Art Works Podcast

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Photo by Andria Lo

Author and 2020 NEA Literature Fellow

Author and 2020 NEA Literature Fellow Vanessa Hua has a sense of humor and a feel for an apt turn of phrase. She describes her novel A River of Stars as “a pregnant Chinese Thelma and Louise.” She’s just as wry in her description of her book of short stories, Deceit and Other Possibilities, whose theme she says is “model minorities behaving badly.” And while both descriptions are spot-on, they only hint at the complexity of the lives she explores in fiction. She vividly explores the lives of immigrants in San Francisco’s Chinatown, single mothers hustling to support themselves and their children while agonizing over the daily separation, and first-generation parents and second-generation children facing a divide as wide as the Yangtze River or San Francisco Bay. Hua began her career as a journalist, and she has a keen ear for the struggles of people on the streets and has the ability to give them voice. In this podcast, she talks about her experiences as a journalist, as a writer of fiction, as a mother, and as a second-generation Chinese American. She is clear these experiences don’t exist in silos but are always informing one another.

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Brandon Gryde, photo by Arthur Espinza and Peter Szep

This week is a bit different: the podcast is divided into two parts with one subject-- Festivals. We begin by taking a broad look at festivals, their place in the cultural landscape, and their adjustments to the shut-downs caused by the pandemic. Our guide to this is Brandon Gryde our new director of Presenting and Multidisciplinary Works. Having come from Opera America and Dance USA, he’s extremely knowledgeable about the many types of festivals and their various responses to the uncertainty caused by Covid 19.

In part 2, we look at single festival—the New York Opera Fest which is hosted by New York Opera Alliance a community-based consortium of independent opera companies and producers. Fairly early on, New York Opera Fest moved their eight week festival online and reinvented itself as New York Virtual Opera Fest. Founding director of NY Opera Fest and co-founder of NY Opera Alliance Peter Szep explains the transformation of the five-year old festival and the range of work the festival is offering (including a discussion of Heartbeat Opera’s incandescent virtual performance of “ Make Our Garden Grow” featuring over 30 Heartbeat alumni including singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and a gardener.) And because it’s impossible to talk about an opera festival without talking about the innovative work being done by independent opera companies in NY, (and there are over 80 companies in NY!), you’ll hear about the exciting music that continues to be created!

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Photo by Dezel Golart

Author, National Book Award winner and four-time host of POL finals

Elizabeth Acevedo is a poet and novelist whose books are alive with Dominican-American and Afro- Caribbean culture and community and have at their centers teenage girls learning to navigate life, relaxing into and pushing against their upbringings. A National Poetry Slam Champion, Liz’s second book The Poet X won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in 2018. (And in case you haven’t read it—and if you haven’t, you should-- The Poet X is a novel in verse that tells the story of 15 year-old Xiomara as she wrestles with her mother’s expectations and discovers herself through slam poetry.)

Since The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo has written two more highly acclaimed books: With the Fire on High, a novel told in prose about Emoni a high school student who’s a mother and who’s also determined to become a chef. And now, most recently, Clap When You Land -- once again a novel in verse—that has as its jumping off point a tragic plane crash, the lies and secrets it reveals, and what’s lost and what’s found in the face of terrible grief. Clap When You Land looks at family and community across two cultures from the perspective of two generations of women—all fierce, capable and imperfect. Elizabeth Acevedo is as lively and charismatic a guest as she is a writer. In this podcast, she talks about her own family who inflamed her imagination with stories, her love for the Dominican Republic even as she understands its flaws, the profound difficulty of uprooting oneself and leaving one country for another, and the challenges and joy of having deep connections to multiple worlds.

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Photo Credit Toshi Sakurai, courtesy Chick Corea Prod.

Pianist, composer and 2006 NEA Jazz Master

Pianist, composer and 2006 NEA Jazz Master Chick Corea is a musical shape-shifter. Beginning a brilliant solo career in the mid-1960s, Chick has moved effortlessly from straight-up jazz to avant-garde, from bebop to fusion. In addition to his 23 Grammy Awards, Corea has also won 4 Latin Grammys. Aside from being a sensitive interpreter of Mozart, Chick has also composed contemporary classical music including concerti, string quartets and other symphonic works. Over his five-decade long career, Chick’s list of collaborators read like a veritable “Who’s Who” in jazz. They include Stan Getz, Mile Davis, Anthony Braxton, Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton, Béla Fleck Christian McBride and Rubén Blades. We spoke with Chick last December to ask him for his thoughts about his long-time collaborator 2020 Jazz Master Bobby McFerrin—but of course, who would miss the opportunity to talk to Chick Corea about Chick Corea? In this music-filled podcast, Chick discusses his music, his many collaborations, his love of performing and composing classical music and the importance of play when he takes the stage. He’s deeply thoughtful—loaded with charm and generosity. Enjoy!

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Photo by Makita Wilbur

Poet Laureate of the US and NEA Big Read author

Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek) the Poet Laureate of the United States (and NEA Big Read author) joins me this week for a far-ranging conversation about poetry and music. We talk about—and she reads poems from—her most recent collection An American Sunrise. She talks about her family history on the Trail of Tears and how it led to An American Sunrise, her long deep relationship with the spirit of poetry, her equally long love of jazz and her commitment to honoring her poetic ancestors as well as her familial ones. It was a great conversation—she’s deeply thoughtful, engaging and funny. If you enjoy the interview half as much I did, you’ll love it.

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Photo by Joseph Blough

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master Roscoe Mitchell is a musical seeker. He’s interested in sound and its colors. He is one of the most influential (and prolific) jazz musicians around who nonetheless says he has never been as excited or inspired as when I spoke with him in December 2019. And this from one of the original members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and one of the founders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago! Our interview was on my birthday—and it was the best present I could have received. Roscoe Mitchell—aside from being a fabulous musician--is an eloquent philosopher about music. Speaking with him was a true pleasure and I hope you’ll feel the same listening to this podcast.

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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

 

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Photo courtesy of Charlotte Mangin

Documentary filmmaker

Unladylike 2020 is the brainchild of documentary filmmaker Charlotte Mangin. It's an innovative multimedia series about little known but extraordinary women at turn of the 20th century whose legacies we all benefit from today. There are 26 ten minute films that combine archival footage, diary entries, animation, and dynamic artwork (funded by the NEA). Narrated by actors Julianna Margulies and Lorraine Toussaint, Unladylike 2020 puts the biographies of women like aviator Bessie Coleman, politician Jeannette Rankin and actor Anna May Wong in their historical and social context. But they also include interviews with contemporary women who are the direct beneficiaries of these trailblazers' legacies. The series began on March 3--with a new episode dropping each week at Unladylike 2020 and PBS American Masters. Both websites are packed with information, so if you're home with the kids visit the websites. These films are perfect for family viewing, and they can open the door to thoughtful conversations. In this podcast, Charlotte Mangin takes us "backstage" and walks us through how Unladylike 2020 came to be. We talk about some of the women she chose, the innovative techniques she used to bring these women to life digitally and the joy of working with a team of women on stories about women.

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Photo courtesy of Anna Needham

Theater Artist and former NEA Intern

Anna Needham (Red Lake Anishinaabe) is an emerging theater artist, arts administrator, and a former NEA intern with Folk and Traditional Arts. Theater arts typically is an uneven career path (the performing arts aren’t exactly a reliable source of income). Add to the uncertainty Needham’s passion for and commitment to Native theater, and the road becomes that much more challenging. In this podcast, Needham tells us how she meets those challenges, and how she’s learned to become an advocate for the arts and for Native culture and rights.

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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.

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