On May 16 , the US celebrate their national day of biographers (National Biographer’s Day – sometimes just short Biographer’s Day). Reason enough to include this event in the calendar of curious holidays from all over the world and tell its story. What is this special day dedicated to biographical writings about?
Who started National Biographer’s Day?
Unlike many other literary holidays in the United States, in the case of National Biographer’s Day, the origins are not entirely obscure. In the course of the research I could not find out who exactly initiated this day of honor for biographers and since when exactly it has been celebrated in the Anglo-Saxon region.
But there is a very specific reason for choosing the date. And that has nothing with the also committed on May 16, International Metal Heads Day , the day of the Penguins (National Sea-Monkey Day), the I-mag-trees tag (National Love a Tree Day) or the American BBQ Day (National Barbecue Day) to do.
Why do we celebrate National Biographer’s Day on May 16?
In fact, the choice of date goes back to a very concrete and historically documented event. Because on May 16, 1763, the first meeting between the British scholar, lexicographer, writer, poet and critic Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) and his biographer, the writer and lawyer James Boswell (1740 – 1795).
Encounters between the two befriended men were not uncommon and, as a rule, should not have been a reason for a strange holiday of their own. The aforementioned meeting on May 16, 1763, which took place in a London bookshop near Covent Garden, had a specific reason. Namely the planned biography of Johnson, one of the most cited British writers of the 18th century, by his friend.
Although this was only supposed to be published in 1791 under the title The Life of Samuel Johnson (German: Dr. Samuel Johnson. Life and Opinions ), the native Scotsman enjoyed a similar popularity in the English-speaking world as the comparable work by Johann Peter Eckermann (1792 – 1854) and his conversations with Goethe.
Which biographies you should read right now
at least if it works in my opinion as a reader. 😉 A small list of recommendations:
- Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: Hannah Arendt. Life, Work and Time (2004). Regardless of whether you have direct access to the work and thinking of the theorist Arendt, you should have read her biography as a historically / politically interested person. In addition, one should make Arendt compulsory reading in class anyway.
- Molly Crabapple: Drawing Blood (2015). Autobiographies are always such a thing. And even if this book by the relatively young New York artist and activist Molly Crabapple is quite long, it is definitely worth taking a look at the wonderfully illustrated book.
- Jürgen Goldstein: Georg Forster: Between Freedom and the Force of Nature (2015): Johann Georg Adam Forster (1754 – 1794), natural scientist, ethnologist, world traveler, travel writer and revolutionary, is unlikely to be a household name today. And that is unfortunate. Because, thanks to his notes on the circumnavigation of the world with James Cook, Forster has created a great work that takes on an independent position in the context of the Enlightenment. Without his reflections on nature, for example, the thinking of Alexander von Humboldt would not have been possible (I had already recommended it on the occasion of the National Book Lovers Day on August 9th).
- Thomas Kunkel : Man in profiles. Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker (2015). Joseph Mitchell is one of the central figures of US journalism in the 20th century. Mitchell’s articles for The New Yorker magazine are still considered prime examples of reporting on everyday life in New York in the early 20th century. Thomas Kunkel provides the first biography about the journalistic heavyweight.
- Patti Smith: M Train (2015). After the great success of Just Kids, this is the successor. Not quite as compelling as the memories of Robert Mapplethorpe, but still excellent.
In this sense: Have a great day for the biographers to all of you.