"A Wrinkle in Time," a famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, is the story of teenager Meg Murry. Meg is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend as they try to rescue her father. When it was originally published in 1963, no publisher knew how to promote it. What is it about “A Wrinkle in Time,” and why is it so controversial 50 years after its publication?
George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was published in 1945. Its message was explicitly political as a statement and a satire against Stalinism and the dictatorial socialism of the Soviet Union. Understanding this allegory gives deeper meaning to the talking animals who take control of their farm. Seventy years later, does this message of failed revolution resonate in a communist nation with a similar revolution and trajectory? Listen to learn how a later theatrical adaptation of the book is being understood in modern day China.
"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. It tells the story of a 5th century Nordic warrior who defeats monsters and becomes a king. In 2000, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released a celebrated new translation of the epic poem. In this interview, Heaney discusses “Beowulf” and his approach to translating this famous text. Listen to learn more about “Beowulf’s” lasting appeal, and what the old poem tells us about Nordic pagan and early Christian values.
Though Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22” was published more than a half century ago, its ideas and attitudes remain relevant today. The book’s title has even become a part of our language. The novel, which takes place on the battlefield during World War II, was inspired by Heller’s own experiences in war. He decided not to write a typical war novel, though, and early critics were surprised and even offended by the book’s tone and content. Listen to hear why “Catch 22” felt new and different at the time it was published, and learn how its ideas have continued to endure today.
“Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, marked the first time a character’s inner life evolved from the beginning to the end of the story. Cervantes’ masterpiece is considered by many to be the first—and best—modern novel. In an era where 140 characters are the limit, it might be difficult to imagine how a 1,000-page book about a man having a midlife crisis has endured for more than 400 years. The title character’s message of optimism and authenticity resonates with readers, who root for Quixote, the imperfect, everyman hero.
In Suzanne Collins’ "The Hunger Games" Trilogy, an all powerful Capital controls and exploits the districts of Panem for resources. The inequality and concentration of power in Panem has struck a nerve for readers, reflecting on their lives and their governments. Heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of resistance adopted by political parties and protest movements across the globe. Why and how does this dystopian novel reflect the real world? Listen to learn more about the link between “The Hunger Games” and our world today.
Throughout his life in South Africa, playwright Athol Fugard witnessed firsthand the cruelty and injustice of apartheid. Not only did racism fracture the country he loved so dearly, but it also created profound strain in his relationship with his father, whom he calls “a huge bigot.” Many elements of that difficult and complex relationship resonate throughout Athol’s play “‘Master Harold‘. . . and the Boys,” which became a Broadway hit at the peak of the anti-apartheid movement. Lisa Fugard, Athol’s daughter, also grew up in South Africa but left the country to pursue an acting career and later became a writer. Listen to hear about how both father and daughter explored their personal and the political struggles brought about by apartheid.
"The Giver" is a story about a world without memories. A new movie version of the novel depicts this world as a sterile, emotionless place. In this story, public radio talks with author Lois Lowry and how she came up with the idea to write the book. The book asks, “Would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
Angie Thomas’ novel, "The Hate U Give", tells the story of Starr, a young woman of color, who turns toward activism after witnessing the murder of her friend Khalil by a police officer when she is 16 years old. The novel is closely modeled after Thomas’ experiences as a student, and on the stories of several of the young men who have been victims of racialized police violence in recent years. In this audio story, the author talks about what inspired her to write this groundbreaking novel.
“The Little Prince” is one of the most beloved books of all time. It was published in 1943 and has been translated into over 250 languages. Even today, it sells more than two million copies a year, making it one of the best selling books ever published. Although, on its surface, it appears to be a simple, illustrated children’s book, “The Little Prince” is actually a deeply philosophical work, full of allegory and commentary on human nature. Listen to learn more about its French author, Antoine Saint-Exupery, and the creative process that produced “The Little Prince.”
The annual celebration to commemorate the works of Irish author James Joyce is called Bloomsday and is celebrated on June 16th. While many readers think Joyce’s writing is difficult to understand, Frank Delaney has started a weekly podcast about Joyce and “Ulysses” to help himself and other readers decipher “Ulysses” more easily. Delaney’s podcast includes a rap about the events in “Ulysses”, and he hopes it will continue to be produced for several years to come. Listen to hear more about James Joyce and “Ulysses” as well as more about Frank Delaney’s lengthy podcast project.
In 'The Scarlet Letter' Nathaniel Hawthorne explores inclusion and exclusion in Puritan Boston. Hester Prynne is exposed to public humiliation and exclusion for breaking societal standards and having a child out of wedlock. Veterans experience similar exclusion and dishonor. When they are discharged with the label of "Other Than Honorable," they are marked with a figurative Scarlet Letter, ashamed and unable to gain veterans' benefits.
Typically in the National Football League it’s all about the quarterback. But that is not the case in “The Blind Side”, a book about American football and the position of offensive left tackle. The author argues that the previously underappreciated position is vital to the game today. Incorporated into the story is offensive left tackle Michael Oher, who grew up in poverty, was adopted, and then played college football. Lewis traces the evolution of this pivotal position and explains how contracts and cash have shaped football. Listen to learn more about the author, American football, and the real-life story of Michael Oher.
In response to the popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, one school began sharing some of its students’ personal stories struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, instead of sharing the reasons why someone might make the choice to end their life, the school decided to share messages of hope and the positive influences on the lives of its students. Listen to hear those stories, and how they impacted the students at the school.
Two famous authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R..R Tolkien, had a deep friendship. C.S. Lewis helped J.R.R. Tolkien get published, but Tolkien admitted he didn’t even like Lewis’ work, especially "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," which he thought was terrible. Both were Christians and heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Tolkien says "Lord of the Rings" was a deeply Catholic book, while Lewis was more influenced by writers of the Renaissance who were fascinated by Pagan mythology. Listen as this radio story explores the two authors' friendship and motivations.
Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Born in Senegal, Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts, as a slave. Since she was too weak for manual labor, Wheatley was taught to read and write instead. She published her first poem in 1767. A two-page letter by Wheatley, previously unpublished, was recently auctioned. Listen to learn more about Phillis Wheatley, the contents of this letter, and why it is so significant to scholars, historians, and collectors.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby" James “Jimmy” Gatz becomes Jay Gatsby. Gatsby creates a false identity for himself to enter the world of wealth and power that his beloved, Daisy Buchanan, lives in. The novel explores this world of excess and what it takes for Gatsby to truly enter it. This premise of false identity has moved from fiction to reality. Listen to learn about a real life Gatsby who called himself “Clark Rockefeller.”
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced acts of terrorism. But the response on that day included countless acts of heroism, big and small. Friends, co-workers, emergency workers and strangers did what they could to protect the people around them. Michael Benfante is one of these heroes, though he is uncomfortable with being called a hero. Benfante worked in the second tower of the World Trade Center and as he fled down the staircase he encountered a woman in a wheelchair who needed his help. Listen to learn more about his decision to help carry her out of the doomed building and the lasting impact it’s had on his life.
The famous ring featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” may have actually existed. This story reveals how Tolkien encountered a supposedly cursed ring from the Roman period shortly before he wrote “The Hobbit.” Many believe that this ring and the details surrounding it might have inspired Tolkien’s novels. Today, the ring is on public display at an English estate. Listen to learn more about the fascinating connections between history, archaeology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy series.
In Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella "Heart of Darkness," an English sailor tells the tale of his voyage on the Congo River in Africa. The novel, which is set during the height of British imperialism in Africa, contrasts “civilized” Europeans with “uncivilized” African natives and describes the brutal treatment of Africans by European traders. Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart" provides a contrast to Conrad’s story, describing the British colonization of Africa from the perspective of Africans. In this audio story, Achebe talks about how his understanding of "Heart of Darkness" changed over time.
The story of “Romeo and Juliet” is a fictional Shakespearean tragedy about star-crossed lovers. In Afghanistan, falling in love with someone from a different background can get you killed, especially if you are a woman. A true story of love between a man and woman from different ethnic sects of Islam was reported in The New York Times. Journalists have a code that requires them to remain impartial in their work, but one reporter got involved and helped these people during their crisis. Listen to how he helped this couple avoid danger, similar to the friar and nurse who helped Romeo and Juliet.
Amy Tan has written a new novel, "The Valley of Amazement" which is set in both San Francisco and Shanghai in the early 1900s. This story explores Chinese cultural practices, American and Chinese identities, and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. Tan’s book highlights our stereotypes and forces readers to question their assumptions about certain societal roles. While she wrote, Tan, too, questioned her own assumptions about her ancestry, and gained a more nuanced understanding of her family’s past. Listen to hear more about a novel’s potential to impact both readers and author alike.
From "Shiloh" to "Lassie" and "Old Yeller," young adult literature is full of stories about friendship between people and dogs. People love animals but what do animals feel? There is a debate in the scientific community and in popular culture about what emotions animals are capable of and how they display these emotions. Does recognizing that animals can feel take away from human emotion? Or does it help us recognize where these traits came from? This story discusses recent research on the emotions of animals. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered, and the controversy surrounding the emotional lives of animals.
Literature has the power to influence our lives. In this audio story, several fifth graders at Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia reflect on the lessons they have learned from reading Anne Frank’s innermost thoughts in "The Diary Of A Young Girl." Their fifth grade class is diverse, with kids from many countries and cultures all over the world. You will hear many students explain how they can relate in different ways to the sentiments Anne Frank expresses in her diary. Listen to learn more about the ways these students think Anne Frank’s diary brings us together, gives us hope, and inspires us to never repeat the horrors of the past.
Anne Frank’s diary of her family’s life in hiding from the Nazis is one of the most famous accounts of World War II. Less known is how her father, Otto Frank made many attempts to get his wife and two daughters, Margot and Anne, out of Nazi Germany to safety. In 2005, several letters and documents written by Otto Frank were discovered. Despite the support of several wealthy and powerful friends in the United States, he was unable to acquire the necessary visas. The U.S. was making it more and more difficult for immigrants to enter the country and, after Germany declared war on the U.S., Cuba rescinded the visas it had originally offered. Listen to learn more about the powers that kept the Frank family in Europe, where they were eventually discovered, arrested and almost all murdered by the Nazis.
Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez left behind an impressive legacy when he died in 2014. He was one of the most popular and revered Latin American authors of the twentieth century. His award-winning novels and short stories combine fantasy with reality. Marquez’s writing did not avoid difficult topics like war and politics, but also celebrated love and expressed hope for a better future. In this audio story following his death you hear about Garcia Marquez’s early life, the people and places that inspired his writing, and the legacy he left behind.
Jacqueline Woodson’s free verse memoir, "Brown Girl Dreaming," won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson has published 30 books and won three Newbery Honor Medals. This book explores different perspectives in a desegregating America. In this interview, Woodson talks about her experience of segregation of race and religion, and how her experiences are often similar to students who she talks with today. She talks about the need for more diverse literature in schools, along with her book being appropriate for a wider audience-- not only brown students. Listen to hear her discuss how she integrates her personal experiences into her writing.
During Miguel de Cervantes’ life, Spain was at a critical place: It was both at its peak of power and also on the verge of toppling over. At the same time, people began to look inward, to think about who they were as people, and they began to realize that their choices shaped the world around them. “Don Quixote” is a story of two kinds of journeys: the physical journey of Don Quixote and Sancho, but also a psychological journey in which both friends begin to question and learn about themselves as human beings. Listen to hear why “Don Quixote” was such a groundbreaking novel, and why it will continue to influence readers for generations to come.
Charles Dickens was the first literary celebrity of his era. He wrote about the working poor and the dangerous working conditions in England. A visit to the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts served as an inspiration for Dickens to continue writing about these London realities. Listen to this story to learn how Dickens reflected and questioned English society in his work.
In this story Ishmael Beah, author of "Radiance of Tomorrow" and "A Long Way Gone," is interviewed about his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He talks about his understanding of the effects of war on his country. Beah describes the lessons of war, the impact fighting has on nature, as well as the resilience of his people. Listen to learn more about Beah’s harrowing but inspirational story.
The Vietnam War has a controversial legacy in United States history and culture. The U. S. was immersed in the conflict in Vietnam for 20 years. The draft of young men to fight far from home in the seemingly endless war led to widespread resistance and protest against the war itself. This discontent led to a disrespect of veterans when they returned. Since then the sacrifice of soldiers has been honored in memorials, movies and books. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in 1982 in Washington DC. But it was controversial at the start because it honored soldiers by etching the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers killed in polished black granite. Listen to this radio story to learn the history behind this war memorial.
What is heroism? Explore this question through a discussion with author Conn Iggulden who wrote a book about heroes throughout time. From Florence Nightingale to Harry Houdini, and the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, the author analyzes the moments and patterns of courage and bravery that make ordinary people heroes.
The novel “Wonder” tells the story of a fifth grade boy with a facial deformity who enrolls in school for the very first time. In this audio story, the author, Raquel Jaramillo (a.k.a., R.J. Palacio) shares the incident that first prompted her to write the novel. She discusses how the boy, Auggie, struggles to feel ordinary in the face of extraordinary reactions. Listen to learn more about this novel and how the choices we make can have a lasting impact.
Many of the characters in books written for children don’t reflect everyone’s background. One girl became frustrated when she couldn’t connect to the characters. In response, she began to gather books about black girls and then give these books to schools. Now that she has exceeded her original goal and collected almost 4,000 books, the girl has started to consider how to impact schools in an even larger way. Listen to hear what actions this girl decided to take to promote diverse books in schools.
J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has long been a staple of high school reading lists, though it has also frequently been banned from them. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a rebellious 17-year old who has just been expelled from prep school. The novel is considered a classic of American literature, and Holden is thought to be a character every teenager can relate to—but is this still true today? Listen to hear about how this novel earned its status as a classic and the arguments in the debate about whether it should still be required reading for high school students.
Walter Mosley, an African-American writer, is one of the country’s best known mystery writers. The Los Angeles-based private detective, Easy Rawlins, is his most popular character. Rawlins has been the main character in over a dozen mystery novels that examine the black experience in postwar Los Angeles. In this interview, Mosley discusses Easy Rawlins’ journey, and the importance of Los Angeles in his novels. Listen to learn more about how Mosley uses Easy Rawlins to tell the stories of a hidden Los Angeles.
Edgar Allan Poe, poet and American master of the macabre, was recently celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland where he sometimes lived. It was the 200th anniversary of his birth, and it was celebrated with readings of his works. Hear from actor John Astin, who played Gomez Addams in a television series, about his lifetime appreciation for Poe. Listen to find out why Baltimore played such an integral part in Poe’s life, and what types of items are left at his grave each year.
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.
Jane Austen wrote a new type of female character. Emma Woodhouse of "Emma" and Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" are two memorable characters. They were charming but normal, flawed but winning. The legend of Austen is that she wrote her novels exactly as they were published, but the release of her original manuscripts suggests she had an active editor. Does it matter that an editor helped clean up Austen’s prose or is it her genius that shines through?
The United States declared war on Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But Afghanistan had already been a troubled and war torn country for many, many years. In 1996, the Taliban seized control of the country, imposing strict rule over all of its citizens. This story focuses on how the strict rules of society in Afghanistan continue to affect its people--especially children and girls. Listen to this interview with the author of “The Kids of Kabul” and learn more about the challenges faced by Afghan children and women, especially in the area of education.