Sunday, July 13, 2014

Spoon Jackson & Judith Tannenbaum: Poetry, Prison, Two Lives


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, 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, April 13, 2014

Fady Joudah: Poetry, Medicine, Power and Dispossession
Show for April 13, 2014

Fady Joudah is a physician, a poet and the son of Palestinian refugees. And in so labeling him, I run the risk of doing exactly the sort of categorizing he and his writing resist. Fady is deeply suspicious of the way linguistic habits, packaged narratives and institutional norms buttress social inequities and occasional iniquity. So what’s a practicing doctor and serious poet to do? We discussed how Fady responds to the challenge in both of his vocations. Including:

  • Readings from Fady’s books The Earth in the Attic, Alight and Textu
  • Poems of witness based on his work in an American VA hospital and in Darfur with Doctors without Borders
  • Verses from Mahmoud Darwish, recalled from childhood
  • Poetry in the age of smartphones
  • The refugee experience, dislocation as the modern condition, the illusion of “home”

  
Fady Joudah’s book The Earth in the Attic won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award in 2008. He has also just been named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow in poetry.

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, 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…”)

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…”)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Show for June 17, 2012. Jonathan Gottschall on the Storytelling Instinct.

I’ve been nipping at the edges of this subject for a while, and in a recent show I mentioned that I was seeking someone who could tackle it head-on. Well, I found him: Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Jonathan and I discussed the central place of narrative not only in art and entertainment, but in our deep understanding of the world and ourselves. With us humans, it’s story time all the time, or at least much of the time. Jonathan and I talked about storytelling’s pervasive influence, possible evolutionary explanations, its hazards and if/how we ever escape its constraints.

Bonus points to listeners who caught Jonathan’s passing reference (“ignorant armies clash by night”) to Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. Substitute the notion of “story” for “love” in the last stanza, and the poem nicely captures some of the Jonathan’s thoughts on the psychological necessity of storytelling.

Click the Play arrow above 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, March 11, 2012

Show for March 11, 2011. Gay Writers and Gay Rights.

In his new book, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, Christopher Bram says it was literature more than any other art form that opened America’s eyes to same-sex relationships and paved the way for gay rights. In the years following World War II, when homosexuality was taboo territory for movies, TV and other mass media, it was writers who broke the silence. Chris and I discussed the impact of writers such as Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, James Baldwin and Allen Ginsburg; the sometimes nasty critical reaction to their work; and how Chris himself read his way out of the closet.

Chris’s previous nine books include Father of Frankenstein, the basis for the movie Gods and Monsters.

Click the Play arrow above 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 26, 2012

Show for Feb 26, 2012. Ancient Stories, New Technology: The Thinning Veil

Everybody loves a good dysfunctional family drama, which is one reason the Oresteia and other Greek tales of the strife-torn House of Atreus have never gone out of fashion. Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra and the gang are at it again in a new play premiering this week at UC Santa Cruz. The production draws freely on classical sources including the Illiad and the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and adds a high-tech twist: it takes place simultaneously on two stages representing two distinct realities, bridged by live video streaming. I spoke with writer/director Kirsten Brandt and producer Ted Warburton, both of UCSC’s Theater Arts Department, about the performance, the timeless truths of Greek tragedy and the use of “telematic” technology in theater.

More details on the performance, which runs from Mr. 2 through 11, here.

Click the Play arrow above 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 19, 2012

Show for Feb 19, 2012: The Post-Valentine’s Day Massacre

This episode originally aired on Feb. 15, 2009. Seeing as it was the morning after, I took a few swipes at love and romance with the help of some great guests and lots of music. This year, my broadcast slot fell on Feb 19, close enough to Valentine’s Day to revive the show. Segments include:

  • Science writer Hannah Holmes on the biology of hooking up and dogging around
  • Critic Laura Kipnis on monogamy and marriage as social engineering
  • Writer Jonathan Ames on love and its disappointments*
  • Writer and musician Glenn Kurtz on the death of dreams
  • Edie and Simone on the real meaning of valentines

Click the Play arrow above 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…”)

*At the time, Jonathan was developing his HBO comedy series, Bored to Death, starring Jason Schwartzman as “Jonathan Ames.” The show debuted later that year and has become a hit, now going into its 4th season. Update (Mr 20, 2012): I’ve just learned from John Hodgman, an occasional cast member of BTD, that the show has been cancelled despite critical acclaim and an enthusiastic following. John talks more about that in an interview I’ll be airing April 1.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Show for April 3, 2011. The View From the Cockpit: Combat Pilot Jason Armagost

Lieutenant Colonel Jason Armagost of the US Air Force fired some of the opening shots of the Iraq War as he piloted a B2 bomber over Baghdad. He’s also a writer and serious reader, who carried a small library of classic fiction, essays and poetry with him on that flight. He talks with us about his experiences, about his role in the war and how literature helps him make sense of it all.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen to the interview, or download the MP3 here.


Read Jason Armagost’s essay Things to Pack When You’re Bound for Baghdad (pdf)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Show for Jan 10, 2010. The Real Mark Twain

What Mark Twain’s writing tells us about him and about America. Twain scholar Forrest Robinson looks behind the mask of America’s favorite humorist and finds a troubled conscience, haunted by history.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Show for Dec 6, 2009. Private Wars: Tracy Kidder and Andrew Sean Greer

Two interviews from the archives: Tracy Kidder discusses his 2006 memoir, “My Detachment,” about the year he spent as a young army lieutenant in Vietnam. Novelist Andrew Sean Greer from 2008, on his most recent work: “The Story of A Marriage.”

  

To here the show, click the “Play” arrow above, or you can download the mp3 here.