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  • NYS Writers Institute

Celebrate our nation's Independence Day: A book, a poem, a song

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness...”

The Declaration of Independence serve as bedrock for the new nation's mission. 244 years later, we still endeavor to live up to those words.

To learn more about nation's foundational and inspirational declarations, proclamations, speeches, documents, and address, read A Documentary History of the United States. First published in 1952, the book includes documents, speeches, and letters that have forged American history, accompanied by interpretations of their significance by noted historian and broadcaster, the late Richard D. Heffner.

His grandson, Alexander Heffner, visited the NYS Writers Institute in 2018 with an updated 10th edition of the book. In the foreword, he writes, "It is a perilous moment for democracy. In an age of pervasive misinformation, there could be no more essential task than safeguarding our history and humanity as fellow Americans."

Some of documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, , the Emancipation Proclamation, Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.


Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) was commissioned to write a poem to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. She initially declined and then wrote a sonnet commemorating the plight of immigrants.

Lines from that 1883 sonnet, “The New Colossus,” were engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. (Poetry Foundation)

NYS Poet Alicia Ostriker read "The New Colossus" at her induction ceremony held at the University at Albany in 2018. Here it is:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


Aaron Copland has been called the most American of American composers. In the essay "Copland’s 'Appalachian Spring' Is The Quintessential American Classic," Fran Hoepfner writes: "One of the reasons I’ve loved Appalachian Spring is for its openness. It broadens the imagination, leaving you free to project whatever joys and fears you summon as it plays. If that’s not American music, I’m not sure what is."

Best wishes for a contemplative and inspirational Fourth of July from your friends at the NYS Writers Institute.


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