Art Works Blog

Round-up of podcasts with Big Read authors

Meet some our NEA Big Read authors in our Art Works podcasts! We’ve put together a list of podcasts where the authors join us to discuss all things literary. Listen to them share their journey into writing, find out what inspired them to write their novels, and what it means for them to be a writer. You’ll get the chance to hear some of the authors read from their work, understand the characters in-depth, and connect with the novel in a unique way. Go ahead and grab a set headphones and start listening!

Tayari Jones

Over the course of her career, Tayari Jones has received many awards including a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Although Tayari has written a number of short stories and articles, she is best known for her three novels—each set in Atlanta and each award winners. Tayari’s most recent novel is Silver Sparrow which tells the story of two half-sisters, the separate homes they are raised in, and the father that they share.

“For me, I have to enjoy writing the novel. I like to think of writing a novel the way I would approach, say, a slice of chocolate cake. You want to eat the cake and that’s how I feel when I’m writing. I want to write the book.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Tayari Jones, here.

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea is an award-winning author. Luis's work tends to focus on the U.S.-Mexican border, and the people who move from one side to the other. That's the focus of his novel, Into the Beautiful North, although it takes the form of an adventure story. Nineteen-year-old Nayeli and her friends decide to go north to recruit men who will save her hometown from local thugs. 

“I realized that I often think I'm representing this Mexican experience to American readers, but I'm also, I realize, representing the United States to other people, what it's like here. And that's been an education for me.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Luis Alberto Urrea, here.

Julia Alvarez

In 1994, three years after writing How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez wrote her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies. Set in the Dominican Republic, In the Time of the Butterflies is a fictionalized account of the Mirabal sisters, three of whom were murdered by henchmen of dictator Rafael Trujillo for their resistance to his regime.

In the Time of the Butterflies is a book that helped me understand my country's story and my parents' story. But I think it was a book also that I had to write because it was a debt that I owed. I wasn’t thinking of it analytically in the way that I have to repay this debt and tell this story. It was more that it was a story that was a pebble in my shoe that I couldn't shake out.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Julia Alvarez, here.

Julie Otsuka

Purple, white, and pink Cherry Blossoms sprouting from a tree branch.

Photo source: Rula Sibai/Unsplash 

Based in part on the experiences of Julie Otsuka's own family, her novel When the Emperor Was Divine, tells the story of a Japanese-American family forced to leave San Francisco after the start of World War II. Sent to an internment camp in Utah, a mother, daughter, and son come to grips with life in confinement in a bleak desert landscape—missing a father who had been arrested and sent to prison right after Pearl Harbor. They are released after two years and allowed to return to San Francisco, but their homecoming is fraught with hardship and anxiety about their place in America.

“I transitioned to writing after failing as a painter, and I do recommend failure. I think it's a very good experience for anyone to go through. I never thought I would end up as a writer.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Julie Otsuka, here.

Dinaw Mengestu

Dinaw Mengestu's novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, is about an Ethiopian immigrant living in exile in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington DC. It's been 17 years since his violent expulsion from Addis Ababa, but he can't put the Ethiopian capital and its memories behind him. The book is Mengestu's first novel and it illustrates what great fiction can do; take us on an unexpected journey, where we learn to see with another's eyes.

“Storytelling is not just the act of recounting a narrative or recounting a history. It's very much an act of sharing a part of yourself, and so how you tell the story, becomes a part of who you are as much as it is about the story itself.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Dinaw Mengestu, here.

Tim O'Brien

Six military aircraft flying in the sky.

Photo source: Jacob Valerio/Unsplash 

Tim O'Brien was drafted into the Army at age 21. The Things They Carried is a work of fiction presented as a memoir. A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried depicts the men of the fictional Alpha Company, including a character named Tim O'Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of 43.

“There's a reason that fiction exists. In fiction you can write about what almost happened, but didn't happen. And fiction could also be about, in some cases, what should have happened.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Tim O’Brien, here.


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