March 17:  Your Brain on Fiction Day

On this day in 2012, the New York Times published a mind-blowing editorial by journalist and author Annie Murphy Paul.

In her article, entitled “Your Brain on Fiction,” Paul summarizes a variety of studies from neuroscience that reveal how reading fiction stimulates the brain and enhances human experience.

One study, for example, showed how specific sensory words related to smells, such as “lavender” or “cinnamon,” activated not only the brain’s language regions, but also regions of the brain that are devoted to dealing with actual smells.  Another study using brain scans showed that words describing motion, such as “kick” and “grasp,” activated regions of the brain that coordinate the actual movements of the body.

Another study showed that even figurative language had surprising neurological effects.  When laboratory subjects read a sentence like “The singer had a velvet voice,” the sensory cortex, the brain region that perceives texture, became active.  In contrast, when a subject read the sentence, “The singer had a pleasant voice,” only language regions were activated.

Additional studies revealed how reading fiction relates to social skills in the real world.  Canadian studies published in 2006 and 2009 revealed that frequent readers of fiction were more empathic and more able to see the world from the perspective of other people.  In Paul’s words, “This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels.”

The studies summarized by Paul reveal that fiction is, in essence, the original virtual reality.  Reading fiction feeds our imagination with rich sensory imagery, evocative metaphors, and engaging details about the actions and interactions of people.  Long before we had computer simulations, fiction and storytelling gave us a way to simulate reality. In fact, one might even argue that fiction provides an enhanced reality because, as Paul puts it, “novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page:  the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings” (1).

Today Challenge:  All the World’s a Page

What are some works of fiction that you think do the best job of simulating the real world?  Select a work of fiction that you love because its story captures the essence of real life.   Identify a specific passage from the work that you think exemplifies that author’s ability to simulate real life through description of characters, setting, or plot.  Pay attention especially to effective sensory imagery, figurative language, and/or dialogue. Copy the passage verbatim; then, write an explanation of what makes the writing in the passage exemplary.  (Common Core 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life. -Annie Murphy Paul


March 16:  Simile Day

On this day in 1971, the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song by the American folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, won Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 13th Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles, California.*  The song was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and has been covered by over 50 artists, including Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin.

Bridge Over Troubled Water single.jpgThe duo, made up of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and vocalist Art Garfunkel, met as children in Queens, New York.  Simon and Garfunkel were the most successful duo in popular music in the 1960s and were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” written by Paul Simon, is a tribute to friendship, employing the simile, “Like a bridge over troubled water” as a vivid image of dedication and devotion.

The song’s opening lyrics are as follows:

When you’re weary, feeling small

When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

The simile is a rhetorical device that employs figurative language to create vivid imagery.  Unlike a metaphor, which says that one thing “is” another thing (as in “Juliet is the sun”), a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to admit that it’s a comparison.  In the words of author James Geary, “a simile is just a metaphor with the scaffolding still up” (2).

An easy way to remember the key characteristic of similes is to look at its Latin root similis, which is the same root from which we get the word “similar” meaning “like.”  Because similes use “like” or “as” they are more explicitly stated. Metaphors employ subtler comparisons.  In the words of poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield, “Similes make you think; metaphors make you feel.” Both devices share one key characteristic:  they build a bridge between the abstract and the concrete, allowing writers to employ fresh images.

Today’s Challenge:  Similes That Make You Smile

What are some examples of abstract ideas that might be defined by similes?  Generate a list of abstract ideas, such as friendship, success, imagination, power, failure, mistakes, memory, or intelligence. Select one of your topics and research examples of how these ideas have been defined by great writers using similes.  

The following are three examples on the topic of friendship:

Love is a flower like; Friendship is like a sheltering tree. -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it is lost. -Charles Caleb Colton

Love is like the wild rose-briar; Friendship like the holly-tree. The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms, but which will bloom most constantly? -Emily Bronte

Once you have recorded your three similes, decide which one you like best and explain your decision.  Once you have critiqued your favorite similes on your subject, try your hand at crafting your own original simile by pairing your abstract idea with a vivid image that brings the abstract to life.

For example,

Friendship is like a fire that stays aflame only through constant attention.

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Teaching school is like having jumper cables hooked to your brain, draining all the juice out of you. -Stephen King

*Song of the Year is for the writer of the best song. This award goes to the songwriter.  Record of the Year is for the performance/production of the best song. This award goes to the performers as well as the recording engineers.

1-Rolling Stone.

2-Geary, James. I Is an Other:  The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2011.

March 15:  Beware the Ides of March Day

On this day in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate.  

After defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar returned victoriously to Rome in 46 B.C.  The Roman Senate made him dictator for life, but some senators feared Caesar had grown too powerful.  These conspirators planned a public assassination.

Days before March 15th, the augur Spurinna had warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.”  (The Ides were simply a way to designate the middle of each month. In March, May, July, and October, the Ides fell on the 15th day; in the other months, the Ides fell on the 13th day of the month.)

As Caesar approached the Senate meeting on the morning of the 15th, a friend handed him a note, warning him of the assassination plot.  Caesar, however, did not read the letter. As he entered the theatre where the Senate was meeting, Caesar saw the augur Spurinna. He addressed him mockingly, saying “The Ides of March have come.”  Spurinna replied, “Yes, but they have not yet gone.”

As Caesar took his seat, conspiring senators surrounded him, pretending to be paying their respects.  A frenzied attack ensued in which Caesar was stabbed 23 times before falling dead to the floor (1).

For Caesar’s assassins, the Ides of March was an important date.  The first month of the Roman year was March, and the Ides marked the first full moon of the new year.  On this date each year, the Romans celebrated the festival of Anna Perenna, the goddess of the cycle of the year.  To her faithful worshipers, Anna Perenna awarded a long life. By eliminating the dictator Julius Caesar, the assassins no doubt believed they were ensuring the long life of Rome. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Diverting Doom and Disaster

Julius Caesar would have been smart to have listened more carefully to the warnings of Spurinna, who made his determination of the future by examining the entrails of animal sacrifices.  Today we receive our warnings from Public Service Announcements (PSAs).  PSAs began during World War II when radio broadcasters teamed up with advertising agencies to create the Advertising Council.  This partnership produced numerous messages to promote the war effort, such as advertisements promoting war bonds and famous messages like, “Loose Lips Sink Ships” — a warning against careless talk that might provide state secrets to the enemy.

Both Smokey the Bear and his famous slogan — “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” were created by the Ad Council.  Perhaps the most famous PSA of all time was produced by the Ad Council in 1987. It featured the simple image of a single egg in a frying pan along with a concise message of just 15 words:  “This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

What are some possible dangers that people face on a daily basis?  What do people need to know to avoid these dangers? Write a PSA that identifies a specific danger. The purpose of a PSA is to equip the listener/reader with a specific strategy for avoiding the danger. Do some research on your topic to gather some facts and statistics; then, consider the target audience for your PSA.  Begin by doing something that grabs the audience’s attention, and do the best you can to show, not just tell, the danger along with how to avoid it (4). (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  NOTICE: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. -Mark Twain in his preface to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

1-365:  Your Date With History (124-5)




March 14 – Bracket Day

On this day in 1985, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began, the first time the tournament featured 64 teams.  The tournament originated in 1939, but at that time only eight teams competed. The birth of what has become known as “March Madness” began with the start of the 1985 tournament.  Fans across the nation feasted on a smorgasbord of first-round games, visually tracking the progress of the tournament using a 64-team bracket.

The moniker “March Madness” originated as a term to describe high school basketball.  Henry V. Porter, an official for the Illinois High School Association, first used it to promote his state’s basketball tournament in 1939.  With the gradual increase of teams in the annual NCAA college basketball tournament along with its growing popularity, March Madness graduated to the college ranks, becoming the operative term for the annual tournament. In 2010 the NCAA paid $17.2 million to trademark the term (1).

Besides the large number of teams in the tournament and ESPN’s saturation coverage of the games, the other element that made March Madness a cultural phenomenon was the bracket.  The bracket concept for tracking single-elimination contests is not new — it may go as far back as medieval jousting tournaments. Beginning with the large slate of teams in the 1985 tournament, fans across the nation could participate in office pools, filling out their brackets and tracking the progress of their predictions in each round. According to the American Gaming Association, $10.4 billion was spent on tournament betting in 2017 with approximately 40 million people filling out 70 million brackets (2).

In fact, brackets have become so popular that the concept has moved beyond just basketball and sports.  In 2009, Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir published a book called The Final Four of Everything where they used the bracket form to judge everything from “SAT Success Strategies” to “Songs by the Grateful Dead.”

Reiter and Sandomir explain in the introduction to their book that a bracket is much more than just a list.  Unlike a list that ranks things from best to worst, the bracket presents “discrete one-on-one matchups” and allows “the two to rub together and create friction to determine the superior players” (3).

The following are some examples that show the variety of topics that can be found in  The Final Four of Everything:

Most American Superhero, Disney Animated Films, Fears and Phobias, National Parks, Texas Sayings, Politically Correct Terms, Artisan Cheeses, Board Games, Presidential Speeches, Fatherly Advice, Acronyms, Fortune Cookies

Today’s Challenge:  Build A Better Bracket

What are some sample categories that might make good topics for a bracket?  Brainstorm some possible categories; then, select one and break it into 64, 32, or 16 parts.  Draw a bracket on a piece of paper and fill in your list of competitors along with a title. Fill in the bracket based on who you think would win each competition.  For example, if your bracket were “Songs by The Beatles,” which song would you pick in the showdown between “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”? Write your explanation for the victor in at least six of the matchups on your bracket. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  A bracket is a more dynamic way of understanding personal preferences.  The practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups works because it’s simple and the face-off happens right in front of you – in real time.In that sense, a bracket invests your opinions with a narrative of how you decided something.  -Mark Reiter



3-Reiter, Mark and Richard Sandomir (editors).  The Final Four of Everything.  New York:  Simon & Schuster 2009.


March 13:  Anachronism Day

On this day in 2012, The New York Times announced that the Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer produce its print edition.

First published in 1768, the Encyclopedia Britannica became the most recognized and authoritative reference work ever published in English.  Its more than 4,000 contributors included Nobel Prize winners and American presidents.

In the 1950s, the Britannica was sold door-to-door, and many American families invested in the multi-volume repository of knowledge, paying in monthly installments.  The last print edition, produced in 2010, consisted of 32 volumes and weighed 129 pounds. Its price tag was $1,395.

Before the internet, generations of students spent countless hours immersed in the pages of print encyclopedias.  The advent of the digital age, however, changed the way everyone accesses knowledge. The launch of Wikipedia — the online, open-source encyclopedia — on January 15, 2001 began the trend of internet-based reference sources.  

After 244 years in print, Britannica clearly saw the handwriting on the wall and shifted its focus to its online dictionary (1).

Today the multi-volume encyclopedia is an anachronism, something that belongs to another era or something that is conspicuously old-fashioned, such as a telephone booth or an 8-track tape.

Today’s Challenge:  Old School’s in Session

What are some things from the past that no longer exist or are near extinction (such as drive-in movies, VHS tapes, handkerchiefs, boom boxes, chalkboards)?  Brainstorm a list of things you remember warmly from the past, things that are no longer around today or things that are near extinction.  Select one item from your list that you have nostalgic feelings about. Write about why you have such fond memories about it. A note on the word nostalgia:  The word nostalgia comes to English from Greek, combining nostos (‘return home’) and algos (‘pain’).  When the word entered English in the 18th century it meant “homesickness,” but today it refers to “a sentimental longing for the past.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.  -Marcel Proust



March 12:  Analogy Day

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and politician Richard Steele (1672-1729). In 1709, Steele founded The Tatler, a newspaper that featured a new style of journalism. More than just reporting the news, The Tatler featured essays, reviews, gossip, and satire.

In the March 18, 1710 edition of The Tatler, Steele wrote a sentence to illustrate the benefits of literacy:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Steel’s analogy is perfect because reading is not just about retaining information; instead, it is about training your mind to lift more mental weight.  When you consistently lift weights in the gym, your muscles adapt, allowing you to lift more and more weight. Similarly, when you consistently read, your mind adapts, allowing you to lift and grapple with weightier ideas. Reading nourishes and strengthens the mind, giving you a mental six-pack of memory, imagination, logic, creativity, language, and knowledge.

Steele’s memorable and insightful sentence is a classic example of an analogy.  Analogies reflect the ways humans learn: trying to understand what we don’t know by comparing it to what we do know.  

Analogies are similar to metaphors and similes, but unlike similes and metaphors — which captivate us with surprising imagery, the primary purpose of an analogy is to explain via logical balance.  Analogies are also a bit more mathematical than similes and metaphors; in Greek analogia means “proportionate,” and a good analogy reveals a corresponding relationship between two pairs of things.  As Steele’s analogy illustrates, the basic formula for an analogy is: A is to B as C is to D.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an analogy to illustrate the way racial prejudice blinds us:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

To paraphrase King’s analogy, we might state it as follows:

Racial prejudice is to human love and brotherhood as fog and dark clouds are to seeing the beauty of the night sky.

The ability to think using analogies requires a high level of cognition.  It requires the thinker to synthesize complex concepts and to make parallel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.   

It is no wonder, then, that analogies have been used to measure intelligence. The Miller Analogies Test, for example, is a graduate school admissions test made up of analogy word problems.

An analogy word problem follows a predictable format:

A : B :: C : D (A is to B as C is to D)

Steele’s analogy would be stated:  READING : MIND :: EXERCISE : BODY.

Try this analogy word problem:

story : fable :: poem : _______

  1. poet
  2. novel
  3. rhyme
  4. sonnet

The key to solving these analogies is to identify the bridge idea that connects both pairs.  In the problem above, for example, if you understand that a “fable” is a type or genre of story, you will probably realize that the answer is D because a “sonnet” is a type or genre of “poem.”

When you are solving analogies, try writing your answer in the form of a balanced sentence, a sentence that has two parallel independent clauses, such as “A fable is a type of story; a sonnet is a type of poem.”  Doing this will allow you show your thinking by explicitly stating the bridge idea.

Try the following:

  1. puppy : litter :: soldier : (A. group B. war C. army D. battle)
  2. entomology : insects : : etymology : (A. birds B. words C. foods D. ants)
  3. Grendel : Beowulf :: Hydra : (A. Achilles B. Vulcan C. Atlas D. Hercules)
  4. adverb : sadly :: conjunction : (A. the B. none C. but D. happily)
  5. Mark Twain : Huckleberry Finn :: William Shakespeare : (A. Tom Sawyer B. Jim C. Hamlet D. Hester Prynne)

Today’s Challenge:   Four-part Formula for Framing Analogies

As Windex is to a clear, picturesque view so are analogies to clear writing.  What are some topics that you know well enough to explain to someone less knowledgeable?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you might explain using an analogy. Use the basic four-part formula:

As ________ is to __________, so ________ is to _________.


As kindling is to fire so is brainstorming to creativity.

As weeding is to gardening, so is editing to writing.

As fast food is to the stomach, so is television to the mind.

As yeast is to bread, so is honesty to friendship.

As wood fuels a fire, so memory fuels the imagination.

As dancing is to walking, so dancing is to walking.

As the selection of bait is to fishing, so is audience analysis to public speaking.

Once you have written your complete analogy, follow it with some explanation that elaborates and expands the comparison.

Example Analogy with Explanation:

As the correct number of employees is to an effective business, so are the right number of words to effective writing.

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do. You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home. -Sigmund Freud

March 11:  I Remember Day

American poet and artist Joe Brainard was born on this day in 1942. Brainard was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he spent most of his adult life in New York City where he collaborated with a number of writers and artists.  As a visual artist, Brainard gained renown for his work in painting, drawing, and collage.

Brainard is best known for his 1975 memoir I Remember, a kind of verbal collage, juxtaposing vivid details from his life.  I Remember is a book-length prose-poem made up of one long list of sentences, each of which begins with “I remember . . . “

I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry.  I was eating apricot pie.

I remember how much I used to stutter.

I remember the first time I saw television.  Lucille ball was taking ballet lessons (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Mining Memory

What are some specific ways you would complete the following sentence: “I remember . . . .”?  The simple two words “I remember” remain one of the best prompts for writers of all ages, opening the door to the mine of memory and helping them to practice recording sensory details that show, not just tell.  Create a list poem, cataloging at least five specific memories. Strive to show, not tell, using specific sensory imagery of what you saw, smelled, tasted, heard, or felt.

-I remember the smell of the freshly cut grass on a spring day in 1971 when I first learned to ride my bike.

-I remember my dad in the front yard, pushing the lawn mower, as I pushed my Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat onto its two wheels.

-I remember being too proud to ever use training wheels.

-I remember the overwhelming joy and freedom of finally staying up on the bike, pedaling up and down the street in front of my house in Renton, Washington.

-I remember the feeling of the wind in my hair, and, looking back, I think about the absence of a bike helmet, something that no one wore in the 1970s.

-I remember the smile that would come to my face each morning as I woke up and realized once again that I had a bike and that I knew how to ride it.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.

Art consists of the persistence of memory. -Stephen King


March 10:  Dialogue Day

On this day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell uttered the first words ever spoken on the telephone.

Born in Scotland, Bell immigrated first to Canada and then to Boston, Massachusetts, where he opened a school for teachers of the deaf.  Long distance communication became a reality in the 1830s with the invention of the telegraph, but messages could only be transmitted in Morse code.  Bell’s vision was to transmit the human voice over a wire. To help make his vision a reality, Bell hired Thomas Watson, an electrical designer and mechanic.

While working on a transmitter in his laboratory on March 10, 1876, Bell spilled battery acid on his clothes.  He called out: “Mr. Watson, come here! I want you!” Watson rushed excitedly from the other room, reporting that he heard Bell’s voice coming from the transmitter.  Without realizing it, Bell had just made the first telephone call.

Bell offered to sell his invention to Western Union for $100,000.  Western Union’s president, however, failed to see how Bell’s invention could ever become more popular than the telegraph.  Within two years the telephone was worth more than $25 million, and Alexander launched his Bell Telephone Company, which would become one of the world’s largest corporations (1).

Today when we make a telephone call, we take for granted that the person on the other end of the line will answer with “hello.”  The truth is, however, that when the first telephones were put into service, people were not sure what to say to initiate the conversation.  Bell suggested the nautical greeting “Ahoy,” the word he used for the rest of his life. His rival, Thomas Edison, who made improvements on Bell’s invention, suggested “hello,” a word that previously had been used more as an exclamation of surprise rather than a synonym for “hi.”  Edison won the war of words in the long run, primarily because the first telephone books suggested “hello” as the officially sanctioned greeting (2).

In addition to the telephone, Bell is also credited with another noteworthy invention, the metal detector.  After President James A. Garfield was shot by an assassin on July 2, 1881, Bell invented a metal detector to help doctors locate the bullet.  Unfortunately, the bullet was never found because the metal bed springs from Garfield’s bed rendered Bell’s metal detector useless. Garfield died from infection from his wound on September 19, 1881.

Today’s Challenge:  Telephone Tales

What are some possible dramatic situations that would involve dialogue between two characters?  Craft a short story or anecdote entirely of dialogue.  Use no narration and no tag lines to identify speakers.  Use a title to clue your reader into the context of your story, and skip lines between each line of dialogue.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Darth and Luke on Christmas Morning

Luke, let’s gather around the Christmas tree and open some gifts.

Okay, dad.

Here’s two nicely wrapped ones for you.  The tags say they’re from Yoda. I bet one’s a new lightsaber and the other is fruitcake.

Wow, you’re right Dad!  A new lightsaber and a fruit cake!  How did you know?

I felt your presents.

(Common Core Writing 3- Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.  -Alexander Graham Bell



March 9:  Classic Duel Day

On this day in 1862, the Monitor and the Merrimack met at the Battle of Hampton Roads in history’s first duel between ironclad warships.

The Monitor and Merrimac.jpgThe USS Merrimack was sunk by Union forces when the Civil War began in April 1861.  At that time the Merrimack was a 40-gun wooden frigate. The Confederates raised the ship and rebuilt it, covering it with 4-inch iron armor.  The ship was launched in February 1862 and rechristened the CSS Virginia.

The Confederates quickly put the Virginia to work in their effort to break the Union blockade of Southern ports, which had been in effect since the beginning of the war. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia sunk two of the Union’s wooden ships and disabled another, proving that wooden ships had little chance against ironclad vessels.  

The Union, however, was ready to answer the Confederate challenge.  One month previously it had commissioned its own ironclad, the USS Monitor.  The Monitor had a much lower profile than the Merrimack (Virginia), rising only 18 inches from the water.  Its flat iron deck featured a 20-foot cylindrical rotating turret with two 11-inch guns.

On the morning of March 9, 1892, the Monitor steamed into Chesapeake Bay, confronting the Merrimack.  The two ships battled for four hours, but since the cannon fire simply bounced off the armor of both ships, the battle ended in a draw.  The dual ushered in a new era in naval warfare, and soon all the world’s naval warships were constructed with iron (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Classic Clash

When you think of classic head to head rivalries, what contestants come to mind?  Brainstorm a list of classic rivalries.  Your list may include people, literary characters, groups, trademarks, franchises, genres, or anything else that might be considered a classic clash of two opposing forces. Select one of your pairs, and write your case for why one deserves to be declared the single winner of the dual, giving specific reasons and evidence to make your case unsinkable.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Here are some examples of classic clashes:

Edison vs. Tesla, Lincoln vs. F.D.R., Lakers vs. Celtics, Drama or Comedy, Poetry or Prose, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, Cats vs Dogs, Apple vs. Microsoft, DC vs. Marvel, Coffee vs. Tea, Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles, Coke vs. Pepsi, Football vs. Baseball

Quotation of the Day:  Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow. – Jeff Valdez


March 8:  Profile Day

Today is the birthday of the American writer John McPhee, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1931.

John Mcphee.jpgMcPhee first wrote professionally for television, writing plays for NBC in the 1950s. After working at NBC, McPhee wrote for Time magazine about show business.  McPhee’s major ambition, however, was to write for the great literary magazine The New Yorker.  He submitted stories for 14 years and received nothing in return except rejections slips.  Finally, in 1965, McPhee received a call from an editor at The New Yorker offering to buy one of his stories.  

The story was a profile of the college basketball star and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley (and future United States Senator).  McPhee’s father, who was the team doctor for Princeton’s basketball team, had introduced McPhee to Bradley’s story. McPhee went on to become a staff writer for The New Yorker and an author of more than thirty books.  He has written on a vast array of topics, including Alaska, the Swiss Army, the atom bomb, Russian art, fishing, and geology.  He even wrote an entire book about oranges. McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1999 for his book Annals of the Former World, a survey of North American geology.

McPhee’s first story in The New Yorker, his profile of Bill Bradley, was expanded into his first book A Sense of Where You Are, published in 1965.

Today’s Challenge:  Twenty Quality Questions

A profile is a specific type of feature story in journalism that focuses on a person.  Like a painted portrait, a profile attempts to capture the unique character, spirit, and personality of its subject. In addition to trying to capture what makes the person tick, the profile also should give the audience an angle — some aspect of the person’s personal or professional life that makes him or her relevant, interesting, or important to society as a whole.

A prerequisite for any good profile is an in-depth interview of the profile’s principal subject.  And prior to an interview, the interviewer should craft specific questions that will get at the kinds of specific details that will be needed to write a good profile. What are some examples of questions you can ask a person you don’t know that will help you get to know about the individual’s unique story and unique personality?   Write a list of 20 interview questions that you could ask any stranger that would help you get to know that person.  Aim for questions that will get at the person’s individual character and his or her unique story. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Certainly the aural part of writing is a big, big thing to me. I can’t stand a sentence until it sounds right, and I’ll go over it again and again . . . I read aloud so I can hear if it’s fitting together or not. It’s just as much a part of the composition as going out and buying a ream of paper. -John McPhee