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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.
This public radio story describes the life and misfortunes of Niccolo Machiavelli, a citizen of Florence who led the fight against its takeover by the Medici family, and was banished from his beloved city. His single work of nonfiction, the manual The Prince, was published five years after his death, in 1532, and has guaranteed that this civil servant erased by the Medicis would live forever, famous—or infamous—for the advice he gives to rulers in his work. Was Machiavelli really recommending ruthless practicality for rulers? Or is his philosophy more subtle and moral than people think?
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe published the novel "Things Fall Apart" in 1958. His story of a Nigerian man whose village and culture are overtaken by British colonial forces in the 1890s sold millions of copies and was translated into 50 languages. The novel was one of the first bestsellers written by an African author as African nations gained independence from European rulers. It was also one of the first works to tell the story of colonialism from an African perspective. Listen to this radio story to hear about the author’s lasting influence on writers and literature.
Wes Moore is an American veteran, author, and the CEO of Robin Hood, an anti-poverty non-profit organization in New York City. As a teen, Moore struggled in school and experienced several run-ins with the law. Despite these early challenges, he attended college and eventually earned his master’s degree at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. When Moore learned that another Wes Moore, with whom he had much in common, was serving life in prison, he wrote a letter that initiated a relationship, which he captures in his book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Listen to learn more about both Wes Moores and how their connection affected each of them.
When an author sent an artist nothing more than a single word and a doodle as inspiration to illustrate a book, the author worried that illustrating the story would be too challenging. However, the artist was able to connect with a universal theme in the story: what it feels like to not have a friend. The result is a story that not only reflects personal elements from both the author’s and illustrator’s lives but also allows all readers to connect in their own way. Listen to learn how this one-word story manages to convey a message to readers.
Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, remains one of the landmark works of feminist literature. At a time in American history when most women were expected to find fulfillment as housewives and mothers, Friedan’s book challenged the male-dominated post-WWII culture and helped pave the way for the “Women’s Liberation Movement" of the 1960s and 1970s. This audio story looks at The Feminine Mystique on the 50th anniversary of its publication, featuring three women discussing their relationship with the groundbreaking book. Listen to learn more about the origins of The Feminine Mystique and what relevance it may still hold to the gender politics of today.
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.
Many people have mothers or grandmothers who inspire courage and tenacity when facing adversity. This audio story focuses on women who sacrifice and provide for their families, especially when times are tough. One recent high school graduate discusses her family’s challenges and describes how her mother and grandmother find the strength and inspiration to overcome their struggles. Listen to hear more about women who are an example of perseverance and grit and discover what it is that helps them succeed.
Poet Joshua Bennett has published a poetry collection of odes titled Owed that celebrates people, places, and objects that he feels have not received the positive recognition they deserve. In this interview, he reflects on his experience as a Black teenager attending an elite private school. He explains how it influenced the subjects of his poetry. Bennett also shares how his perspective has changed about his writing process and his family. Listen to learn more about Owed and to hear Bennett read excerpts of his work.
Seamus Heaney is considered one of Ireland’s greatest poets. He was prolific, writing 13 collections of poetry along with plays and books, and was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Heaney grew up in rural Ireland and later wrote about the political and cultural struggles of his country. This audio story remembers the life of Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013. A fellow poet, Robert Pinsky is interviewed and describes Heaney as a generous and decent person along with being a great writer. Listen to hear Pinsky read one of Heaney’s poems and discuss the qualities of his friend.
The crossover dribble is a basketball move. But to some people it’s more than just a move, it is poetry. The Crossover, is a Newbery-Award-winning basketball novel by author Kwame Alexander. Students can relate in many ways to the themes in the novel, such as struggling with relationships, loneliness, and loss. In this audio story you will hear from the book’s author and hear students discuss how basketball is a kind of poetry in motion and how language and writing can capture that sense of cadence and rhythm as well. Listen to learn more about how author Kwame Alexander was motivated to write about the poetics of basketball and how readers relate to and are inspired by the tragedy and triumph in The Crossover.
Each year for National Poetry Month, NPR invites listeners to submit original poems. The only constraint is that the poems must follow a format suitable for Twitter–280 characters or fewer. These bite-sized verses often prove interesting, complex, and thought-provoking. Listen to this story to hear poet Jessica Care Moore select and read some of her favorite tweet-length poems and share her reactions to them.
When World War I ended on November 11, 1918 the world sighed with relief. The death and destruction of “The Great War” was over. In modern history the first World War is often overshadowed by the second, but its legacy of war poets cannot be overlooked. From soldiers in battle to people on the homefront, poetry was used to process and communicate the realities of war and loss. Listen to learn more about these poets and hear some of their works.
Natural disasters don’t just devastate our environment; they wreak havoc on our mental health as well. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Psychologist Jean Rhodes studied the long-term mental health effects and health outcomes of young women living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. However, Rhodes discovered something interesting after looking at survivors years after the trauma: many women gained strength despite the hardships--a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. Listen to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and its destruction as well as the merits of being strengthened by adversity.
A 29-year-old single mother of three children recently graduated from Montana State University. She faced numerous challenges in earning her degree, but setting a good example for her children helped motivate her to persist. In this interview, she discusses how and why she earned her college degree. Listen to hear her inspirational story, learn her advice for other “nontraditional” college students, and find out what is next for this new college graduate.
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.
Promposals – over-the-top performances of asking someone to prom – have become more and more common in recent years as teens seek to outdo one another in extravagantly asking their date to prom. While some people feel that promposals are just cute wastes of time, others feel differently. Listen to hear one student’s experience with promposals at her high school in Berkeley.
In the early 20th century, a French novelist named Marcel Proust wrote a massive, seven-part novel called “Remembrance of Things Past,” that attempted to capture the strange and subjective nature of time and memory. It is considered by many to be one of history’s greatest novels and Proust’s greatest literary achievement. In this audio story, an author and a philosopher discusses the concepts of time and memory in Proust’s work. Listen to learn about Proust’s ideas about time and memory, and what those ideas might have to teach us today.
In Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, a twelve-year-old orphan runs away in search of a home and finds himself in a small Pennsylvania town segregated by race. There, the mysterious stranger, who earns the nickname “Maniac” for his legendary athletic feats, confronts prejudice and breaks down racial barriers. Listen to hear a fifth grade book club discuss how the lessons of Maniac Magee could be applied to their own communities.
Harry Potter is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading Harry Potter books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
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.”
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.
For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book "Walden; or, Life in the Woods," has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.
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.
Girls growing up in America often receive conflicting messages about ambition. In her new children’s book, Ambitious Girl, author Meena Harris redefines the meaning of ambition for girls. Her story empowers girls to become leaders and encourages them to pursue their dreams. Listen to hear how the experiences of the author’s aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, inspired the book, and learn why the author wants Black and brown girls, in particular, to see themselves reflected in its pages.
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 Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14-century, and is widely considered to be one of the influential works of early European literature. It is a “frame story” containing a collection of tales told by a fictional group of religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at the Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer made specific use of real locations to root his stories in the world of his time. Listen to hear about how the Canterbury Road has influenced other famous writers, and about how the locations of Chaucer’s tales have changed over the centuries.
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.
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.
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 Dahl’s life and explores 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.
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.
Most people can think of ways to splurge, or spend money on something expensive and pleasurable just for fun. Splurging, though, often takes planning and saving money over time. Listen to hear people describe what they would like to splurge on and why, and learn how a 12-year-old accomplished the ambitious goal of buying himself a car.
Scary, shape-changing creatures are universal elements in folktales around the world. In this audio story, author Tracey Baptiste meets with a group of students to discuss her book, The Jumbies, a story based on frightening creatures who populate the folktales of Trinidad and other places in the Caribbean region. In the story, Corinne, the main character, confronts the jumbies with the help of friends she meets in the forest, including a witch. Listen to hear students discuss why they like scary stories and to hear the author describe how she drew on folklore from her childhood to invent an original tale.