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Lectures for a New Year: Being a Genius vs. Having a Genius

Welcome to the second day of our new lecture series. Are we having fun yet?

Up today, a short lecture you can definitely fit in during your lunch break. Liz Gilbert is best known for writing Eat, Pray, Love, which (unlike apparently ever other person in the country) I still haven't read. But she's someone who's been a reasonably successful writer for decades. When her breakthrough memoir became such a huge deal (10 million copies and counting...), Gilbert's perspective on her own creative process had to change: in all likeliness, her best work (or at least her best-known work) was behind her. How could she continue to write, knowing that, in essence, she could never "top" that book?

In this TED Talk (only twenty minutes long!), Gilbert discusses the challenges of surviving a creative career -- and not just a spectacularly successful one. She discusses historical notions of separating "inspiration" and "genius" into a separate source from the author/artist, so that creative people aren't burdened with complete responsibility for their success and failure. The talk is funny, frantic, and smart. You don't have to agree with her ideas (you may go on believing that writers really do generate ideas themselves), but Gilbert raises a series of provocative questions, not least of which: are we okay with many of our best creative minds drinking/drugging themselves to death?

Topics: creative careers, becoming successful, freaking out, history, authors who are alcoholic messes, concepts of "inspiration" from around the world, and: poems that thunder across the landscape.

Not covered: any specific material from EPL or her other books.

For: anyone involved in a creative pursuit; writers, artists, musicians -- creators of all kinds.

Viewing note: you can watch this lecture in HD by going to this TED page and clicking the Download button (below the video).

Further Reading

Fun fact: Gilbert's 1997 GQ piece "The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon," chronicling her stint tending bar at the infamous saloon, was the basis for the popular movie Coyote Ugly. Crazy, right? Read the original article here. Obviously, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia and its successor (briefly mentioned in the talk above), Committed: A Love Story are primary materials in any Gilbert study.

Transcript

An interactive transcript of Gilbert's talk is available from TED (click the "Interactive Transcript" in the upper right). The YouTube video also has good Closed Captions (hit the CC button to enable them). You can also get captions from the TED downloads (click the Download button and select the relevant options).

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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Tim Boyle/Getty Images
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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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