American Writers: A Journey Through History

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American Writers: A Journey Through History
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes39
Executive producerMark Farkas
Original release
ReleaseMarch 19, 2001 (2001-03-19) –
July 7, 2002 (2002-07-07)
American Presidents: Life Portraits

American Writers: A Journey Through History is a series produced and broadcast by C-SPAN in 2001 and 2002 that profiled selected American writers and their times. Each program was a two- to three-hour look at the life and times of one or more significant American writer. Episodes were broadcast from locations of importance to the profiled writer(s) and featured interviews with historians and other experts. The series had an overall budget of $4,500,000.[1] The first program aired on March 19, 2001, and focused on William Bradford and the Mayflower Compact.[2]


As is the case with many C-SPAN programs, it aired live and heavily incorporated calls from viewers:

"It's not perfectly packaged and beautifully produced," said Susan Swain, executive vice president of C-Span. "There isn't a narrator who weaves it together. It's a bit unpredictable. I don't know what my guests are going to say."[3]

History of the show[edit]

Originally, the series was scheduled to air entirely in 2001, and it followed that schedule up to a profile of Will Rogers that aired on September 10, 2001. However, following the 9/11 attacks, C-SPAN management determined that the network needed to focus on events related to the attacks, and the subsequent programs were put on hold until March 2002.[4] When originally planned, the profile of H.L. Mencken of Baltimore was scheduled to follow that of Will Rogers. Instead, C-SPAN producers opted to postpone the Mencken show, and return with one about the Harlem Renaissance, to honor the role of New York City in the 9/11 attacks.[5] The series returned on March 31, 2002, opening with shots of 135th Street in Harlem, and continued through the final profile on July 7, 2002, which was a discussion with Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[6] The group of programs aired in 2002 were sometimes referred to as American Writers II: The 20th Century.[7]

As a companion volume to the series, Merriam-Webster published the Dictionary of American Writers in 2001, which contained brief entries on a wide variety of writers, many of whom were not profiled in the series.[8]

Selection criteria[edit]

The choice of which writers to profile was (by its very nature) subjective, unlike C-SPAN's similar 1999 series American Presidents: Life Portraits, because there were a fixed number of U.S. presidents but not a fixed number of American writers. For instance, Herman Melville was not profiled.[9] There were also criticisms of the manner in which certain authors were presented, such as Ayn Rand.[10]

The stated criteria for selection were the following:

  • "Writers whose works-–whether fiction or non-fiction, document or book–-chronicled, reflected upon, or influenced the course of our nation's history."
  • "Works which represent four centuries of American history, from the nation's founding to Vietnam."
  • "Writers who are essentially American."
  • "Writers whose works continue to be studied."
  • "An overall list which offers some demographic, cultural, and political diversity."
  • "Works which are generally available to the public."[11]


Programs were organized into eight chronological groups, shown below.

Note: In addition to the interviewees listed, each program featured a variety of other experts, many of whom were employed by or volunteered for the historical sites from which the programs were being broadcast.

I: Founding to Revolution, 1600–1800[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
1 March 19, 2001 William Bradford Mayflower Compact Plimoth Plantation,
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Peter Gomes
2 March 26, 2001 Benjamin Franklin Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin American Philosophical Society,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
H.W. Brands
3 April 2, 2001 Thomas Paine Common Sense Thomas Paine Memorial Cottage,
New Rochelle, New York
Eric Foner
4 April 9, 2001 Thomas Jefferson Declaration of Independence Montpelier,
Montpelier Station, Virginia
Pauline Maier, Roger Wilkins
James Madison U.S. Constitution

II: The Young Nation, 1800–1850[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
5 April 16, 2001 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Fort Clatsop National Memorial,
Astoria, Oregon
James P. Ronda, Rex Ziak
6 April 23, 2001 James Fenimore Cooper The Last of the Mohicans Fenimore Art Museum,
Cooperstown, New York
Alan S. Taylor
7 April 30, 2001 Sojourner Truth Narrative of Sojourner Truth The Merritt House,
Battle Creek, Michigan
Nell Irvin Painter
8 May 7, 2001 Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature Walden Pond,
Concord, Massachusetts
Robert D. Richardson
Henry David Thoreau Walden
9 May 14, 2001 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Women's rights movement Declaration of Sentiments Declaration Park,
Seneca Falls, New York
Elisabeth Griffith
10 May 21, 2001 Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace,
Salem, Massachusetts
Brenda Wineapple

III: Slavery & the Civil War, 1850–1865[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
11 May 28, 2001 Frederick Douglass and the abolitionist Writers Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass National Historic Site,
Washington, D.C.
Edna Greene Medford
12 June 4, 2001 Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom's Cabin The Harriet Beecher Stowe House,
Cincinnati, Ohio
Joan Hedrick
13 June 11, 2001 Mary Chesnut A Diary From Dixie Mulberry Plantation,
Camden, South Carolina
Elisabeth Muhlenfeld
14 June 18, 2001 Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address Gettysburg Battlefield National Park,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Harold Holzer

IV: Rebuilding America & the Gilded Age, 1865–1901[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
15 June 25, 2001 Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum,
Hannibal, Missouri
Roy Blount, Jr.; Shelley Fisher Fishkin
16 July 2, 2001 Willa Cather O Pioneers! Willa Cather House,
Red Cloud, Nebraska
Richard Norton Smith
17 July 10, 2001 Black Elk Black Elk Speaks Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument,
Crow Agency, Montana
Charlotte Black Elk, Paul Andrew Hutton
18 July 16, 2001 Booker T. Washington Up From Slavery Tuskegee Institute,
Tuskegee, Alabama
David Levering Lewis, Edna Greene Medford
W.E.B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk W. E. B. Du Bois Library,
University of Massachusetts Amherst,
Amherst, Massachusetts
19 July 23, 2001 Henry Adams The Education of Henry Adams Adams National Historical Park,
Quincy, Massachusetts
Brooks D. Simpson
20 July 30, 2001 Edith Wharton and the Gilded Age Writers The Age of Innocence The Mount,
Lenox, Massachusetts
Shari Benstock

V: Progressive Era & Reaction, 1901–1929[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
21 August 6, 2001 Upton Sinclair and the Muckrakers The Jungle Ed Miniat Inc. (near Union Stock Yards),
Chicago, Illinois
Dominic Pacyga, Richard Reeves
22 August 13, 2001 Theodore Roosevelt Winning of the West Theodore Roosevelt National Park,
Medora, North Dakota
H.W. Brands, Tweed Roosevelt
23 August 20, 2001 Theodore Dreiser Sister Carrie Chicago Historical Society,
Chicago, Illinois
Thomas Riggio
24 September 10, 2001 Will Rogers The Cowboy Philosopher on Prohibition Will Rogers Memorial Museum,
Claremore, Oklahoma
Steve Granger
25 March 31, 2002 Langston Hughes Montage of a Dream Deferred Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,
Harlem, New York
Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Howard Dodson, Jr., Arnold Rampersad, Cheryl Wall
Zora Neale Huston Their Eyes Were Watching God
26 April 7, 2002 H.L. Mencken The American Language H. L. Mencken House,
Baltimore, Maryland
P.J. O'Rourke, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers
27 April 14, 2002 F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby Summit Avenue,
St. Paul, Minnesota
Matthew Bruccoli
28 April 21, 2002 Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum,
Key West, Florida
Susan Beegel, Linda Patterson Miller

VI: Depression & War, 1929–1945[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
29 April 28, 2002 John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath National Steinbeck Center,
Salinas, California
Thom Steinbeck, Louis Owens
30 May 5, 2002 William Faulkner and the Southern Writers The Sound and the Fury Rowan Oak,
Oxford, Mississippi
Shelby Foote, Thadious M. Davis, Donald Kartiganer
31 May 12, 2002 Ayn Rand The Fountainhead Harmony Gold Theater
Sunset Boulevard,
Hollywood, California
Jeff Britting, Leonard Peikoff
32 May 19, 2002 Ernie Pyle Here Is Your War Dana, Indiana James E. Tobin

VII: Early Cold War, 1945–1961[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
33 May 26, 2002 Whittaker Chambers Witness Cannon House Office Building,
Washington, D.C.
Sam Tanenhaus
Whittaker Chambers Farm,
Westminster, Maryland
34 June 2, 2002 Walter Lippmann Public Opinion The Metropolitan Club,
Washington, D.C.
Ben Bradlee, Ronald Steel
35 June 9, 2002 Jack Kerouac and the Beat Writers On the Road Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park,
Lowell, Massachusetts
Douglas Brinkley, David Amram

VIII: Social Transformation to Vietnam, 1961–1975[edit]

Program # Original air date
with link to video
Featured writer(s) Featured work(s) Featured place(s) Featured interviewees
36 June 16, 2002 James Baldwin The Fire Next Time DeWitt Clinton High School,
Bronx, New York
Robin D. G. Kelley
37 June 23, 2002 Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique Smith College,
Northampton, Massachusetts
Susan Ware
38 June 13, 2002 Russell Kirk The Conservative Mind Russell Kirk Center,
Mecosta, Michigan
William F. Buckley, Jr., Wilfred M. McClay
William F. Buckley, Jr. God and Man at Yale
39 July 7, 2002 David Halberstam The Best and the Brightest Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
Washington, D.C.
David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan
Neil Sheehan A Bright Shining Lie


  1. ^ "C-Span's literary road trip - 2008-11-02 00:00:00 | Broadcasting & Cable". Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  2. ^ "Writings of William Bradford – C-SPAN Video Library". 2001-03-19. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  3. ^ "COVER STORY; A Sense of Place: Literature on Location - New York Times". The New York Times. 2001-04-22. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  4. ^ "C-SPAN Restarts 'American Writers' - 2002-03-25 00:00:00 | Multichannel News". Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  5. ^ "A man of letters returns to city, courtesy of C-SPAN - Baltimore Sun". 2002-04-08. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  6. ^ "Writings of Halberstam and Sheehan - C-SPAN Video Library". 2002-07-07. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  7. ^ "'American Writers II' focuses on 20th Century - Chicago Tribune". 2002-03-29. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  8. ^ Smith, Alexis. "Merriam Webster's Dictionary of American Writers by Websters - Powell's Books". Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  9. ^ Moore, Frazier (2001-03-16). "C-SPAN highlights American writers". Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  10. ^ "C-SPAN "American Writers" Program on Ayn Rand a Sham". 2002-05-12. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  11. ^ "About American Writers". C-SPAN. Archived from the original on 4 August 2001. Retrieved 11 March 2016.

External links[edit]