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Richard Wright's Life Informed His Writing

Author Richard Wright is well known for his novel "Native Son" and autobiography “Black Boy." These books explore what it was like to grow up black and poor in America during the 1930s and 40s. Although Wright became famous for his writing, some Americans, including his own daughter, are still discovering who Richard Wright is and why his writing is significant. Listen to learn more about the impact Richard's Wright’s experiences and writing had on his daughter, his readers, and aspiring writers.

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Roald Dahl's Motivation for Writing

Roald Dahl’s life was plagued by tragedy, and yet he wrote some of the most famous children’s books of our time, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach." This public radio story takes you into the life of Dahl, and what motivated his writing. Listen to learn more about his relationship with his wife and children, his special writing hut, and the legacy he left behind.

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Saving literary masterpieces
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Saving Literary Masterpieces

Franz Kafka worked at an insurance company and wrote in his spare time. He asked that all his personal papers, including literary manuscripts be burned when he died. After Kafka’s death, his friend and literary executor Max Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published many of his manuscripts. "The Trial," a novel about law, justice and the arrest and prosecution of a man for an unknown crime, was one of these manuscripts. Other people face similar decisions around respecting the wishes of an artist or writer by destroying their work. Listen to a conversation with an ethicist as he discusses the implications of this debate through a modern day example.

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Setting and Symbolism in Arthur Miller's Life and Work

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote plays that spoke to the common man. From his commentary on the American dream in "Death of a Salesman" to McCarthyism in "The Crucible," Miller wrote hard-hitting personal dramas that also resonated with a wide spectrum of American people, especially the working class. Listen to learn more about Miller’s roots, his writing process, and how his personal background—particularly his house and writing space—compare to backgrounds shared by his characters.

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Shakespeare in Every Country

Shakespeare’s classic play "Hamlet" has been performed many hundreds of times since its original performance in 1609. In honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, the touring company from the Globe Theater in England planned an ambitious tour, performing one of the bard’s greatest tragedies in every nation on Earth over two years. They chose the play “Hamlet” and performed it in 197 countries. Listen to learn how they planned to accomplish this monumental task, and what the world can learn from “Hamlet.”

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Steinbeck and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’

American author John Steinbeck published his epic novel “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939, but his journey writing the novel was much longer. The novel tells the story of Oklahoma migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl for work in California’s migrant worker camps. Steinbeck did months of research and spent much of mid-to-late 1930s with migrants in camps for a series of articles in the San Francisco News. As a result, “The Grapes of Wrath” spoke to the working class during the Depression era, and continues to resonate today with its themes of struggle, redemption, greed and goodness. Listen to learn more about this great American novel.

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The Cover of Graphic Novel 'Maus'

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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The Lasting Legacy of 'Little Women'

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.”

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The Legacy of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was 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.

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The Life of Langston Hughes

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.

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The Life of Sylvia Plath

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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The Meaning of the Oxford Comma

Whether or not to use the “Oxford comma” is a big debate among grammar lovers, journalists, and English teachers. The controversial 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.

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The Price of Combat and ‘The Red Badge of Courage’

When “The Red Badge of Courage” was published in the 1890s, 30 years after the U.S. Civil War, it was one of the first novels to address the psychological effects of combat. The book’s central character is Henry Fleming, a teenager who joins the Union Army with high hopes of glory and adventure. The realities of war soon hit, and Henry must juggle the conflicting emotions of fear, pity, envy, pride, outrage, and eventually, courage. Listen to learn more about a book many consider a coming-of-age novel, while others question whether war is the best way to turn a boy into a man.

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The Real Story Behind Shakespeare's Sonnets

William Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous and recognizable love poems of all time, but some historians think that Shakespeare had no intention of publishing these private messages. His sonnets were largely biographical and it is believed they were written to another man. When a collection of these personal sonnets were published by a shady publisher named Thomas Thorpe, Shakespeare tried to stop their distribution. Listen to learn more about Shakespeare’s sonnets and their unwanted publication.

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The Setting of Macondo in 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'

In 1967 Nobel prize winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The novel takes place in the fictional and fantastical town of Macondo. Macondo serves as a setting as well as a metaphor for Colombia itself. The novel’s magical realism inspired a genre of writing and in an ironic twist of fate inspired the naming of the oil field that was blown out by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2011. Listen to learn more about the literary and thematic connections between the two.

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The Story Behind Every Letter A-Z

The letters in our alphabet look the way they do and stand for their unique sounds for a reason. There are many stories behind the letters we use so often. The earliest forms of writing evolved as members of early civilizations invented efficient ways to express themselves. Listen to this story to hear about the origins of individual letters, and connections between shapes and meaning in our alphabet.

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The True Story of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

Alfred Tennyson, better known as Lord Tennyson, was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland for 42 years during the reign of Queen Victoria. His short lyrical poems appealed to the people of the 19th century, many of whom couldn’t read. One of this most famous poems “The Charge of the Light Brigade” describes a real event during the Crimean War. This charge, during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, became the most well-known action of the war thanks to Tennyson’s poem, even though the poem wasn’t entirely accurate. Listen to learn more about the Crimean War, the real charge and how Tennyson’s words brought this event to life for the British people.

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ELA

The Unsuccessful Quest For A Universal Language

In the 17th century, people were determined to overcome communications barriers between the people of the world by creating a universal language. Sir Isaac Newton is known for discovering gravity, but he was also the creator of the “Newtonian” language. The language Newton created was never successful. The language of Esperanto was created in the 1960 but also never caught on. Listen to learn more about invented languages and why they never became universal.

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Themes of Belonging: Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros writes about working class Latino life in America and has won many awards for her writing. She is best known for her book, “The House on Mango Street.” The themes in her writing include the meaning of home, belonging, crossing boundaries and cultural expectations of women. Her new memoir, “A House of my Own,” describes how her own life also reflects these themes. In this interview, she talks about being connected to Mexico and to the United States, and how she hopes to be an ambassador passing between the two cultures. Furthermore, she works to honor the women in her family while also being an independent woman and breaking some cultural traditions. Listen to hear more about how Sandra Cisneros has created a house of her own.

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Toni Morrison’s Writing Inspired by Ghosts

Toni Morrison is an American novelist who is best known for her novels exploring the experiences of African Americans. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in in 1993 she said at the ceremony that she is “pleasantly haunted by ghosts.” In this interview with Morrison she explores how ghosts are a part of some of her writing. The novel “Beloved” has a ghost as a central character in a story about two slaves who fell in love. The novel “Jazz” recalls Harlem in the 1920’s and explores the themes of purgatory and Jazz music. Listen to this story to learn what sparks Morrison’s creativity.

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Totalitarianism in George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'

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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Tracing Steinbeck’s Travels

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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Translations of 'Dante's Inferno'

Dante Alighieri finished writing the three-part epic poem “Divine Comedy” in 1321. The poem’s three parts include: hell, purgatory and heaven, and follows one man on his journey through all three places. This great work of Italian literature has survived the ages and remains a classic today. There have been many translations of Dante’s work. This story interviews Clive James, the most recent English translator, as he talks about this epic poem and his translated version of “Divine Comedy.”

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Trapped Chilean Miners Survive Isolation

In 2010, a copper and gold mine in northern Chile caved in. Thirty-three men were trapped 2,300 feet underground and were rescued 69 days later. Fortunately, this group established rules and structure and the confinement did not become a "Lord of the Flies" situation. The miners had little food or privacy, but kept each others' morale up. How do humans respond to isolation and a lack of structure? Listen to hear about the psychological risks and advantages of these scenarios.

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Understanding Jane Austen's Life

Author Jane Austen is well known for her novels that reflect on romance and the familial and cultural standards of late 18th century England. Some paint Austen as a drab spinster, but a new biography by Paula Byrne explores the real Austen through objects that were important to her in her life and literature. This portrait of an opinionated, fun loving Austen will help you understand her life, family and themes she revisits in her works.

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Understanding the Amish and Technology

The Amish are a Christian religious group who are known for their isolation and rejection of modern technology. Popular culture has shaped our understanding of the Amish community, from the Harrison Ford movie Witness to TLC’s show Breaking Amish. But this lens on the Amish doesn’t show the complexities of their religious culture. Listen to learn more about the Amish and their complicated but thoughtful relationship with technology.

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The truth can be powerful
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Vonnegut Discusses 'Slaughterhouse-Five'

Kurt Vonnegut used his personal experience as a prisoner of war during World War II to write the novel "Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade." Twenty-five years after this experience, Vonnegut memorialized it in a unconventional novel that combined satire and science fiction to reveal the reality of war. Listen to learn more about what inspired the novel and how it liberated people to honestly discuss war.

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Waterless Worlds is the New Dystopia

News about water shortages and drought have inspired a new trend in dystopian books and movies. Water scarcity has been a source of conflict in places like Africa and the Middle East, but also in America’s own history. Some believe that water scarcity is only going to get worse in the decades to come. This audio story features writers and filmmakers who have imagined what life might be like in a waterless world. Listen to learn more about what these storytellers imagine, and what audience they hope to reach.

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What is a memoir
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What is a Memoir?

How accurate are memoirs? This public radio story looks at a scandal involving author James Frey and his memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” Frey was charged with exaggerating, and even lying about, his own life in his memoir. Where should a writer draw the line between fact and fiction in memoirs?

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Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?

William Shakespeare is commonly considered one of western civilization's greatest playwrights. But a persistent debate continues to rage around his legacy. Did the man we know as William Shakespeare actually write all those poems and plays? This story features two Shakespearean actors who have come to doubt the author. Listen to learn more about the debate surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's works.

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YA's First Modern Heroine: 'Anne of Green Gables'

One of the most enduring novels written for young adults is "Anne of Green Gables," by Lucy Maud Montgomery, published in 1908. It was one of the first YA novels to feature a strong, unconventional female lead—Anne, the unwanted, unloved, but unbowed orphan who grabs hold of a chance for a new life and refuses to let go, no matter how difficult things get. Before Anne, most heroines were beautiful and angelic. "Anne of Green Gables" is over 100 years old, but its heroine measures up to any female lead contemporary YA novels have to offer.

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Zora Neale Hurston Broke Barriers with ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist, folklorist and writer. She had a deep love for Eatonville, Florida, the town where she grew up and one of the first all-black towns created after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. In this story you’ll hear a commentator explain that Hurston’s writing “instantly transports” her to Hurston’s world, and she is moved and inspired by the strong women characters Hurston created. Listen to learn more about Hurston and why the commentator believes the author deserves the recognition she has received.

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