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Arthur Miller

Arts Days: October 17, 1915: A Man of Morals
Arthur Miller's dramatic works probe at various aspects of human nature—all of them—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Crucible, for example, examines what prompts otherwise good, moral people to make false accusations about others, while Incident at Vichy considers why the Nazis were able to perpetrate the mass slaughter of Jews.

In Death of a Salesman, Miller tells the story of an aging businessman attempting to right the failures of his past, and explores the concept of the "American Dream." This 1984 Kennedy Center Honoree became something of a political lightning rod, too: In 1957 Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during Congress’ bid to find Communist sympathizers in the ranks of U.S. writers, actors, and others. Miller refused, was convicted of contempt, and became a hero of the political Left.
Broadway, Playwrights & Plays, Theater, Controversial, Literature

John Steinbeck

Arts Days: October 25, 1962: Voice of the Common Man
The Nobel Prize Committee was clear in its reasons for honoring American author John Steinbeck: “…for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” When asked by a reporter whether he believed he deserved the Nobel Prize, Steinbeck said he did not.

His modesty notwithstanding, Steinbeck’s contributions to American literature is considerable. In works like The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden, he captures in plainspoken language the trials and triumphs of his characters. The writer imagined men and women who sought to make better lives for themselves and their families; they struggled in demeaning, demanding jobs, and they coped with events like the Great Depression.
Literature, America, Folklore, Geography, History

Winnie the Pooh

Arts Days: October 14, 1926: Pooh Power!
The legend of a golden bear named Winnie the Pooh, a boy named Christopher Robin, and an assortment of animal pals has charmed generations of children. Author A.A. Milne based dozens of Pooh tales on his own son and his beloved stuffed bear Winnie.

The first set of these stories, published on this day in 1926, introduced readers to other characters, including Tigger, Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore. Readers were immediately taken by the animals and their shenanigans in the Hundred Acre Wood, catapulting Milne to international fame. The now famous honey-loving Pooh character can be found in countless cartoons, movies, and books.
Literature, Animals, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Popular Culture

Roald Dahl

Arts Days: September 13, 1913: What a Dahl
It may come as no surprise to learn that one of young Roald Dahl’s schools was situated near a chocolate factory, and some lucky students got to take part in candy-bar tasting. Yes, the popular children’s writer who authored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and dreamed up its chocolate bars wrapped in golden tickets clearly drew some of his fantastically inventive tales from his own life experiences.

Dahl also wrote plenty of books and short stories for adults, but his children’s works stand out for their dark humor, startling plot twists, and outrageous characters like greedy Augustus Gloop in Charlie and mean Miss Trunchbull in Matilda—characters who almost always get their come-uppance in the end.
Literature, Popular Culture

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: August 24, 1938: Gable Becomes a Goner
It’s said that actor Clark Gable didn’t even want to play Rhett Butler—the very role with which he will forever be synonymous. This Hollywood heartthrob of the 1930s was the person the film’s producer David O. Selznick wanted to play Butler from the start, but it took Gary Cooper turning down the role for Gable to become a serious contender.

Gable had starred in successful films like Mutiny on the Bounty and It Happened One Night, but Gone With… forever cemented him in the public’s mind as a leading man without peer: dashing, handsome, sophisticated.

The epic Civil War drama, based on the book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, is routinely cited as one of the greatest movies of all time.
Movies & Movie Stars, Literature, America, History

Henry James

Arts Days: August 30, 1904: You Can Go Home Again
Henry James followed the advice of every good writing teacher—just write what you know. So it makes sense that some of his novels, including Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady, were based loosely on a life he himself had lived, as a young, naïve American interacting with sophisticated Europeans.

James, a native New Yorker born to wealthy parents, lived and traveled abroad for much of his life, coming back to the U.S. only occasionally. James used interior monologue and various points of view to observe relationships among people, sometimes across social classes, and often shaped by the social conventions of life in cities around the globe during the second half of the 19th century.
Literature

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Arts Days: December 23, 1954: Water, Water Everywhere
This movie, the first science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures, has it all: an underwater battle with a giant squid, great dialogue, and stars like Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. The movie was adapted from a book by the French science fiction author Jules Verne.

It featured Nemo’s fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, which could stay under water for five days, and had onboard equipment to convert seawater into drinking water. To bring Verne’s deep-sea world to life, a staff of hundreds—led by director Richard Fleischer—was required. Lucky folks: They got to do much of the filming in beautiful places in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Popular Culture

A Christmas Carol

Arts Days: December 19, 1843: From Bah Humbug to Benefactor
Charles Dickens published this novella—longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel—about a cranky old fellow named Ebenezer Scrooge on this day in 1843. Stingy with money, even more so with compassion for the sufferings of his fellow man, Scrooge is visited by several ghosts on Christmas Eve, who show him scenes from his boyhood and the present day, as well as a dark and depressing future if Scrooge continues to treat others badly.

Scrooge undergoes a change of heart, waking up a new man on Christmas Day and doing good deeds for others. The story’s humor and gentle morality lessons delighted readers and critics then and now. Over the decades, A Christmas Carol has been adapted into musicals, films, ballets, and operas—there’s even been a mime version.
Literature, Europe, Folklore

James Joyce

Arts Days: December 29, 1916: An Author's Open Book
James Joyce’s first long work of fiction was also partly autobiographical. It explored the inner thoughts of Stephen Dedalus, a character invented by Joyce who served as his alter ego. Spanning Stephen’s childhood into adulthood, Portrait was partly based on people and events in Joyce’s own life. In the book, Stephen comes to question his faith, family and friends, ultimately detaching himself from everything and everyone in order to focus on writing.

To capture Stephen’s thoughts, Joyce made use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in his writing. The character’s thoughts and observations crash together in a seemingly random order, mirroring the way the human brain actually works. It can be challenging to read Portrait, since it’s not written in a linear, orderly narrative.
Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Europe

Charles Perrault

Arts Days: December 12, 1628: Father of Fairy Tales
Not many people can seriously lay claim to inventing an entire literary genre, but Charles Perrault is one exception. Relatively late in life, at age 67, Monsieur Perrault published new versions of old folktales in a slender book aimed at children. Complete with engaging characters, fantasy-laden plots, and moral lessons, the eight “fairy tales” in the book included “La belle au bois dormant,” otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty, and “Le petit chaperon rouge,” or Little Red Riding Hood.

He also used descriptions of actual places in France to embellish the stories; for example, Sleeping Beauty’s castle was based on the Chateau Usse, a real castle in the western part of France that centuries later would inspire Walt Disney himself as he designed castles for his theme parks.
Innovators & Pioneers, Europe, Literature, Popular Culture, Folklore

John Milton

Arts Days: December 09, 1608: A Man of Letters
John Milton is best known for penning Paradise Lost, a really long poem published in the mid 17th century. How long you ask? So long it filled ten books; a second edition published a few years later filled 12 books. In this epic work, Milton explores man’s fall from grace as told in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. In his version, he incorporates elements from Greek classicism, paganism, and other areas of study.

Milton was a learned man with a broad range of interests, and he wrote about other things, too, like history, travel, marriage, censorship, you name it. Late in life, Milton lost his eyesight completely, but never his rigorous intellect and deep curiosity. He is generally considered the greatest English poet after Shakespeare.
Europe, Poetry, Literature, Controversial

Mark Twain

Arts Days: November 30, 1835: America’s Good Humor Man
The author of one of the great American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wasn’t named Mark Twain at birth. He was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, taking Mark Twain as his pen name later in life. While he’s probably best known for creating characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twain also wrote travel stories, social commentaries, essays, and lots of other kinds of things, all characterized by his signature satirical humor.

All of his work was informed by his rich array of distinctly American adventures, from his time as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi to his reporting for newspapers across the U.S. Without a doubt, Twain’s humor has remained timeless and relevant. So much so that each year, the Kennedy Center awards the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to individuals who, like Twain, are social commentators, satirists, creators of characters, and fearless critics of society.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, America, Controversial

Alice's Adventures Underground

Arts Days: November 26, 1864: Down the Rabbit Hole
Reverend Dodgson was asked by ten-year-old Alice Liddell to write down the fantastic story he weaved for her and her sisters as they shared a rowboat ride in 1862. Dodgson complied, though it took him a couple of years to get the work done. He wrote a 15,000-word story filled with magical characters and strange leaps of logic.

Even as he offered the promised pages to his young friend, Dodgson was preparing to publish the book at nearly double its length by writing in fantastic new scenes (including a certain famous tea party). Using the pen name Lewis Carroll, Dodgson went on to publish his book under a new name—the mad-cap Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Europe, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation

Robert Frost

Arts Days: November 08, 1894: America’s Bard
Robert Frost was still a student at Dartmouth College when his poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy” was published in the New York Independent. Frost was paid $15 for the piece, and he quickly went on to publish another handful of poems. His works—meditations on things in nature, like paths in the forest, leaves changing color in the autumn, a snowfall—capture rural life in lean yet vibrant phrases.

Frost would often write about one thing—a stone wall, for example—but use it as a metaphor for something else, such as the norms of social life in New England in the early 20th century. He spent much of his adult life there, after all, and the region is irrevocably entwined in his poetry books, including From Snow to Snow and You Come Too.
Literature, Poetry, Nature, America

Rolling Stone Magazine

Arts Days: November 09, 1967: The Bible of Rock
Back then, it featured John Lennon on the cover and looked more like a newspaper than a magazine. The inaugural issue of Rolling Stone aimed to report not only on the performers and trends shaping rock and roll, but also, in the words of founder Jann Wenner, “the things and attitudes that music embraces.” As a result, the magazine has consistently printed long articles about politics, the environment, and other topics as well as influential record reviews and detailed question-and-answer pieces with top artists.

While on-staff at the magazine, photographer Annie Leibovitz helped shape the modern look of the publication. Her photos reveal surprising and controversial sides of world-famous celebrities, created through close collaboration with her subjects.
Rock & Roll, Music, Popular Culture, Literature, Controversial

Kurt Vonnegut

Arts Days: November 11, 1922: “A Zany But Moral Mad Scientist”
With a unique voice that melds humor, science fiction, and social commentary with the absurd, Kurt Vonnegut is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In novels like The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, he explores technology’s effects on the human race, (not always positive), and the dangers of social isolation.

Though his fictional works often paint a picture of a bleak world, he used wildly inventive characters—like the alien race known as the Tralfmadorians who appear in Slaughterhouse-Five—and his trademark black humor to lighten things up a little bit. Later works, such as Breakfast of Champions, are no longer overtly fantastical. As his themes shifted, so did his style in writing about them, becoming more straightforward.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Controversial, America

Ernest Hemingway

Arts Days: July 21, 1899: Our Rugged Wordsmith
Although he lived abroad much of his life, Ernest Hemingway is considered to possess a deeply American literary voice. His novels and short stories are characterized by a spare and straightforward writing style that uses few words to express ideas. He packs a lot of meaning between the lines, like letting descriptions of a character’s body language enhance what they are really feeling.

His contributions to classic American literature are plentiful: The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, and Islands in the Stream. They’re all rich with rugged images of nature. Hemingway loved and was deeply inspired by the great outdoors, from the ocean to the wild animals he loved to fish and hunt.

Many of his works are studied by aspiring authors as examples of how to write as clearly as possible, with all excess words trimmed away.
America, Literature

Alexandre Dumas

Arts Days: July 24, 1802: Adventure Hero
The man who wrote The Three Musketeers and other literary classics first dabbled in plays and magazine articles, many of which were well received by theatergoers and readers. In fact, some of Alexandre Dumas’ best-known works, including Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, were serialized in magazines before they were published as novels.

Dumas was a literary superstar at the peak of his career and his name became synonymous with the adventure-packed historical novels at which he excelled. More importantly, no French writer since has been read by more people around the world than he.
Europe, Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Penguin Book

Arts Days: July 30, 1935: A Soft Spot for Writers
The Penguin publishing house made classic literary works available to a larger audience at an affordable price by publishing paperback editions—not heavy hardcover books that had been the norm up until then.

Allen Lane, Penguin’s founder, had been hunting for something to read at the train station, but had only found magazines and soft-cover romance novels. Among the first authors printed were Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway.

The books, a few cents each in today’s dollars, were color-coded: fiction works had an orange cover, crime a green one, and so on. And how’s this for success? That first year, some three million paperback books were sold.
Literature, Art Venues, Poetry

J.K. Rowling

Arts Days: July 31, 1965: The Magic Touch
Around the world, people of all ages are captivated by the saga of Harry Potter, the young British wizard with the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Voldemort, and legions of other characters brought to life in the seven Harry Potter books, are all from the creative imagination of Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

Many children whose interest in reading was lukewarm found it stoked by the magical adventures of Harry and his gang. They and an incredible assortment of funny ghosts and frightening villains are captured in these fantastical books.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Popular Culture

Jack London

Arts Days: July 25, 1897: Call of the Wild
Adventure seeker Jack London dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley partly because he ran out of money to pay for school, partly to participate in the Klondike Gold Rush—along with hundreds of thousands of others hoping to strike gold.

London’s time in Canada would go on to form the basis for many of his great literary works. But the traveling and the time spent looking for minuscule amounts of gold led to health problems for the writer. London recovered when he returned to California the following year, and began to sell enough stories to magazines and newspapers to support himself.

Novels like White Fang and Call of the Wild, both inspired by his time in the Klondike, would cement London’s reputation as a uniquely American voice of the early 20th century.
Literature

George Bernard Shaw

Arts Days: July 26, 1856: Voice of the People
Hmmm… could the fact that George Bernard Shaw started out as a newspaper arts critic have something to do with his interest in expressing his political and philosophical opinions freely?

In his 60 some plays, Shaw always found a way to criticize social mores by poking holes in the conventions of 19th century life. Pygmalion, upon which the smash Broadway musical My Fair Lady would later be based, examines class differences, while Major Barbara considers whether it is right to use money earned from the sales of weapons for charitable purposes.

Some of these satirical themes generated controversy among early theatergoers, but Shaw didn’t care. “My way of joking is to tell the truth,” he once said. Shaw’s “joking” earned him both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay for My Fair Lady.
Literature, Musicals, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

The Catcher in the Rye

Arts Days: July 16, 1951: Teenage Wasteland
Catcher in the Rye takes us into the mind of the self-destructive Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist and narrator of the book.

After being expelled from school, Holden’s misadventures in New York City and his profanity-laced comments about people around him, who he considers “phony,” contributed to the book being the most banned in the United States. Still to this day, however controversial the book is for some, it has become a standard text in most high school English classes. The book allows high school students to witness a fellow teen struggling with feelings of alienation from others his age as well as most of his family.

Salinger used the title as a metaphor for Holden’s attempt to protect a child’s innocence, though he is unable to preserve his own.
Controversial, Literature, America

To Kill a Mockingbird

Arts Days: July 11, 1960: Do the Right Thing
Alabama author Harper Lee published one of the most important works of 20th century fiction. To Kill a Mockingbird examines American attitudes toward race and how those views have shaped our legal system.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s six-year-old narrator, Scout Finch, along with her brother, befriends a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley, who later becomes the children’s protector after Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, defends an African American man wrongfully accused of a crime. The Finches are said to be modeled on Lee’s own family, including her own father, an attorney who defended two black men in a murder case (and lost).

Lee’s storytelling gifts and the memorable characters she created make To Kill a Mockingbird a moving story about doing the right thing.
Literature, America, Controversial

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Arts Days: March 20, 1852: The Little Lady's Big Book
During the entire 19th century, only one book sold more copies than the Bible. That book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, changed countless minds about the then-accepted practice of slavery or forcing people against their will to perform manual labor in Europe and the United States. Author Harriett Beecher Stowe was a preacher and an abolitionist: someone who believed that slavery was immoral and worked to end it everywhere.

Her book contains the message that Christian love can overcome the evils of slavery, which had such an impact on readers that it’s widely considered to have advanced the long-simmering feud between the northern and southern states toward the Civil War. In fact, when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the time the fighting began, he is reported to have said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” The power of Stowe’s words helped dismantle the cruelty of slavery.
America, History, Literature, Controversial

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