who was fighting a bad bout, could not only conquer his debilitation, but somehow live like Methuselah. Mr. Cleveland was doomed to die when he did. May he rest in peace. And there isn’t much we can do to correct his demise except hang our heads in shame at contemplating what might have been, had he had lived for centuries. That would have been one hell of a story.

We could tell you about Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre, who died 267 years ago today. Or Wittgenstein (59 years ago). Or we could point out that Hitchcock died today (30 years ago), even though he was more of a filmmaker than a writer. But when you begin to examine how many of these dead writers have penises, well, you have begin to see the limp progress of our humble little operation. So The Dead Writer’s Almanac is now caught within an ethical quandary on April 29, 2010. How does one respond to the vast history of letters (specifically, those authored by dead people), when one is fully cognizant that most of the writers who have died have been white men? That hardly represents a liberal spirit, does it? This hardly represents progress. While those readers now residing in Arizona will scratch their heads in confusion over our dilemma, rest assured that the question of balance is a grave problem for us.

We have flipped through many books in the stacks. We have telephoned librarians. They have reported our names to the appropriate authorities, and we await the knock at the door from the men in white coats. We are repeatedly scanning the headlines, wondering if some rocking writer of the XX variety will kick the bucket before we go to bed. Perhaps a corpse will soon be discovered. It is not that we pine for any specific writer to die. We remain firmly opposed to the death penalty. We do want people to live and not die too early, and have considered trademarking our motto in order to demonstrate the serious nature of our commitment. On the other hand, if a woman writer were to die today, it would really make things much easier for us, and it would alleviate our guilt.

One desperate option that has been suggested to us: the murder of a writer to fit the quota. But the Dead Writer’s Almanac staff has no homicidal experience or a desire to commit murder. This would be ethically and legally wrong, the friends and family of the murdered writer would feel great grief, and, most importantly, all the resultant fuss would create a needless inconvenience for us.

But we may have stumbled on a choice for tomorrow. So we leave you now with our patented signoff to aid you in your struggle with the blank page.

Stay writing, don’t die too early, and keep in touch!


  1. Here’s what I got for this day: Constantine Cavafy, poet, Alexandria, Egypt, 1933; Aloysius Bertrand, poet, Paris, 1841; Mike Royko, journalist, author, Chicago, 1997.

    I don’t think any of them died in any unusual way. Tomorrow could be good:

    Sara Josepha Hale, author, poet, Philadelphia, 1879; John Luther “Casey” Jones, railroad driver, Vaughan, Miss, 1900; A(lfred) E(dward) Housman, poet, Cambridge, England, 1936; Jessie Fauset, editor, novelist, critic, poet, Philadelphia, 1961; Richard Scarry, childrens’ author, illustrator, Gstaad, Switzerland, 1994.

    I stretched it a bit by adding Casey Jones, but he inspired a folk song which has been written down and he inspired a classic Smothers Brothers bit (wait, that was John Henry; sorry). Perhaps something here might tickle your morbid bone.

    But, yeah, I ran into the problem of gender displacement while writing my book. Seems most of the good stories were about dead white writers. Can’t be helped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *