Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Writers Born Today - Ambrose Bierce

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.
                                                                                                    - Ambrose Bierce

It's the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, born June 24, 1842 in a log cabin in Ohio. As a writer he is best known for his short stories of war and the macabre. His civil war story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, is one of the most anthologized in American Literature. He also wrote a satirical lexicon famously known as The Devil's Dictionary. In it he skewers knaves, fools, and politicians with equal vigor and this work was in part responsible for his nickname, "Bitter Bierce".

His parents instilled in him a lifelong love of literature and words, and when he left home at age 15 it was to take a job as a printer's apprentice at a newspaper. When the Civil War began he enrolled and served in some of the most horrific fighting the nation had ever seen, including Shiloh and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was wounded. Much of his wartime experiences found their way into his stories.

After the war he traveled west and wrote columns for several newspapers. His reputation grew after he joined the San Francisco Examiner and wrote a column called The Prattle. He exposed a plot by the railroads to get a bill passed through Congress that would forgive millions of dollars in government loans. When the head of one of the railroads offered him a bribe and asked that Bierce "name his price" to keep quiet about the bill, Bierce declared the price was 130 million dollars, payable to the U.S. Treasury. His efforts killed the bill and established his reputation as an incorruptible journalist.

Even as his fame grew, Bierce suffered from tragedy in his personal life. Two of his sons died while young, one by suicide, and his marriage failed. In 1913 he traveled to Mexico to cover the revolution there for William Randolph Hearst. His last known location was the town of Chihuahua. He disappeared and was never heard from again.

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