Wasn't the collapse of the Soviet Union supposed to herald the dawn of a new era of unfettered freedom, liberal democracy, and the end of history? Instead Russia moved rapidly from Autocratic Socialism to Autocratic Oligarchy. Masha Gessen talks with co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about why she chose to investigate this world-historical disappointment by talking to young people who witnessed this calamitous transition first-hand. The result is Gessen's National Book Award-nominated The Future of History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, a work of literary journalism rife with the unique insights this novel approach revealed(to which our own Soviet-born Medaya adds her memories). Gessen also reflects on what Russia's re-embracing of repression may teach us in our suddenly benighted land with an unstable leader who reveres strongmen like Putin.
Also, Essayist Garnette Cadogan returns to recommend two works by the contemporary British Author Robert MacFarlane: one for children: The Lost Words; one for adults: Landmarks - both of which exhibit how language can re-enchant our relationship to the world.
USC Professor of Physics Clifford Johnson joins LARB's Eric Newman to discuss his new work of natural philosophy The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe, which also happens to be a comic book (from MIT Press no less, move over Marvel!). Sure, the popular form is a strategy to engage a larger audience with ideas that Johnson affirms are already widely considered, just not as dull/intimidating science; but that doesn't diminish the Johnson's achievement, as a presenter of ideas, an author of vignettes, and a first-time graphic artist. Also, author Dan Lopez drops by to recommend They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hannis Willis-Abdurraqib's stunning collection of essays on contemporary music and black culture, reflected against a legendary performance of the national anthem by Marvin Gaye.
It's the question on everyone's mind: How the hell did we get here, Donald Trump's America? How did our belief in democratic ideals get warped into what Errol Morris terms the “bat shit craziness” of the Trump era? LARB's Tom Lutz talks with Morris about his brilliant new film Wormword, which debuts this week on Netflix, and how it’s tale of an army scientist’s suspicious death in 1953 relates to the current crisis of a government we feel we fundamentally can’t trust. As Morris explains, a society that builds powerful, secretive, violent institutions cannot also be an honest democracy with citizens who demand to know the truth - and what better way to deliver this message than an uncanny, six-part, binge-worthy, murder mystery. Also, John Freeman returns to recommend Solmaz Sharif's sublime book of verse, Look.
This week's LARB Radio Hour features two full length interviews, both all about conspicuous, yet mysterious, New York Jews. In the first, the celebrated documentary team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady talk about what inspired them to focus their lens on a few brave souls who decided to leave the tight knit Hasidic community in their new film One of Us, which recently debuted on Netflix. Heidi and Rachel felt these tales would reveal much about the human spirit, the vulnerability of those that challenge orthodoxy, the safety of community contrasted with dangerous thrill of freedom; and understood the commitment necessary to complete such a challenging and captivating film. In game two of our double-header, co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher are joined by Eric Lax, author of Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking. Eric explains what he sought to reveal in a book that documents the production of Allen's 2015 film Irrational Man from start to finish: a unique, quirky master-craftsman at work doing what so few get to do, make films just the way he wants. And lest the elephant in the room pass unnoticed, Eric directly addresses the charges of sexual molestation against his legendary friend.
Who are the writers pushing the boundaries of contemporary literature? How are they doing so? And where can they be found? No small matter this; as, unlike previous avant-gardes, today's are dispersed across the entire globe. Legendary editor John Freeman, of Granta fame, set out to answer these daunting questions. The result is the spectacular fourth edition of his journal Freeman's: The Future of New Writing. Twenty Nine authors made the cut. John shares his rationales for inclusion, and an abundance of enthusiasm, with co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Eric Newman. Author Garnette Cadogan, one of the 29, joined John in-studio to share his thoughts on today's cutting edge writing, the necessity of tricksters (to literature & life), and his contribution to the collection: With Nothing to Hide. Also, John Freeman wasn't about to leave the studio without singing the praises of Eka Kurniawan's gorgeous magical realist epic novel of modern Indonesia: Beauty is a Wound.
Author Liska Jacobs joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss her heralded first novel Catalina, narrated in vibrant prose by a young woman destined for a fall during an outing with friends to the eponymous island off the coast from LA. Echoes of Gatsby and Brett Easton Ellis abound – decadence is a blast, but can’t slay demons – but this is very much a tale of our time; as we encounter a woman stranded, her career and identity collapsing following a failed affair with a powerful boss. Liska, Eric, and Medaya reflect on the many insights Catalina provides for our post-Weinstein Crisis moment. Also, Liska recommends Chris Kraus’ Video Green, reflections on LA and the art world in the early ‘90s.
Co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher are joined by filmmaker Robin Campillo, and actors Nahuel Perez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois - the Director and the stars, respectively, of 120 BPM, which won the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes Film Festival - to discuss how they captured the spirit of the Parisian chapter of one of the most dynamic and transformative social movements in recent history, ACT UP; as well as the beautiful, tragic romance at the heart of the story. A reflection of the intensity of living constantly on the precipice of death, the show doubles as a masterclass on the rigors of creating truly excellent historical cinema. Also, Nathan Englander returns to recommend two books, both of which have special appeal to dog lovers: Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey; and Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes.
Lynn Comella, author Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure, joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Sarah Mesle, to discuss how a handful of Feminist entrepreneurs in the 1970s helped women in America and around the world take greater control of their own bodies and pleasure. The discussion couldn't be more timely in a month when our society is beginning to confront the patriarchal power relations that emboldens sexual predators. Vibrator Nation tells the history of women putting women's liberation in the hands of women! Also, author Dan Lopez drops by to recommend Katherine Heiny's new novel Standard Deviation.
Author Nathan Englander joins co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Eric Newman to discuss his ambitious new novel Dinner at the Center of the Earth, which is set inside the Israel/Palestine conflagration. In an energetic conversation, teeming with wit, Nathan also shares the despair he felt while living in Israel in 2000 at the collapse of the peace talks and beginning of the second intifada; and explains why he mixed the surreal and all-too-real in a work that strives to do nothing less than bring the two sides together to recognize their shared humanity, need for cooperation, and desire for peace. Also, Medaya recommends Rachel Cusk’s divinely drafted novel Outline.
This week’s show is a doubleheader. In game one, Award-winning poet & Mancunian Adam O’Riordan joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Boris Dralyuk, as well as author David Shook, to discuss the Manchester writing school, it’s partnership with LARB, the tradition of English letters in Southern California – and how to strengthen Los Angeles’ literary ties across the pond. In the nightcap, Eric, Boris, and David are joined by Amanda de la Garza, curator of an exhibit of contemporary Oaxacan murals at the Downtown LA Library entitled “Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA” to discuss the powerful resonance of indigenous language, art, and tradition in an era of mass migration from Oaxaca to Los Angeles. Also, author Karen Tei Yamashita returns to recommend Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia; as well as his most recent book, Age of Anger: A History of the Present.
Artist, architect, and activist Ai Weiwei joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss his new feature-length film Human Flow; and the on-going global refugee crisis that it documents. The conversation weaves through matters central to 21st Century humanity: digital technology, globalization, national identity, economic inequality, climate catastrophes, demagogues, and threats to liberty - as well as more eternal themes like war, beauty, human vulnerability, and how we bear witness to the mystery of existence.
Karen Tei Yamashita, one of the most celebrated American novelists of her generation, turns historian/archeologist with Letters to Memory, an investigation into the lived experience of the World War Two Japanese Internment Camps, as revealed by the words and images from her family's archive. Karen joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss how this striking new work came to be, her political motivations, and the importance of bringing forward the tremendous impact this horrible episode in American history had on people, families, and communities. Also, author Chiara Barzini returns to recommend Leonard Michaels' Slyvia, a tragic tale of a sexually charged romance in early '60s Manhattan.
A LARB Radio Double-Header! First, Author, Academic, and OC resident Andrew Tonkovich joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about the all-but-unknown, but surprisingly excellent, literary tradition of Orange County. Andrew and his wife, poet Lisa Alvarez, have compiled a collection of stories, essays, and memoirs about (or reflective of) LA County's more right-wing neighbor - and the list of contributors is as impressive as the content itself. Andrew talks about some of his favorite entries; as well as the promising political evolution of a longtime GOP bastion that voted against Trump. Then, in the 2nd half of the show, author Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow joins Eric and Medaya to reminisce about the glory days of the Sony Walkman from the late 70s through to the 90s. Rebecca has written a short history/memoir entitled Personal Stereo, as part of Bloomsbury's charming Object Lesson series, about the device that revolutionized our listening habits.
Award-winning Italian screenwriter and English Language Novelist Chiara Barzini joins co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Eric Newman to talk about Things that Happened Before the Earthquake, which tells the story of an adolescent girl who moves with her family from Rome to LA in the early '90s. The conversation centers on the experience of moving to a massive, mythical city without a center; the turmoil of the Rodney King era; and the nuances of a coming-of-age immigrant tale. Also, Natalie Graham returns to recommend Play Dead, a collection of poems by Francine Harris.
Cave Canem award winning poet Natalie J Graham talks with hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about her collection Begin with a Failed Body. The discussion opens about failure, imperfect bodies, and fallible memories; detours through hip-hop and black culinary traditions; and weaves through history to hope and pleasure. Also, LARB's Boris Dralyuk drops to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution by recommending a collection of stories written in the wake of 1917: Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, edited by Bryan Karetnyk.
Director Peter Bratt and the subject of his new Documentary, Dolores Huerta, talk with co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about the making of the film Dolores; but in the hands of Dolores Huerta, every moment is an organizing moment - and the conversation flows across the central political issues of our time, much as the film tackles those from the past half-century and beyond. The message remains the same: everyone can take action to improve our lives and society, here's how you do it! Also, Medaya recommend's NYRB's re-issue of David Plante's classic (and controversial) Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three, which contains literary portraits of Jean Rhys, Sonia Orwell, and Germaine Greer.
Author Lucy Ives joins co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to discuss Impossible Views of the World, her first novel, which centers on the life of a curator working in New York's greatest museum. The ensuing conversation revolves around the Ives' inspiration for writing such a multi-faceted work: part character-driven social satire, part literary pastiche, it's also an intellectual mystery novel rife with artistic and philosophical resonance. Plus, poet Imani Tolliver, author of Runaway: A Memoir in Verse, returns to recommend Roxane Gay's Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.
Bryan Fogel joins co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to discuss his astonishing new film Icarus, which belongs on a shortlist of documentaries that fortuitously captured history in the making. The film began as an expose on Fogel as a guinea pig, taking performance enhancing drugs in preparation for a major cross-country bike race. However, the specialist who is assisting Bryan backs down and hands Bryan over to the head of Russia’s “anti-doping” team, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov; who is, in fact, the mastermind behind Russia’s massive national doping program. Rodchenkov decides he's had enough and turns to Brian to protect him and assist in blowing the whistle on the biggest doping scandal in history. Icarus is a tale of friendship, heroism, and suspense; which also happens to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the dishonesty and corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Also, LARB Radio’s own Eric Newman drops by to recommend Tom Atwood’s new photography book Kings and Queens in Their Castles, which portrays 160 LGBTQ subjects in their homes.
Cave Canem Award-winning Poet Imani Tolliver joins LARB's Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn to read from, and talk about, her powerful new book, Runaway: A Memoir in Verse. The powerful, emotive conversation (recorded on Imani's birthday!) focuses on the redemptive role that verse, the community of poets, Howard University, The World Stage, coming out, and romantic partnership have all played in Imani's life. All of which gets reflected in her beautifully empowering words. Also, author Danzy Senna returns to recommend Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter, a short taught novel written before the more celebrated Neopolitan Novels.
Author Danzy Senna joins Kate, Medaya, and Eric to discuss her novel New People, a romantic "comedy" of manners that overflows with insight into race and identity in America. Senna describes how she crafts historical/cultural geographies: of Brooklyn in the '90s, Stanford University a few years earlier, and the nightmare utopia of Jonestown. The dialogue reveals an author of personal, very human, tales with tremendous resonance for our troubled Trumpian times. Also, poet and choreographer Harmony Holiday returns to recommend Toni Cade Bambara's novel The Salt Eaters.
Architect Frank Gehry sits down with Joseph Giovannini to discuss projects from across his career: including his rebuff of Donald Trump's inept courtship; his on-gong engagement with the LA River Project (which Giovannini has written about for LARB); and the many hurdles he had to overcome to complete the jewel of Downtown LA, Disney Hall. This is a Master both in repose and politically engaged; reflective and yet adamant that his work serve humanity.
LARB Radio goes in depth with poet Douglas Kearney. Co-hosts Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn and Will Clark talk with the award-winning poet, librettest, and Cal Arts Professor about the progression of his publications, writing of and for the common (wo)man, the vibrant beauty of his language, and so much more! Also, Peter J Harris returns to recommend a 1970s underground classic of African literature, The Healers by Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah.
In early July, LARB invited Lorin Stein, the Editor in Chief of the Paris Review, to speak at its publishing workshop at USC. During the trip, he also joined LARB's Tom Lutz for a public dialogue on the state of publishing, books, journals, reading, and literature - which naturally flowed into an even wider range of subjects from the joy of print, the craft of editing, translation in the digital age, Michael Houellebecq, and the marvelous writing of Edouard Louis. Also, author Fiona Maazel, who's new book is A Little More Human, returns to recommend Jim Shepard's new collection of stories The World To Come.
Kate and Eric are joined by poet, choreographer, and founder of the Mythscience artist collective Harmony Holiday, whose new collection of verse is titled Hollywood Forever. Harmony reads from the volume and discusses her time-collapsing, historically conscious, visually engaging, collage-style poetry that produces a socially-conscious, politically resonant, sensual literary triumph. Also, author Garth Greenwell recommends novelist Yiyun Li's memoir "Dear Friend, from My Life I write to You in Your Life."
LARB's Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn talks with author Peter J Harris about the new production of his work "Johnson Chronicles: Truth and Tall Tales About My Penis," which opens in Los Angeles on July 21st. Janice and Peter discuss the work's transition from page to stage, reflect on the mythology surrounding the black male member and the role of that mythology in the ongoing de-humanization of African-Americans, and the challenges still facing artists presenting honest, intimate portraits of Black Americans. Also, author Morgan Parker returns to recommend Dick Gregory's provocatively titled autobiography.