Inside FBI Classified Spy Files on 10 Authors

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation's once classified documents on some of America’s greatest writers seemed to blur the lines of free speech, creativity, and apparent subversive behavior. Here are tidbits from the files on 10 literary giants.

1. ERNEST HEMINGWAY


Ernest Hemingway traveling with American soldier in 1944. 

It wasn’t money or terminal cancer

that drove the Nobel Prize winner to kill himself with a double-barreled shotgun, at least according to his friends. Many of them say that it was the FBI that made him paranoid. Hemingway was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 1960 for growing mental and physical illness. He died that summer. “The Clinic had suggested that Mr. Hemingway register under the alias George Sevier,” a January 13, 1961 letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said. “Mr. Hemingway is now worried about his registering under an assumed name, and is concerned about an FBI investigation.”

2. JOHN STEINBECK


John Steinbeck captured in 1930.

The award-winning Grapes of Wrath writer didn’t have time for Hoover’s spy games. He wrote to the U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle in 1942, “Do you suppose you could ask Edgar’s boys to stop stepping on my heels? They think I am an enemy alien. It is getting tiresome.” Hoover quickly learned about Steinbeck’s request, and wrote back, “I wish to advise that Steinbeck is not being and has never been investigated by this Bureau.” Needless to say, FBI agents continued investigating, even tracking his finances through 1964.

3. W.E.B. DUBOIS


W.E.B. DuBois photographed in 1918.

The brilliant Souls of Black Folks author, scholar, and sociologist fell on the FBI’s radar in 1942, when a letter sent to the Bureau claimed DuBois vowed the Negroes’ helping hand when the Japanese got ready to take over the U.S. Then, about eight years later, the FBI received the following letter about the Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) professor. “I’m a strong believer in free speech, but the enclosed clippings from the New York Times reports a speech that seems to me to be subversive to a degree that makes my blood boil,” the unidentified citizen wrote to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on October 6, 1950.

What exactly made that citizen’s blood so hot? “Of all nations today,” the then 80-year-old DuBois said in a speech in Harlem, New York, “the United States alone wants war, forces other nations to fight, and asks you and me to impoverish ourselves, give up health and schools, sacrifice our sons to a Jim-Crow army, and commit suicide for a world war that nobody wants but the rich Americans who profit by it?"

4. WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN

An American novelist, essayist, and war correspondent, the 56-year-old Vollman discovered the hundreds of pages of his FBI file a few years ago. In them, he was listed as a Unabomber suspect: “S-2047 William T. Vollman. Predicated on a referral from a citizen. Investigation has determined that Vollman, a professional author, is widely travelled, however, existing travel records for him do not eliminate him as a viable suspect.”

5. JAMES BALDWIN


James Baldwin cheerfully posed at his home in Southern France in 1979.

For 16 years, federal agents dug into the Notes of a Native Son writer’s activities—everything from his sexual and political affairs to his literary writings. In a newspaper collected by the FBI, a reporter said Baldwin had been “crusading for the immediate extension of equal rights to all, warning of the possibility of more radical clashes.” 

6. LANGSTON HUGHES


A 1960 portrait captured Langston Hughes laughing.

Not only was the Harlem Renaissance poet flagged as a Communist, but the FBI also painted him as the anti-Christ. Hughes’ poem, “Goodbye Christ,” caught the Bureau’s attention in 1941. Although written in 1932, it was relatively obscure until it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on December 21, 1940, and read:

"Listen, Christ
You did alright in your day, I reckon-
But that day’s gone now,
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible-
But it’s dead now."

It didn’t take long before Hoover started receiving letters about Hughes’ alleged subversiveness.

7. TRUMAN CAPOTE


In 1966, Truman Capote relaxed in Milan.

The FBI went after the American novelist known for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, because of alleged ties to the Cuban Revolution. They scrutinized his association with The Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a support group for the Cuban Revolution against U.S. government attacks (whiich would become famous for its association with Lee Harvey Oswald). But the author claims the government started tracking him because he spread rumors about Hoover’s supposed homosexual relationship. “It got Hoover upset, that much I know,” Capote said. “And it got me … about 200 pages in an FBI file.”

8. RAY BRADBURY


Ray Bradbury took the stage at the 12th Annual LA Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles in 2007.

The Fahrenheit 451 author supposedly had plans to travel to Cuba, which was illegal in 1968. So the FBI tracked him down. Their investigation didn’t last long, however, because agents soon learned Bradbury didn't actually have intentions of visiting the country. “Informants and sources, who are familiar with Cuban activities, were unable to furnish any information which would indicate travel to Cuba,” the report said.

9. DOROTHY PARKER


Dorothy Parker dined out in 1937.

American poet Parker received harsh treatment from the FBI. In the 1930s, according to The New York Times, an “'anonymous outside source’ advised that she had contributed to the ‘Communist movement.’” For the next 25 years, government surveillance kept tabs on her address changes and activities, including when she assisted in founding the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936. The FBI suspected the group of being a Communist front.

10. LORRAINE HANSBERRY 

Her critically-acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun caught Hoover’s eye, spurring a lengthy surveillance into her work. “This play contains no comments of any nature about Communism as such,” a ghostreader wrote in a review, “but deals essentially with negro [sic] aspirations, the problems inherent in their efforts to advance themselves, and varied attempts at arriving at solutions.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

19 Every Day Things Science Hasn’t Figured Out

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Haydar Dogramaci/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Science has enabled humans to complete some pretty incredible feats, like land on the moon, for example. But when it comes to common things like laughter or hiccups, scientists still can’t quite figure out the reason behind them. In this article, which was adapted from The List Show on YouTube, we look at everyday things that are still a mystery.

1. It's still not understood why we cry.

A woman crying.
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Crying is still a scientific mystery. Physiologically, it’s clear what’s happening when someone cries. But, it has been more difficult to figure out the evolutionary reason for tears. We know that babies cry to communicate and get attention. So, some experts believe that adults might also cry for social reasons, like to bond or to warn others that something is amiss.

2. The reason we laugh is still unknown.

A woman talking on the phone laughing.
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Like crying, we also don’t know why people evolved the ability to laugh, but experts guess it has something to do with communication—and not just that we find something funny. One researcher found that only 20 percent of laughs he looked at were preceded by anything deemed in any way humorous.

It's possible we laugh to let other people know that we’re okay or to bond with each other. A study published in 2016 gave evidence for the latter. Researchers found that an outside observer could distinguish whether laughter was produced between a pair of strangers or a pair of friends.

3. Scientists haven't figured out why we blush.

A woman blushing at work.
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Blushing is often telling others things we don’t want them to know, like the fact that we’ve done something wrong or embarrassing. Some experts believe that we may have evolved blushing to show submission to group leaders. Others think it may have something to do with the fact that blushing people have been shown to be considered more likable, so it helps peers look past the bad things we’ve done.

4. It's still unclear why anesthesia makes us pass out.

Doctors putting a patient under anesthesia.
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General anesthesia has been in use in the United States since 1846, but there are still some uncertainties about why the chemicals in anesthetics cause people to pass out. A recent study showed that the drugs affect proteins in the brain and the reason we go unconscious has to do with altering neural activity, but more research is needed.

5. We aren't exactly sure what consciousness is.

A man looking out the window.
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Consciousness is frequently defined as how we feel present and alive in the world. But the question is: Why and how do we feel conscious? It’s of interest in both philosophy and science. Scientists would like to know which part of the brain is responsible for consciousness, but it’s still a mystery.

6. It's unclear exactly how medications like Tylenol work.

A woman taking a painkiller.
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We don’t 100 percent understand how pain relievers containing acetaminophen give us pain relief. We do know that acetaminophens aren’t totally consistent; they’re more effective in some types of cells than in others. So for now, scientists believe the drugs might be a specific type of enzyme inhibitor.

7. We aren't sure why we get hiccups or how to stop them.

A mother burping a baby.
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Scientists don’t know what causes hiccups, what purpose they serve, or how to cure them. A lot of people have favorite techniques, from gargling water to pulling hard on the tongue, but there’s no scientifically-proven way to get rid of them.

In 2002, one researcher tried to get to the bottom of the problem by looking at how 54 hospital patients had been treated for hiccups. They tried multiple treatments, like holding their breath and medication, but none were proven effective.

8. Scientists haven't figured out why tornadoes start.

A tornado in a field.
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We don’t know why only some thunderstorms create tornadoes and others don’t. Generally, it’s understood that tornadoes come to be when cold, dry air interacts with warm, humid air. But the thunderstorms that result from those air conditions only sometimes cause tornadoes.

9. Scientists also haven't figured out why tornadoes end.

A tornado in the distance.
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It’s also unclear why tornadoes die—though experts believe that at least sometimes it has to do with the tornado’s interaction with cold temperatures.

10. It's still uncertain why we need to sleep.

A woman sleeping.
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There are theories as to why we need sleep, but no one knows for sure. It's possible our ancestors slept because it kept them out of danger during the night. Or it could be an energy conserving function. What we do know is that sleep helps us recover from the day, and there’s evidence it changes the connections in our brains.

11. The reason we dream is still unclear.

A woman asleep.
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Similarly, there are no clear answers as to why we dream. Some sleep experts think dreaming doesn’t have a purpose at all. Others have theories, like that we’re playing out threatening situations, like being chased, so that we’re better equipped to handle danger while awake.

12. We still aren't sure why we have the urge to scratch.

A man scratching an itch.
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We often understand why we itch. But, we don’t completely understand why we have the urge to scratch. The body has receptors just for itches that are almost identical to those that convey pain, and it’s thought that scratching might interfere with these signals. But at the same time, it might cause the skin to get more irritated, which causes even more itching.

13. Science still hasn't figured out the cure for aging.

An older person and a younger person.
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Scientists know some things about why we age, but no one has fully figured it out. There’s little evidence for popular hypotheses having to do with things like free radicals and telomeres. Aging is probably the result of a complex group of poorly understood processes, meaning a cure isn’t happening any time soon.

14. Ornithologists still don't know why only some birds migrate.

Birds flying in a v-shape.
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It’s also unclear why some birds migrate while others don’t. The ones that do migrate might do it to conserve energy, which might be kind of confusing, since they’re flying great distances and therefore expending a lot of energy to get to their destination. But it’s likely worth it since they’re probably traveling somewhere with abundant energy sources—a.k.a., plenty of available food. Luckily, thanks to technology like tracking devices, scientists are able to track birds more easily and are now learning much more about migration.

15. Scientists haven't figured out the “nature vs. nurture” debate.

A family sitting at a table.
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The question of nature versus nurture hasn’t been settled yet. Technically, we know that our genes interact with our environment to foster characteristics—but science isn’t sure to what extent. A complicating factor is that it varies by trait and individual person. How much your genes are influencing your IQ, for instance, may be different from someone else.

16. We still aren't sure why the placebo effect happens.

Dark pills with one white pill in a pile.
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The placebo effect is pretty mysterious. It has been proven again and again that sugar pills and other fake treatments can actually make someone feel better. And it’s not just a feeling as scans have shown that placebos affect the area of the brain associated with pain. We still don’t know why. It’s believed that placebos somehow help release endorphins, but experts need more information.

17. It's still unclear why bicycles are able to stay up on their own.

Bikes in a row.
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Have you ever given a bike with no one on it a push and noticed that it stays up on its own? It doesn’t fall over for much longer than you expect, and we don’t know how it manages to balance itself while moving.

18. How skates work on ice is still unknown.

A woman putting on ice skates.
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And another mystery of physics: How do skates work on ice? There is a popular theory. We know that ice has a very thin layer of liquid on it. So, a skate moving quickly on top of ice might make more liquid because the friction causes melting. The skate is actually changing the ice itself, creating a path on which to glide.

19. There still isn't a cure for the common cold.

A woman with a cold.
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We get colds from seven separate families of viruses and those families have sub-viruses. So, to cure the “cold,” there would need to be a cure that acts as a catch-all for about 200 sub-viruses.

6 Surprising Facts About Nintendo's Animal Crossing

Nintendo
Nintendo

by Ryan Lambie

Casting you as a newcomer in a woodland town populated by garrulous and sometimes eccentric creatures, Nintendo’s Animal Crossing is about conversation, friendship, and collecting things rather than competition or shooting enemies. It’s a formula that has grown over successive generations—which is all the more impressive, given the game’s obscure origins. The 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system, and the franchise was catapulted into further fame when Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on Nintendo Switch in March 2020. Here are a few things you may not know about the video game.

1. Animal Crossing’s inspiration came from an unlikely place.

By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008. Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.

2. Animal Crossing was originally developed for the N64.

Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume this is where the series began—the game actually originally appeared on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Dōbutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and it was never localized for a worldwide release.

3. Translating Animal Crossing for an international audience was a difficult task.

The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, this version of the game included characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.

Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience proved to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing, they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Dōbutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.

4. K.K. Slider is based on Animal Crossing’s composer.

K.K. Slider with his guitar
K.K. Slider appearing in promotional artwork for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
2020 Nintendo

One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.

5. One Animal Crossing character has been known to make players cry.

A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo's former president, the late Satoru Iwata.

“We really weren't sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people," Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don't like being shouted at in his rough accent.” Iwata agreed, saying, “It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared. I've heard that some of them have even cried.”

To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti was designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.

6. Animal Crossing is still evolving.

A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises. Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and five main games (or six if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android—it was a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. And in March 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizon was released on Switch, selling a whopping 1.88 million physical copies during its first three days on the market.

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