Sunday, July 13, 2014

Spoon Jackson & Judith Tannenbaum: Poetry, Prison, Two Lives
Show for July 13, 2014

He’s serving life in prison. She’s a poet and teacher. Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum discuss how they met, discovered a mutual love of writing, and forged a 30-year friendship, as told in their joint memoir, By Heart: Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives. Originally broadcast in 2010.

Spoon was also featured in the recent documentary film, At Night I Fly by Michel Wenzer, who I interviewed in 2013.

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Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download icon on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

International Basketball Player and Writer Coleman Collins
Show for June 8, 2014

Coleman Collins was a stand-out basketball player in college and might have had a shot at the NBA if he’d stuck around and worked his way up through the D-league. But he chose to take his talents to Europe instead, where he could see the world and make a good living in the process. Over the last 6 years, he’s played for teams in France, Germany, Bosnia, Ukraine and Bahrain. Coleman’s not only an elite baller but also an incisive writer, reporting on his travels and cross-cultural experiences for ESPN’s TrueHoop blog. After reading his terrific essay on encountering the N-word in Bosnia, I was determined to talk to him. We discussed his dual life as athlete and writer/cultural commentator, what it’s like to be an African-American in places where that’s a novelty, cutting through stereotypes, basketball culture in Europe and the Middle East, and race at home and abroad.

Coleman’s Instagram account and website.

Here’s a link to Ta-Nahisi Coates’ essay The Case for Reparations, one of the topics touched on in our conversation.

Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download icon on the upper right to get your own mp3.

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Not many guys can really rock lederhosen, but Coleman Collins can.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Polar Photographer and Storm Chaser Camille Seaman
Show for June 1, 2014

Maybe it’s not so surprising that someone named after a hurricane and whose Shinnecock Indian grandfather taught her that “it’s your sweat up there in the clouds” would have a special feeling for meteorological phenomena and the cycles of nature. But there were miles to go and a lot of serendipity before Camille Seaman found her calling as an acclaimed photographer of ice and storms. She was an at-risk teen when a teacher gave her her first camera. Then there was an impetuous trip to the arctic years later, and the emotional jolt of 9/11, and some mentoring from a National Geographic photographer…

I caught up with Camille as she was finishing up a Knight journalism fellowship at Stanford U. (she’s also a Senior TED Fellow). We spoke about her sinuous and chancy career path, the lives of icebergs and clouds, the allure of storm chasing, nature photography as portraiture and her next project, an ambitious experiment in urban reclamation. Plus a bonus online segment of photo-geekery: film vs digital, SLRs vs rangefinders, Photoshopping vs au naturel.

Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download arrow on the upper right to get your own mp3.

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See more of Camille’s work at her website.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nikil Saval: The Great Cubing of America
Show for May 18, 2014

In 2006, Fortune magazine estimated that 40 million Americans worked in cubicles. How did an innovation “reviled by workers, demonized by designers, disowned by its creator” (as Fortune put it) conquer our workplaces? And were things so much better before? What forces have driven the evolution of office space, from the cramped digs of Victorian-era clerks to the big open offices of the 20th century to the modern cubicle farm? Nikil Saval pondered these questions when he was trapped in a cubicle in his first full-time job, and finding no comprehensive history, wrote one himself. He and I discussed his new book, Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace.

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Click the play arrow above to hear the show, or the download arrow on the right to get your own mp3.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Singer-Songwriter Meklit: All in Good Time
Show for April 27, 2014

It took Meklit Hadero a while to realize she could be a singer, and a while longer to start recording, but man, has she made up the distance. Over the last few years she’s released a series of impeccably produced albums showcasing her own craftily written songs as well as some pretty beguiling cover versions, moving seamlessly from jazz to soul to hip-hop, indie rock, folk and even a little country. Her supple, spirited vocals invite comparisons to Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Nora Jones and Joan Armatrading. But she has a sound all her own, drawing on musical influences in all the aforementioned genres as well as the Ethiopian pop she heard growing up and the North/East African music she’s been exposed to in her work on The Nile Project, which she co-founded.

Meklit and I surveyed her discography, including her new album We Are Alive, while talking about her life and career, her exuberant approach to performance and the way creativity takes its own good time.

Thanks, Mwende and BAVC for your assistance!

Learn more about Meklit and her music, including her latest release, at meklitmusic.com

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Click here for more 7th Avenue Project music interviews

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Richard Rodriguez: Darling, A Spiritual Autobiography
Show for April 20, 2014 

I’ve been reading Richard Rodriguez’s essays and cultural criticism for years. I finally got a chance to talk to him with the release of his latest collection, Darling. In this interview, one of my favorites from 2013, we talked about faith, love and loss; Judaism, Christianity and Islam as “desert religions”; his own relationship to Catholicism and his argument with the “new atheists”; the role of women in his emancipation as a gay man; and the essay as “the biography of an idea.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein: Why Plato (and Philosophy) Won’t Go Away
Show for March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein says some of her best friends are “philosophy jeerers,” convinced that anything philosophers can do, scientists can do better. She begs to differ, and offers the grandaddy of Western philosophy as exhibit A. 21st-century America has a surprising amount in common with Athens c. 400 BCE, Rebecca says, and Plato still has a thing or two to teach us moderns. She shows how well the 2,400-year-old-man has aged by transporting him to our own times in her new book Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t go Away. Rebecca and I talked about the world of the ancient Greeks, the death of Socrates, the relevance of Plato and what philosophy is good for. Also the difference between a toga and a chiton.

Plus a bonus segment: just how timely is Plato? Philosophical rapper Dr. Awkward makes the case in rhymes.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

John Beckman on American Fun
Show for Feb 23, 2014

Noah Webster, channeling the prejudices of his time, defined “fun” in his 1828 dictionary as “sport; vulgar merriment; a low word.” But John Beckman says vulgar and low are exactly the point. Home-grown, salt-of-the-earth American fun, John contends, is democracy at its best, a way the plebes and proles throw off their bonds, declare their humanity and épater the overseers, elites and killjoys (like Noah Webster). John traces the history of rebellious fun in America from the Massachusetts colony of Merry Mount in the 1620s to the Merry Pranksters of the 1960s, and from the Sons of Liberty to flappers and jazzmen, b-boys and punks in his new book American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt. 

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Naturalist and Ophidophile Harry Greene
Show for Feb 16, 2014

Harry Greene is a much-admired natural historian and herpetologist with a soft spot for black-tailed rattlesnakes. He’s spent years in the field studying venomous serpents, when not in the classroom or lab (he’s currently a prof at Cornell; before that he was at UC Berkeley, where he taught and was curator of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology). Harry’s a very thoughtful guy and serious writer, as evidenced in his new memoir Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art. We talked about his career, about field biology vs. theory and experiment, about the wonders of snakedom, some of his favorite rattlers (especially “Superfemale 21”), and life and death in the natural and human worlds. 


Two-fisted herpetologist Harry Greene.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Race Manners columnist Jenée Desmond-Harris
Show for Jan 12, 2014

Even the most commonplace social interactions can get awfully dicey when race is involved. Enter Jenée Desmond-Harris, who writes the Race Manners advice column at theroot.com, helping readers sort through racially charged situations in everyday life. Jenée and I talked about her own background, the complexities of contemporary race relations and the predicaments we find ourselves in.

A small sampling of the topics we discussed:

  • Identity as a matter of choice
  • Being biracial in America
  • Talking to kids about race
  • Aestheticizing and sexualizing race
  • The racist uncle at the dinner table and what to do with him

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Show for Dec 29, 2013. Award-Winning Musical Comedy Writers Do “Lunch”

A musical gets a second life as Cabrillo Stage rolls out a new version of Lunch: A Modern Musical Myth this week. I spoke to two members of the Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Golden Globe-nominated creative team: composer Steve Dorff and book writer Rick Hawkins. They told me why they felt the story of 11th-hour redemption was ripe for revival, and how they updated both script and songs. We also listened to some of the original music, recorded in 1994 with an all-star studio cast including Carol Burnett, Michael Rupert, Laurie Beechman and Davis Gaines. Lunch Reimagined premieres Jan 3 at Cabrillo Stage. More info here.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Show for Dec 22, 2013. Cognitive Scientist Paul Bloom on the Foundations of Morality.

I’ve spoken to Paul Bloom previously about the precocious moral awareness of infants and the ingenious experiments used to demonstrate it. Now Paul has synthesized those findings in a far-reaching exploration of our ethical capacities and shortcomings.

Topics covered in this interview include: 

  • Are we born with a sense of right and wrong?
  • Gut feelings vs. rational deliberation as a basis for ethical behavior
  • Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and why it still rocks
  • The roots of racism
  • Mafia morality
  • Modern sitcoms and moral uplift

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Show for Dec 8, 2013. Mathematician Cédric Villani.

Since winning the Fields Medal (the closest thing in mathematics to the Nobel Prize) in 2010, Cédric Villani has become something of a roving ambassador for math and science. He’s well-suited (literally) to the role: a patient explainer and broad-minded thinker, passionate about education and social engagement, with a seemingly limitless range of interests. And just a cool guy.

We talked about Cédric’s emergence as a math whiz, what it’s like to spend years exploring a single equation, his fascination with statistical mechanics and entropy, whether math is “real” in some more-than-conceptual sense, what mathematicians do that computers can’t, his love of comic books, and, yes, his trademark retro look, seen below.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Show for Nov 24, 2013. Literary critic Helene Moglen.

That old 60’s phrase “consciousness raising” may sound quaint and overblown today, but for a generation of progressive intellectuals it wasn’t hyperbole. Feminism, for example, was more than a push for equality and social justice; it was a wholesale re-evaluation of all sorts of unexamined “truths” about the world and the stories we tell.

I think it’s easy to underestimate at our remove how much the ground shifted back then, which is why I wanted to talk to Helene Moglen. She was there for, and part of, the whole shebang. She began her career as a literary scholar in the Madmen-era 1950s, when the utterly apolitical, de-historicized New Criticism was all the rage. She found her voice in the civil rights and women’s movements in the 60’s and made the turn to feminist criticism, working to show how the complexities and contradictions of gender influence so many narratives, literary and otherwise.

In this interview, Helene offered an engrossing look at her life and times, including:

  • Studying at Yale when the New Criticism reigned supreme
  • Getting swept up in the women’s movement, and what those feminist consciousness raisings were really like
  • The work of her TV-producer husband, Sig
  • Her academic career, from NYU and SUNY to UCSC, where she became the first woman dean in the University of California system
  • An intro to feminist criticism, including feminist readings of Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein
  • What happens when feminists have sons

Helene Moglen in her current role as emerita professor literature and feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Show for Nov 3, 2013. Learning to Live While Doing Life in Prison.

Filmmaker Michel Wenzer isn’t interested in the lurid fare that typifies popular depictions of prison. He is interested in how some inmates manage to find a way to live and to grow in a place of desolation. For the men profiled in Wenzer’s documentary At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom, salvation comes in the form of self-examination and artistic engagement, helped along by the remnants of California’s once-thriving Arts In Corrections program.

Michel has a very personal connection to his subject; it was his immersion in reading, literature and music that sustained him while growing up in the foster care system in Sweden. We talked about his experience filming in New Folsom (younger sibling of the original Folsom Prison) and the life lessons we could all learn from some of the lifers he met. I played some clips from At Night I Fly and also some bits of interviews I’ve done over the years with prison artists, including the poet Spoon Jackson, who was the inspiration for Michel’s film.

At Night I Fly has its west coast premiere Wednesday, Nov 13 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, Ca. in a benefit for the Prison Arts Project. More info here.


Spoon Jackson in New Folsom (photo from At Night I Fly by Michel Wenzer). My 2010 interview with Spoon is here.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)