Podcasts

Amy-Stolls-Podcast-032620.png

Headshot of a woman.

Courtesy of Amy Stolls

Director of Literary Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts' Literary Arts Director Amy Stolls joins me for a conversation about books that can see us through difficult times. From children's books to YA to short stories to novels...and oh yes, there's poetry too, we discuss the many ways books can bring the world to us as we shelter in place. Amy and I also talk about the almost magical power of books to open ourselves to imagined worlds in other universes and then intensely inhabit the perspective of a single human being in a barren landscape. And, Amy is known as the agency wit--so it's a fun podcast! The books we discussed are below:

Metropolitan Stories: A Novel by Christine Coulson

Culinaria Italy: Pasta Pesto Passion edited by Claudia Piras

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

Here by Richard McGuire

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

Severance by Ling Ma

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

Barn 8 by Deb Olen Unferth

The Murderer's Ape by Jacob Wegelius

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

American Journal: Fifty poems for our Time, selected and introduced by Tracy K. Smith

 

Lauren-Gunderson-Podcast.png

Headshot of a woman.

Photo by Kirsten Lara Getchell

Playwright

It may come as a surprise to discover that in the 2019-2020 season, (Shakespeare aside) Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America. She’s achieved this in no small part by putting women’s stories at the center of her work. And she doesn’t just create the lone female protagonist—she has women interacting with other women-- sharing dreams, hopes, disappointments and successes. Her protagonists who are smart, funny, and determined and if they’re involved with science—so much the better. Science is a topic Gunderson returns to again and again in her work. As Lauren said in our interview, “I think theater is made for the biggest questions we can manage, and science like religion, like the arts-- is the thing that says, “What are we doing here?” That literally was the question at the center of her play Silent Sky that was recently produced at Fords’ Theater in Washington DC (and partially funded by the NEA). Silent Sky is based on a turn of the century astronomer named Henrietta Leavitt, who worked at the Harvard Observatory. Although she is little-known, Leavitt’s work and discoveries are crucial to our current understanding of the stars and the universe. In this podcast, Lauren talks about Silent Sky, her adaption of Peter Pan (in which Wendy is an aspiring scientist), her love of theater and science, and most crucially, what changes when women take the center stage.

Cord-Jefferson-podcast.png

Headshot of a man.

Photo by Keith Bormuth

Television writer

Cord Jefferson began his career as a journalist, but six years ago he began writing for television. Since that time, he has put together a jaw-dropping resume—writing for shows like Succession, Master of None, The Good Place (for which he just received an NAACP Image Award) and the ground-breaking series Watchmen. Watchmen is a super-hero series set in an alternative world that nonetheless shares much of our racial history. In fact, the series opens with 1921’s Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma—where whites rioted and razed Greenwood, a prosperous black part of town, killing hundreds of African Americans and destroying the community. A bold way to begin a super-hero series—but then Watchmen is a smart and profound examination of African-American history and how it shapes our world today. In fact, the episode Jefferson wrote with showrunner Damon Lindelof has a character living out her grandfather’s memories of vicious racism in the 1930s. In this podcast, Jefferson takes us inside the writers’ room of Watchmen; we talk about Lindelof’s vision for the series and how the writers worked together to bring it to fruition. We also talk about the process of collaboration, world building, and weaving real history into a fantasy series. Jefferson is immensely talented and a great storyteller.

Nate-Powell-Podcast3.png

Headshot of a man.

Photo courtesy of Nate Powell

Cartoonist and 2016 National Book Award winner

Cartoonist Nate Powell is the 2016 National Book Award co-winner for Young People’s Literature. He shared the prize with Rep John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for the graphic memoir/history March. March is a trilogy, and it tells the story of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis. From a very young age, John Lewis was involved in the fight for racial equality through non-violent action. As one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was present at pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights, including lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, Mississippi Freedom Summer and the March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In this week’s podcast, Nate Powell talks about how he captured those moments in cartoons, the challenges of representing figures who well-known like Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he grappled with portraying the horrifying violence endured by protestors in a medium so often occupied with super-heroes and super-villains. Nate is thoughtful, smart, and in love with cartooning. I learned a lot.

Jeffrey-Palmer-Podcast.png

Headshot of a man.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Palmer

Filmmaker

Christmas has come early this year: filmmaker Jeffrey Palmer has made N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear a documentary about novelist, poet and painter N. Scott Momaday. Momaday is an artistic force of nature, and it's a nature embedded in Kiowa art, culture and history. He's received many awards; most notably the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Literature--the first and only time it's been awarded to Native-American writer--and the 2007 National Medal of Arts. For his long career, N. Scott Momaday has been profoundly influential for Native artists and extremely significant for anyone interested in American culture. Although they are generations apart, Momaday was an influence on Jeffrey Palmer. Kiowa and born in the same area of Oklahoma as Scott, Jeffrey met him when he was a kid and while overwhelmed by his size and deep voice, (Jeffrey remembers it was like shaking hands with a catcher's mitt), he also was instantly inspired by him and the possibilities he represented. And thirty years later, he found himself making a documentary about M. Scott Momaday for American Masters. Jeff and I talk, of course, about Scott Momaday and his deep importance to American culture, as well as Jeff's decision to present Scott's story within the larger story of the Kiowa and add visual elements of magical realism. (It's a visually stunning film that partners beautifully with Scott's poems and stories.) We also have a couple of excerpts from the documentary, so you'll get to hear N. Scott Momaday distinctive voice and get a sense of his captivating presence. He is a national treasure.

Daniel-Mason-podcast.png

Headshot of a man.

Photo by Sara Houghteling

Author, physician and NEA Lit Fellow

Author, physician, and National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow Daniel Mason wrote and published his first novel while he was still in medical school. The Piano Tuner received international acclaim, was translated into 28 languages, and adapted for theater and opera. Mason took time off after medical school to complete his second novel, A Far Place, which was short-listed for several literary prizes. Mason then finished his medical training and began his clinical practice and--since he’s not super-human after all--his third novel was 14 years in the making. Again,he struck gold wowing critics and readers alike with The Winter Soldier. The Winter Soldier tells the story of Lucius who leaves medical school in Vienna at the outbreak of World War I to serve in the Army. The Austrian-Hungarian empire, facing a shortage of doctors, allows medical students to staff field hospitals. Anxious for this practical experience, Lucius joins up and finds himself in a tiny village in the Carpathian mountains. He is expecting a well-staffed hospital run by experienced doctors who can mentor him. Instead, he finds himself the sole doctor in a bombed-out church doubling as a hospital whose single remaining medical personnel is a field nurse, Sister Margarete. The story that unfolds is Lucius’s medical and emotional coming of age. But the novel is also about the mad incongruity of World War I, the fleeting connections forged by war, and the growing awareness of the pervasiveness of a new condition affecting the armies—shell shock. Mason speaks thoughtfully about writing and psychiatry (his medical practice) and how his two careers are complementary and how they are not. We also talk about the joys and pitfalls of research and the attitudinal changes in medicine in the past 100 years.

madeline-miller-podcast.jpg

Madeline Miller

Photo by Nina Subin

Novelist and NEA Big Read author

In Circe --Madeline Miller’s second novel and our newest NEA Big Read title—the goddess/witch moves from the sidelines of The Odyssey to the center stage of her own story. Miller knows and loves the classics and Circe is an imaginative response to questions Miller had about the exiled goddess. She doesn’t change the story so much as expand it and give us Circe's back story. For example, Circe still turns men into pigs, as she does in Homer’s telling, but in Miller’s book she gives us the context behind this piece of magic. Miller and I talk about gods and mortals, the fine distinctions between witches and goddesses, what shifts when you put a woman’s story in an epic frame, the timelessness and timeliness of these myths, and why every woman should have a lion. She is engaging, fun and funny—in other words, she’s a great addition to the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program and a super podcast guest.

pam-munoz-ryan-podcast.png

Headshot of a woman.

Photo courtesy of Pam
Muñoz Ryan

Award-winning children’s and young adult writer

For young adult novelist Pam Muñoz Ryan, a multi-cultural perspective comes naturally. She grew up in Bakersfield, California, with her grandmother who was an Oklahoma pioneer woman moving in as she grew older, and a big extended family nearby anchored by her other grandmother, Esperanza, who was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Muñoz Ryan based her novel Esperanza Rising on her Mexican grandmother’s life, and it’s become a classic of young people’s literature—taught in schools and beloved in homes throughout the country. She has written over 40 books, and she casts a wide net in terms of subjects: from the childhood of Pablo Neruda in The Dreamer, to a young kid living in a trailer in Oklahoma in Becoming Naomi Leon, to the magical realism of Echo in which three young people in pre-World War II Germany and post-Pearl Harbor America are connected by an enchanted harmonica. But whatever the topic, Muñoz Ryan knows how to write for young people; her respect for them and the way they move in the world is enormous, and it’s reflected in her writing. (She has the awards to prove it; it’s a staggering list!) In this episode of the podcast, Muñoz Ryan talks about her upbringing, learning the histories of both her grandmothers, her writing in general and writing for young readers in particular. She’s fun, thoughtful, and full of stories.

R-O-Kwon-Podcast2.jpg

Headshot of a woman.

Photo by Smeeta Mahanti

Novelist and 2016 NEA Literature Fellow

Novelist and 2016 NEA Literature Fellow R.O. Kwon's first novel, The Incendiaries, was ten years in the making. But that persistence and hard work paid off: the debut novel was named a best book of the year by over 40 publications. It’s a vivid, dark story that deals with faith, loss, a fractured love, and fanaticism. But Kwon herself is anything but dark. Talking about that ten-year journey of writing The Incendiaries, she told me she would wonder, ”Why didn’t I become a dermatologist? I would have been a good dermatologist. I love thinking about skincare.” It’s one of the funny asides that pepper this conversation in which she is also thoughtful about herself and about writing. We find out about the genesis of the book—the loss of her deep Christian faith and her grief over that loss, her deep love for fiction, and her sadness that when she was growing up there were so few Asian-American writers for her to model a career on. Kwon also shares how her love of language tripped up her writing in the novel's early drafts and some of the strategies she used to keep going. It’s a wide-ranging conversation with an engaging, thoughtful, and smart author.

###

julia-alvarez-podcast.png

Headshot of a woman.

Photo courtesy of Algonquin Books

NEA Literature Fellow, Big Read author, 2013 National Medal of Arts recipient

Twenty-five years ago, Julia Alvarez published In the Time of the Butterflies, which was chosen as a Big Read title in 2010. 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. The girls were known in the underground by their codename “Las Mariposas,” or butterflies. Their story was very close to Avarez's own. She spent her childhood in the Dominican Republic, but her family got out. In this podcast, Julia Alvarez discusses how In the Time of the Butterflies came to be, the rich source material she finds in her family's immigrant experience, and how her life as a reader led to her life as a writer.

Pages