It’s the birthday of philosopher Simone Weil, (books by this author) born in Paris (1909). T.S. Eliot called her "a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints." After getting a degree in philosophy, she worked in fields and factories, so she could write about what it was like for manual laborers. She gave most of her money to the unemployed, living on as little as possible. She wrote essays on political, social, and religious issues, but not many of them were published during her lifetime. During World War II, she fled to the United States and then to England. There, she was hospitalized with tuberculosis, and she refused to eat more than she thought an average French person was getting on wartime rations. When she died soon afterward, it was ruled a suicide. After her death, her essays were published in Gravity and Grace (1947) and Waiting for God (1950).

Weil said, "Whenever, in life, one is actively involved in something, or one suffers violently, one cannot think about oneself."


It’s the birthday of writer Gertrude Stein, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874). When she was 30 years old she moved to Paris, and lived there for almost the rest of her life. She once said, "America is my country and Paris is my hometown." She covered the walls of her house in Paris with paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, and others. Her house became known as "The Salon," and writers and artists came from all over to get advice and encouragement from her. Ernest Hemingway once said, "Gertrude was always right."

She would hold dinner parties and then stay up afterward to work on her own novels and essays. But she wasn’t very well known as a writer until she published her autobiography, which she called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in 1933. It was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly and became a huge best seller in the United States. Stein became a household name, and the next year she returned to America for the first time in over 30 years, to go on a lecture tour.

Stein said, "Everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really."

from The Writer’s Almanac

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