Topic: American Literature

Tree of heaven

ELA Middle School

‘A Tree Grows In Brooklyn’ Based on Author’s Experiences

American Literature Class Classics Children's Literature Writing Process Young Adult Literature Realistic Fiction Autobiography

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” has been an American classic for 75 years. This novel centers around a poor young Irish girl and her family struggling to make it in Brooklyn. It’s loosely based on the author’s experiences growing up in New York. Listen to find out what middle schoolers think of this celebrated novel and what the author changed when she turned her real life into fiction.

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Dandelions in the field

ELA High School

A Flowering Tribute To Emily Dickinson

Poetry Agriculture American Literature Classics Writing Process Shaping Identity Conservation

The New York Botanical Garden created an exhibit to honor Emily Dickinson. She was a nineteenth-century American poet who wrote unique verses, often about the nature of life and death. The new exhibit celebrates her hobbies, family, and experiences from a surprising perspective. Listen to learn what Dickinson was actually known for in her lifetime (hint: it’s not poetry!).

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Laura bridgeman

ELA Middle School

Before Helen Keller

Fiction American Literature Historical Fiction Realistic Fiction Facing Adversity

Many people know about Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman whose struggle to communicate was immortalized in her 1957 autobiography, “The Story of My Life.” Keller’s book was made into several movies and adapted for the stage, making Keller a well-known figure. But few people have heard of Laura Bridgman, a woman who learned to overcome the loss of four of her five senses fifty years earlier than Keller. Listen to hear more about how one young woman, with disabilities similar to Keller’s, overcame great adversity.

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Slave ships

ELA Middle School

'Middle Passage'

Race Slavery American Literature Historical Fiction

Charles Johnson’s book Middle Passage is considered a modern classic, in part because so much of the story told in the novel is seen as a reflection on the history of race and what it means to be black in America. In the book, the main character, Rutherford Calhoun, a free black man, unknowingly boards a ship that’s part of the illegal slave trade. His experience on board forces him to clarify his own racial identity. In this audio story, we hear different perspectives, including the author’s, on the story the book tells and its important and relevant themes.

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Library stacks

ELA Middle School

Fighting Illiteracy with ‘A Lesson Before Dying’

American Literature Historical Fiction Identity Realistic Fiction Facing Adversity

In Ernest J. Gaines’s 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying," the central character, Jefferson—a young black man living in the segregated South in 1948—is accused of murder and faces the possibility of the death penalty. Readers learn that Jefferson is illiterate, and that, as a result, he lacks confidence and self-worth. To spare him the pain of facing death without dignity, his family hires a teacher to help him learn to read and write. Listen to the audio story to learn how Gaines’s character develops “pride through learning.”

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Salinas

ELA Middle School

Low

Understanding Complex Characters in ‘Of Mice and Men’

Arts American Literature Realistic Fiction

John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers during the Great Depression. George is committed to protecting Lenny, who is well-meaning but limited in his cognitive and social skills. George does all he can to keep Lenny out of trouble, and so the two are often on the move. Of Mice and Men has been adapted for film and stage. Listen to this story to hear how an actor who played Lenny on Broadway reflects on how his own background informed his portrayal of this iconic character.

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Langston hughes

ELA High School

Letters from Langston Hughes

American Literature Memoir Autobiography Literary Criticism

Langston Hughes was one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African American art and culture that occurred in the late 1920s through the early 1930s. In 2015, Hughes’s letters were collected in "Selected Letters of Langston Hughes" by a team of editors. The letters reveal much about how Hughes viewed his writing, how he dealt with criticism, and how he felt about friends and peers. Listen to this interview with one of the editors of the collection to learn what Hughes’s letters reveal about who he was as a man, an African American, and a writer.

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ELA Middle School

Walt Whitman's Letter

US History I Civil War American Literature

Walt Whitman was an American poet, teacher, and journalist who was born in the early 1800s. His poetry shattered the literary conventions of his time and helped redefine the rules for modern American verse. Although highly unconventional, Whitman still had a strong sense of national pride and was deeply affected by the events of the Civil War. Although he never fought in the war, he visited recuperating union soldiers and helped them write letters to their loved ones. Listen to learn more about how Whitman helped Civil War soldiers.

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ELA High School

Enduring Themes in "Death of a Salesman"

American Literature Theater

“Death of a Salesman” has been one of the most enduring plays on the American stage. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 when it was first produced and has been described as the first great American tragedy. The success of Arthur Miller’s play is in no small part due to the fascination Americans of every generation have had with its main character, Willie Loman. In many ways, Loman is a metaphor for the human condition in 20th century America. Listen to find out why this story of Willie Loman and his family has fascinated so many Americans for so long.

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9671531161 dd8afa8e3e k

ELA Middle School

Reclusive Writer JD Salinger

American Literature

While J.D. Salinger still receives acclaim for his novel "The Catcher in the Rye”, few Americans know about the regret he felt after writing it. “The Catcher in the Rye” was a huge success for the aspiring writer, but that fame came at a price. A new biography and accompanying documentary explore Salinger’s life and the experiences that inspired him to write as well as those that led him to desire a more private existence. Listen to learn more about J.D. Salinger’s life, the effect “The Catcher in the Rye” had on him and on America, and the release of previously unpublished works that may shed new light on this reclusive American author.

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ELA High School

Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens

American Literature

Samuel Clemens became famous as an author under his pen-name, Mark Twain. As one of the most famous American authors of his time, Twain is well known for his biting sense of humor and keen sense of observation. As Samuel Clemens, though, his life was complex and tumultuous, often directly contradicting the things his alter ego said in books and articles. Listen to find out how one of America’s greatest novelists lived, and how that may have informed his writing.

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Current Event October 19, 2017

A New Book by Mark Twain

Race American Literature Children's Literature

Even though Mark Twain died more than 100 years ago, a new book was recently published based on his writing. Taking 16 pages of handwritten notes by Mark Twain, two authors collaborated to write a children’s book based on the bedtime stories Twain told his children. They discuss decisions they made throughout the process, including the main character’s race, and the goal they set as they wrote the story. Listen to hear more about this collaboration and the challenges of writing this book.

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ELA Middle School

Edgar Allan Poe's Mysterious "Raven"

Poetry American Literature

Author Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the creepy and macabre, with a focus on death and grim topics. His famous poem, “The Raven,” concerns a heartbroken man who is visited by a talking raven who begins to drive him mad. Despite the poem’s fame, including its catch phrase “Nevermore,” fans and historians are not sure what inspired Poe or how he wrote the poem.

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Orwell

ELA High School

Totalitarianism in George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'

Politics American Literature

George Orwell is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential authors. His most famous book, “Animal Farm,” is considered to be a commentary on the dangers of Soviet-style totalitarianism. The book follows a group of animals who overthrow their human owners and establish self-rule on the farm. Over time the hopes of a better life fade as a small group of pigs take control and establish a dictatorship over the rest of the animals on the farm. “Animal Farm” continues to resonate with those who read it. This audio story commemorates the 60th anniversary of the publication of the novel and discusses its plot, its influence, and connections to today’s world.

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ELA Middle School

The Cover of Graphic Novel 'Maus'

World War II Biography American Literature Graphic Novels

Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” is a creative and sensitive retelling of one man’s experiences during the Holocaust. As a graphic novel, “Maus” uses comic strips and drawings to help tell its story. The drawing on its cover, however, has been met with controversy in some parts of the world. Featuring a prominent swastika at its center, the cover art has faced objections in places like Russia and Germany. Listen to hear more about how well-intentioned rules around censorship can lead to unintended consequences.

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John irving by kubik 01

ELA High School

John Irving Inspired by Dickens

Literature American Literature British Literature

When American author John Irving was 14 years old, he read "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens and it changed his life forever. That book played a pivotal role in shaping Irving’s success as a writer. Now the author of more than a dozen narratives and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Irving continues to base his works on similar themes and ideas found throughout the novels of his literary mentor. Listen to the audio story as Irving explains the ways that Dickens impacted his accomplishments and which one book remains for Irving to read when he can no longer write.

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ELA High School

Hemingway's Choices

Fiction American Literature Classics

In 1928, Ernest Hemingway began writing "A Farewell to Arms," a novel with big themes: the horrors of war, the power and pain of love, the inescapable cycle of life and death. The novel is set in World War I era Italy and tells the story of an American ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse. Although unmarried, the two conceive a baby and escape together to Switzerland, where tragedy strikes: the woman dies in childbirth. The heartbreaking ending—famous for bringing the most stoic readers to tears—is a major discussion point of this audio story, as it was discovered in recent years that Hemingway wrote over forty endings for the novel. Listen to hear why Hemingway wrote so many endings and why, ultimately, he chose to stick with his original, heart-wrenching conclusion.

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The bell jar sylvia plath

ELA High School

The Life of Sylvia Plath

Fiction American Literature

Though writer Sylvia Plath died more than a half century ago, her life, legacy and work still captivate audiences today. Much of Plath’s work, including her renowned novel “The Bell Jar”, explore issues related to death and mental illness. Plath famously committed suicide, prompting many readers to wonder about her motivations and state of mind. Her passionate and tragic relationship with her husband, Ted Hughes, has also attracted attention. Today, contemporary artists inspired by Plath’s powerful work have reimagined parts of her life through books and movies. Listen to learn more about Sylvia Plath, who died too young but left behind a lasting legacy.

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3449947137 17fe83fb1d b

ELA High School

Reflecting on Toni Morrison

Poetry American Literature

Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. In this audio story, she reflects on writing about unfortunate truths, such as racism. Morrison’s stories are full of complicated characters and interesting dialogue while portraying harsh realities. Listen to hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism today and learn what Morrison's writing means to one admirer who values Morrison's talent for storytelling.

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ELA Middle School

Tracing Steinbeck’s Travels

American Literature Classics

John Steinbeck took a 11,000-mile journey across the United States with his dog, Charley, and then wrote about it in the book, “Travels with Charley”. He wanted to answer the question: “What are Americans like today?” Recently, a journalist retraced Steinbeck’s steps from Sag Harbor, New York through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, and then straight to the northernmost part of Maine. He used Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley" as a guide, and discusses his travels and the challenges he has faced while trying to accurately follow Steinbeck’s route. He also discusses the differences and surprising similarities between Steinbeck’s trip and his own, focusing on the places he has visited, the people he has encountered, and the technology he uses along the way.

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