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.