February is Black History Month. A recent book, published in November, shares the story of the slave, James Armistead and the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War. Filthy Rich + Dirt Poor: How the Richest Kid in France and a Teenage Slave Teamed Up to Win America’s Revolutionary War by Lee Smyth, is listed as a book for children, but gives readers of all ages a look at how an educated slave who could read, speak French, and do math, helped win the war by spying on Lord Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold. Cornwallis trusted him so much, he sent him to spy on the rebels, or so he thought.

Just out this month is a new edition of W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, originally published in 1903. Using historical and sociological essays, songs, and poetry, personal recollections and fiction, DuBois’ ideas were radical at the time, but proved prophetic. DuBois points out that being African American is “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” and that there is a duality to their existence.

Also out in a new edition this month is Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II, a book in the Women of Action series by Cheryl Mullenbach. Profiled are war workers, political activists, military women, volunteers, and entertainers. Some are well-known, others’ stories, such as overseas war correspondent Betty Murphy Phillips, have not received the publicity they deserve.

Other significant books include Laurence Leamer’s The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan.

READ THE BOOK

For a more in-depth look at the women of the movie, Hidden Figures, read Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. The book follows the careers and lives of four of the black women mathematicians as they used their extraordinary calculating abilities to advance aerospace developments from World War II through the Cold War, Civil Rights, and the Space Race.

While these women performed their computational magic at Langley Field in Virginia, another book chronicles the women mathematicians who served in the same capacity at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt gives another perspective on the roles women have played as human computers and the advancement of science.

100 YEARS AGO IN LITERATURE

J.R.R. Tolkien began his Middle-earth stories with “Fall of Gondolin” while on medical leave from the British Army after being wounded in World War I. Another English writer, Hugh Kingsmill, was taken prisoner while fighting in France.

Leonard and Virginia Woolf began Hogarth Press in their home with a hand printing press.

The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in June with the first Pulitzer for journalism going to Herbert B. Swope. The Nobel prize for literature was shared by Danes Henrik Pontoppidan and Karl Gjellerup.

TOP 500 POEMS

The list of top 500 famous poems on All Poetry starts with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. This is followed by “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, “All the World’s a Stage” by William Shakespeare, and “If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda.

WRITING CONTESTS

Glimmer Train welcomes Very Short Fiction (from 300 to 3,000 words) in March and April and in July and August. The first place submission will receive $2,000. Entries for the Fiction Open are also accepted in those four months. These stories may run from 3,000 to 20,000 words and can be on any subject and theme. First place is $3,000. The Gimmer Train rules are significantly more relaxed than most contests. Details at: glimmertrainpressinc.submittable.com/submit

WRITING CONFERENCE

The Idyllwild Arts Spring Poetry Retreat will take place March 12-15 at the Creekstone Inn. The workshops will be led by Suzanne Lummis. Students will be encouraged to push boundaries and surprise themselves. Details at: idyllwildarts.org/page.cfm?p=1059.

THE LAST WORD

“There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”

– Martin Luther King Jr.  (1929-1968).