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Maira Kalman and Her New book, "And the Pursuit of Happiness."


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson.

This week we answer a question about furniture in American homes.

We also play some music nominated for Grammy Awards.

But first, we tell about artist and writer Maira Kalman and her new book, "And the Pursuit of Happiness."

MAIRA KALMAN

Maira Kalman is a writer and artist who combines these two skills in her many books and magazine articles. She has written twelve books for children as well as several for adults. Her colorful drawings and the writing that goes with them are imaginative, playful and thoughtful. Her most recent book is "And the Pursuit of Happiness."  It tells about her year-long observation of American democracy through its history, culture, and people. Pat Bodnar has more.

PAT BODNAR:

"And the Pursuit of Happiness" began as a monthly column in the Opinion section of the New York Times. Maira Kalman said she was not at all interested in politics. But she decided to tell about political changes in the United States from the point of view of someone who had never investigated the subject.

The story would begin with President Obama's inauguration. It would be about asking questions and learning about American democracy, politics, history and culture. Ms. Kalman said studying this subject had a surprising result.

MAIRA KALMAN: "What happened was, I fell in love. I fell in love with the country in a way that I never had. And I fell in love with every single person in the country, which is a big job."

"And the Pursuit of Happiness" takes place over twelve months. Ms. Kalman studies the men who helped create American democracy, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. She visits national museums, presidential homes, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and a military base. She meets important people and asks them questions. She writes about voting, women's rights, the law and immigration.

The story comes alive through the details she notices on her travels which she paints: The cherry pie she eats at a military base. The funny, fur hat Benjamin Franklin once wore. The red ballot box at a town meeting in Vermont.

Maira Kalman was born in Israel in nineteen forty-nine. She and her parents moved to New York City when she was very young.

Last week, Ms. Kalman gave a talk at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She spoke about her new book and how she created it. She also talked about her childhood and how her mother would take her to the library to read. She said this is what influenced her to become a writer. But she said that becoming an artist was also influenced by the special kind of freedom her parents gave her and her sister.

MAIRA KALMAN: "Rules had no place in our home."

She said her mother made sure that she and her sister knew about art, dance and music.  But her mother did not tell them how to do things. She let them find their own way and make their own mistakes.

MAIRA KALMAN: "But she never expected you to do things the right way. And that is a very powerful thing."

Maira Kalman says this idea influences how she works. To her, it is not important to "get it right" but rather to tell a story that is honest and personal.

Furniture in American Homes

This week our listener question comes from Viet Nam. Pham Van Ly wants to know what kind of traditional wood furniture Americans have in their homes.

We talked to Jennifer Burns who is in charge of collections at the High Point Museum in High Point, North Carolina. The city is known as the furniture-making center of the United States.

Ms. Burns says throughout American history, furniture makers have used "just about any kind of wood you can think of."  These include oak, walnut and cherry. She says the kind of wood used depended on the area where the furniture makers worked.  She says "they made what they needed with what was around them."

Today, Americans have tables and chairs in their kitchens and dining rooms that are usually made of wood.  People also have large wooden cabinets in their dining rooms to hold dishes.  Americans also have wood furniture in their bedrooms.  This includes large dressers to hold clothing.  And they may have bookcases and cabinets to hold televisions and other electronic equipment in rooms where the family gathers.

Americans have other kinds of furniture in their living rooms and family rooms.  Jennifer Burns says most of the sofas and chairs in these rooms are upholstered. They are made of cloth or leather material and have padding and springs.  So they are more comfortable to sit on than wood furniture.

Throughout American history, most furniture was made of wood and had a traditional design. But that is changing. There are many different kinds of materials and styles used to make furniture. Many Americans still choose traditional furniture made of wood. Some people like to have antique furniture that is very old.  Others like very modern furniture made of metal and glass.

Grammy Nominations

That was Justin Bieber with "Somebody to Love." The sixteen-year-old received the Grammy nomination for best new artist. Bieber said he "couldn't believe it."

The Recording Academy held a televised concert last week to announce the major Grammy nominations. Hip-hop star Eminem, singer Bruno Mars and country group Lady Antebellum captured quite a few. Faith Lapidus has our story and plays some nominated music.

That is Eminem with Rihanna performing "Love the Way You Lie," nominated for song of the year.  It is on Eminem's album, "Recovery," which also received a Grammy nomination.  In all, Eminem could win eleven Grammys at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles February thirteenth.

Katy Perry is also up for album of the year award for "Teenage Dream."  It is Perry's third studio album. Almost two hundred thousand copies of "Teenage Dream" sold in the first week of its release last May. Here is the title track.

The performers on the television show "Glee" are nominated for two Grammys.  One of the honors is for this version of "Don't Stop Believin,'" a song first recorded by the group Journey.

Among the best alternative music album nominees is "Brothers," from the group the Black Keys. The two-man band formed in two thousand one in Ohio and has six albums.  We leave you with "Howlin' for You" from the Black Keys Grammy nominated album, "Brothers."

I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Dana Demange, Chris Cruise and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

If you have a question about American life, write to mosaic@voanews.com. Please include your name and country.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


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