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In 2015, the United States resettled nearly 70,000 refugees as wars and political instability continue to drive people from their home countries. Resettlement isn’t easy for the person coming to a new country. One of those people, Barwaqo Mohamed was born and grew up in Somalia, but came to the U.S. as a political refugee in 2006. In this audio story, Barwaqo talks about her experience as an immigrant with a journalist who volunteered to tutor her in English for over four years. Barwaqo describes herself as a natural at learning languages and that helped her fit in. Listen to the interview to learn how that skill has served her since she came to the U.S.
The University of Maryland’s Incentive Awards Program celebrated its first group of graduates along with new award winners at a reception in the university president’s backyard. The program awards full scholarships to promising, at-risk, local students who have overcome major obstacles to succeed. The university president who established the program expressed great pride in the success of the program and its students, many of whom are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Listen to hear the stories of several program participants, challenges they faced, personal qualities that helped them succeed, and their aspirations for the future.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird was written more than 50 years ago and yet its themes of racism and civil rights remain relevant today. In this story author James McBride who wrote The Color of Water explains why the book inspired generations of American writers.
Update: This story first aired in 2010. In July 2015, a newly discovered novel written by Harper Lee in the 1950s was published. The novel is called Go Set a Watchman.
Black boys and men have long been either underrepresented or negatively portrayed in literature, television shows, and movies. This lack of positive representation takes a toll on Black boys’ sense of self and negatively influences how society views them. Many Black artists and writers are taking initiative to change this and create stories, art, and films that feature Black boys as what they are: confident, intelligent, and beautiful. Listen to hear how one author and artist worked together to create the children’s book, I Am Every Good Thing.
James and the Giant Peach is a classic fantasy and adventure story that explores friendship, family relationships, and the fortunes of a young orphan. James is living with his cruel aunts when a peach magically sprouts in the yard. When the enormous fruit breaks from the tree and rolls into the ocean, James is stuck inside the peach with a group of insect friends, and together they set sail on an epic adventure. Listen to hear an elementary book club respond to the book’s funny and scary moments and discuss the lessons they took away from the novel.
James Baldwin’s legacy and words are still very much alive and relevant today. A 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary was inspired by Baldwin’s writing on race, class, and the Civil Rights era in America. The documentary, called "I Am Not Your Negro," examines the lives and work of three Civil Rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. At the same time, it urges audiences to consider how racial tensions and attitudes continue to influence our culture today. Listen to hear more about how James Baldwin and this documentary challenge us to work toward positive change in our communities.
Jane Goodall is a well known advocate for ecological preservation. Her book "Hope for Animals and Their World" is about her experiences rescuing endangered animal species all over the world. She makes the case for not only saving animals like chimpanzees but for preventing rare plants and insects from dying out because it’s vital for sustainability and the proliferation of all kinds of life. Listen to learn more about her experiences with species near extinction and preserving entire ecosystems on our planet.
Children of immigrants can often feel like they’re never completely accepted either in their adopted home country or their parents’ country of origin. The author Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is an author of many books, including "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies." But she says she’s struggled to feel like she belonged in America. Mixed feelings about identity form a central theme in her work. Listen to hear how Jhumpa Lahiri has dealt with the difficulties of immigration and the struggles of tradition and how these themes have influenced her writing.
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.
The book "Into the Wild" chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote "Into the Wild," has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates is the successful author of more than 50 novels and even more works of non-fiction, poetry, plays and short stories. Her writing, known for its high quality, is filled with ideas, themes and subjects across multiple genres. Many readers and fans of her work are aware of the violent, dark nature of some of her stories, but may not realize that many of these themes are based on events she experienced in her early years. Oates shares these stories in her recent memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” Listen to hear Oates explore how her early life shaped her not only as a person, but as a writer.
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her novels include “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.“ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she learned about the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. She was consistently presented with negative stereotypes of her Haitian neighbors. For these reasons, Alvarez felt too ashamed and even afraid to visit Haiti. But she made the trip and then visited again to attend a wedding after the 2010 earthquake. Listen to learn more about how Alvarez needed to cross many borders—internal, historical, cultural—that stood in her way.
Mementos are objects that people keep to remind them of someone or something special. Sometimes mementos help people remember a loved one they have lost or a place they have left. Treasured mementos may be passed down through generations and even studied as historical artifacts. People often have stories to tell about why a particular everyday object became meaningful to them and the memories they associate with it. Listen to hear people talk about some of their favorite mementos and what makes them special.
Narratives imagined by children are often delightfully unbounded by adult conventions and logic. In this audio interview, a 6-year-old author and 13-year-old illustrator describe how they imagined and created an unusual picture book about some chickens who leave their farm to become pirates. Their parents, who collaborated on the project, compare their children’s creative processes to their own and analyze how observing and helping their children changed their own ideas about creativity. Listen to hear about a multi-generational collaboration that transformed one young child’s imaginative tale into an actual book.
Acclaimed American author Kurt Vonnegut is known for his legacy of satirical literature, including his best-selling novel Slaughterhouse Five and his short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. His writing often mixed dark humor with speculative fiction, calling attention to important issues in American society, politics, and life. Listen to learn more about Vonnegut’s influential work from interviews with the author himself.
Idioms are developed within a culture and are like a language of their own. They convey meaning that extends beyond the definition of individual words to express a fuller collective meaning. Many times, idioms are able to pack more meaning into fewer words because they directly translate a familiar sentiment. A dictionary of idioms is essential for communication in America. This story reveals the origin of idioms that allude to art, history, and American politics in the latest edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms”. Listen to hear how idioms reveal a snapshot of American society in different time periods.
When Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women” at the request of her publisher it became an instant hit. The story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March, still inspires young women nearly 150 years later. What do these four women represent? How can we understand Jo’s independence in the context of her era? And how does the novel reflect and differ from the life of its author Louisa May Alcott? Listen to learn more about the lasting legacy of “Little Women.”
In 2016, a police officer shot and killed an African American man named Philando Castile at a traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend published videos of the incident online, and it received national attention. Castile was a beloved school cafeteria worker who made a positive impact on the students he encountered. In honor of her son’s memory, Castile’s mother created the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. Listen to hear about how he connected with students and find out how the foundation is working to carry on Castile’s legacy of generosity toward the students he served.
Ray Bradbury is regarded as one of the greatest imaginative writers of the last 100 years. . His stories and novels showed us the promise and wonder of traveling the stars in books such as “The Martian Chronicles” and “R is For Rocket.” But just as often as Bradbury’s fiction looked outward, the future and the cosmos, it also turned its powerful eye inward, peering into the human condition in books such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” His written works continue to influence and inspire people from filmmakers to astronauts. This story offers a brief profile of Bradbury on the occasion of his death in 2012. Listen to learn more about Ray Bradbury and how his stories have influenced others.
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.
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.
William Shakespeare’s tragic romance of star crossed lovers, based on an Italian tale, graced stages in the 1590’s and continues to capture audiences and imagination today. Modern adaptations demonstrate the timelessness of this romantic tragedy. Juliet appeals so directly to people that they actually write to her! Listen to learn more about the Juliet Club and the 6,000 letters they receive a year.
In 1630s New England, English Puritans came to the colonies to start a new life. This is a few decades before the Salem witch trials, and it’s hard to imagine living in this time and in this very particular culture. One writer made a movie that describes this experience, following one family that was struggling to survive in the New England wilderness. Learn about the social norms and unconscious fears that film explores. Listen to hear more about the inspiration for this movie and what might really scare us.
Langston Hughes, an African American writer who lived and wrote during the first half of the 20th century, remains one of the most celebrated writers in American history. He was a social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist and leader of the Harlem Renaissance. In this story, a woman is pleasantly surprised to find one of his poems among her granddaughter’s school papers. She shares with her granddaughter the many things she admired about Hughes, and the many reasons he was such an influential poet and person during his time. She speaks about Hughes’s early life, his travels, and his lyrical poetry. Listen to learn more about this famous poet, who continues to inspire younger generations today.
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.
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
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.
For most of the last fifty years, the mall has been one of the most popular destination for teenagers all over America. It’s a place where young people spend time with each other to connect and build relationships. In recent years, though, that trend has changed, as fewer and fewer teenagers are choosing to spend their time at malls and more shopping is done online. Listen to one young person’s attempt to understand why teenage mall culture has changed so much recently.
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.
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.
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy novel, “Alice in Wonderland” is a beloved children’s book. The novel also comments on mathematics. Charles Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll, originally invented the story to entertain his friends’ young daughters. Dodgson was himself a serious mathematician who lectured at Christ Church College in Oxford, England. When he put the story on paper to publish it, he ended up writing sections that poked fun at current mathematics, which he was worried were becoming increasingly abstract. Listen to the story to learn more about the mathematical references in “Alice in Wonderland.
Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.
Whether or not to use the “Oxford comma” is a big debate among grammar lovers, journalists, and English teachers. The punctuation mark appears at the end of a series, right before “and” or “or.” Recently, the Oxford comma came into the spotlight during a lawsuit about overtime pay. A close look at the law revealed that its punctuation, or lack thereof, made possible two entirely different interpretations. Listen to hear more about how one missing comma could cost a dairy company millions of dollars.
Jose Antonio Vargas is an award-winning author who arrived in the U.S. as a young boy. Like thousands of other immigrants, his parents brought him into the country illegally in pursuit of the American Dream. In this audio story, Vargas explains how he found out his family’s secret and why he decided to tell the world he is undocumented. The story examines why America is seen as an ideal country for opportunity for thousands of people around the world and why some people send their children alone to the U.S. in pursuit of the American Dream.
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.
Thomas Stearns Eliot OM, best known as T.S. Eliot, was one of the great modernist poets of the 20th century. His work was part of a specific moment in history and art, before and after World War I, when identity, nations and art were fractured. Listen to learn more about the world in which Eliot wrote and why his poem “The Waste Land” remains one of the pillars of the high modernism movement.
The play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry reveals the struggles black families faced as they attempted to achieve the American dream in the 1950s. The play follows the lives of a working class family, the Youngers, from the South Side of Chicago. The Younger family received an insurance check, providing an opportunity to make positive changes in their lives. The audio story offers a glimpse into an alarming event that happened to author Hansberry’s family when they moved into a white neighborhood during segregation. Listen to learn about Lorraine Hansberry’s motivation for writing this iconic story and why A Raisin in the Sun made such an impact on American theater.
Reading a good mystery is like solving a puzzle. Readers have to pay attention to the characters and events in order to solve the mystery. In The Westing Game, the millionaire Samuel Westing has died, and it is time to read his will. Sixteen people are invited to the reading, and the will reveals that one of them murdered Samuel Westing! Now it is up to the group to determine which one of them did it. Listen to find out more about Samuel Westing’s will and the characters working to solve the mystery.
An acclaimed Nigerian author’s award-winning new novel, “An Orchestra of Minorities” is a tragic love story. It is like many classic tales, but with a unique twist: it’s told by the main character’s guardian spirit, or chi, in the Igbo religion. Listen to learn how having a non-human narrator affects this story and its characters’ destinies.
Author Natalie Babbitt has been writing books for young people for four decades. Her respect for young readers shines through in the themes of her novels, from love and everlasting life in “Tuck Everlasting” to money and dreams in her first non-fantasy novel, “The Moon Over High Street.” In this interview, Babbitt describes her perspective on writing for young people.