Press contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

May 24, 2011

Noah Webster, Creator of American Dictionary, Is Subject of Book Discussion

Noah Webster’s name is synonymous with the dictionary he created, but his story is not nearly so well-known. Webster hobnobbed with various Founding Fathers and was a young confidant of George Washington and Ben Franklin. He started America’s first daily newspaper, predating Alexander Hamilton’s New York Post. His "blue-backed speller" for schoolchildren sold millions of copies and influenced early copyright law. But perhaps most important, Webster was an ardent supporter of a unified, definitively American culture, distinct from the British, at a time when the United States of America were anything but unified – and his dictionary of American English is a testament to that.

Joshua Kendall has written an absorbing and insightful account of how American English came to be codified in his new book, "The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture" (Putnam’s, 2011). He will discuss and sign his work on Thursday, June 2, at noon in Dining Room A, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond program, sponsored by the Center for the Book, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

Noah Webster (1758-1843) was more than just America’s greatest lexicographer. He was also a Founding Father who helped define American culture. In 1783, he published the first edition of his legendary spelling book, which would teach five generations of Americans how to read. A leading Federalist, Webster was in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention, where he wrote a highly influential essay on behalf of the nation’s founding document. In 1798, the Yale grad moved back to New Haven with his family – he and his wife, Rebecca Greenleaf, would raise seven children – to begin his dictionary. Having made a fortune from his publishing ventures, Webster could afford to follow his heart. The first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. He would continue working on revisions until the day he died. In contrast to his predecessor, the renowned British wordsmith Samuel Johnson, who famously opined, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money," Webster loved compiling and defining words more than just about anything else. This obsession, which was instrumental in helping a high-strung genius live an amazingly vibrant life, ended up giving America a language of its own.

Joshua Kendall, who did much of his research at the Library of Congress, is a language enthusiast and an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and Psychology Today.

Kendall’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/. Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress (www.Read.gov/cfb/) has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s www.Read.gov website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.

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PR 11-107
05/24/11
ISSN 0731-3527

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