HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:
We play a new kind of music that combines traditional Jewish beliefs with reggae …
Answer a question about a famous American bridge …
And report about the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Writing Award.
American writer E. L. Doctorow will officially receive an important writing award in May. The PEN/Faulkner Foundation recently announced that he won its fiction award for two thousand six. The PEN/Faulkner award is the largest writing award in the country that is judged by other writers. Barbara Klein tells us more.
BARBARA KLEIN: E.L. Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner award for his book “The March.” He created his novel from historical events that took place during the American Civil War between the Union and the rebellious southern states in the eighteen sixties.
The book is about a Civil War military campaign led by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. His troops marched through the southern states of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina on the way to winning the war for the Union. The book describes how this march affected the lives of soldiers from both sides as well as freed slaves and other civilians.
Doctorow says he got the idea for the book after reading a soldier’s memories of the march. The actions of the troops under Sherman’s command were extremely destructive. They killed civilians, seized and destroyed property and even killed farm animals in the fields.
The PEN/Faulkner prize committee awarded Doctorow fifteen thousand dollars. One judge on the committee said “The March” was one of the best books yet written by the seventy-five year old Doctorow.
This is the second PEN/Faulkner fiction prize for E.L. Doctorow. He was honored for his book “Billy Bathgate” in nineteen ninety. Doctorow also wrote the popular novel “Ragtime” and several other books.
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation honored four other novels. The writers will each receive five thousand dollars. William Henry Lewis wrote “I Got Somebody in Staunton.” His story collection examines the lives of African-Americans. Karen Fisher’s first book, “A Sudden Country,” tells about people moving to the western United States in the nineteenth century.
Bruce Wagner wrote “The Chrysanthemum Palace” about the film industry in Hollywood, California. And James Salter’s story collection “Last Night” tells about failed relationships.
Golden Gate Bridge
HOST: Our VOA listener question this week comes from Laos. Vilasith Phonepadith asks about the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
The Golden Gate Bridge has been called one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. It
is also one of the most visited places in the world. Experts say about nine million people visit the bridge each year. They say more than one thousand million vehicles have used the bridge since it opened almost seventy years ago.
The bridge has always been painted the color called “International Orange.” The color was chosen because it went well with the natural surroundings. It also is easier to see in the heavy fog that often covers the area.
But the Golden Gate Bridge was not named for its orange color. It was named for the body of water that it crosses, the Golden Gate Strait. The Golden Gate Strait is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge links the city of San Francisco with Marin County, California.
Planning for the bridge began in the nineteen twenties when the area around San Francisco was growing. People living in the area needed another way to get to the city besides the small ferry boats.
The chief engineer for the project was Joseph Strauss. Work began in nineteen thirty-three. Mister Strauss demanded the strongest safety protections in the history of bridge building. These protections included the first use of the hard hat and special glasses to protect the workers’ eyes. A special safety net was suspended under the bridge. This net saved the lives of nineteen men during the construction. Still, eleven others were killed when they fell from the bridge through the net.
The Golden Gate Bridge opened in nineteen thirty-seven. It extends one thousand two hundred eighty meters across the water. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world until nineteen sixty-four. That is when the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened in New York City.
Joseph Strauss wrote a poem called “The Mighty Task is Done” after the Golden Gate bridge was completed. Here is how the poem begins:
At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
Not many musicians are popular with both reggae music listeners and Jewish religious leaders. But the singer known as Matisyahu [ma-tees-YA-hoo] combines his musical and religious interests. Matisyahu is influenced by his traditional Hasidic Jewish beliefs and his love of reggae. He has created a very new and exciting kind of musical mixture. Faith Lapidus tells us more.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Matisyahu was born Matthew Miller in West Chester, Pennsylvania in nineteen seventy-nine. As a teenager he started to sense a spiritual emptiness in his life.
Matthew began to explore his religious roots and beliefs. A trip to Israel helped him more fully explore his Jewish identity. He soon dropped out of high school to attend a special nature school in Oregon. There, he started studying music and performing reggae and hip-hop songs.
Here is the song “Lord Raise Me Up” from his album called “Live at Stubb’s.”
When Matthew returned to his home in New York City, he started college. He also continued his spiritual search. He began to understand the magical role of song in Hasidic Judaism. He talked with Jewish religious leaders. He changed his name to Matisyahu. He decided to follow a Hasidic lifestyle and live according to Jewish Law. His religious community gives him a sense of spiritual and mental fullness. And he can also continue his role as a musician.
Here is the song “Refuge. Matisyahu sings about the important role of a good and strong leader.
We leave you with “King Without a Crown.” This song has recently become a top forty hit in the United States. Soon, listeners can enjoy new songs by Matisyahu. He will release a new album this month.
HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
Our show was written by Dana Demange, Nancy Steinbach and Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was the producer.
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.