Text by Diane Slocum

February is our month to honor presidents, and “The Complete Book of US Presidents: Fourth Edition” was just released. Author Bill Yenne gives short biographies of each president, featuring the significance each played in the shaping of the United States. It includes portraits and anecdotes not only of the presidents, but also of their wives and vice presidents.

“The Presidents: Noted Historians Rank America’s Best — and Worst — Chief Executives” (published in 2019) by Brian Lamb, Susan Swain and others separates the past presidents into the top 10, 23 in the middle and the remining 10. Not surprisingly, the first four slots are held by Lincoln, Washington and both Roosevelts. In the very middle of the middle group is Cleveland, flanked by Grant and Taft. Occupying the very bottom are Harding, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan.

“Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America” by Jared Cohen tells the story of the vice presidents who rose to the presidency following the death of the president. The first was John Tyler, who succeeded William Henry Harrison, who died just a month after his inauguration in 1841. At that time, it hadn’t even been determined that it was the vice president’s role to serve out the president’s term.



The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing began in the fall of 1995. In the years since, 38 graduates of the program have published their first books, and some have multiple books. Half of the debuts were published in the first 25 and half in the last five. In 2019, Clash Books published a novella, “Cenote City,” by Monique Quintana (class of 2016). One of the three published in 2020 is Ashley Wells’ memoir (class of 2012), “The Cowgirl and the Racehorse: A Recovery,” published by Lantern Publishing & Media. Erik Wilbur‘s poetry chapbook (class of 2018) “What Can I Do” was published by Chestnut Review Press. From the class of 2020 comes Anthony Cody’s collection of poetry, “Borderland Apocrypha,” which was published by Omnidawn Publishing.



A Literary Hub article declares “The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language.” By “iconic,” the author, Emily Temple, means that the poems are culturally ubiquitous. A few of them are: “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos William; “The Wasteland,” by T.S. Elliot; “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost; “Because I could not stop for Death…,” by Emily Dickinson, and “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe. Google the title for the rest of the list and worthy additions offered in comments at the end. Consider reading ones that you have missed.



The 2020 Saroyan Prize for Literature went to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah for “Friday Black,” a collection of short stories published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His dozen stories include titles such as “The Finkelstein 5,” “The hospital where” and “The Lion and the spider.” This is just one of Adjei-Brenyah’s awards, which include being a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree. His stories place ordinary people in unusual circumstances and examine what it is like to be Black in America.

Jennifer Croft is the 2020 nonfiction winner for her memoir “Homesick.” Two sisters are homeschooled because one suffers from mysterious, debilitating seizures, while the other flourishes intellectually. Croft is also the recipient of other awards, including the Man Booker International Prize.



If you want to give your character a name that sounds authentic to someone born in 1920, you can’t go wrong with Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Margaret, Ruth, John, William, Robert, James or Charles, according to the Social Security Administration’s list of favorite names over the past 100 years. Favorite names don’t change much in those first decades, adding Betty and Richard in 1930, while dropping Ruth and Charles. Mary is the only girl’s name that stays in the top five until all the 1920 names have been replaced in 1970 by Jennifer, Lisa, Kimberly, Michelle and Amy. Boys names in 1970 are Michael, James, David, John and Robert. Business Insider lists top 10 names by decade from 1880.



“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)