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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.
Margot had planned to vacation with her rich prep school friends, but instead, she’s spending the summer working at her parents’ supermarket in the Bronx. This is where Lilliam Rivera’s novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez, begins. It’s a tale of a teen who’s caught between two different worlds, trying to decide who she really is. Listen to hear the author of the book describe what she loves about writing “unlikable” characters like Margot and how her own experiences shaped the story.
“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.
American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway exemplified his literary style with novels like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway’s adventurous life inspired these stories. From running with the bulls in Spain to fighting in World War II, Hemingway was a larger than life celebrity known for his machismo and literary skill. Hemingway’s talent was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. His writing style, which consists of short sentences that describe the external world, changed American literature forever.
Scapegoating, or blaming others for things they didn’t do, happens among both children and adults. While many children understand that lying is wrong, they might be hesitant to explore how it feels to be lied to or unfairly blamed for something for fear of feeling embarrassed or exposed. In this audio story, a children’s author discusses her humorous take on how a number of lies affect a little goat on a farm. Listen to hear how humor can help children feel safer exploring such topics.
Euphonious means pleasing to the ear, and this audio story examines the many ways that pleasant sounds can spark feelings of delight. Some sounds represent wonderful experiences, others, like the sound of crashing waves, serve to soothe and relax. Listen to learn more about the origin and meaning of the word “euphonious,” and hear what kids and adults say when asked about their favorite sounds.
Every year, thousands of refugees around the world are forced to flee their homes in search of safety in a new land. While the reasons for leaving home and the destinations vary, all of these journeys are filled with a mixture of fear, pain, hope, and courage. Storytelling and art have long been great healers. Both art forms can teach empathy by presenting different human experiences, and both can help people work through the emotions conveyed on the page or canvas. Listen to hear how one author and artist tackled depicting one refugee family’s story.
In recent decades, Afghanistan has been a country plagued by war. Author Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, “The Kite Runner,” is set in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1970s through the 2000s. The book tells the story of two young friends, Amir and Hassan, who are from very different classes and ethnic groups. The story follows them as they navigate life before and after the coup that toppled the Afghan king in 1973, the Russian occupation in the 1980s, and the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s. Listen as the author Afghan-native Hosseini describes how his life experiences are significant to his novel and how he has set out to change the public perception of this Middle Eastern country.
Since ancient times, people around the world have used fairy tales, fables, and folktales to capture the imagination of and entertain an audience. However, these tales were meant to do more than entertain: they were used to teach morals. Fairy tales, fables, and folktales share other elements, such as talking animals, mythical creatures, and/or inanimate objects that think or feel emotions. Such tales are still being written and enjoyed today. Listen to hear how a professional writer transformed one boy’s story idea into a fantastic fable, complete with three edible houses and one hungry wolf.
Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, was used as a prison for many years and held some of the most notorious criminals, including the mobster Al Capone. But inmates weren’t the only ones who lived on the island. The book Al Capone Does My Shirts follows the story of a boy who lives on the island with his family because his father works as a guard. He takes advantage of living on this island to make some money and liven up his life. This story explores life on the island and discusses the elements that make the book an exciting historical fiction read.
Since World War II, fast food has been central to American food culture. Hamburgers and fries have come to be at the very center of many Americans’ diets. But fast food changed the way we raise and process beef and grow potatoes. It’s also added to the problem of obesity. The growth in fast food culture over the past fifty years has changed many fundamental things about culture, health, and the economy. Listen to hear how fast food has affected life in America by listening to this interview with the author of the book “Fast Food Nation”.
Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, is required reading in many high schools and colleges around the country. But in a new take on how to view the poem, an author, translator, and Homer scholar took his father on a cruise that retraced the route of the Greek hero Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca as laid out in Homer’s epic. Prior to this adventure, the son had taught The Odyssey in a course at Bard College, which his father had attended. In this audio story, and author and translator discusses a trip he made with his father, not long before the older man’s death.
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.”
The novel The Book Thief is narrated by Death. He tells the story of a young German girl saving books from Nazi bonfires to read to the Jewish man hiding in her home. Listen to this audio story to hear an interview with author Markus Zusak, who explains his choice of Death as the narrator and the message he hopes teenage readers get from the novel.
A robot is a machine programmed for a purpose—to perform a human task. But can a robot survive on its own? That’s the existential question in The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, in which a robotic heroine, Roz, breaks during a tornado and gets blown to a remote island. This audio story presents an excerpt from the book, in which Roz interacts with various forest animals. Listen to hear students discuss the characters, events, and ideas in the story, and learn how the author came up with the idea of sending a robot into the wilderness.
Mythological creatures have intrigued people for centuries. Stories of strange sightings, and tales of creatures with magical powers, superhuman strength, and massive size, have inspired many to set out in search of these legendary creatures. Where do these stories come from? How did they first arise? Is there a chance these creatures could be real? Listen to hear about five popular mythological creatures and the facts on which these legends may be based.
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!).
Our food supply is considered safe today thanks in large part to a movement to improve safety following the publication of the novel in 1906, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It was a vivid portrayal of the lives of immigrant families who worked in a meat-packing plant in Chicago. Americans were shocked and disgusted. This public radio story tells of how The Jungle galvanized public support to improve the safety of our food system.
This story features an interview with author Jay Cantor about his 2014 story collection, "Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka." In this work, Cantor fictionalizes the lives of several friends of renowned Czech writer Franz Kafka’s in order to examine the influence Kafka had on them. In the interview, Cantor explains what drew him to Kafka, the dilemma Kafka created for his close friend Max Brod, and the meaning of the term Kafkaesque. Listen to the story to learn about one writer’s inspiration and his thoughts on a literary giant.
Consumer culture in the United States has been a fixture of the holiday season for years, particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving–also known as “Black Friday.” That’s the inspiration for the title story in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s latest book of speculative fiction, Friday Black. In it, he addresses the topics of race and class as they relate to American consumer culture. Listen to hear an interview with the author as he discusses how his experience of these factors influences his work.
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.
Gary Paulsen, the award winning author of Hatchet and Tracker, has written a memoir. Gone to the Woods depicts a childhood full of difficult challenges and shows how the author overcame them. Paulsen’s novels for young people focus on survival, and Paulsen drew on his own life experiences to write them. Listen to learn more about Gary Paulsen’s inspirational story, and learn why the author says a librarian may have changed the course of his life.
In this episode of the vocabulary-building podcast Good Words, listeners dig deeply into the meaning of the word magnanimous by hearing about how someone donated a kidney to his best friend. Listen to hear more about a quintessential example of a magnanimous act.
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published collections of poetry, short stories and essays, books for children, numerous novellas, and—the works for which she is best known—fifteen novels. Atwood’s early novels were mainly works of realistic literary fiction, the sort of novels that literary critics and academics distinguish from “genre fiction” such as mysteries and thrillers, romance novels, and science fiction and fantasy novels. Atwood has written several novels that some critics and readers would call science fiction, but which she prefers to call “speculative fiction.” In this audio story, Atwood discusses her most recent novel, The Heart Goes Last and explains why she feels this is not a time for realistic fiction.
In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s 1984, the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel 1984, as you discuss this recent case.
The Giver is a story about a world without memories. Years after the novel was published, a movie version was produced, depicting this world as a sterile, emotionless place, where order is thought to prevent conflict. Listen to hear an interview with author Lois Lowry about what sparked the idea for the book, which asks, “Would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
A series of young-adult novels called Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan has struck a chord with millions of readers. In the novels, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to train with other demigods (the children of gods and humans). He then goes on various adventures involving Greek mythology mixed in with the modern world. Recently, independent bookstores have been running day camps for children, inspired by the fictional camp from Riordan’s novels. Listen to hear about how an actual Camp Half-Blood harnesses Greek mythology to create learning experiences for kids, and about Greek mythology’s continued appeal today.
Cassandra Gonzalez is a very young single mother. She had her daughter while she was still a teenager, and as she approaches her early twenties she is struggling to balance her desire to enjoy her life with the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. Listen to learn more about the challenges she faces, and what she does to confront them.
Author Marjane Satrapi created the graphic novel Persepolis—later adapted as a movie—about her experience growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Satrapi was a rebellious teenager, fighting to maintain her beliefs and individuality while living under a government that dictated how its people should live—for example, mandating that women must wear veils. Listen to hear about the Iranian government’s reaction to the movie and how others reacted to it.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an American anthropologist and writer who focused her research and writing on African American folklore and racial struggles in the American South. In the mid-1930s, Hurston was hired by the Works Progress Administration, an arm of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal aimed at creating jobs, to write a travel guide for Florida. In this story, a present-day writer details what she observed and learned as she made her way through Florida with Hurston’s work as her guide. Listen to learn more about Hurston’s experience working for the WPA and how specific areas in Florida have or have not changed over the past 70 years.
Everyone has fears and worries of one kind or another. When dealing with them, it can be helpful to have support and to know that others have similar feelings. The book Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, is the story of Raina, a young girl who is experiencing stomach problems that continue to worsen the more she worries. Raina’s therapist helps her deal with her anxiety and gives her strategies to help her when she’s nervous, just like many therapists do in real life. Listen to hear more about the story Guts and to hear a psychologist talk about dealing with worries.
What defines your identity? Is it what you believe? Where you were born? Or what you look like? In this audio story, African American poet, writer, and artist Claudia Rankine talks about her exploration of the connections between race and blonde hair. Rankine’s initial response to the question, “Why might a person choose to go blonde?” was that people simply wanted to lighten their hair. But she soon wondered if there might be more to it. To find out, she interviewed and photographed women of all skin tones who chose to dye their hair blonde. The result was a gallery exhibit entitled “Stamped.” Listen to hear about what the artist discovered when she explored the connections between race, identity, and blondeness.
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. Listen to this audio story to hear the author talk about what inspired her to write this groundbreaking novel.
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.
Herman Melville’s classic American novel “Moby-Dick” tells the story of whaling captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby-Dick. This somewhat simplistic plot retelling misses the thematic and historical undertones of this massive novel. The novel was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1851 but experienced a resurgence after World War I. Listen to learn about the writing of “Moby-Dick” and how Melville was influenced by the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shakespeare, as well as the tensions of pre-Civil War America.
Serving in the military during a war can lead men and women to experience events that affect them for the rest of their lives. Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling book, Unbroken, which tells the story of one such veteran, Louis Zamperini. It is set in World War II where Zamperini fought for survival on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, was held as a POW by Japan, and later struggled in civilian life to deal with his war memories. In this interview with Hillenbrand, she recounts Zamperini’s story of survival during the war and his struggle to find closure in the decades following his return home. Listen to hear this extraordinary story of courage, despair and redemption.
Homer’s poetry has been read both in translation and its original Greek for thousands of years. The Iliad and the Odyssey contain many of the most enduring images and characters in literary history. As time passes, the original texts become more and more distant and the language, even with updated translations, become more daunting. One woman translated these stories, some into music, so that the language is accessible. Listen to hear how a new translation of Homer’s works aim to bring those characters to life for a new generation.
Two men imprisoned in Somalia began tapping messages to each other through a thick wall. One man had Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina”. Because they were forbidden to talk, one man tapped the story out on the wall, letter by letter, to the other man. The more the other man heard of the novel, the more he understood his own situation and feelings and ultimately, how to get through one of the most difficult experiences of his life. Listen to this story about how a book can inspire empathy and change your life.