What if that most celebrated of American genres, the Western, was stripped of its traditional tropes? Gone are the heroic lonesome gunslingers, the helpless women on the homesteads, the rampant outlaws, and cliched representations of inidigenous people. Is it possible that a such novel, rooted in greater historical accuracy, could prove equally (if not more) engaging? Tea Obreht's Inland accepts this challenge; and she joins co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Eric Newman to explain how she came to tell the story of two women, 40 years apart, on the western frontier. There's heartbreak, bravery, ghosts and camels because, when it comes to the western, reality is stranger than mythology.
Also, writer and translator Magdalena Edwards, whose article for LARB "Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World" became a viral sensation, returns to direct folks to an astonishing filmed interview of Clarice Lispector, the only one available online: www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1zwGLBpULs
The redemptive power of oral history is at the heart of Susan Straight's new memoir, In The Country Of Women; and also in this installment of the LARB Radio Hour, the first in a special series featuring Los Angeles authors. As Susan relates the amazing stories of the women in her family from across many generations to host Kate Wolf, the spirit and character of these women is conjured back to life. Our troubled times are presaged in the tragedies and violence encountered by Susan's ancestors; but the promise, not yet extinguished, of this blood-stained land shines through from these women of the past to their sisters in the present.
Also, filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, whose latest film is American Factory, return to recommend four books: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson; and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
This episode of the LARB Radio Hour is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov. Any findings, opinions, or conclusions contained herein are not necessarily those of the California Arts Council.
We have two great interviews this week. First up, Magdalena Edwards joins co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to discuss her article for LARB "Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World," which has gone viral. This dialogue is no less gripping, as Magdalena outlines her experience working with a publishing industry icon as the hired translator for Clarice Lispector's The Chandelier; and what that harrowing experience led her to reveal about the sordid underbelly of intellectual accreditation. Suffice to say, the powerful readily exploit the vulnerable; but, in this case, the pen and the podcast are gaining the upper hand. Then, Kate and Medaya are joined by Jess Row to discuss his new groundbreaking work White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American imagination. Row brilliantly critiques a broad range of white American authors as he advocates for reparative writing, in which writers use fiction "to approach each other again" in full awareness of America's long racist history. It's nothing short of a clarion call for authors to ply their trade in the fight against Trump and the on-going racist/enthno-nationalist revival that he leads.
(p.s. The amount of great literature referenced and discussed in both halves of this podcast would satisfy anyone's late summer reading list.)
LARB's Medaya Ocher talks with Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert about their new film which documents the recent history of an American factory in Dayton, OH that was closed last decade and re-opened this decade under Chinese ownership and management. The tale is rife with paradoxes: the communists are the capitalists; and the workers from the land of Reagan and Trump channel socialist solidarity as they move to form a union against the wishes of the folks from the People's Republic. The conversation fills in the backstory; and, along the way, reveals what makes this highly political documentary so compelling - the filmmakers' drive to capture the humanity of all the players in the drama.
Also, author Anthony McCann returns to recommend No One Knows My History, Fawn Brodie's beautifully written biography of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Mormon religion.
One of the most pressing issues facing American society is the rise of a radical anti-government right wing movement over the past few decades; and now, in particular, its relationship to President Trump. Author Anthony McCann goes right to heart of this movement in his new book Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff, the product of his first hand experience covering the Ammon Bundy-led occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in early 2016. In this illuminating conversation with co-hosts Kate Wolf, Eric Newman, and Medaya Ocher, McCann's observations about the array of characters at the heart of this dramatic stand off in isolated rural America both confirm and dramatically deny expectations. What is clear is that this movement, for worse not for better, now has deep roots in our country. Yet McCann's unflinching reporting points a way forward: nothing is to be gained by further isolation and vilification versus direct engagement with people, including with this troubled-but-fascinating lot.
Also, Lyra Kilston returns to recommend Laila Lalami's heralded 2014 novel, The Moor's Account.
"There's so much there, and it's so fascinating" observes co-host Kate Wolf after Lyra Kilston opens this week's podcast with a summary of her new book Sun Seekers: The Cure of California. Kate might as well be talking about the entire history, brief yet spectacular, of Southern California. This week's show unveils another of the spectacular paradoxes that define the rise of the Golden State Paradise/Dystopia - the relationship between California Modernism to European Sanatorium culture. If you've ever marveled at the modern architectural jewels that dot the LA landscape; and fantasized about a refined European ex-pat community that built them - prepare to have your dreams recast (in the best SoCal tradition!). Lyra spins fascinating tales that will challenge your understanding of LA history, in dialogue with Kate and Eric Newman,
Also, Hanif Abdurraqib returns to recommend Harmony Holiday's new book of poetry, A Jazz Funeral for Uncle Tom.
What could possibly be more of an LA literary event: James Ellroy reading from his new novel, This storm, then talking with Tom Lutz, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angles Review of Books - and even taking questions from the audience (you simply need to hear his answer to a question about Trump). It's the greatest contemporary practitioner of the great LA genre, live in LA!
Filmmaker Petra Costa joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about Brazil's turbulent politics over the past few decades; and how she was able to capture their operatic intensity in her new documentary, Edge of Democracy. Petra grew up the child of political militants, who were jailed and then went into hiding during Brazil's military dictatorship, which ended in the '80s. However, she also had deep roots in the country's political right-wing. Her father's family ran a construction company; a major player in the industry at the heart of the country's legendary corruption. This unique family history grants Petra unparalleled access to the leaders of both the left and the right while shooting her film; but also informs her deep sense of personal conflict and remorse as events unfold. The film begins by heralding the dramatic rise of Lula, Brasil's first leftist President since the end of the dictatorship. Petra is equally thrilled at the election of his chosen heir, Dilma Rousseff, the country's first women President; but mostly she is delighted by what appears to be the successful establishment of democracy in her country. Then, the forces of reaction start to stir... Petra acknowledges that many viewers draw parallels with the political crisis in the only western hemisphere country more populous than Brazil. Though, there are conspicuous differences: in one country, it's a corrupt Judge that successfully topples a sincere, well-intentioned President; while in the other, an honorable prosecutor is unable to dislodge an utterly corrupt President. What's strikingly similar is that the right-wing triumphs in both countries while democracy loses.
Also, author Claire Vaye Watkins returns to recommend Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush.
Poet Ariana Reines joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf to discuss A Sand Book, her most ambitious work to date. The show opens with a powerful extended passage from the poem A Partial History. If listeners are not yet aware of Reines as one this century's great new voices, they will be within five minutes: a rhythmic cascade of language rife with resonant images of social conflict, dissipation, recurring glimmers of self-awareness lost in a flood of unrelenting distraction, but our drive to quest never extinguished - epic verse for our lost society. What follows then is a series of reflections on the promise of 21st century language; and the new territories where Reines is searching for, and finding, inspiration.
Also, Erica Jong returns to recommend Horizon by Barry Lopez, the National Book Award-winner's new work of non-fiction.
Author Fred Tuten joins co-hosts Medaya Ocher, Kate Wolf and Eric Newman to talk about his new book, My Young Life: A Memoir. The conversation begins with Fred explaining why after five celebrated novels, he chose to write a memoir; what follows is a series of beautiful reflections on his life. In the introduction to the show, Medaya says this is perhaps her very favorite LARB Radio Hour to date. Indeed, Fred's deep compassion for the people in his life, his novel-like descriptions of time and place, and his trenchant political observations makes this a show that cannot be missed - there's a true generosity of Spirit here.
Also, the irrepressible John Waters returns to recommend a book and offers four: Moby's new memoir, Then It Fell Apart; Kevin Killian's Fascination - as well as the works of Clarise Lispector and Dodie Bellamy.
Legendary Chicanx Feminist Theorist Cherrie Moraga joins host Eric Newman to talk about her new memoir, Native Country of the Heart, which tells the story of Cherrie mother, Elvira, along with reflections on Cherrie's own life and the long history of the Mexican-American/Indigenous diaspora. Cherrie discusses how she came to write about her mother's life, her own coming into being as a Chicanx radical feminist artist and lesbian, and ends with some somber thoughts about our dire contemporary politics balanced by where she finds hope in this context.
Also, Jacob Tobia, author of Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story, returns to recommend the super-hot, gender-shifting, pan-sexual Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
In a wide-ranging conversation, Eric and Medaya talk with author Jordy Rosenberg about the life and times of Jack Sheppard, eighteenth century Britain’s most famous prisonbreak artist, who is at the center of Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox. Plumbing the archival material that remains of this mysterious figure, Rosenberg’s novel imagines Sheppard as a transgender man whose gender ambiguous “slight” body was often described as boon to his trade and to his reputation as a notorious ladies man. Throughout the conversation, we discuss how our changing understandings of gender and sexuality across history challenge how we think about identity, desire and embodiment.
Also, filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to recommend J. A. Baker's The Peregrine.
Author Jacob Tobia joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss their first book, Sissy: A coming of Gender Story. In a wide-ranging conversation, Tobia talks about coming into their non-binary gender, confronting haters, and embracing the messiness of Identity. Not only is Jacob a joy to talk with, but they also give a brilliant longview on the struggles both for queer rights and also for people to live however they feel gendered in their body.
Co-hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf are granted an audience with his Holiness the King of Filth, John Waters. Speaking about his new memoir, Waters opens up about the importance of understanding the business of show business, remaining committed to your vision and believing, against all odds, that you’ll be a success. Along the way, Waters talks about sex, politics and Eric's memory of meeting him at a urinal during a Hairspray! intermission.
Authors Erica Jong and Susan Choi joins co-hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Wolf in our third and final installment from the 2019 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on USC Campus. First, Erica Jong talks about her new collection of poems, “The World Began with Yes,” as well how she sees the present moment from the long view of her engagement with feminist and other political causes. Then, exploring the trials and tribulations of life in high school, Susan Choi’s talks about the ethics of storytelling and how her novel “Trust Exercise” emerges from questions about how we work through our ideas about power, identity and values in the turbulent years of high school and, much later, after we've become adults.
It's our second show from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC; and this installment features two of the Festival's award winners, as hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Wolf speak with Nafissa Thompson-Spires and Carl Phillips. Nafissa won the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for her short story collection Heads of the Colored People; while Carl took home the LA Times Book Prize in Poetry for Wild is the Wind.
In the first of a series of shows from the Los Angles Festival of Books, Eric, Medaya, and Kate, catch up with two friends of the show: Hanif Abdurraqib and Claire Vaye Watkins. First up, Hanif talks about his new book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, an epistolary appreciation of one of the most influential groups in Hip Hop history. As always, Hanif astounds with instant recall of, and insights about, all things pop cultural and their social resonance. Then, Claire joins the team to discuss her heralded first novel, Gold Fame Citrus: a terrifying, and all-too-possible, representation of Southern California's near future, in which love blooms in a landscape ravaged by drought.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher talk to writer Laila Lalami about her most recent novel, The Other Americans, a story about a Moroccan immigrant family in the Mojave Desert. In the second half of the episode, Kate, Medaya, and Eric come together to talk about the lessons they've learned from their mothers with Jo Giese, author of Never Sit If You Can Dance, a recent memoir about the lessons her mother has taught her.
Co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf talk with filmmaker Werner Herzog about his new documentary Meeting Gorbachev, which he co-directed with Andre Singer. They discuss the legacy of the last Soviet leader, the era of Glasnost and Perestroika, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how Herzog understands the history of Russia. The centerpiece of the film is a dialogue between Gorbachev and Herzog, which Gorbachev agreed to do because he recognized the great German filmmaker as more poet than journalist. Indeed, in this show, Herzog's reflections flow seamlessly across an array of subjects, from politics, culture, and history to the resilience of the human spirit.
Also, Sally Rooney, author of Normal People, returns to recommend both The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrere and the book that inspired it, the Gospel of Luke.
Co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf speak with Sally Rooney about her two novels Conversations with Friends and Normal People. Dubbed the "Jane Austin of the Precariat" and called "the first great millennial novelist" Sally addresses the acclaim she’s received; and how she’s grown into the person and writer she is today.
Also, William E. Jones returns to recommend The Imposter byJavier Cercas, which tells the story of Spaniard Enric Marco, who was a national hero until he was exposed as a fraud in 2005.
Juliet Lapidos is a writer and editor. She is currently a senior editor at The Atlantic, and previously worked for the LA Times, NYT and Slate. Host Tom Lutz joins Juliet to discuss Talent, her new novel about a 29 year old English grad student who can’t finish her dissertation, spending her days eating pop tarts rather than producing pages — relatable. Everything changes when she meets the niece of a famous author and gets access to his notebooks. Anna finds in the author’s archive the inspiration that takes her on a whirlwind journey into the depths of a literary mystery. Tom talks with Juliet about every writer's favorite subject, writer's block; along with the role of slacking in American culture, and that ancient quandary of artistic production: hard work vs inspiration or, could we say, Talent.
Author and Artist William E Jones joins co-hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Jones to discuss his first novel I'm Open to Anything. In the midst of a successful career as both an artist and a writer of non-fiction, William explains what inspired this change; albeit one clearly situated in the Los Angeles of the late 80s, which William encountered after a childhood in the declining rust belt and college on the East Coast. Much like his writing, insights pour forth as William reflects on the difference between writing and making art, his contempt for sexual ellipses in literature and film, his passion for both explicit sexual realism and literary pranks, and why these inform his love for Denis Diderot.
Also, Poet Tommy Pico returns to recommend Tommy Orange's novel There There; and clarify who's who.
Author Karen Tongson talks with co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf about the tragic life and beautiful voice of Karen Carpenter, the singer who is Tongson's namesake and whose star has never lost its lustre for an enduring fanbase in the Philippines. What she unpacks in Carpenter's story is a moving account of suffering and beauty, of longing for a world we may never reach save in soaring notes and the practiced perfection of vocal harmony, a struggle resonant with queer and diasporic experience.
Also, Morgan Parker, author most recently of Magical Negro, returns to recommend poet Nabila Lovelace's first collection, Sons of Achilles.
Co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf talk with poets Morgan Parker and Tommy Pico about their respective new works, Magical Negro and Junk. Parker and Pico discuss how they use poetry to explore the experiences of oppressed communities, shuttling between the sublimity and nuance of everyday experiences and the larger cultural and political questions that saturate bodies, spaces and relations. They also talk about how their aesthetic practice has changed as they have moved into writing novels and screenplays.
Who is Steve Bannon? The evil mastermind of a far right global counter-revolution that's taking the world by storm; or a shallow, frumpy guy doing the bidding of his billionaire backers. Could he be both? One thing for certain, Alison Klayman's verite documentary The Brink, which follows Bannon in the months after his exit from the Trump White House, is the essential portrait of one of the central players in global politics. Klayman explains to co-hosts Eric, Kate, and Medaya how she came to have such unlimited access to Bannon, her reflections on his toxic politics and on the man himself: his character, his motivations and what he hopes to accomplish.
Also, Geoff Dyer, author of Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, returns to recommend Annie Ernaux's "impersonal autobiography" The Years, an astonishing first-hand reflection on the cultural, political, and economic changes over the 2nd half of the 20th century.