Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Today is the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth. Check out ways to commemorate the day below, complete with cakes, quizzes, quotes and more.

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Bake a Shakespeare-inspired birthday cake

Introducing Cakespeare! To celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London invited bakers to design cakes inspired by the Bard’s prose. See a few below, or check out the full gallery here.

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The Old Men and the Sea: 150 Hemingway Look-Alikes Descend on the Florida Keys

If you happened to be in Key West, Florida during the third week of July, you may have found yourself caught in a sudden and strange upsurge in the local population of white-bearded men sporting cable-knit fishermen’s turtlenecks. You may have wondered why said men were often found gathered in the streets—donning Pamplona-red neck-scarves, their barrel-shaped midriffs squeezed into white t-shirts—or in bars wrestling the arms of pitiable strangers. You may have thought to yourself, what is this? A Hemingway convention or something?

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The real Hemingway, circa 1957

Why, yes. Yes it is.

Each year throughout the third week of July, Ernest Hemingway enthusiasts, or at least the most genetically gifted of them, flock to the island of Key West for the largest (and presumably manliest) look-alike competition in the world. Beginning on the 21st, Hemingway’s birthday, the contest boasted nearly 150 participants this year. 150 specimens of sport-fishing, bull-running, beard-cultivating machismo.

Amidst the four-day competition, photographer Henry Hargreaves sought to replicate the iconic photograph of “Papa” Hemingway himself, taken in 1957. For this he enlisted the help of several contestants. But Hargreaves knew that the replicas would only work if the subjects delved into the mindset of the author when the original photo was taken, not an easy task given what Hemingway had just gone through at that time in his life. As Hargreaves explains it,

I told each sitter about the original shoot with Karsh: how Hemingway just returned from Africa and a terrible plane crash and was in agony; asked them to contemplate the amazing amount of pain he was in but the equally amazing focus he had to sit quietly for a portrait.

Everything came together to take them to a place of pure expression: being Hemingway, inhabiting him; looking like, even feeling like The Man himself. Just what I was after.

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Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Fourth of July

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There are lots of things we expect on the Fourth:  fireworks, friends, family. There are things we love (sparklers, Roman candles, cold beer) and things we despise (sauerkraut, ambrosia, Lee Greenwood… all right, haters… this was from a friend. Direct all your spittle-filled anger elsewhere).

Here are a few unexpected things about the Fourth you can share tomorrow, if only to divert mom’s attention away from Uncle Collin while he takes the youngest  kids ’round back to set off three packs of taped-together Blackcat firecrackers…

10.  No Rush to Get “God Bless America” to the People

Famed American composer Irving Berlin gave his adopted nation one of its greatest and most iconic songs but it didn’t see the light of day because its author didn’t deem it worthy of being sung. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900s and helped to draft a musical comedy for his fellow troops in which he composed the song for its final number — a tune inspired by a phrase his Russian mother would often utter after escaping to America from underneath the iron fist of the bloody Russian empire. However, the composer didn’t think it would fit in the show and kept it in his file for 20 years until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks.  (Source)

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9.  Ehhhh… We’ll Get To It. We’re… Busy.

July 4th was not declared a federal holiday until 1941.  Most federal holidays are observed on a Monday but despite the temptation of a Guaranteed Long Weekend,  that pesky date made lawmakers leave it be.  (Source)

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Big Brother, Where Art Thou?

Oh yes, there you are, with your party hat on.

What with the recent NSA scandal, George Orwell’s dystopian caution that “Big Brother is watching you” has never seemed so relevant. In fact, sales of 1984 skyrocketed just after news broke that the US government was tapping into your average Verizon member’s mundane phone calls. So, how better to celebrate Orwell’s birthday this week than by a subtle nod to the constant gaze of the Party–complete with party hats?

Such was the idea of the Dutch artist duo Thomas Voor’t Hekke and Bas van Oerle (known collectively as “FRONT 404″). Their simple concept was to decorate the ubiquitous security cameras of Utrecht with eye-catching birthday hats.

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Happy 87th Birthday, Harper Lee!

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Last night, I found my sixteen-year-old daughter in bed  a full hour early. In her hands was Harper Lee‘s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. “I want to see what is happening with Scout. I’m worried about her,” she explained.

My daughter, like millions of other readers, has become enthralled by the coming-of-age story of Scout Finch as she navigates the racially-charged world of Alabama in the 1930s.

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Yesterday, April 28, 2013, marked the 87th birthday of Harper Lee, the novel’s author. To Kill a Mockingbird was immediately popular and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. It was an instant critical success as well, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 2008, London’s The Telegraph named To Kill a Mockingbird “the greatest novel of all time.”

The novel, Lee’s only published work, may not have ever been.  She was struggling to make ends meet in New York, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines. While in the city, she became friends with the composer and lyricist Michael Brown and his wife, Joy. The three became very close. In December, the Brown’s gave Lee an astonishing gift: a years’ salary with a note that read, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Within a year, Lee had completed the first draft of  Mockingbird. 

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Hot on the heels of Lee’s Pulitzer was the film being made of her work. The movie was released in 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars and was nominated for five more. In 2003, AFI named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century.

Want more? How about some trivia?!

Five Quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.
  2. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
  3. Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.
  4. Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
  5. You really never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Seven Quotes: On Reading & Writing

  1. More than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write.
  2. There’s no substitute for the love of language, for the beauty of an English sentence. There’s no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be.
  3. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
  4. Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.
  5. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.
  6. Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.
  7. You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write ‘for’ something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward. (Source).

Still want more?? Test your knowledge of Harper Lee or her classic novel!  Take our fun, interactive quizzes!

To Kill a Mockingbird Quiz 

Harper Lee Quiz


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