Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Year of Discovery and Promise in Space, From Voice of America.

The Planet Mars Photographed by the Mars Rover


I'm Mario Ritter.


And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. This week, we tell about some of the biggest space stories of two thousand nine. First, there was the American space agency's discovery of water on the moon. We also talk to a NASA expert about the discovery of methane gas on Mars. And we hear about the test flight of NASA's newest rocket.



An artist's picture of the LCROSS spacecraft nearing the moon
Possibly the biggest space story this year was the discovery of water on the moon. The best evidence was provided by a dramatic experiment carried out on October ninth. NASA used its Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, to look for water deep beneath the lunar surface.

To get below the ancient lunar rocks, NASA crashed a rocket into the moon's south pole. The crash caused soil to be expelled many kilometers above the lunar surface. LCROSS studied the soil before it too crashed into the moon. The experiment pushed the search for water several meters below the lunar surface—much deeper than had been possible before.


LCROSS scientists Anthony Colaprete and Kim Ennico study early results from the lunar impact experiment.
In November, Anthony Colaprete, a leading scientist with the LCROSS project, spoke about information gathered by the spacecraft. He said about one hundred kilograms of water had been found in the material ejected by the moon crash. Water has now been confirmed in amounts much greater than had been thought.

In September, NASA scientists had announced the discovery of water molecules mainly in the moon's extreme northern and southern areas. They noted, however, that they could also be seeing evidence of another molecule, hydroxyl.


Instruments on three separate spacecraft gathered that evidence of lunar water. NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper made the most recent observations. It was one of eleven scientific devices carried by the Chandrayaan-One spacecraft of the Indian Space Research Organization.

The Mapper is a spectrometer, which measures reflected light wavelengths. The device shows scientists what an object is made of from great distances. Similar devices on NASA's Cassini and Epoxi spacecraft also reported water.

But those observations were made years ago. NASA scientists had not trusted the results without clear confirmation.

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper could only examine lunar soil to a depth of a few millimeters. And the amount of water found in that layer was very small. Now, LCROSS has shown that large amounts of water could exist on the moon. And it raises even more questions.

Was water brought to the moon by space rocks and icy bodies called comets? Or could processes deep within the moon produce water? If that is the case, it may be possible that the moon could hold enough water for future explorations or even colonies.



An image showing methane on Mars
The presence of water on the moon was not the only major solar system discovery NASA made this year. In January, a team of NASA and university scientists announced that they had found methane gas on Mars. The group used NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the W.M. Keck telescope. Both instruments are in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Methane is better known as natural gas. On Earth, it is mainly produced by processes linked to biology.

This raises the exciting possibility that life may have existed in the past on Mars. Or it may still exist deep below the surface. Michael Meyer is lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program in Washington. He spoke to us about the finding.

MICHAEL MEYER: "It really means that the planet is more active than we thought, and more active--and that can be geologically or maybe even biologically."


On Earth, biological activity is very effective in making methane. But Michael Meyer notes that methane also can come from a purely non-biological process called serpentinization. He says the methane discovery presents scientists with a mystery because it is still not clear how the gas is being produced.

Martian methane is also unusual because it is not evenly spread over the planet. It can become concentrated in small areas and then disappear. This suggests processes that both supply and remove methane from the atmosphere in certain places. Currently, the best explanation for the loss of methane is that it chemically reacts with dust in the atmosphere. The gas may then turn into something else such as carbon dioxide.


An artist's picture of how methane could be formed under the Martian surface.
NASA plans to send the Mars Science Laboratory to the red planet in the autumn of two thousand eleven. The exploration vehicle will be able to measure methane even at very low levels in many places on the surface.

Michael Meyer also says NASA is developing an orbiter with European scientists. It will be able to measure small amounts of many different gases. The orbiter could finally provide evidence about how methane on Mars is created and destroyed. Michael Meyer says planetary scientists often study processes that are very different from ones on Earth. But he says understanding these differences can help discover how some complex processes on our own planet really work.

(SOUND: NASA Rocket Launch)


The Ares 1-X launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it's flight above the earth.
On October twenty-eighth, NASA took an important step into the future. The agency carried out a test flight of its next-generation launch vehicle for astronauts.

NASA is developing two separate rockets for the Ares program. Phil Sumrall is the Ares Project Office Advanced Planning Manager. He says this was done for safety reasons.

The loss of the space shuttle Columbia in February of two thousand three led to an investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The group recommended that human life must not be risked simply to send equipment into space. The result was a design in which safety was the top concern.

PHIL SUMRALL: "We designed the Ares One to be the absolute safest possible vehicle that we could conceive."


Space scientists designed Ares One with a system that would rescue astronauts whether there was a failure of the rocket in the launch area or during flight. Mister Sumrall says NASA estimates the new Ares One will be twenty to thirty times safer than the Space Shuttle.

The other Ares launch vehicle is the huge Ares Five rocket. It will be the biggest rocket ever built. The Ares Five will be one hundred sixteen meters tall and weigh three point seven million kilograms. It will be able to lift nearly forty percent more than the Saturn Five rocket that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon.


Much of the Ares technology has been developed from existing vehicles. Versions of the solid fuel rockets that are used on the Space Shuttle today will serve as the first stage of the Ares One and booster rockets on the Ares Five. An engine first developed for the Saturn Five moon rocket has been updated to be used on Ares.

Existing manufacturing technologies are also being used in new ways on Ares. The tanks of the Ares rockets will be made of aluminum lithium. This is a strong and light metal alloy that has been used on the Space Shuttle. But Ares will use new methods in metal-working science such as friction stir welding. This method uses heat and pressure to join pieces of metal together. Friction stir welding can be used to make complex curved and domed structures out of aluminum lithium and similar alloys. And, friction stir welding uses fewer workers at less cost than other methods.

Scientists developed the new welding technology at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Montgomery, Alabama. It will be used when Ares is built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Phil Sumrall says NASA's estimate to keep the Ares program going forward as planned calls for three billion dollars in additional spending a year.

He says if money is available, Ares Five could be ready for a test flight by two thousand seventeen. We asked Phil Sumrall how NASA expects to use Ares in its space exploration plans.

PHIL SUMRALL: "It's not just for going to the moon or near Earth objects. It's what we'd use to go to, eventually, to Mars or to the moons of Mars."

NASA named the new rocket system Ares, the Greek name for Mars. The name suggests the goal for a future generation of space explorers. They may be the first humans to set foot on another planet.



I'm Steve Ember with Mario Ritter who also wrote and produced our program. You can find links to the NASA Web site at You can also find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

The following video shows the launching of the Mars Rover into space, its landing on Mars, and the beginning of its mission.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas 2009 in America: A Joyful Season in Not So Joyful Times.

A Stained Glass Nativity Scene


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein. This week on our program, our subject is Christmas in America.


This Friday, millions of American Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, their lord. Many families will sing traditional Christmas carols and exchange gifts around decorated trees. And many will attend special church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Reporter Jerilyn Watson spoke with David Denoon, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago. This is his second year there.

He says that at the early service on Christmas Eve, he will begin with a question for the children. What might Jesus want for his birthday? Then he will turn his talk toward the adults.

DAVID DENOON: "My intention is to spin that for the adults as well, to be talking about our relationship with God and that we find that relationship most special in our relationship with Jesus."

Reverend Denoon will also lead a second service on the night before Christmas.

DAVID DENOON: "One of the great traditions that I really appreciate here at First Congregational is that we do an annual service of 'Nine Lessons and Carols,' which is in the old King's College tradition from England. And the ending of the service is, everyone has just sung 'Silent Night.' We've lit candles, we've turned off the lights, everyone is sitting in darkness except for the lights of their candles as the final reading is read. And at the conclusion of the reading the bell is tolled at midnight and we then sing "Joy to the World."


Major holidays are often when houses of religious worship are most busy. And that means extra work for members of the clergy.

Frank Kurimsky is the priest at a Roman Catholic church in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Saint Irenaeus Parish is celebrating one hundred one years in existence. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Father Kurimsky will be busy with four services, and another priest will lead a fifth.

Orthodox Christmas is observed on January seventh, based on the Julian calendar. However, the Orthodox Church in America says most of its members follow the revised Julian calendar and celebrate on December twenty-fifth.


"Merry Christmas" is the traditional holiday greeting used by millions of Americans. But these days a great many say "Happy Holidays."

Some people are happy about the change. But others are not, including this woman in the state of Mississippi named Merry.

MERRY TIGERT: "Not everyone is Christian. But I would hope that most people who celebrate Christmas in any form understand its origins. And even though historically there's no indication that Jesus Christ was born in December, that's just the day that has traditionally been used to celebrate the birth of the Son of God on Earth. Other people may choose to say 'Happy Holidays,' but to me that just doesn't say enough."

Merry Tigert says people like to have fun with her name at Christmastime. But her name also causes misunderstandings. Many people hear it and think it is Mary, M-A-R-Y, instead of M-E-R-R-Y. We asked how she got her unusual name.

MERRY TIGERT: "When my mother was expecting me, she was expecting a boy to come along in January. And instead a little girl came along in December, oh, about a week before Christmas. So she didn't have a girl's name picked out. She had been addressing Christmas cards, and the only thing that came to her mind was 'Merry' as in Merry Christmas."

So is Merry merry?

MERRY TIGERT: "For the most part, yes. We all have our times, but I do tend to have an optimistic attitude."

Merry arrived seven years after her mother had her first child -- and she was quite a Christmas gift. You see, the doctor had told her mother that she could not have any more children.


That was Merry Tigert's favorite Christmas song. But adults are not the only ones who have something to say about the holiday season.

HANNAH:"My name is Hannah"

REPORTER: And what's your favorite thing about Christmas?"

HANNAH: "That we get to spend time with our family."

Reporter June Simms talked to some schoolchildren.

CHILDREN: "We get to open presents." "Getting to see my family." "Celebrating with our family." "Presents!" "I usually get presents that say Santa Claus on them but I'm not really sure if they're from him."

Now, about Santa Claus ...

CHILDREN: "He has a sleigh with flying reindeer. Kids go tell him what they want for Christmas and then he's kind of like the spirit who brings you presents."

"On Christmas Eve we lay out cookies and milk and carrots. The carrots are for the reindeer, and the cookies and milk for Santa Claus." "We put out some vegetables for Santa Claus and a glass of water, and then when we woke up there was a note from Santa Claus."

"He gives presents that children want for Christmas, and give it to them under their tree."

REPORTER: "How does he know what they want?"

CHILD: "Well he lives in the North Pole, I don't know if there's like a speaker or anything, for them to hear what children want."

The children are all fourth-graders at a Washington-area elementary school.

CHILDREN: "My name is Seth Montuori. I was adopted. I usually go up to my grandpa's and my grandma's house. It's one of my best holidays, and, because you get lots of presents and stuff. I'm just really glad that I could be with my family."

"Well, first we go to church, then we come home on Christmas Eve and then we open our presents. And then the next morning our stockings are full and we wake up, go downstairs and empty our socks. And that's the German way. My mom's German."

"Christmas was when Jesus was born, his birthday. They have Christmas trees, and you put ornaments. And it usually snows, and we also have like lots of lights."

Not all the children celebrate Christmas, though.

CHILD: "I celebrate Hanukkah. Well, you have to light candles every night. And you get presents for eight days because -- I mean seven days, because God made the, created the earth in seven days and on the seventh day he rested."

Well, sort of. Hanukkah -- the Jewish Festival of Lights -- really is eight days. But the history goes back more than two thousand years. Jewish rebels defeated a Greek-Syrian army and reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem. The first night this year was December eleventh.

After Christmas, black families in the United States might also celebrate Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits" in Swahili. This modern festival of African-American culture includes lighting candles each night from December twenty-sixth through New Year's Day.


By now, the severe recession that began in December of two thousand seven may be technically over. But millions of American families are still hurting. For many, the best gift would be a job and freedom from worry about losing their home.

Other families have different worries. For military families, the best gift would be a way to protect loved ones getting ready to be sent to war, or already serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the United States, holiday gift giving is important not only for the usual reasons, like showing friendship and love. It also represents an important part of a national economy driven mainly by consumer spending.

Last December, as the recession hit hard, Americans held on to their money. This year, stores and online sellers are seeing a little more willingness to spend.

Reporter Caty Weaver talked to shoppers in the Tysons Corner area of Northern Virginia, outside Washington.

Tyson's Corner Shopping Mall

TINA: "My name's Tina. I have two girl and one boy."

Tina is shopping with Kevin, and they say the difficult economy forced them to Christmas shop a little differently this year, to save money.

KEVIN: "Instead of shopping in just the regular shopping mall we were kind of forced to go to these bargain type shops."

And by the look of their shopping cart, overflowing with boxes and bags, they must be finished.

KEVIN:"We're pretty much done."

TINA: "For everybody. [Laughter]"

But they still have one more purchase to make: their Christmas tree.

TINA: "We're gonna put it up tonight."

Another couple out shopping, Duncan and Alexandra, look happy with their results.

DUNCAN: "This year a lot of stores are trying to reduce prices to help bring customers in during this time of recession. And we've had tremendous success in getting different things that we wanted for the holidays."

We asked Alexandra her favorite Christmas song.

ALEXANDRA: "'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.'"

Johnnie Truesdale is shopping with two other women -- who point to her to be the one to talk on the radio. She has a thing or two to say about the prices.

JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "Still high. Could be better."

And the shopping conditions.

JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "The stores are very crowded. And I'm glad I'm finished shopping."

But she has praise for the people who work at the stores.

JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "The lines were moving pretty fast. The salespersons were doing a good job."

And her favorite Christmas song?

JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "'Silent Night.' It's the Temptations."

Finally, there is Vincente Carbajal. He is shopping with his wife and little girl. But not Christmas shopping. He says his family does not celebrate Christmas, although they are Christian.

VINCENTE CARBAJAL: "We think every single day is very valuable. We celebrate every single day with our family, with our community. We don't hate anyone. Every single day can be a Christmas."


Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. We hope you join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Louis Kahn Helped Define Modern Architecture.

The Government Center in Dhaka, Bangladesh: Louis Kahn, Architect


I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, we tell about Louis Kahn. He is considered one of the most important American building designers of the twentieth century.



Louis Kahn helped define modern architecture. Architecture is the art and science of designing and building structures such as houses, museums, and office buildings.Kahn’s architecture has several defining qualities. For example, Kahn was very interested in the look and feel of the materials he used. He used brick and concrete in new and special ways. Kahn also paid careful attention to the use of sunlight. He liked natural light to enter his buildings through interesting kinds of windows and openings. Kahn’s work can also be identified by his creative use of geometric shapes. Many of his buildings use squares, circles and three sided shapes called triangles.


Louis Kahn was born in Estonia in nineteen-oh-one. When he was five years old his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even as a child, Louis Kahn showed excellence as an artist. When he was in school his pictures won several competitions organized by the city. In high school, Kahn studied architecture briefly. He later went to the University of Pennsylvania and studied architecture full time. He graduated in nineteen twenty-four.

Louis Kahn’s buildings have many influences. Some experts say his trip to Rome, Italy in nineteen fifty-one influenced him the most. Kahn spent a few months as an architect with the American Academy in Rome. He also traveled through other parts of Italy, Greece and Egypt. There, he saw the ancient Greek and Roman ruins that also would influence his works. He was very affected by the size and design of these ruins. They helped influence him to develop an architecture that combines both modern and ancient designs.

Other experts believe Kahn was also influenced by the part of Philadelphia where he grew up. There were many factory buildings with large windows. These brick structures were very solid. This industrial design is apparent in several of Kahn’s early works.


Kahn’s first projects involved building housing in Philadelphia. He later received government jobs to design housing during World War Two. In nineteen forty-two, he became a head architect of the Public Building Administration. Kahn’s first important project was the Yale Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut in the early nineteen fifties. The outside of the building is very simple. The surface is made of brick and limestone.

The inside of the gallery shows Kahn’s great artistic sense. For example, he created a triangle-shaped walkway of steps that sits inside a rounded concrete shell.

This building was very popular. Its completion represented an important step in Kahn’s professional life. He was now a famous architect.



One of Kahn’s other important buildings is the Salk Institute, a research center in La Jolla, California.

It was built in the nineteen sixties. This structure further shows how Kahn was able to unite form and function. This means his buildings were beautiful and also useful.

The Salk Institute has two structures that surround a marble garden area or courtyard. This outdoor marble area is almost completely bare. The only detail is a small stream of water running through the middle of the square towards the Pacific Ocean.

This simple design is very striking. Inside the building are many rooms for laboratories. Kahn was very careful to make sure they all received natural light and a view of the ocean. He linked the indoor and outdoor spaces in a very beautiful way.


The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas is another famous building by Louis Kahn.
Some say it is his best. Kahn built this museum in the early nineteen seventies. This large museum has long rooms with curved or vaulted ceilings. Inside, all of the walls can be moved to best fit the art collection. Kahn was able to make the concrete material of the building look both solid and airy. He used sunlight and bodies of water to create a truly special building.

Kahn once said this about the Kimbell Art Museum: “The building feels…that I had nothing to do with it…that some other hand did it.” The architect seems to say that he was helped by some higher influence. Many people feel that his architecture has a very spiritual and timeless quality.

Kahn mostly created public buildings such as museums and libraries. However, he also designed a few houses. His most famous home is the Fisher house near Philadelphia.

It is made of several box-shaped buildings. The house is made out of glass, wood and stone. Many windows provide a view of the nearby trees.



Louis Kahn also designed buildings in other countries, including India and Bangladesh. His largest project was a series of buildings that would become the government center of Dhaka, Bangladesh. This structure includes the parliament, meeting rooms, offices, eating places and even a religious center.

This series of buildings looks like an ancient home for kings. Huge rounded and box-like buildings have windows in the shape of circles and triangles. The structure is surrounded by water. From a distance, it appears to float on a lake. Kahn spent the last twelve years of his life on the project. It was completed in nineteen eighty-three, nine years after his death. Because of Kahn, experts say, one of the poorest countries in the world has one of the most beautiful public buildings on Earth.

All of Kahn’s buildings share a common solidity and heaviness. Experts say they are very different from the works of other famous architects of the period. These architects preferred light and airy buildings. Their weightless-looking structures were mostly made of glass and metal. Kahn used stone and concrete to make monumental buildings. Many of his structures look more ancient than modern.



Louis Kahn was an artist who created beautiful works.But he was not a very good businessman. He would change his designs many times. This would make each project take a great deal of time and cost more money. The majority of the projects he designed were never built. Also, he did not like to compromise his design ideas to satisfy a buyer’s wishes. For this reason and others, Kahn did not make many buildings. His design company did not always have many jobs or much money. In fact, when Kahn died, he was in great debt. This is especially unusual since he was considered one of the most important architects in the world.


In two thousand four, Mister Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, made a film about his father’s life. The film is called “My Architect.” It is interesting for many reasons. “My Architect” gives a history of Kahn’s life. The film presents the architect and his buildings. You can see Kahn working at his desk and talking with his builders. You can also see him teaching university students. You can tell that he had great energy.

The film also shows a great deal about Kahn’s private life. Kahn had a wife and daughter. But he also had two other families. Kahn had a child with each of two other women that he was not married to. In the film, Nathaniel Kahn describes visits from his father.

He says that as a child he did not understand why his father did not live with him and his mother all of the time.

NATHANIEL KAHN IN “MY ARCHITECT”: “I didn’t know my father very well. He never married my mother and he never lived with us. I needed to know him. I needed to find out who he really was. So I set out on a journey to see his buildings and to find whatever was left of him out there.”


Many questions are left unanswered about Kahn. Yet, the film helps tell a very interesting story about a very important man. Louis Kahn died in nineteen seventy-four. Yet his influence lives on. While teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, he trained many future builders. Some students have become important architects. And Kahn’s architecture has remained fresh and timeless.



This program was written by Dana Demange. It was produced by Dana Demange and Lawan Davis. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ralph Ellison, Writer of the Novel: "Invisible Man."



I’m Barbara Klein.


And I'm Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about writer Ralph Ellison and his famous novel “Invisible Man.” The book is about a nameless black man’s search for his identity and place in society.



Ralph Ellison's novel, “Invisible Man”, was published in nineteen fifty-two. Ellison was at once called a major new writer. The book won the National Book Award, a high and rare honor for a first novel.

Since then millions of copies have been printed. The book is still used in many universities and other schools. One professor said that he has used the book in his teaching for twenty-five years. He said that each time he returns to “Invisible Man” he finds new ideas in it. Ellison writes in the beginning of his book:


"I am an invisible man … I am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”


From the start, “Invisible Man” was a book that changed the way white Americans thought about black Americans. It also changed the way black Americans thought about themselves. And it caused major disputes among both black and white critics.

Black critics said the book was too difficult to read. One black critic said that the black man needed “Invisible Man” like he needed a knife in his back. Another black writer dismissed Ellison because Ellison demanded that writing skills must be learned before political ideas can be expressed.

Some white critics refused to accept a black writer who did not write from direct anger at whites. They seemed to want him not to write from his mind, but from the color of his skin. Yet the book continues to live long after most people have forgotten the disputes.



Ralph Ellison was born in nineteen fourteen, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father died when Ralph was three. His mother supported herself and her son by cleaning other people's houses.

She also supported her son's interest in music and writing. She would take home old music recordings and magazines from the houses where she worked. Ralph liked jazz, and played trumpet in his high school band. He dreamed of writing serious music.


In nineteen thirty-three, Ralph entered a black university, Tuskegee Institute, in the state of Alabama. He wanted to study music. He moved to New York City in nineteen thirty-six. He still planned to study music and art. However, that same year he ran out of money and could no longer attend school.

The nineteen thirties in America were difficult economic times. There were not many jobs to be found, and even fewer for black men. Ellison worked at many things. He shined people's shoes. He played trumpet in a jazz band. He worked for the Young Men's Christian Association. He worked in factories. He worked for a brief time taking pictures. Lack of money was an important reason for Ralph Ellison becoming a writer. He said:


"I have always read a lot, and I began to realize I had a certain talent for it. It was not easy to be the kind of musician I wanted to be: I did not have enough money to go to Juilliard [school of music]. So I stuck with what I had.”


In New York City, Ellison joined the Federal Writers Project. This was a program created during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency to keep writers employed at writing.

He met two important black writers, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. Wright soon would publish “Native Son,” the book that made him famous.

Later, during World War Two, Ellison served as a cook in the United States Merchant Marine. Merchant marine ships carried war supplies to American and allied soldiers. For Ellison, the war was a time of learning and trying to write.

He read books by the American writers T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner. And he read books by foreign writers like the Irish writer James Joyce.


Ralph Ellison's stories were first published during World War Two. When the war was over, he visited a friend in the state of Vermont. Ellison said:


"One day I wrote, 'I am an invisible man.’ I did not know what those words represented at the start, and I had no thought about what gave me the idea."

The book that started with those words took almost seven years to write.



Like many other novels, Ellison's story is a series of experiences as the storyteller learns to deal with life. Yet, unlike other novels, “Invisible Man” takes place in a dream-like atmosphere in the United States. It is a world where dreams come close to reality, and the real world looks like a frightening dream.

The man telling his story in “Invisible Man” lives in a hidden underground space. But to prove that he exists, at least to himself, he has lit his underground room with one thousand three hundred sixty-nine lights. They remain lit with power he has stolen from the electric company.

In much of Ellison's novel the person telling the story is a victim, usually of white people, but also of some blacks. He both loves and hates the world. He plans some day to leave his underground shelter. He says that as a man he is willing to believe that "even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all.”


The man telling the story says that as a boy, white men covered his eyes with a cloth. The white men tell the boy to blindly fight other black boys. The blacks are forced to fight each other to please whites.

At the end of the novel the story has moved from the American South to the North. There are riots in Harlem, the black area of New York City. Instead of ten black children fighting each other blindly, grown black men are battling each other to the death. Blacks still are having their strength turned upon themselves.



Critics said “Invisible Man” was well written. But some critics called this a weakness. They said the writing seemed to hide the book's ideas and make them less a product of black life.

One critic said that he found it difficult to call “Invisible Man” an African-American novel. He said that the main person in the book is a southern black man. But, the critic said, he is all of us, no matter where we were born or the color of our skin.


After “Invisible Man” was published in nineteen fifty-two, Ralph Ellison taught at a number of universities. He retired from New York University in nineteen eighty. While he was alive, he published only two other books. They were books of criticism and essays, called “Shadow and Act” and “Going to the Territory.”

Ralph Ellison died in nineteen ninety-four, at the age of eighty. After his death, a book of his stories, “Flying Home,” was published. Shortly before his death, Ellison had told someone that his second novel was almost finished. He had worked on the novel for forty years without finishing it.

Parts of the book had appeared in magazines during the nineteen sixties and seventies. Ellison had to rewrite the novel after a large part of it was burned in a fire at his home in nineteen sixty-seven. The novel was said to be two thousand pages long. Finally, his friend John Callahan put the book together after Ellison died. The novel was published in nineteen ninety-nine. It was called “Juneteenth.”


Since “Invisible Man” was published, many American writers have said how much Ellison influenced them.

In nineteen ninety, another black writer, Charles Johnson, was given the National Book Award. In receiving the prize, Johnson thanked Ralph Ellison for leading the way for black writers. Ellison was present at the ceremony. He thanked Johnson. Then he expressed his belief that black writers should not be influenced only by other black writers. He said:


"You do not write out of your skin. You write out of your ideas and the quality of your mind. "



This program was written by Richard Thorman and produced by Lawan Davis. Shep O’Neal read the part of Ralph Ellison and quotes from “Invisible Man.” I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shirley Horn: One of America's Greatest Jazz Singers.


I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA IN VOA Special English. Today we tell about jazz singer and pianist Shirley Horn.



Shirley Horn was considered one of the great jazz singers of the nineteen fifties and sixties. She was often compared to the famous singers Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. She performed for more than fifty years.

Shirley Horn's voice was smooth and expressive, but never hurried. She was one of the slowest singers in jazz. When she sang a song, she wanted the audience to feel it in the same way she did. She had a small voice. But her songs had a big effect.

Here, Shirley Horn sings her popular song "You're My Thrill."



Shirley Horn was born in Washington, D.C. in nineteen thirty-four. She lived all her life in and around Washington. Shirley began taking piano lessons when she was four years old. Her mother recognized her skill and love for the instrument.

Shirley Horn said most of the songs she performed were ones she grew up with. She said her family loved music and there was always music by the greatest singers and bands playing in her home. Horn said she lived for music. She said it was like food and water to her.

Shirley Horn studied classical music as a teenager. When she was seventeen, she had a chance to attend the famous Juilliard School in New York City. But financial difficulties prevented her from going. Instead, she studied classical music at Howard University in Washington.


Shirley Horn had planned to have a career playing classical music on the piano. But she said all that changed after she began going to jazz clubs in Washington. She said she was influenced by some of the greatest jazz artists, such as Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal.

When asked about her change from classical music to jazz, she would later say: "I loved Rachmaninoff, but then Oscar Peterson became my Rachmaninoff. And Ahmad Jamal became my Debussy."

Horn did not plan to be a singer. She said it happened by accident when she was seventeen and playing classical music on the piano at a restaurant. A man offered to give her a huge toy teddy bear if she would sing the song "Melancholy Baby." Although she had never sung in public before, she agreed. She later realized that she could make a living singing and playing jazz. Here she sings the famous song by Cole Porter, "Love for Sale."



In nineteen fifty-four, Shirley Horn began to sing jazz in clubs and started her own jazz group. In nineteen sixty, she recorded her first album, called "Embers and Ashes." The album did not get a lot of attention. But the famous jazz musician, Miles Davis, heard it. He liked it so much that he invited Horn to play music with him in New York City. She sang as the opening act before his performance at New York's Village Vanguard nightclub. Davis had refused to play unless the club owner let Horn sing. Shirley Horn and Miles Davis developed a close friendship over the years. Here she sings and he plays the trumpet on the song "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying."



Shirley Horn's performance with Miles Davis in New York led to a record deal with Mercury Records. She was soon performing around the United States. She also recorded with Quincy Jones and other top musicians. But Horn soon left Mercury Records because of creative differences. She wanted to play the piano on all her recordings, but the record company did not agree.

Shirley Horn stopped performing around the country in the nineteen sixties so she could spend more time at home with her husband and daughter. She played at local nightclubs in the Washington area during the nineteen sixties and seventies.


Shirley Horn rebuilt her career in the nineteen eighties. She began performing more widely at jazz festivals and concerts around the world and received strong praise. In nineteen eighty- seven, she signed a record deal with Verve Records and remained with the record company for the rest of her career.

In nineteen ninety, Horn reunited with her good friend and teacher, Miles Davis, on the song, "You Won't Forget Me." She went on to record several successful albums and performed around the world.

She also worked on several soundtracks for movies. Here are Shirley Horn and Miles Davis with "You Won't Forget Me."



Shirley Horn's album Shirley Horn was nominated for several Grammy Awards. In nineteen ninety-eight, she won the award for the album, "I Remember Miles," in memory of Miles Davis, who died in nineteen ninety-one. Horn received many honors during her career. But her last years were difficult. She had a series of health problems, including treatment for breast cancer. And in two thousand two, she had her foot removed because of problems caused by diabetes.

Shirley Horn continued to sing for audiences, but she did so in a chair, with someone else playing the piano. The loss of her foot made it difficult for her to work the pedals that control the way the piano sounds. However, during her last performances, she returned to playing the piano with the help of a device that took the place of her foot. In June of two thousand five, Horn suffered a stroke. She died four months later at the age of seventy-one.


Critics say Shirley Horn influenced many young jazz musicians of today, including Diana Krall and Norah Jones. Critics say she will be remembered as one of the best singers in a great period of American jazz. In two thousand five, Verve Records released a collection of her work, called "But Beautiful: The Best of Shirley Horn." We leave you now with a song from that album called "Here's to Life."



This program was written and produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm
Steve Ember. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Meaning of Thanksgiving. From Voice of America


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I'm Faith Lapidus. This Thursday is a day for families and friends to share a special holiday meal and think about what they are thankful for. This week on our program, we ask some people to share their favorite memories of Thanksgiving Day.



Special English reporters June Simms and Dana Demange talked to people about the holiday.

JIM OLDHAM: "My name is Jim Oldham and I'm from Nashville, Tennessee. I remember my father drove a bus and my mother was a waitress, and so we often didn't get to have Thanksgiving together. And I remember when I was about twelve, her work and his work permitted us all to do that. And we had brothers and sisters, and the traditional turkey and all the trimmings. We always had pumpkin pie, and if we were really lucky, a little bit of whipped cream on top. And it was just a wonderful day."

ANN GEIGER: "I'm Ann Geiger from Tucson, Arizona. Thanksgiving is special for our family because like so many families our adult children live around the country. And we usually get at least part of them together for Thanksgiving."

REPORTER: "And what is one of your fondest Thanksgiving Day memories?"

ANN GEIGER: "Oh, I think a recent Thanksgiving when my son and I had a turkey cook-off. He brined his turkey and I didn't brine mine. And we decided which one was the best."

REPORTER: "Who won?"

ANN GEIGER: "He did."


Brining is a way to prepare meat in a salt solution, whether for a competitive "cook-off" or just any meal. Traditionally the meat served on Thanksgiving is turkey. The bird is usually served with side dishes including a mixture known either as stuffing or dressing.

Many families also bring out their finest table settings -- the "good china" -- for Thanksgiving.

JOEL UPTON: "My name is Joel Upton. I'm from Livingston, Tennessee. Thanksgiving at my family was always a time when brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, we all got together. And someone would bring different dishes. Someone would bring the sweet potatoes. Someone would bring the meat. Someone would bring the dressing. And we would all sort of combine the efforts to have a family Thanksgiving dinner and bring out the good china for that particular event.

And Thanksgiving also, in my early days when I was a child, the kids would all get to play, maybe we hadn't seen each other for a while. The men would always watch a football game on TV. And Thanksgiving was just a really, really special time. And, of course, we had in mind the Pilgrims and what it was all about too. But it was a family time."



The Pilgrims first arrived in America in sixteen twenty. They were separatists from the Church of England and other settlers. The ship that brought the first group was the Mayflower.

An exploring party landed at Plymouth, in what became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The state is named after an American Indian tribe -- a recognition of the groups that came long before the Pilgrims.

The First Thanksgiving
The first Pilgrims established a village. Those who survived the first difficult years held harvest festivals and religious celebrations of thanksgiving. These events formed the basis of the holiday that Americans now celebrate.

But there are no official "rules" for a Thanksgiving meal. Some people like to find ways to do things a little differently.

BUTCH HUNSINGER: "Butch Hunsinger from Williamsport, Pennsylvania."

REPORTER: "The bird. What are you going to do differently this year?"

BUTCH HUNSINGER: "Try to shoot it myself, instead of go to the store to buy it. Go to the family cabin, and hunt on the family land and try to call in a turkey and fire away."

REPORTER: "And who's the better shot in the family?"

BUTCH: "Oh my son, by far."

REPORTER: "What about your worst Thanksgiving memory?"

BUTCH: "Worst…[Laughter] The worst was also the funnest, 'cause I got up early Thanksgiving day and we went to the Burwick Marathon, but it's a nine-mile road race. Just a crusher." [Laughter]

HUGUETTE MBELLA: "Hi, my name is Huguette Mbella. And I was born in Cameroon and grew up in France. And I live now in the United States in Washington, D.C. The whole concept of Thanksgiving was a little bit bizarre. In France, the main celebration is Christmas, not Thanksgiving."

REPORTER: "Can you think of one of your most fond Thanksgiving memories?"

HUGUETTE MBELLA: "I would say my first one. It was in New York. Suddenly the turkey comes on the table, and I was amazed by the size. It was huge! The first thing that came to my mind was actually that's a lot of food!"

ELIZABETH BRINKMAN: "My name is Elizabeth Brinkman and I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. It was always a day that my mother did all the cooking. And we had turkey and I got to chop the vegetables for the dressing. And we got out the good china."

GORDON GEIGER: "Gordon Geiger from Tucson, Arizona. We used to get together at my parents' house and all of my relatives would come over and we'd have a big dinner. And after dinner we would watch football games on the television.

I think it's probably really the most important holiday in the United States because it is a day that is not tied to a particular religion. It is not tied as much to commercial activities. It's more a reflection of the fact that we've had a good life and we appreciate it."



This Thanksgiving, Americans can be thankful that the Great Recession may be over. But the job market faces a long recovery. Unemployment is now above ten percent. And if the underemployed are added, the rate is seventeen and a half percent. The underemployed are people no longer searching for work or only able to find part time jobs.

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture released its "household food security" report for two thousand eight. The study found that families in seventeen million households had difficulty getting enough food at times during the year. That was almost fifteen percent -- up from eleven percent in two thousand seven. It was the highest level since the current surveys began in nineteen ninety-five.

The Agriculture Department says poverty is the main cause of food insecurity and hunger in the United States.

President Obama, in a statement, called the report unsettling. Especially troubling, he said, is that there were more than five hundred thousand families in which a child experienced hunger multiple times during the year.

He said the first task is to renew job growth, but added that his administration is taking other steps to prevent hunger. These include an increase in aid for people in the government's nutrition assistance program, commonly known as food stamps.



The Continental Congress wrote the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in seventeen seventy-seven, during the Revolutionary War. George Washington issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation in seventeen eighty-nine. Here is part of what he wrote.


Northern soldiers having Thanksgiving
dinner in their camp
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor -- and whereas both houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the twenty-sixth day of November next to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be ...


Sarah Josepha Hale was a magazine editor and writer who campaigned for a Thanksgiving holiday. That way, there would be "two great American national festivals," she said, the other being Independence Day on the Fourth of July.

In September of eighteen sixty-three, Sarah Josepha Hale appealed to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had made proclamations in the spring of eighteen sixty-two and sixty-three. But these gave thanks for victories in battle during the Civil War.

Then came another proclamation on October third, eighteen sixty-three. It gave more general thanks for the blessings of the year. This is part of what it said:


In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Abe Lincoln, praying
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. ...

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.


Lincoln's proclamation began a tradition. Presidents have issued Thanksgiving proclamations every year since eighteen sixty-three. All can be found on the Web site of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth.

In nineteen forty-one, Franklin Roosevelt was president. Roosevelt approved a resolution by Congress. It established, by law, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.


Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. A turkey "cook-off" is a ___________________________ .
a: race to see who can cook a turkey faster
b: a competition to see whose turkey tastes better
c: cooking turkey away from the house and in the yard
d: a competition to see which turkey is larger

2. The establishment by law of the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving day was accomplished under ______________________ .
a: The Continental Congress
b: Sarah Josepha Hale
c: Franklin Roosevelt
d: Abraham Lincoln

3. In two of the interviews, Thanksgiving dinner was followed by _____________________ .
a: hiking in the woods
b: a game of poker
c: watching football on TV
d: taking leftovers to relatives

4. Brining is ____________________________ .
a: baking mixed vegetables
b: preparing meat without using spices
c: preparing meat in a salt solution
d: preparing gravy

5. The tradition of issuing Thanksgiving proclamations was begun by ___________________ .
a: Abraham Lincoln
b: George Washington
c: Franklin Roosevelt
d: Thomas Jefferson

6. The Mayflower is a ship that brought the ____________ to America.
a: Pilgrims
b: Anglicans
c: Catholics
d: Puritains

7. When parents both have different work schedules, _________________ .
a: neither has time to eat
b: it's difficult to celebrate a holiday like Thanksgiving with the family
c: the turkey is easier to cook
d: the children have to take care of the trimmings

8. In 2009, President Obama found a __________________ unsettling.
a: report on unemployment
b: report on food security
c: report on turkey farming
d: report on the Great Recession

9. Originally, Thanksgiving was both a religious and _____________ festival.
a: an evening
b: an athletic
c: anniversary
d: harvest

10. Thanksgiving today is probably different from the time of the Pilgrims because _________________
a: the turkey probably tastes a lot better
b: it much more religious
c: it's not as religious
d: the Pilgrims didn't have turkey

This is a very nice video of the First Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jane Goodall: Still Hard at Work for the Chimps. Voice of America.


I'm Doug Johnson.


And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Jane Goodall is one of the most well known scientists in the world. She has spent most of her career studying wild chimpanzees in a protected area of Tanzania called Gombe National Park. Over the past fifty years, she has made very important discoveries about the social behavior of chimpanzees.

Today, Ms. Goodall spends most of her time traveling around the world speaking about wildlife protection and working to build support for her foundation. She recently wrote a book about endangered animals.



Ever since she was a child growing up in England, Jane Goodall dreamed of working with wild animals.

JANE GOODALL: "As long as I can remember, it was animals, animals. Even before I could talk, I was watching earthworms and things, reading Doctor Doolittle books, wanting to learn the language of animals. Then finding the books about Tarzan, falling in love with Tarzan."

When she was about eleven years old, she decided that she wanted to go to Africa to live with and write about animals. But this was not the kind of thing young women growing up in the nineteen forties usually did.

JANE GOODALL: "Apart from my mother, everybody laughing, she would say if you really want something, you work hard, you take advantage of opportunity, you never give up, you find a way. So, eventually a school friend invited me to Africa."


In nineteen fifty-seven, Jane Goodall traveled to Africa. She soon met the well-known scientist Louis Leakey and began working for him as an assistant. He later asked her to study a group of chimpanzees living by a lake in Tanzania. Very little was known about wild chimpanzees at the time. Mister Leakey believed that learning more about these animals could help explain the evolutionary past of humans.

JANE GOODALL: "That led to this extraordinary opportunity to study, not just any animal, but chimpanzees. I wouldn't have aspired to that. I mean, I had no degree. I wasn't qualified, I thought. He thought differently."


Louis Leakey thought Jane Goodall would be a perfect candidate for the job. She had spent much of her time reading and writing about animals. And, she was not a trained biologist. He believed this would keep her mind open to new discoveries.

Observing chimps was not easy work. They were very shy and would run away whenever Miz Goodall came near. She learned to watch them from far away using binoculars. Over time, she slowly gained their trust. She gave the chimps human names such as David Graybeard, Flo and Fifi.


Giving the chimps human names was a very unusual method. Most researchers would have identified the animals using numbers instead of names. But Miz Goodall believed that to understand animal behavior, the observer had to see the animals as individuals, not as interchangeable objects. Watching the chimps, she learned that they have very different personalities, with complex family and social relationships.

They ate vegetables and fruits. But she observed that they were also meat eaters and skilled hunters. A few weeks later, she made an even more surprising discovery. She saw chimps making and using tools to help them trap insects.

JANE GOODALL: "I suppose the first really significant thing that the world heard about was chimpanzees using and making tools. It was thought that only humans did this and that this set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom."


Jane Goodall wrote Louis Leakey to tell him about her discovery. He responded by saying: "Now we must redefine 'tool', redefine 'man', or accept chimpanzees as human."

Up to this point, Jane Goodall still did not have a degree. She returned to England to begin working towards a doctorate in animal behavioral science. She received her degree from Cambridge University in nineteen sixty-five.



Jane Goodall spent many years studying chimps in this area of Tanzania. Today, the research program at Gombe represents one of the longest continuous wildlife studies in the world.

Miz Goodall has written many books for adults and children about wild chimpanzees. Her scientific research was published in the book "The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior."

It explains her discoveries about chimp behavior, including the extremely close relationship between mother and child. She describes the chimps' intelligence, their hunting activities and their sometimes extremely aggressive behavior.


Although she has spent her life trying to protect chimps in their natural environment, these animals are still very much in danger. Miz Goodall says when she began working in Tanzania, there were between one and two million chimps in the wild. Today, she says there are about three hundred thousand at the most.

JANE GOODALL: "It's different in different countries. Chimps are in twenty-one nations. In countries like Tanzania, it's simply habitat destruction. But when we come to where the large significant populations are, which is the Congo basin, then we find that it's the bush meat trade that's the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. And, it's made possible by the logging companies, foreign logging companies, opening up the forest with roads."


The destruction of the chimp's natural environment led Ms. Goodall to give her full attention to protection efforts. She spends about three hundred days out of the year traveling around the world to discuss her many projects and goals. She talks about the efforts of the Jane Goodall Institute which she started in nineteen seventy-seven. Its aim is to increase public understanding of great apes through research, education, and activism.

The group teaches local communities how to manage their resources in ways that help them economically and protect the environment. It also has a sanctuary where baby chimps whose parents have been killed by hunters can receive treatment and protection.


The Institute's "Roots and Shoots" program is aimed at getting young people interested in environmental activism and leadership. The group has helped connect young people who are interested in working to save animals and the environment.

JANE GOODALL: "Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world can break through and make this a better world for all living things. Main message? Each one of us makes a difference every single day we impact the world around us and if we would just think about the consequences of the little choices we make -- what we eat, wear, buy, how we interact with people, animals, the environment --then we start making small changes and that can lead to the huge change that we must have."



Jane Goodall's most recent book is called "Hope for Animals and Their World." It tells about efforts to save several species of endangered animals.

JANE GOODALL: "I think the one story that inspired this book was meeting a wonderful man called Don Mertin in New Zealand and he explaining to me how he had saved a species of bird called a Black Robin when there were just seven individuals left in the world of which only two were female and only one of whom was fertile."


Some of the species Ms. Goodall discusses in the book have completely disappeared in the wild, and are only alive because they have been bred in captivity.

The California condor is another such example. This huge bird used to live along the West Coast of North America. By the nineteen eighties, there were only a few condors left in the wild. In a disputed decision, officials took the wild condors into captivity so that their breeding could be supervised and protected. The goal of such programs is to later place the species back into the wild. But preparing the captive bred condors to live in the wild again has not been easy. Threats the condors face in the wild include lead poisoning and mistaking trash for food.


Other species in the book still exist in the wild, but are endangered. One example Jane Goodall discusses is the Golden Lion Tamarin. She tells about the hard work of a group of researchers who have successfully released these monkeys back into protected areas of Brazil. Her book shows what is possible when people come together to work cooperatively to save animals.


Jane Goodall has said that it is often easy to feel upset about the destruction of the natural world. But her overall message has always been one of hope.

She says her hope comes from her belief in four things: the human brain, the human spirit, nature's strength and the energy of young people. She says people are starting to use their minds to solve the world's many problems and make wiser and more responsible choices. And, she believes in the strength of the human spirit which allows people to reach goals which might otherwise seem impossible.



This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Doug Johnson. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Walter Cronkite, a Great TV Newsman - Voice of America


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

WALTER CRONKITE: "And that's the way it is ... "


For almost twenty years, that was how Walter Cronkite would end his newscasts. Americans all knew him. So did many world leaders. Today's news anchors could only hope for such recognition. He was often called the most trusted man in America.

He anchored the "CBS Evening News" until nineteen eighty-one. The sixties and seventies produced more than enough stories to fill a daily newscast. Those were years of social change and civil rights protests.

Years that saw John Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King all murdered; the war in Southeast Asia expand; a president resign. Years of worry that the same rockets that could take people to the moon could also bring nuclear war to Earth.

And years when most of us still thought of a "mouse" as a small creature. Yet smart minds were thinking up the technology behind today's computers and the Internet.


Walter Cronkite brought it all home each evening, Monday through Friday. As President Barack Obama said in a statement: "He was there through wars and riots, marches and milestones, calmly telling us what we needed to know."

And when the anchorman was not in front of the camera, there was a good chance he was on his boat. He went sailing up until almost his final days. He died on July seventeenth, two thousand nine, at the age of ninety-two.



Walter Cronkite was born on November fourth, nineteen sixteen, in Saint Joseph, Missouri. His father was a dentist, his mother a housewife.

With young Walter, the family moved from the Midwest to Texas. He worked on his high school newspaper and later left the University of Texas at Austin to become a journalist. He was a newspaper and radio reporter and sports announcer.

In nineteen forty he married Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, known as Betsy. They had three children and were together for nearly sixty-five years, until Betsy died in two thousand five.


As a young reporter, Walter Cronkite covered World War Two. He worked for United Press, the wire service which later became United Press International.

He landed in Holland with American soldiers in a glider. And he was in a military plane overhead as Allied forces stormed the beach at Normandy, France. It was June sixth, nineteen forty-four, the start of the Allied invasion of Europe, the final push to defeat Nazi Germany.

Later, Walter Cronkite reported on the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany.


One day during the war, the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow offered him a job. It was a chance to report for a major television network, CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Yet TV was still young then. Walter Cronkite decided to stay where he was. United Press raised his pay and later made him its chief in Moscow. But in nineteen fifty he accepted another offer and went to work for CBS.

One of his early programs was a history show where he questioned actors playing people like Aristotle and Joan of Arc. But he was a serious newsman, and in nineteen fifty-two he led CBS' coverage of the national political conventions. They were the first to be televised coast to coast.


Ten years later, on April sixteenth, nineteen sixty-two, he became anchor of the "CBS Evening News."

The program was only fifteen minutes long then. It took him two years to get his wish to extend it to thirty minutes. He also became managing editor, which expanded his influence over the program.

WALTER CRONKITE: "I participate very directly in the entire process -- in the decision of what stories we cover, in the decision on how we're covering them, what length of time we're going to give to them. It's a continuing process. I write part of the broadcast. Every bit of copy that goes on the broadcast passes through my hands. I edit every word that I say, I say no words that have not gone through my hand, many of them my own."

Walter Cronkite met some of the most important people of his time. This was the time of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In one interview, though, he asked President John F. Kennedy about another conflict that was growing then.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Mister President, the only hot war we've got running at the moment is the one in Vietnam."

JOHN KENNEDY: "I don't think that, uh, unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support, that the war can be won out there."


Americans would come to find truth in Kennedy's words. But, just two months after that interview, shots were fired at his open-top car. As we will hear later, Walter Cronkite had the sad duty of reporting that the young president was dead.

Happier moments came as he reported on the American space program. In July of nineteen sixty-nine he was almost speechless when Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Oh, boy! Whew! Boy!"


Walter Cronkite rarely expressed his own opinions. That was not a reporter's job. But in the late sixties he went to report on the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers kept telling Americans that the United States was making progress. Walter Cronkite went to see for himself. Then, in a commentary in February of nineteen sixty-eight, he said the war seemed unwinnable.

WALTER CRONKITE: "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate."

Some people denounced him and questioned his loyalty. Others praised him for "speaking truth to power," as some might say.

Several weeks later, Lyndon Johnson surprised Americans and announced that he would not seek re-election. The unpopular war had cost him support.


It was Richard Nixon who brought home most of the troops before South Vietnam fell to the north in nineteen seventy-five. But it was also Nixon who became the first and only American president to resign. Americans learned from the press that there was political corruption in his administration.

Night after night, millions turned to Walter Cronkite for the latest developments. There were other anchors and other networks. But people thought of him like family -- "Uncle Walter."

He anchored the "CBS Evening News" for nineteen years. He was sixty-four when he stepped down on March sixth, nineteen eighty-one. But he explained that he was not leaving the network.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is. Friday, March sixth, nineteen eighty-one."


Now, Steve Ember looks back with a personal story about Walter Cronkite.


I remember the afternoon of November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three. I was a first-year student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and was relaxing between classes at the student union building. A TV was on. My eyes were elsewhere, but my ear was caught by the unmistakable voice of Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: "A bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."

The first bulletins coming in from Dallas were read by Cronkite over the CBS News "bulletin" slide.

WALTER CRONKITE: "More details just arrived. President Kennedy shot today, just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Missus Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mister Kennedy. She called 'Oh, no!'"

Before long, though, there were pictures, with Cronkite at his desk in the CBS newsroom in New York.

For so many of us, the presidency of J.F.K. represented a time of promise. "This could not be happening" was the sentiment expressed as a growing crowd gathered around that black-and-white TV set. And Walter Cronkite, in measured tones, informed us that yes it was.

What I'll always remember was seeing him, about an hour later, momentarily take off his thick dark rimmed glasses, and announce:

WALTER CRONKITE: "From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at one p.m. Central Standard Time, two o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago."

You could see the flash of emotion as Cronkite removed and replaced his glasses and regained his composure.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the thirty-sixth president of the United States."

But going beyond this trusted anchor's solid presence in delivering such news, you have to know something about television news in that era. There wasn't the clutter of crawls, flashing graphics or other moving "stuff" that we see today.

There was Walter Cronkite in shirtsleeves, with a microphone in front of him. That was it -- nothing to distract the senses from the message. It was up close, and very personal.

It was not long after the Kennedy assassination that I actually got to meet Mister Cronkite. He was anchoring live coverage of the nineteen sixty-four Maryland Democratic primary election, originating in Baltimore.

I was hired in a minor role on the CBS production team for that night's broadcast. I can't say I remember all that much about the experience, other than it being very fast-paced.

But what I do remember was, at the end of that long, continuous coverage -- it must have been about two a.m. -- Cronkite sat down briefly with us production functionaries to chat.

I could not begin to tell you what we spoke about. It was enough to be in the presence of this great anchor I so admired, and to realize he was not above having a beer at the end of a very long broadcast with low-level support people.

That was the sort of thing that made a young man with broadcasting stars in his eyes ... glow in the dark. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Dana Demange. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.