Author Nicholas Basbanes on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow & the Spirit of American Poetry — The Learning Curve

This podcast was originally published on the The Learning Curve.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Nicholas Basbanes, author of the 2020 literary biography, Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He shares why poetry – from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer to Dante, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes – may well be the most influential, enduring form of written human expression. He then provides brief highlights of Longfellow’s life, and why he was often regarded as the most popular and recognizable “fireside poet” New England has ever produced. They discuss the tragic death of his second wife Frances Appleton in 1861, and his lasting importance as among our nation’s most celebrated poets, literary figures, and translators of Dante. They review Longfellow’s well-known poems, including “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” recited by countless generations of schoolchildren, and their wider cultural impact on interest in poetry in American schools. They also discuss Longfellow’s 1842 anti-slavery work, Poems on Slavery, and his close friendship with abolitionists such as U.S. Senator Charles Sumner; as well as other notable works such as “Evangeline,” and “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” that celebrate religious liberty and inclusiveness. Basbanes concludes with a reading from his Longfellow biography.

Stories of the Week: Many state education officials are seeking guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on how to meet the accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act after COVID-related testing disruptions. In Utah, student achievement on state assessments has declined across all grades, subject areas, and student groups in 2021 compared to 2019 (tests were not administered during 2020).

Guest:

Nicholas Basbanes is the author of ten critically acclaimed works of cultural history, with a particular emphasis on various aspects of books and book culture. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, his first book, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction in 1995, and was a New York Times Notable Book. On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History (2013) was one of three finalists for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and was named a best book of the year by seven major publications. In 2016, he was awarded a Public Scholar research fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities, his second NEH grant, for work on Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (2020). As Christoph Irmscher wrote in his The Wall Street Journal review, it’s “Inspired … superbly sympathetic… Longfellow is the perfect poet for our current moment… Basbanes writes about him with generosity, gentleness, and grace.”

The next episode will air on Wednesday, December 1st with guest, Matthew Chingos, who directs the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect student performance? Utah data is ‘sobering and concerning’

 https://www.deseret.com/utah/2021/11/18/22789484/how-did-the-covid-19-pandemic-affect-students-test-scores-utah-data-is-sobering-concerning-schools

States Look to Ed Department for Guidance on Restarting Testing and Accountability After Two Years of Pandemic-Related Interruptions

https://www.the74million.org/states-look-to-ed-department-for-guidance-on-restarting-testing-and-accountability-after-two-years-of-pandemic-related-interruptions/

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