April 2: Marvin Gaye, the Motown pioneer, producer, and legend who remains one of the few American popular artists able to create, with equal ease and complete success, socially conscious, lastingly catchy, and irresistibly sexy music.
April 3: Washington Irving, one of America’s first professional writers, a hugely talented satirist, travel writer, and biographer, and, in his creation of distinctly American folk tales, one of the most enduring contributors to our national mythology.
April 4: Dorothea Dix, for more on whose amazing and inspiring life and work see the post at that link!
April 5: Booker T. Washington, the former slave turned political and social leader who is perhaps best known today for his moderate approach to racial equality (particularly when compared to a contemporary like Du Bois), but whose hugely significant legacies in the fields of education, government and policy, and life writing (among others) should never be forgotten.
April 7: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose 20th century spanning life included activism in virtually every significant social movement, but whose environmental advocacy for Florida’s Everglades, exemplified by the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), led directly to the preservation of that amazing American space.
April 8: Oscar Zeta Acosta, the Chicano writer, lawyer, and activist whose connections to Hunter Thompson and mysterious 1970s disappearance shouldn’t overshadow his unique, ground-breaking, and compelling works of autoethnographic fiction.
April 9: A tie between Paul Robeson, whose diverse and singular talents and achievements were for a while overshadowed, but should instead only be amplified, by his political and social passions and risks; and Paule Marshall, the daughter of Barbadian American immigrants whose powerful and inspring novels and stories explore Caribbean American identity, race, culture, and gender in America, city life, and universal human themes with equal sensitivity and skill.
April 10: William Apess, about whose tragic but inspiring life, and angry and eloquent voice, see that link!
April 11: Jane Bolin, whose pioneering life of firsts culminated with her appointment as the first African American woman judge, and whose critical and impassioned perspectives on the core historical issues of the 20th century are just as inspiring as her professional trailblazing.
April 12: Ronald Takaki, the pioneering scholar of ethnic studies, Asian American Studies, and multicultural American history who really represents, quite simply, the ideal for which American history-writing, scholarship, and education should continually strive.
April 13: Thomas Jefferson and Nella Larsen—not just as a tie, but as a very complicatedly and appropriately matched American pair.
April 14: Anne Sullivan, the titular “Miracle Worker” without whose impressive perserverance and educational efforts Helen Keller might never have become the inspiring American she did.
April 15: A tie between three very distinct and equally interesting and significant American men: Charles Willson Peale, Henry James, and A. Philip Randolph.
April 16: Wilbur Wright, who with his brother Orville achieved one of the most significant breakthroughs in the histories of American and world technology, invention, and culture, and did it with style.
April 17: Two American mythmakers, Alexander Cartwright (one of a few possible fathers of baseball, but certainly a pioneer of that defining American sport in any case) and Thornton Wilder (for his beautiful and bittersweet Our Town, his biting The Skin of Our Teeth, and much else besides).
April 18: Two Americans ahead of their time, James McCune Smith (the first African American doctor but equally a pioneer in his activism, writings, and community leadership) and Clarence Darrow (the titanic legal mind whose arguments and voice advanced American society just as much as they did its legal debates).
April 19: Eliot Ness, not only for his literally legendary work and ethic, but also for how much he reveals about America in the 1920s and 30s: Prohibition and organized crime, the rise of the FBI, changes in urban life and worlds, and more. (Here endeth the lesson.)
April 20: Daniel Chester French, the supremely talented sculptor whose work on the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial is only the most famous of his many contributions to American art, culture, mythology, and identity.
April 21: A tie between John Muir, to my mind the single most inspiring and significant American naturalist; and Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist whose inspiring life and work was captured so well by Susan Sarandon.
April 22: Two complex and talented American writers, Ellen Glasgow (whose portrayals of late 19th and early 20th century Southern society rival, in complexity, ambition, and power, those of her contemporary Wharton and her successor Faulkner) and Vladimir Nabokov (the Soviet exile turned scholar, translator, and hugely gifted creative writer who is so much more than just the author of Lolita).
April 23: Avram Davidson, one of the pioneering American science fiction and fantasy authors, and one who integrated his Orthodox Judaism, his World War II naval service, his lifelong connection to New York City, and his interests in American history and community into his huge and rich body of works.
April 24: Robert Penn Warren, for his great American novel, his rich and evocative poetry, his pioneering literary scholarship, but most of all for his willingness to grow and deepen as an American historian and Studier (as I discuss in the blog post linked at his name).
April 25: Ella Fitzgerald! What else do I need to say?!
April 26: Frederick Law Olmstead, for all the reasons elucidated in that post!
April 27: A tie between Ulysses S. Grant, not for his scandal-ridden and partially failed presidency, but for his crucial military savvy, his highly readable and powerful memoirs, and his impressive honesty and candor on complex national issues; and Coretta Scott King, whose work with her husband Martin Luther King, Jr., was only the beginning of her inspiring American life.
April 28: Harper Lee, who only published one novel, but what a powerful and significant American novel it is!
April 29: Iwao Takamoto, the Japanese American animator who went from a childhood in the Manzanar internment camp to designing Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone, directing Charlotte’s Web, and positively influencing the lives and imaginations of countless millions of American children.