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Dr. Seuss

Arts Days: March 02, 1904: Doctor of Rhyme
Perhaps no author of children’s books is better loved around the world than Theodor Seuss Geisel, whom you probably know simply as Dr. Seuss. Whether it’s The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss’ many books combined fantastic creatures with fun, often made-up words set to rhythmic patterns that were designed to teach children how to read through simple repetition.

You might think his books were easy to write, but Dr. Seuss often used a form of poetic rhythm called “anapestic tetrameter.” This is a fancy way of saying that in the phrases he dreamed up, two unstressed syllables were followed by one emphasized one. Read these lines from The Cat in the Hat out loud and you might hear what we mean: “Have no fear, said the cat/I will not let you fall/I will hold you up high/As I stand on a ball.” The bolded words are naturally emphasized as you read them aloud.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Poetry, Popular Culture

The Godfather

Arts Days: March 15, 1972: Mob Appeal
The Godfather was a hit when it first appeared in movie theaters. Critics hailed the work of the cast—from Al Pacino as Michael Corleone to Marlon Brando as his father Vito, the Mafia godfather of the title—as nearly flawless. The drama also earned kudos for its music and screenplay, and for the nuanced portrayals of the members of the Corleone family and their friends and rivals in organized crime. Over the years, The Godfather has stood the test of time.

Critics—as well as millions of ordinary fans—have continued to praise the film and its director, Francis Ford Coppola, for making viewers feel sympathetic toward characters who routinely committed murders and other crimes. Coppola pushed his actors to explore and portray the psychological reasons why their characters acted as they did, making each character multi-faceted and complex. Adapted from the book of the same name by Mario Puzo, The Godfather won several Academy Awards®, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
America, Controversial, Family, Literature, Movies & Movie Stars

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Arts Days: March 11, 1818: Oh, the Horror of it All
How could it be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was only 18 years old when she started writing the book Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus?  Here’s part of the explanation: At the time she wrote it, she and her friends would entertain each other with ghost stories. Back then, Shelley wasn’t thinking about a super-tall green guy with bolts in his neck. (That’s a concept introduced by Frankenstein movies, cartoons, and storybooks.)

Truthfully, Shelley was trying to write a story warning people about the dangers of the Industrial Revolution, in which machines were taking over many jobs. Still, she used the scary idea of a person—Dr. Frankenstein—making and bringing to life a monster. Her book, published when she was 21, proved to be one of the classic examples of the Gothic fiction movement.
Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Gone with the Wind

Arts Days: February 29, 1940: Wind Wins
When the epic movie Gone with the Wind—about life in the South before, during, and after the Civil War, from a white Southerner’s point of view—racked up nine Academy Awards®, it broke all previous records for how many awards one movie could win.

It made superstars out of Vivian Leigh (who played Scarlett O’Hara), Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), and others. The soaring music, dramatic shots of battles, and fantastic costumes—plus the love, loss, and intrigue captured in the book upon which the movie was based—all contributed to the film’s amazing success that night.

And one cultural barrier was shattered, too. Actress Hattie McDaniel became the first African American ever to win an Oscar®. She won her award, for Best Supporting Actress, for her moving performance as “Mammy.”
Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Movies & Movie Stars

Langston Hughes

Arts Days: February 01, 1902: From Busboy to Poet
Langston Hughes discovered his passion for literature and poetry in high school, where he began writing his own short stories, poems, and plays for the school newspaper and yearbook.

After graduation, Hughes continued to write while holding down a series of odd jobs, from ship crewman to busboy at a Washington, DC hotel. One day while clearing dishes, he slipped a few of his poems to hotel guest, poet Vachel Lindsay. Lindsay was so impressed with what he read that he wasted little time in introducing Hughes to publishers, who embraced Hughes’ style and vibrant portrayals of African American life in America.

Hughes moved to Harlem in 1929, where he was a key figure in what’s known as the Harlem Renaissance, a time in the early 20th century when African American musicians, painters, writers, and other artists generated a rich array of artistic contributions to American culture.
Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Poetry

Jules Verne

Arts Days: February 08, 1828: A League of His Own
Would you believe that the submarine hadn’t even been invented when Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, kicking off the sci-fi genre with a splash?

Even as a child, Verne was a visionary, writing adventure stories that previewed today’s modern conveniences and technological wonders including tall skyscrapers, gas-powered cars, helicopters, and even television.

But sometimes his imagination and curiosity got him into deep trouble. At 12, he snuck his way onto a ship bound for India, but luckily got caught before the ship left. Let’s just say that father Pierre was none too happy. Little Jules responded, "I shall from now on only travel in my imagination." And so he did.

While his early stories, like the one about exploring Africa in a hot-air balloon, were rejected by publishers, Verne stuck with it. Eventually that story, with a few changes, appeared in print in 1863 as “Five Weeks in a Balloon.” From then on, Verne wrote new works every year until he died.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Europe

Roots

Arts Days: January 23, 1977: Rooted in Front of the TV
Nearly 100 million television viewers tuned in to ABC's Roots, a miniseries based on the autobiographical novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley.

Roots traces four generations of Haley's African American family, beginning in 1767 with the character Kunta Kinte, who is captured by slave traders in Gambia, Africa, to the author himself in 20th century America.

The show ran for eight consecutive days and became the most watched program in American television history, captivating audiences across all racial, gender, and ethnic lines. This landmark television event has been called "the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America."
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Popular Culture, Africa, Geography, History, Literature

Edgar Allen Poe

Arts Days: January 19, 1809: Master of the Macabre
Influential American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic Edgar Allen Poe was born on this day in 1809. He is credited with popularizing the short story in America, and contributing greatly to the emerging genres of detective fiction and science fiction.

Poe's work is considered part of the American Romantic Movement, but don't be fooled by its name; Poe's best known publications are also classified as Gothic, or literature that combines romance, mystery, and horror, and many of his stories feature themes centered on death.

Poe was also the first well-known American writer to attempt to make a living through writing alone, a decision that resulted in a financially difficult life and career. Even his most famous poem titled "The Raven" was published for nine dollars.
Innovators & Pioneers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature, Poetry

Toni Morrison

Arts Days: January 11, 1978: Singing Her Praises
Toni Morrison's novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly-developed African American characters. Her third novel, Song of Solomon, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, a prestigious honor given annually to the finest books published in the English language.

This award propelled Morrison into the national spotlight. Since then, she has continued to write novels, as well as short stories, plays, children's books, and non-fiction. Ms. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, becoming the first African American to win the award, as well as the first American woman to win in more than 50 years.
Literature

Oliver

Arts Days: June 30, 1960: The Boy Who Asked for More
Drawing on themes and characters Charles Dickens created in his 1838 novel Oliver Twist, composer Lionel Bart wrote the words and music to a stage version of the story, which he called Oliver!

Dickens’s book was about Oliver, a lonely orphan boy, the adults who abused him with too much work and too little compassion, and a few kind people he meets along the way. Despite the serious subject matter, the infectious melodies of songs like Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself became lodged in listeners’ memories. In fact, Oliver’s modest request for more porridge—“Please sir, I want some more”—became one of the best-known lines to go straight from Dickens’s pen to Bart’s libretto.

Ultimately, Oliver’s happy escape from a cruel life to a happy one with his long-lost grandfather, delighted audiences.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Literature

Mark Twain's Patented Scrapbook

Arts Days: June 24, 1873: More Than a Writer
Maybe you’re a fan of scrapbooking: pasting, taping, or otherwise attaching cutouts, photos, drawings, maps and other eye-catching items to the plain paper pages in a book.

If so, you’re in good company: None other than Mark Twain, the creator of Tom Sawyer and other beloved American fictional characters, was a “scrapping” fanatic; so much so that he even invented and secured a patent for what he called a self-pasting scrapbook, one that allowed the user to attach items without hunting for that glue bottle.
Innovators & Pioneers, Inventions, Literature, America

George Orwell

Arts Days: June 25, 1903: Future Shock
Author George Orwell would often dress in old clothes and live in poorer sections of town to understand how people in different economic and social classes behaved. These experiences not only helped him write Down and Out in Paris and London, but they also influenced his sense of social justice for all.

Orwell wrote his satire Animal Farm as an allegory, with talking farm animals standing in for people. His hope was to argue the dangers of Stalin’s totalitarianism rising in the Soviet Union. In 1984, Orwell envisioned a future world in which human rights were non-existent and the government exercised thought control over its citizens. Orwell’s fertile imagination took us to some scary places even as they reminded us of the dignity of the common man.
Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Giver

Arts Days: June 13, 1994: All in the Family
After receiving the prestigious Newbery Medal for her children’s science-fiction book The Giver, author Lois Lowry gave a speech to try to answer questions about why she’d written a children’s book that includes some decidedly adult concepts. Her protagonist, Jonas, lives in an imaginary world in which Lowry “got rid of all the things I fear and dislike; all the violence, poverty, prejudice and injustice.” Yet in this seemingly perfect world, citizens know nothing of the pleasure of sunshine on their faces or the comfort of being part of a family.

Lesson learned? “We can’t live in a walled world… where we are all the same and feel safe.” Lowry uses the book to focus on the theme of family responsibility and the role parents lead in supporting their children from birth through adulthood.
Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Anne Frank

Arts Days: June 12, 1942: History in Her Own Words
Anne Frank’s diary, kept while her family was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II, is one of the most heartbreaking narratives to emerge from the Holocaust. Her journal is by turns funny, sad, and hopeful.

She received the diary on this day, her 13th birthday, and immediately began recording her innermost thoughts, as well as the astonishing story of her family’s hidden apartment in a building in Amsterdam. Through the unbearable tension of nearly two years, when the hidden occupants had to stay utterly quiet so the workers below would not grow suspicious, Anne Frank’s diary was a rare source of comfort for her.

She and her family were discovered in August 1944; all but her father perished in Nazi concentration camps.
History, Literature, Europe, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arts Days: May 22, 1859: Scotland Yard’s Storyteller
The man who would dream up the most famous detective in all literature remembers well his mother’s gift for entertaining her children with tales. But as was the custom of the day, Arthur Conan Doyle was sent to boarding school at a young age. There, he followed in his mother’s footsteps by telling classmates stories.

Following medical school, Doyle wrote for fun, and in 1887, he conceived of the characters Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, and sometimes narrator, Dr. Watson, who solved crimes together.

Four years later, he happily left his medical practice to write full time, writing more Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, and the creepy novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet it was Doyle’s pipe-smoking, deeply analytical detective Holmes who captured readers’ hearts most, then and now—in books, on stage, and in movies.
Literature

Bram Stoker

Arts Days: May 18, 1897: Got Blood?
Irish author Bram Stoker did not invent the vampire, but no writer has done more to boost our fascination with a blood-drinking creature who sleeps by day and runs rampant at night. The Count Dracula character Stoker created may have been based on several historical figures, including Vlad the Impaler, a ruler in Wallachia (now part of Romania) in the 15th century. Not a nice guy, this Vlad: He’s said to have had his enemies murdered in horrendous ways and even his own people killed just for looking at him the wrong way.

Stoker wrote Dracula as an epistolary novel; that is, one whose story is told in a series of letters and diary entries “written by” characters. This kind of writing provides a shifting point of view, exposing the reader to different characters’ inner thoughts.
Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Lorraine Hansbury

Arts Days: May 19, 1930: Young, Gifted, and Black
With her powerful drama A Raisin in the Sun, playwright Lorraine Hansberry broke multiple barriers.

When it opened in New York City in 1959, the play was the first to be written and directed by an African American, Lloyd Richards. And when her work was voted Best American Play by the New York Drama Critics’s Circle, the 29-year-old Hansberry became the youngest recipient of that prestigious award. Raisin was partly inspired by racial incidents suffered by Hansberry’s family when they moved into a segregated neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago in 1937.

Hansberry went on to write other works for stage, screen, and television. Though she died at only 34, Hansberry’s influence echoes with generations of young writers dedicated to uncovering racism and other injustices with their words.
Innovators & Pioneers, Playwrights & Plays, Literature, Controversial

Ian Fleming

Arts Days: May 28, 1908: The Man With the Golden Pen
It’s hard to imagine that Ian Fleming, the writer who dreamed up the suave secret agent James Bond, also wrote the children’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. These literary creations could hardly differ more.

“Bond, James Bond,” is the clever, debonair spy who uses a mind-boggling array of gadgets, weapons, and wildly expensive sports cars to fight lots of different bad guys and gals. Need proof? Check out The Man With the Golden Arm, Goldfinger, or Dr. No, among many others.

Chitty Chitty tells the story of a family whose car has amazing transformative powers. This car can fly, morph into a boat, and bail them out of all kinds of trouble. Well, maybe there is some connection between Fleming’s best-known flights of imagination. There can be little doubt Fleming’s time working for British intelligence inspired his creative writing.
Literature, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Thornton Wilder

Arts Days: April 17, 1897: An American Wordsmith
His works are read and his plays performed around the world, but when Thornton Wilder started writing stories as a kid, he never dreamt he’d be an icon of American literature one day. While his seminal three-act play Our Town is arguably his best-loved work, with its timeless depiction of life and loss in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, other plays including The Skin of Our Teeth and the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey are also literary classics (all three works netted Wilder Pulitzer Prizes for Literature).

He also revisited and tinkered with old works from time to time. For example, he reworked his play The Merchant of Yonkers into The Matchmaker, which in 1964 hit the Broadway stage as Hello Dolly!, running for 2,844 performances.
Playwrights & Plays, America, Literature, Theater

Carrie

Arts Days: April 05, 1974: The King of Scary
Sitting at a desk and using an old typewriter in his trailer in Maine, Stephen King worked nights pouring over Carrie, a freaky story about a teenage girl. He threw the first few pages in the trash, but his wife plucked them out and encouraged him to keep at it. In the book, the title character is teased at school—but when she uses her special psychic powers in order to fight back, mayhem and murder result.

The book launched King’s career as a writer of really, really scary horror and sci-fi novels and short stories. Now, decades and dozens of books later, he’s still writing from his house in Maine, minus the trailer. King’s work ethic is famous; he forces himself to write thousands of words every single day. It’s that dedication that has translated into millions of books being sold to terrified readers everywhere.
America, Literature, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Hans Christian Andersen

Arts Days: April 02, 1805: Father Goose
You may have had fairy tales read to you when you were a little kid, but did you know they were written more than a hundred years ago—in Denmark? Generations of children around the world know and love Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales from “The Ugly Duckling” to “The Princess and the Pea.”

Even though he was Danish, some of the stories he wrote have inspired figures of speech common in the English language, like “the emperor has no clothes,” from the tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” And more than one of his stories, like “The Little Mermaid,” have been turned into a feature film movie. Somehow, Andersen’s stories feel ageless, not tied to a particular time or place, which may be one reason why they continue to enchant young listeners today, no matter where they happen to live.
Europe, Folklore, Literature

The Great Gatsby

Arts Days: April 10, 1925: A Great American Novel
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the roaring 1920s was not, shall we say, a roaring success when it was first published. Fitzgerald’s story of the young Midwesterner Nick Carraway, who moves to New York for work after serving in World War I; his mysterious and wealthy next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby; and Daisy Buchanan, with whom Gatsby is obsessed, is a parable for the times in which Fitzgerald himself lived.

Just as some of his characters crash and burn in the book, Fitzgerald believed that the prosperity brought about by the thriving economy of the day had a dark side, from a spike in crime to plunging morals. It took some time and space from the era Fitzgerald memorialized in his book—the Jazz Age, a term he coined—for the book’s status as one of the great American novels to be recognized and appreciated.
Literature, America

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