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American Literature — 20th Century
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Moyers & Company [electronic resource]: The Power Behind Poetry

In this edition of Moyers & Company, Martín Espada talks to Bill about the power of poetry and reads from his works including "The Poet's Son Watches His Father Leave for Another Gig," "The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám," and "Blessed Be the Truth-Tellers." Over the course of their conversation, Espada describes the sacrifices artists - particularly those who are parents - sometimes need to make and what drives him to both poetry and activism. In addition, an essay is included on what money and influence will buy you in Washington.

Moyers & Company [electronic resource]: MLK's Dream of Economic Justice

Martin Luther King had long known that racial equality was inextricably linked to economic equity-fairness for all, including working people and the poor. In the last year of his life, Dr. King announced the Poor People's Campaign to demand an "economic bill of rights" for all Americans, regardless of color. But nearly a half-century later, that dream is still a dream deferred. In this edition of Moyers & Company, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch and author and theologian James Cone join Bill to discuss Dr. King's vision of economic justice...and why so little has changed for America's most oppressed. Also on the show, poet Kyle Dargan, whose poetry provides a window into the humanity that Branch and Cone say is essential to get people working towards justice, visits Bi [...]

Moyers & Company [electronic resource]: Living Outside Tribal Lines

In this edition of Moyers & Company, Bill is joined by writer Sherman Alexie. Born on a Native American reservation, Alexie has been navigating the boundaries of American culture in lauded poetry, novels, short stories, screenplays, and even stand-up comedy for more than two decades. Alexie discusses the challenges of living in different cultures at the same time-"I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian," he tells Bill-and shares his irreverent perspective on contemporary American life.

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles [electronic resource]

The genre of the hard-boiled detective story, which is Raymond Chandler's contribution to the history of American literature, was derived from his observations of life in Los Angeles during the 1930s. Using period newsreels and clips from feature films made from his stories, this program shows the excesses of a frontier town shedding conscience in pursuit of possessions-the crime and corruption that provided the backdrop and inspiration for Chandler's work.

The Last Poets [electronic resource]: Made in Amerikkka

Woven into the roots of hip-hop, slam poetry, and other socially conscious forms of expression is the seminal work of the Last Poets, a confederation of musicians and spoken-word artists who began performing together in 1968. This film documents a 2011 concert and recording session in which the Poets reintroduce some of their best known compositions, displaying as much energy and passion as when they first took on the mantle of Black Power advocacy. Mingling the performance sequences with lyrics splashed across the screen in urban-cool graphics, the program also features a vivid parade of talking-head discussions that take viewers from the group's origins and the formative experiences of its individual members to the heady atmosphere of today's hip-hop scene. In the latter, the Last [...]

William S. Burroughs [electronic resource]: Commissioner of Sewers

Rarely seen interviews with William S. Burroughs are presented here along with other archival material, including images of his paintings, clips of his film cameos - in Muscha's Decoder and Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy and Thanksgiving Prayer - and footage from his last European reading in Berlin on May 9, 1986. The result is a witty and intriguing portrait of the man described by Norman Mailer as "the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.

West Coast Beat and Beyond [electronic resource]

San Francisco's bohemian history was already renowned - and then intensely amplified when the 1950s creative renaissance came on the scene. The most significant influences of this movement were Beat figures Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Filmed on location in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, and at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, this film is a tribute to the ongoing vision of America's renegade minds - and a salute to the visionary power of Jack Kerouac. Narrated by Kerouac's biographer Gerald Nicosia.

The Emperor Jones [electronic resource]

This 1933 adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play features the great Paul Robeson in what many consider to be his finest performance on screen. Also starring Dudley Digges and Frank H. Wilson.

The Forgotten Village [electronic resource]

The screenplay of this 1941 docudrama was written by John Steinbeck himself. The film focuses on the life of a family in a small Mexican town. The son, Juan Diego, is introduced to concepts of modern medicine by an idealistic teacher. When disease strikes, Juan Diego struggles to overcome local superstition and help save the townspeople. Burgess Meredith is the narrator.

The Wizard of Oz [electronic resource]

This 1925 comic adaption of L. Frank Baum's fantasy novel is not the famous musical starring Judy Garland, but rather a far stranger, silent version, featuring, among others, the comedian Oliver Hardy. Also starring Dorothy Dwan, Charles Murray, and Larry Semon (as the Scarecrow).

White Fang [electronic resource]

This 1973 adaptation of Jack London's classic novel follows the adventures of the half-wolf White Fang as he helps a reporter and a young boy clean up a wild town in the Yukon.

Hardcastle Crags [electronic resource]: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's breathtaking modern verse, radically feminine perspective and anatomization of her depression and journey to suicide brought a whole new readership to poetry. 'Hardcastle Crags' and 'The Great Carbuncle,' set on the moor above Heptonstall, the Yorkshire town where she is now buried, are representative of work addressing an adopted landscape when she was newly married to Ted Hughes. The film explores Plath's visits to Hughes's family and events that engendered this bleak take on her relationship. It also uses Plath to springboard across the valley to the real and fictional 'Wuthering Heights' and into Emily Bronte's verse on the same landscape.

Edward Albee [electronic resource]

This program looks back and explores the work of Edward Albee, from 1962's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to 1994's Pulitzer Prize - winning drama Three Tall Women. Albee himself talks about the influence of his unusual childhood upon his work, his years in Greenwich Village, and his method of writing. In particular, he discusses a central theme in his work, the essential stripping away of illusion and self-delusion in order to live the extraordinary experience of life to the full. Fellow playwright John Guare and New York Times critic Frank Rich discuss Albee's particular style and legacy. The program also contains extracts from the stage version of Three Tall Women; from the film versions of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and A Delicate [...]

Amiri Baraka [electronic resource]: A Conversation With Maya Angelou

In this program, Maya Angelou interviews poet, playwright, and political activist Amiri Baraka, formerly known as Leroi Jones. Stressing the use of concrete images of time, place, and social condition in his work, Baraka discusses the use of literature as a catalyst for political change. Reading from his poem "Funk Lore," Baraka explains how he uses jazz and blues rhythms to create metric "melody" within his poems.

Jack Kerouac [electronic resource]

Jack Kerouac, cult writer of the Beat generation, remains an American icon. This documentary focuses on the creative pinnacle of his life-63 days spent as a fire warden on Desolation Peak in Washington State. Examining the time through photos and the commentary of those who knew him, the program illuminates Kerouac's previous work, while prefiguring his later spiral into alcoholism. This is a moving film essay on the unfulfilled ambitions of one of America's great avant-garde literary figures.

John Updike [electronic resource]: In His Own Words

This is a rare glimpse into the literary psyche of one of America's premier novelists, who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. In the only writers' workshop Updike has ever conducted, the author explores his beginnings as a writer, and offers his unique perception of the writing process-including his insistence that "most of the best fiction is written out of early impressions." Workshop sessions are blended with exclusive interviews in which Updike talks about his Pennsylvania roots, and reads aloud from his own works. Printed on-screen selections from specific titles emphasize given topics.

Allen Ginsberg [electronic resource]

Videotaped shortly before his death, this interview gives an intimate overview of Ginsberg's work and of the Beat literary movement. Ginsberg begins by retelling the story of the famous 1955 San Francisco poetry reading, where three key themes of the Beat movement-candor in thought and language, spirituality, and environmentalism-were uncovered for the first time. Ginsberg reads from three of his poems, including "Kaddish," his masterpiece, and tells of his friendship with Jack Kerouac. Although this program has been edited for classroom use, instructors should preview it because of sexual references.

Witness [electronic resource]: The Ecological Poetry of W. S. Merwin

In the grand tradition of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman, William S. Merwin is considered one of America's most prominent environmental poets. In interviews conducted at his home in Hawaii, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet discusses his relationship with nature as the inspiration for his work, and the responsibility he bears as eloquent spokesman for the natural world. We see Merwin living simply in a cabin by the sea, dividing his time between writing and tending his gardens. His work in the area of conservation, particularly in preserving Hawaii's rain forest, is reflected in readings by Merwin from major works, including "A Mask for Janus," "The Lice," "The Carrier of Ladders," "The Rain in the Trees," "The Vixen," and "Lament for the Makers." This is a probing and insightful portra [...]

Alice Walker [electronic resource]: Possessing the Secret of Joy

Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker has been a standard bearer for the civil rights and women's movements since the early 1960s. In this classic interview, the womanist writer discusses her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, in which protagonist Tashi attempts to preserve her tribal heritage by undergoing traditional female genital mutilation-still a common practice in Africa today. Archival footage, dramatized scenes from the book, and additional interviews with Gloria Steinem; Barbara Christian, Professor of African-American Studies at Berkeley University; and others shed light on Alice Walker's career and issues of womanhood worldwide, while Ms. Walker examines the influence of people and events on her life.

Ralph Ellison's Legacy [electronic resource]

In 1952 an unknown African-American writer caught the nation's attention with his very first book, which begins, "I am an invisible man." In this program, NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth examines Ralph Ellison's legacy on the novel occasion of the publication of Juneteenth, left unfinished at the time of his death. Ellison's literary executor John Callahan and Professor Charles Johnson a winner, like Ellison, of The National Book Award consider the man behind the fame and the impact of the posthumous novel on Ellison's literary reputation, first established by Invisible Man.