Sunday, August 24, 2014

Max Brooks on WWI, the Harlem Hellfighters, Zombies & Him

Max Brooks’s own military service was cut short after a year in the ROTC (pronated feet), but he’s a serious student of warfare and military history. He’s written about those subjects fictionally in his novel World War Z and factually in The Harlem Hellfighters. The latter, a graphic novel that cracked the NYT best-seller list earlier this year, tells the story of a heroic black U.S. regiment in World War One who fought the Germans abroad and racism at home. Max and I talked about the Hellfighters and the nature of bigotry then and now. Also:

  • His thoughts on the “Great War” and its lingering impact on the U.S., 100 years (almost to the week) after its outbreak.
  • The responsibilities of war-waging and nation-building.
  • Our shared affection for Studs Terkel and his oral histories.
  • The popularity of Zombie fiction. Max has been described as the “best-selling zombie writer of all time.”
  • His own battles with dyslexia, self-doubt and the stigma of being a “legacy kid” (he’s the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft).
  • His current efforts to turn the Harlem Hellfighters into a movie.

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

Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment, aka “The Harlem Hellfighters”


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Novelist Karen Joy Fowler on Our Animal Problem
Show for Jan 26, 2014

So we’re kin to our fellow creatures – cousins, we like to say, to chimpanzees and bonobos. But what sort of family obligations should follow from that, it seems we’re nowhere near to working out. Some people have taken the notion of primate kinship to literal lengths, attempting to raise chimps as children in psychological studies of the animal-human cognitive divide. With their often-sloppy science and often-sorry outcomes (see, for example, Project Nim), most such experiments have done less to limn the inter-species boundary than to highlight our dire confusions about it.

These studies also tell a larger tale of familial dreams and disappointments in general, a point brought achingly to life in Karen Joy Fowler’s latest novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s the saga of one chimped-up family and its inevitable dissolution. Karen and I talked about the troubled history of chimp cross-fostering experiments, about the splintering of families, of siblings and selves, and storytelling as a source of self-knowledge, real or illusory. We also shared a bit of our own stories, as kids of psychology profs with former lab rats – though thankfully not chimps – as pets.  

Update: Several months after we did this interview, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.


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…”)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Show for May 5, 2013. Jill Wolfson: Justice, Retribution, High School and Young Adult Fiction.

Jill Wolfson was last on the show discussing the Beat Within writing program for incarcerated teens. You can hear my interviews with Jill, her colleague Dennis Morton and some of kids they work with in Juvenile Hall in this program from 2010. Jill has also written extensively on juvenile justice, crime and retribution as a journalist and non-fiction author, and those themes figure prominently in her latest young adult novel, Furious. Inspired by Greek myth and the tragedies of Aeschylus, it’s about three high school girls who become modern incarnations of the avenging Furies. We talked about the challenges of writing for the “YA” audience, the wages of revenge, the indelible impress of high school and Jill’s own teen years.

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 24, 2013

Show for Feb 24, 2013. The New Peer Gynt.

150 years after its creation, Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt remains sui generis and uncategorizable: folktale and fever dream, existential inquiry and social satire, straddling romanticism and modernism. Its locales include Norwegian mountain villages, a troll castle, the Moroccan coast and a Cairo lunatic asylum. A new adaptation mounted by Kimberly Jannarone at UC Santa Cruz turns Gynt into a kind of living gallery, with different scenes staged simultaneously in multiple venues and the audience wandering among them. Kimberly spoke to me about the history of the play, her own Gynt-mania (including a trip to Gynt’s Norwegian stomping grounds) and the play’s enduring popularity. Joining us was actor Nancy Carlin, who plays Peer Gynt’s mother, Åse, in the production.

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…”)