Also: A question from Bosnia about Sinclair Lewis. And music by Stevie Wonder.
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week ...
A show about prizes, awards, honors -- and about some people who have won them recently.
Plus, the answer to a listener question about an American Nobel laureate from many years ago.
National Women's Hall of Fame
40 years ago, the community of Seneca Falls, New York, decided to create a hall of fame for women. The town was the birthplace of the women's rights movement. Shirley Griffith tells about the National Women's Hall of Fame and some of its new members.
In 1848, 300 women and men gathered in Seneca Falls for the first Women's Rights Convention. Among them were feminist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.
The delegates passed a declaration calling for voting rights for women, among other demands. 72 years later the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution gave women the right to vote.
In 1969, the people of Seneca Falls wanted to honor the women who took part in the struggle. So they established the National Women's Hall of Fame. 10 years later, the group had raised enough money to buy a historic bank building to house the Hall of Fame.
There are more than two hundred women in the National Women's Hall of Fame today. They include teachers, doctors, artists and athletes. There are also pilots, social activists, comedians, politicians, poets and builders.
The National Women's Hall of Fame announced ten new members on March second to honor National Women's History Month. They will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in October.
One of them is Louise Bourgeois, a 97 year old artist in New York City. Her best known works are huge sculptures of spiders. Her art has been exhibited in major museum collections around the world.
Another new member of the Hall of Fame has been fighting to help victims of abuse for more than 30 years. Susan Kelly-Dreiss grew up in a violent home. She started her career by helping to set up a shelter for abused women. Later she helped gain passage of the first law against domestic violence in the state of Pennsylvania. Now, Miz Kelly-Dreiss works on the issue at the national level.
Susan Solomon is an international leader in atmospheric science. She developed the theory explaining how and why the ozone hole happens over Antarctica. She also got some of the first chemical measurements that showed man-made chlorofluorocarbons caused the hole. Miz Solomon served as one of the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This group shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former American Vice President Al Gore in 2007.
Other new members include Emma Lazarus, the great 19th century Jewish poet. Her famous poem is on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Scientist Mildred Cohen also will be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her biological research has won many awards including a National Medal of Science.
Sinclair Lewis and the Nobel Prize
Our listener question this week comes from Bosnia. Danijel Djordjic wants to know who was the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
That prize was awarded to Sinclair Lewis in nineteen thirty. Lewis wrote novels, plays and short stories. He was honored for his art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new kinds of characters.
Sinclair Lewis' novels are darkly funny examinations of American society and culture. "Main Street," from 1920, tells about the conflict and cooperation among people in a small town and the rural community around it. The Nobel Prize committee said the book provides one of the best descriptions of small town life ever written.
"Babbitt," from 1922, humorously criticizes America's desire for goods and its sales industry. The Nobel committee called George Babbitt the popular hero of the American middle class.
Sinclair Lewis' novel "Elmer Gantry" is about a Christian clergyman who does not obey the morals he professes. He uses religion to get women and make himself rich. The Nobel committee said the book "is like a surgical operation on one of the most delicate parts of the social body."
These books were hugely popular. One hundred eighty thousand copies of "Main Street" were sold in the first 6 months after it was published. Millions more were sold in the years that followed. However, the way the writer presented Americans and their values angered some American religious leaders and literary critics.
Sinclair Lewis discussed this criticism in the speech he gave when accepting the Nobel Prize. He said most American writers and readers were "still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues." But, he also said he had "every hope and eager belief" for the future of American literature. He named many young American writers at the time who he said were working without fear of the critic. He said these writers were true to themselves in their work and were full of passion for it.
Stevie Wonder and the Gershwin Prize
Last month, President Obama presented Stevie Wonder the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The celebration of Stevie Wonder's music was held at the White House. Katherine Cole has more.
President Obama and his wife have been fans of Stevie Wonder's music since they were very young. In fact, Mister Obama told the gathering that Michelle probably would not have dated him if they had not agreed on Stevie Wonder.
The musician has been writing, singing, and playing music almost all his life. He was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950 and became blind shortly after birth. His family moved to Detroit when he was three. He learned to play harmonica, drums and piano at a very young age. Stevie first sang in church.
He was signed by Motown Records and began his recording career at age twelve as "little Stevie Wonder." Here is "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," a hit from his late teenage years.
Many musical stars came out to celebrate Stevie Wonder and perform his music at a special concert at the White House on February 25th. Among them were jazz musician Diana Krall, who sang "Blame It On the Sun." Hip-hop artist will.i.am performed "Master Blaster (Jammin')." Paul Simon, who won the first Gershwin Prize in 2007, performed "If It's Magic." Here is Stevie Wonder with that same song from 1976.
The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is named for the songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin. It honors an American composer or performer. The Librarian of Congress James Billington said Stevie Wonder has crossed musical and cultural borders and given to humanity in ways far beyond entertainment.
We leave you with Stevie Wonder performing "Superstition," from his 1972 album "Talking Book."
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.