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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.
Certain events in U.S. history are recognized by some and unknown to others. June 19th, also known as Juneteenth, commemorates the anniversary of federal troops arriving in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to ensure that all enslaved people were freed, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the location of a violent 1921 race massacre that destroyed an entire prosperous Black community overnight. Listen to historians explain how they learned about these historical events as adults and why they believe many Americans do not know much about them.
From 1975 to 1979 a terrorist organization called the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, an east Asian nation. The Khmer Rouge launched a genocide against its own people, killing men, women, and children. Two million people out of a total population of 8 million were killed. Today, survivors of the genocide are left to cope with their difficult memories while young people in Cambodia either don’t know about the genocide or don’t believe it happened.
The importance of home and the healing power of friendship are two universal truths that affect every human being. Many people feel homesick when they must leave familiar places and people behind to move somewhere new. Fear of new places and people can be relieved, however, as one becomes more familiar with their new community. Listen to hear how Kate DiCamillo, the author of Because of Winn-Dixie, used her childhood feelings of homesickness to write her first children’s book.
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.
In the 1970s, a communist regime called the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country. The Khmer Rouge rounded people up, forced them to work in labor camps, tortured them, and executed many of them, all to supposedly create a better society. One of the survivors of the Cambodian genocide wrote a book about her experiences, called “First They Killed My Father.” Well-known actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie recently made this memoir into a film. Listen to learn about the survivor’s story and find out how Jolie translated it to film.
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.
Biologists studying killer whales face the challenge of studying organisms that spend a majority of their time underwater. From extensive research, scientists have learned that killer whales have adapted their sounds to help them catch prey. Scientists are looking to do more research, but it's difficult to find the whales in the first place. Listen to learn more about the methods scientists use to understand killer whale noises.
In the 17th Century, civil war gripped Great Britain. Over the course of the century, war and revolution would eventually lead to the transformation of England into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch was to share power with Parliament, and the rights of the people would be legally protected. Along the way, England would experience political turmoil and incredible amounts of bloodshed. Part of this story is the trial and execution of King Charles I. Listen to the story of Charles I’s trial and execution, the motivations of the men behind it, and the important legacy it left behind.
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh from New Kingdom Egypt. Known today as “King Tut,” this ancient leader died young. His reign as pharaoh was unremarkable. What sets Tutankhamun apart was the discovery in 1922 of his tomb, which, unlike others, was found with its ancient burial artifacts still in the tomb. Remarkably preserved, his tomb has been a source of fascination ever since its discovery. This audio story details the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Egypt, featuring many artifacts from King Tut’s tomb. The story describes many of the artifacts and the insight they provide into ancient Egyptian life.
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.
Cesar Chavez was an advocate for social change and a founder of the United Farm Workers of America. After years of agitating for workers’ rights, Cesar Chavez is now universally acknowledged as an inspirational leader for justice. When he was honored with a stamp by the US Postal Service, Chavez’s son was interviewed about his life and legacy. Listen to learn more about how Chavez fought for workers and what work still needs to be done.
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.
Christianity and Islam share many things in common. Their holy books contain some of the same narratives and many religious scholars would say they worship the same God. However, war and terrorism have led to widespread misunderstanding and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Catholic raised in England, believes that one key to combatting this hostility is through education. As a believer in this, Fitzgerald has dedicated his life to learning about, and teaching, Islam to both Christian and Muslim students. His goal is for students to have a deeper appreciation for the particular beliefs and customs that make Islam distinct.
In the United States, the period of westward expansion is generally taught as a story of American triumph and inevitability. Less attention has been given to the histories of those whose fortunes were determined by America’s growth in land and power. Mexico, a nation whose story is often overlooked in American classrooms, is one example. While the mid-19th century was a time of war and conquest for America, in Mexico it was a time of revolution and enormous loss of land. Listen to hear how the histories of America and Mexico are intertwined, and learn why one professor believes every student should take a history of Mexico class.
Many schools now have gardens where students grow and harvest food that they cook themselves in class. The “Let's Move Initiative,” a program created by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, has generated awareness about school gardens and teaching cooking skills that enable students to learn about healthy lifestyle habits in an effort to fight the national obesity epidemic. Listen to learn more about how a gardening and cooking project at a school in Maine is a rewarding way to learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills through hands-on class activities.
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.
The 1960’s are remembered for many turning points in American History. Undoubtedly, two of these are the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Perhaps no president of the time period is more intimately associated with America’s commitment to each than Lyndon Johnson. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library hosted an event to honor civil right law and Johnson’s civil rights legacy. This audio story discusses that event and provides some of the historical background behind Johnson’s civil rights achievements, including his early relationship with MLK and other leaders, the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, and his eventual successes.
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.
On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. The second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, Ginsburg was a trailblazing lawyer and justice who was known for her brilliance, passion for the law, and commitment to gender equality. In later years, she also became a celebrity, the subject of movies and Saturday Night Live parodies. With her death, she leaves behind a powerful legacy. Listen to learn about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family life, her career path, and the cases she argued that transformed the workplace for American women.
In the early 20th century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian sculptor, painter, engineer, and inventor who lived during the Renaissance period. Though he had many talents, da Vinci is perhaps best known for his marvelous pieces of art. After being commissioned to create a portrait of a silk merchant’s wife, he produced the Mona Lisa. The painting is currently located at the Louvre Museum in Paris, but it wasn’t always hanging behind bulletproof glass as part of the museum’s collection. Listen to hear the story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen, and learn why it eventually became the most popular painting in the world.
Chickens sometimes become broody. A broody chicken feels protective of its eggs, even if they are unfertilized and have no chance of hatching, and may act aggressively to intruders. Like chickens, humans often become fixated on and upset by things that aren’t real or important, but there is at least one key difference that sets humans apart. Listen to learn what broody chickens can teach humans about positive mindset, the value of self-reflection, and the importance of choosing peers carefully.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian took power of ancient Rome in 117 A.D., Romans were mired in debt and war plagued much of Rome's land. It was similar to when President Barack Obama began his term as President of the United States. He inherited war, financial problems, and social issues. Throughout the two decades of his rule, Hadrian used his position as emperor to bring Rome back to a peaceful and powerful glory. Listen as the audio clip explains the steps Hadrian took to improve the country at the beginning of his rule.
Young Muslim Americans are learning about the life of Muhammad, the seventh century prophet who founded Islam, through a series of lectures called "Portrait of a Prophet." The course, held at mosques across the country, aims to teach Muslims what the prophet was like as a person, including how he treated others, what he liked to eat—even how he wore his hair. Listen to the story to learn about why the classes have been popular in Muslim American communities.
Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary,” was a carrier of typhoid fever in 1906 who showed no symptoms. It was determined that Mary, a cook, had unknowingly infected 22 people. She was later quarantined against her will and forced to undergo testing. Mary’s experience is an historic example of the tension between public safety and personal freedom. Listen to hear the fascinating details of Mary’s story and learn how author Susan Campbell believes medical professionals could have handled her case differently.
Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Born in Senegal, Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts and enslaved. 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.
The Lewis and Clark expedition into the Louisiana Purchase and beyond changed America. The team of explorers identified new plant and animal species, opened trade routes, and brought back stories of the West that fired the country’s imagination. They also made contact with Native American tribes, eventually leading to devastating outbreaks of disease and loss of native land. This audio story follows the team of adventurers as they discovered the West and pursued their plan to bring back an unusual pet for the president – a prairie dog.
From 1804 to 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led an expedition to explore North America beyond the Mississippi River. Their expedition, pushed by Thomas Jefferson and approved by Congress, was motivated by a combination of geopolitics and scientific curiosity. Their journey west and return to St. Louis is a remarkable and profound American story of sacrifice, discovery, conquest, and adventure. This audio story centers around the 200 year anniversary of their expedition. In the story, the details of the journey, its participants, and its historical legacy, both good and bad, are addressed.
The life of an astronaut sounds incredible. Feeling weightless and being able to get a closer look at the stars are just two unique aspects of the job. But, what does it take to be an astronaut? Astronauts go through a lot of training, and not all of it has to do with learning about the shuttles they will be flying in. They must also learn how to be a part of a team and complete important checklists quickly and flawlessly. Listen to hear about life as an astronaut.
Vladimir Putin is the current president of the Russian Federation. He has served as either President or Prime Minister since 2000. Russia was in political and economic turmoil when Putin came to power, and many have credited Putin’s policies with making Russia more stable and prosperous. However, aggression against neighboring states, and rumors of corruption have cast a cloud over his administration. This story discusses life in Russia under Putin in the last two decades. Listen to learn more about why people think Putin is such a popular leader, what challenges Russians continue to face under Putin, and what the US still needs to understand about its former political arch-rival.
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.
American soldiers who fought in the trenches of World War I were told they were going into a great adventure to fight for democracy. But new technology, from machine guns to poison gas, made this war more terrible than any previous war. The conditions in the trenches destroyed men’s clothes, food, and spirits. Eight and a half million soldiers and sailors died in the war, including 117,000 Americans. In this audio story you hear from an American solider who recalls what it was like to fight in the trenches of World War I.
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.