Author Rebecca Makkai joins co-hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Wolf to discuss her heralded new novel, The Great Believers, which tells two parallel and inter-related stories: one of the AIDS epidemic ravaging the Chicago gay community in the 1980s; the other, set in Paris in 2015, about a woman, Fiona, searching for her daughter, who has joined a cult. The connection is Fiona, who had become a caretaker for the men dying 30 years earlier in Chicago. Rebecca explains how she arrived at such a complex narrative structure (hint: it wasn't how the project started); as well as how she struggled with issues of cultural appropriation versus historical alliance.
Also, Jenny Zhang, author of Sour Heart, returns to recommend the work of Tommy Pico, in particular his new book-length poem, Junk.
Author Tayari Jones joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest novel, An American Marriage, that tells the story of an African-American couple that gets separated when the husband is falsely accused of a crime and receives a twelve year sentence. Tayari relates her inspiration. How she set out to research the impact of mass incarceration on families; but, fittingly, made no progress until she overheard an exchange from a couple at a mall. She realized that the key component for any novel to have a powerful political impact is having fully realized, fully human, central characters.
Also, Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties, returns to recommend Anne Rivers Siddons horror novel from the 1970s, The House Next Door.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by UCLA Professor Johanna Drucker, author most recently of a novel Downdrift and a work of social philosophy, The General Theory of Social Relativity. The conversation begins with Downdrift, a tale narrated by an Archaeon, the world’s oldest surviving species, who relates how non-human species are increasingly adopting human behavior in a world dominated by the ever-more-destructive Homo Sapiens Sapiens. As Johanna explains, we happily proclaim those documented instances in which animals act like us as “updrift” because the reality is something we’d rather deny: we are destroying our mutually shared habitat and the other animals are feeling desperate. Johanna’s work is a clarion call for us to respect, and learn from, all those other species on earth, who in marked contrast to us, live in harmony with their environment.
Also, Morgan Jerkins returns to recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2017.
This week’s podcast is another Doubleheader, featuring interviews with Carmen Maria Machado and Jenny Zhang recorded at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. First up, co-hosts Eric Newman, Kate Wolf, and Medaya Ocher speak with Carmen Maria Machado about her heralded collection, Her Body and Other Parties, an eclectic set of fictions that both revels in, and challenges, the standard tropes of a wide variety of genres. Carmen also drops hints about what to expect from her upcoming memoir. Then poet, essayist, and storyteller Jenny Zhang stops by to talk about her approach to writing Sour Heart, a collection of coming-of-age stories about the children of recent Chinese immigrants, which also won numerous prestigious awards this past year.
Morgan Jerkins, author of This Will Be My Undoing, talks with co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about tackling the personal as political as a black woman author in these troubled times, nuancing what each of those terms mean. Morgan also talks about the struggle that all writers face – the voices inside our heads telling us that we can’t or shouldn’t – and how she found the balance between acknowledging vulnerability while embracing bravery.
Also, Ijeoma Oluo returns to recommend Daniel Jose Older's young adult Shadowshaper series.