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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Music by the White Stripes / A question about Groundhog Day / The Key West Literary Seminar - 2004-01-29

Broadcast: January 30, 2004



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- a program in VOA Special English about music and American life. And we answer your questions.


This is Doug Johnson.

This week, we answer a question about Groundhog Day, coming up this Monday. And we continue our series about music nominated for Grammy Awards this year.

But first, we take you to a writing conference in the southern United States.

Key West Literary Seminar


More than four-hundred people took part in a series of literary events in Key West, Florida, earlier this month. They explored the works of immigrant writers. Faith Lapidus tells us about the twenty-second yearly Key West Literary Seminar.


The seminar was called “Crossing Borders: The Immigrant Voice in American Literature.” It examined ways in which the writings of immigrants have enriched and changed American literature and life. Nineteen well-known and award-winning writers took part in the events. They represented many different cultures and countries. These include Bosnia, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Trinidad and Vietnam.

Some of the writers were born in other countries and have made the United States their home. Others are American-born writers whose work describes the immigrant experience. The writers took part in four days of talks, readings, discussions and parties. More than four-hundred people who love literature attended these events.

Bharati Mukherjee was one of the main speakers at the Key West Literary Seminar. She spoke about her life and her writing. She has written several books that explore the experience of Indian immigrants in America. The other main speaker was Amy Tan. She talked about how her mother’s life influenced her writing. Tan is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She completed her first book, “The Joy Luck Club,” after a trip to China with her mother. “The Joy Luck Club” has been translated into seventeen languages.

Elizabeth Nunez also took part in the Key West Literary Seminar. She was born in Trinidad and came to America for her college education. Nunez writes about being an immigrant in America:

“I woke up one morning to find nothing beneath me. I was a tree without roots, standing uneasy on unfamiliar ground. A light gust of wind and I would topple down. No one, nothing here – friends, places, things, the very earth, the smell of the wind, the feel of the sun – nothing I could see, touch or taste was from the place where I was born, where I grew up as a child, where I ended my teenage years. What fear! What loneliness! Then it came to me: I belonged to the world.”

Groundhog Day


Our VOA listner question this week comes from Mako, Hungary. Ervin Nemeth asks about the American observance of “Groundhog Day.”

Groundhog Day is observed on February second, but only in one place in the United States. That place is Punxsutawney, a small town in the state of Pennsylvania. Early in the morning, a ceremony takes place on a hill just outside the town. It stars a small animal named Phil that is brought there to "tell" the weather.

Tradition says that if the groundhog sees its shadow on the ground, there will be six more weeks of cold winter weather. The tradition goes back to an old German story of Candlemas Day, a Christian observance. The old story says there will be six more weeks of winter if an animal makes a shadow on February second.

Groundhog Day was first observed in Punxsutawney in eighteen-eighty-six. Over the years, the story of "Punxsutawney Phil" spread throughout the country. Phil may not always be right about the weather. But he is important to the local economy. Businesses earn a lot of money from visitors each year.

The celebrations have become much more popular since the movie “Groundhog Day” came out in nineteen-ninety-three. Bill Murray stars as a television weather reporter who is not happy with his life. He is sent to Punxsutawney to report on Groundhog Day. Only something strange happens. He lives the same day over and over again, until ... well, we don't want to give the story away. The movie is even a popular subject of study for experts from different religions.

Since the release of the movie, local officials say thirty-thousand people or more come to Punxsutawney to watch the real Groundhog Day.

The White Stripes


We continue our countdown to the Grammy Awards. The American music industry will present them one week from Sunday, on February eighth. The ceremony in Los Angeles will include a performance by the two members of the group, the White Stripes. And, as Phoebe Zimmermann reports, they could go home with some awards of their own.


The White Stripes are Jack White and Meg White. We do not know if they are brother and sister or, as other stories say, formerly husband and wife. But we do know they formed the band in Detroit, Michigan, in nineteen-ninety-seven. And they like to perform dressed in red and white clothing.

One of their songs is nominated for two Grammys: best rock song and best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal. Here it is. The song is called “Seven Nation Army.”


“Seven Nation Army” is on their newest record album, "Elephant." "Elephant" is nominated for best alternative music album and album of the year.

Jack White wrote all but one of the songs on “Elephant.” The album also includes a song from the nineteen-sixties by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It is called “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself.”


We leave you with another song from “Elephant,” by the White Stripes. This one is called “Ball and Biscuit.”


HOST: This is Doug Johnson.

If you have a question about American life, send it to Be sure to include your name and mailing address. If we use your question, we'll send you a gift. Our postal address is American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, USA.

Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and Nancy Steinbach, and produced by Caty Weaver. Our engineer was Andreus Regis. I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC. Join us again next week for VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.