Teacher's Guide Introduction

The Eye Contact exhibition is rich in portraits of American writers. Use the portraits of these writers as a springboard for the following activities.

Biographical information on the following writers was gathered from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/

James Baldwin (1924-1987)
American writer noted for his novels on sexual and personal identity, and sharp essays on the civil rights struggle in the United States. Baldwin also wrote three plays, a children's storybook, and a book of short stories. He gained fame with his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a story of hidden sins, guilt, and religious torments. In this and subsequent works Baldwin fused autobiographical material with analysis of social injustice and prejudices. Several of his novels deal with homosexual liaisons.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)
American novelist, short story writer, and playwright. Capote gained international fame with his "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood (1966), an account of a real-life crime in which an entire family was murdered by two sociopaths. The Deep South provides the setting for much of Capote's fiction.

Countee Cullen (1903-1946)
Leading Harlem Renaissance poet. Several of his poems address racial themes; however, Cullen thought that poetry was raceless. Being raised and educated in a primarily white community placed him at a disadvantage because he lacked the background to comment from personal experience on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing. An imaginative lyric poet, he wrote in the tradition of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
American short-story writer and novelist, known for his depictions of the Jazz Age of the 1920s. With the glamorous Zelda Sayre (1900-1947), Fitzgerald lived a colorful life of constant parties and spending. At the beginning of one of his stories, Fitzgerald wrote that the rich "are different from you and me." He depicted this privileged world in such novels as The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) and The Great Gatsby (1925); the latter is widely considered Fitzgerald's finest novel.

Henry James (1843-1916)
American-born writer gifted with talents in literature, psychology, and philosophy. James wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays, and a number of literary criticisms. His models were Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. James once said that he learned more of the craft of writing from Balzac "than from anyone else."

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
American poet and dramatist who became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems (1922). The title work was a tribute to her selfless and encouraging mother. Millay's unconventional life in Greenwich Village in the 1920s embodied the spirit of the New Woman—sexual freedom, independence, and political activism.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
American novelist, storywriter, playwright, and essayist. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962. He is best remembered for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a novel widely considered to be a twentieth-century classic. The impact of the book has been compared to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The epic about the migration of the Joad family, driven from their bit of land in Oklahoma to California, created a wide debate about the hard lot of migrant laborers, and helped to put agricultural reforms into effect.

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975)
American writer and playwright best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town (1938). Wilder's breakthrough novel was The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), an examination of justice and altruism. His play The Skin of Our Teeth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. The musical Hello, Dolly was based on his play The Matchmaker.