July 2: A tie between two towering and inspiring Civil Rights leaders with tragically different stories—Thurgood Marshall and Medgar Evers.
July 3: John Singleton Copley, one of America’s first and most enduring prominent artists, whose works captured Revolutionary heroes and ordinary American citizens with equal talent and humanism.
July 4: Nathaniel Hawthorne!
July 5: P.T. Barnum, whose most famous achievements and ideas tended to reflect some of America’s darker and nastier sides, but who nonetheless revolutionized American leisure and entertainment in a variety of ways.
July 6: Sylvester Stallone—perhaps the most debatable of all my nominees, but a man who created or helped create, in Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, two of the most iconic American cultural figures of the last half-century.
July 7: Margaret Walker, the Alabama-born writer and poet who followed the Great Migration to Chicago, worked there for the Federal Writers Project and with Richard Wright, and published some of the most powerful political and social poetry and fiction of the late 20th century.
July 8: George Antheil, the Modernist avant garde composer who had a hugely prolific career, was also a talented writer, philosopher, and critic, and with actress Hedy Lamarr helped invent an innovative communications system that’s still in use today.
July 10: Mary McLeod Bethune, the pioneering civil rights leader, activist, and educator who started the National Council of Negro Women, founded Bethune-Cookman College, and served for nearly a decade in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, among many other achievements.
July 11: Jhumpa Lahiri, author of some of the 21st century’s best American short stories and one of its best novels, and a singular talent whose next steps I can’t wait to follow!
July 12: Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s foremost philosophers, environmentalists, political activists, travel writers, lecturers and essayists, and literary voices.
July 13: Stewart Culin, the museum researcher, archivist, and ethnographer whose work on games, language, and objects, particularly in Native American cultures but also around the world, profoundly impacted our understandings of those elements and cultures.
July 14: Woody Guthrie, for lots of reasons but especially for the song that I have nominated as our new national anthem!
July 15: Clement Clarke Moore, who might or might not have written “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—which is pretty appropriate since the poem did more than any other single work to cement our images of perhaps our most mythic and frequently lied-about figure.
July 17: Billie Holiday, whose “Strange Fruit” is one of the most perfect American Studies songs, but only one part of a long and impressive life and career.
July 18: A tie between two very different American legends who together embody much of post-war American culture and society: John Glenn and Hunter S. Thompson.
July 19: Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, the Nobel Prize-winning physician who worked her way up from stenography courses to become one of the most influential figures in American medicine and science.
July 20: Cormac McCarthy, the contemporary American novelist whose works both engage with some of the darkest American narratives and histories and yet find, at times, hope for the nation and for humanity in our most enduring stories and identities.
July 21: A tie between two hugely distinct but equally talented and influential Modernist writers, Hart Crane and Ernest Hemingway.
July 22: Another tie, this time between two unique and interesting American artists, Emma Lazarus and Alexander Calder.
July 23: Raymond Chandler, one of America’s (and the world’s) greatest mystery novelists, and also one of our most thoughtful and complex chroniclers of masculinity, heroism, social class, and more.
July 24: Amelia Earhart, whose pioneering and inspirational life is rivaled by her mysterious and legendary final flight in our national narratives and stories.
July 25: Thomas Eakins, whose realistic and humanistic paintings helped change American art, culture, and society as much as any single 19th century artist or figure.
July 26: Stanley Kubrick, one of America’s most talented filmmakers and an artist whose interests consistently centered on complex themes of American identity, society, and community.
July 27: A tie between two unique artists whose creations helped define late 20th century American culture and society, Norman Lear and Gary Gygax.
July 28: Lucy Burns, whose international and American efforts on behalf of women’s suffrage, women’s rights, and pacifism exemplified the ideals of the progressive era and movement at home and abroad, then and now.
July 29: Daniel Callaghan, the US naval officer who served in both World Wars and whose courageous and fatal efforts during the Battle of Guadalcanal led him to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor.
July 30: A tie between two diametrically opposed yet in their own ways equally influential turn of the 20th century figures, Thorstein Veblen and Henry Ford.