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Dante Alighieri finished writing the three-part epic poem Divine Comedy in 1321. The poem is written in three parts: hell, purgatory, and heaven. It 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.
When Gert Berliner fled Germany during the Holocaust, he had to leave his entire family behind despite being only 14-years-old at the time. Almost 80 years later, his son Uri is attempting to reconstruct his family history around that traumatic event and rediscover long lost relatives. Listen to hear how one toy monkey connected the Berliners to new relatives and helped bring a family closer in the wake of incredible trauma.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been an American classic for 75 years. This novel centers around a poor young Irish girl and her family struggling to make it in Brooklyn. It’s loosely based on the author’s experiences growing up in New York. Listen to find out what middle schoolers think of this celebrated novel and what the author changed when she turned her real life into fiction.
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 his 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.
The Old Truck is the tale of a hard-working truck that, after many years on the farm, comes to sit in the weeds until someone decides to bring it back to life. Two brothers worked together to write and illustrate the picture book. They created over 250 detailed handmade stamps to help bring the story to life. Listen to hear the brothers discuss their creative process, what it was like for them to work together, and how the lessons they learned as children continue to guide them.
Choices and situations are part of everyday life. They can be complex or they can seem very simple. Is it hot or cold? Sunny or rainy? Is it good or bad? Although people tend to look at choices and situations as a dichotomy--either/or--most things are not black and white. There are “gray” areas made up of degrees of choices. Listen to explore and learn more about dichotomies and which choices and situations truly fit the definition.
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.
Plagiarism is a vexing problem for administrators in high schools and colleges. Students caught using someone else’s words or ideas could face serious consequences including possible expulsion. But plagiarism doesn’t just happen with research papers and schoolwork. It happens in the world of crossword puzzles. In this interview with Will Shortz, puzzle editor of The New York Times, we learn more about a recent plagiarism scandal affecting crossword puzzles published in many newspapers. Was it inadvertent or intentional plagiarism, and are we likely to see more of it in the future in the crossword community?
John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers during the Great Depression. George is committed to protecting Lennie, who is well-meaning but limited in his cognitive and social skills. George does all he can to keep Lennie out of trouble, and so the two are often on the move. Of Mice and Men has been adapted for film and stage. Listen to this story to hear how an actor who played Lennie on Broadway reflects on how his own background informed his portrayal of this iconic character.
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.
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.
Every language has its own collection of idioms, phrases that you can’t take literally. The meanings of idioms have nothing to do with the words in the phrase. Understanding these phrases in different languages is a unique challenge for anyone learning a second language. Listen to hear about the idioms used in a wide array of different languages.
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.
For almost 50 years, millions have enjoyed the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but where did the author, Judith Viorst, get the inspiration for her unlucky main character? Her very own son! Viorst admires characters that are imperfect, yet redeemable and likeable, and she draws inspiration from the people around her and her favorite books. Listen to find out more about Viorst and learn which character she most identified with as a child.
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?
Books allow us to transcend the world we live in, but they also help us to connect to the people and places around us. In this audio story, several young students at a school in Washington D.C. talk about the plot, characterization, themes, and motifs in the book “When You Reach Me.” The author, Rebecca Stead, discusses what motivates and inspires her to write. This book includes clues to solve a puzzle, mysterious notes, time travel, and the excitement of figuring out a book as you read it. Listen to more about the novel, “When You Reach Me” as these students discuss the elements of fiction and question the author about her own creative process.
Several Asian Americans were asked the question: Do you consider yourselves Brown? Some said “yes,” others said “no,” and the reasons they gave for their answers varied. For some, their answer was based solely on their skin tone. For others, their answer was more complicated and took into account cultural and social factors. In this audio story, Asian Americans discuss the discrimination they have faced based on their skin color. Listen to learn more about why some Asian Americans do or do not consider themselves Brown and how the way others view them affects their lives.
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.
Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in a near future version of America. It tells the story of Offred, a woman living in the theocratic, authoritarian country of Gilead. More than 30 years since it was published, a TV adaptation sparked renewed interest in the novel. Listen to three journalists discuss how Offred’s story relates to contemporary American society.
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?
The Art of Secrets is a young-adult novel focused on Saba Khan, a high school sophomore and an American of Pakistani descent living in Chicago. Saba’s high school rallies behind her family after a suspected hate crime destroys their apartment. This event changes Saba’s life in unexpected ways. Listen to an interview with the author to hear about how he used different perspectives to help readers understand the story in a way that the characters within it cannot.
Nic Stone has written a sequel to her bestselling book, Dear Martin, titled Dear Justyce. In Dear Justyce, Quan is a young man in juvenile detention who writes letters to his friend Justyce, who is in college at Yale University. Stone’s books cast light on social justice efforts and issues in the criminal justice system. Listen to hear the author explain why she wrote a sequel to Dear Martin, and learn what she did in order to write authentically about the book’s difficult subject matter.
Being Clem is the final book in the Finding Langston young adult trilogy by Lesa Cline-Ransome. The series focuses on life in mid-1940s Chicago for young Black boys and their families who have moved North during the Great Migration. Being Clem begins with the death of 9-year-old Clem's father in a massive explosion at Port Chicago, California, an event that upends Clem’s life and sets his family on a difficult new path. Listen to an interview with an award-winning author as she shares thoughts about her characters and how her books reveal the challenges of being Black in America.
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.
Dystopian fiction is tremendously popular with young people all over the US right now. Books like "The Hunger Games" dominate bestseller lists for young people. But what is so appealing about this genre? This story features commentary from teens themselves and from scholars who study the subject. Listen to find out why this genre has such an impact on its audience.
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.