The Ancients on Abortion

Teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy last semester, I hoped to cruise through the Purgatorio to make sure we completed the Paradiso by semester’s end. But my students wouldn’t let me skip canto 25—they stopped there, awestruck. I think we spent longer in the seventh cornice on the . . . . Continue Reading »

Letters of Affection

The Selected Letters of Willa Catheredited by andrew jewell and janis stoutknopf, 752 pages, $37.50One might be forgiven for feeling some ambivalence in opening this volume, the first-ever publication of the personal correspondence of Willa Cather, the writer who moved from the Nebraska prairie to . . . . Continue Reading »

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Music can move us in ways that reach beyond discursive speech. That does not mean that notes have no relation to words. Music is not a literal language, but it is more than a metaphorical one. The best music hints at a universal language that can redeem the cultural and geographical barriers of . . . . Continue Reading »

Pop Imperialism

Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroadby martha baylesyale, 336 pages, $30During the Cold War the United States government made important attempts to manage America’s image in the world. Besides the radio stations—Voice of America and . . . . Continue Reading »

Ulterior Lives

Richard Rodriguez has been an occasional companion of mine for more than thirty years, since the publication of Hunger of Memory in 1982. I feel I know him well enough, in part because so much of his writing is autobiographical; but until last September, I’d known him only on the page. Then I . . . . Continue Reading »

Rewriting Nature’s Laws

In February, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, a piece of legislation designed to strengthen protection of religious freedom. Passed by a Republican legislature, it was a bill her staff (she is a Republican as well) had helped to craft some weeks before. But her support turned to . . . . Continue Reading »

Sacred Rhythms

She was known as “the Little Piano Girl” from East Liberty, Pittsburgh, and grew up to be one of the first ladies of jazz. But the story of Mary Lou Williams, from child prodigy to world-class artist, is not just about jazz.Born in Atlanta in 1910, Mary Lou’s family suffered from . . . . Continue Reading »

Hoops Humility

“What makes this team special?” a reporter asked University of Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett after his Cavaliers beat Syracuse to sew up the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. It was a typical sports-journalistic question, but Bennett’s answer wasn’t typical. “Humility,” Bennett instantly replied, then looked down and waited for the next question.

Poetry’s True and False Art of Speaking

Before we worried about the effect of the digital word on the printed word, we worried about the effect of writing on speech. This debate, as old as Plato’s Phaedrus, is kept alive by Page Meets Stage, a New York arts event where two poets from the two traditions square off against each other. . . . . Continue Reading »