It's a LARB Holiday Season tradition! Kate, Daya, and Eric review all that they read, watched, attended, and gossiped about to select their favorites from the past year. The result is a broad, eclectic array. Indeed, the first work chosen is by an author who died in 1996. Many more surprises ensue. A few of our picks are by authors or directors that we interviewed over the past year. Most, however, were not previously discussed on the show. No matter, every selection sparks a spirited discussion. As Eric warns in the introduction, "no one chose only one thing in any category." So, get out your notepads and prepare for an avalanche of excellence.
Check out all of our recommendations here.
Few would argue with the assertion that we are in the throes of a political crisis in American society; and, no doubt, many would acknowledge that the Trump presidency is more symptom than cause - that something with deep roots has taken hold of the American collective unconscious. How can this spell be broken? Is there a roll for progressive spirituality in healing our polity? What variant of mytho-poetic literature can truly speak to our times? Kate and Medaya talk with Amanda Garcia Yates, aka The Oracle of Los Angeles, author of Initiated: Memoir of a Witch about her spiritual practice, its deep historical roots, organic ties to nature, and the myriad ways it is misunderstood. What unfolds is a vibrant, inspiring exchange animated by literary theory, ecological awareness, and a tangible sense that ancient feminist wisdom can yet illuminate our dark zeitgeist. If you're looking for the perfect podcast for the winter solstice season, this is it.
Also, Molly Lambert, who wrote the introduction to I Used To Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz, returns to recommend Dorothy B Hughes' 1963 noir classic The Expendable Man, re-released by New York Review of Books Classics.
This is the fifth episode in our series on LA and Southern California writers, artists and filmmakers. 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.
Author Darryl Pinckney joins Kate and Medaya to discuss his new collection, Busted in New York and Other Essays, which includes twenty-five pieces from the past two and a half decades, which reflect and report on politics, culture, and African-American lived experience. The conversation begins with Pinckney's thoughts on Barack Obama's election and presidency, and it's unexpected tragic denouement with the victory of Donald Trump. Pinckney reflects on what remains of the great advance that Obama represented. How much was lost? Should the next act have been so surprising? Looking back further, he wonders have we lost the America we thought we knew; or is our current nightmare merely the return of the repressed?
Also, Matt Wolf, director of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, returns to recommend Peter McGough's memoir of the 1980's New York art scene, I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going.
Filmmaker Matt Wolf joins co-hosts Kate and Medaya to discuss his new documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project. Marion Stokes was a former librarian, political activist, and early Apple investor who began recording the 24/7 news cycle in 1979 and continued into the early years of this decade, producing the largest archive of recorded television material. Matt discusses the potential of this archive, Marion’s vision, portraying problematic characters, and how the news reconfigures history.
Also, Yogita Goyal, author of Runaway Genres: The Global Afterlives of Slavery, returns to recommend German Author Jenny Erpenbeck's 2015 novel Go, Went, Gone about a retired professor and his relationship with African Refugees staging a protest in Berlin.
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. Indeed! 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 Clarice Lispector and Dodie Bellamy.
Yogita Goyal, author of Runaway Genres: The Global Afterlives of Slavery, joins Eric, Medaya, and Kate to discuss the shape of traditional slave narrative and the ways it has been transformed over the past 70 years across the world and in different genres. Goyal talks about what drew her to this subject, and about teaching the slave story in the Trump and Kanye era. She contrasts abolitionist era slave narratives with those from the past five decades, following their return to prominence in African-American literature in the 1970s, bringing together work by Paul Beatty, Colson Whitehead, and Toni Morrison.
Also, Monique Truong, author of The Sweetest Fruits, returns to recommend Chia-Chia Lin's beautiful debut novel, an immigrant narrative set in Alaska, The Unpassing.
Eve Babitz, our LA Woman, was one of the heavyweights of the 1970s New Journalism. Now, thanks to the New York Review of Books Classics series, Babitz's vibrant prose is collected in I Used To Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz. Molly Lambert, who wrote the introduction to the edition, joins co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to discuss the career of this Southern California legend and why her writing remains as captivating as ever. Indeed, the show opens with Kate revealing the tremendous importance of Eve Babitz in her own life; and why she has long felt it necessary that this author, who conveys the cultural fabric of our hometown as well as any in recent decades, be readily available to new readers.
Also, Natasha Stagg, author of Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media New York 2011-2019, returns to recommend one of Denis Johnson's lesser known novels, The Name of the World.
This is the third episode in our series on LA and Southern California writers, artists and filmmakers. 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.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher speak with author Monique Truong about her new multi-voiced novel The Sweetest Fruits; aptly titled given its sensuality, and special attention to cuisine. Monique explains her decision to write in the voices of three women - one Greek, one African-American, and one Japanese - all of whom were central figures in the life of globetrotting 19th century author, Lafcadio Hearn, who was born in Greece and is best known for his books about Japan. Giving voice to amazing souls that history and patriarchal culture have put under erasure.
Also, Stephen Van Dyck, author of People I've Met From the Internet, returns to recommend Joe Brainard's groundbreaking I Remember from the 1970s.
Kate Wolf talks with "It Girl" Natasha Stagg about her new essay collection from Semiotexte: Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media 2011-19. Natasha explains overcoming her reluctance to move to NYC, how she landed in the fashion world - simultaneously at its center and on the periphery - and what she discovered there. This most-priveleged sphere in the capital of the world is just part of the scenery: where the old is new again until the moment of re-interpretation passes; the thrill of creativity is tangible, yet nothing to get excited about; and it's most definitely post-Post-Modern yet pastiche, nostalgia, and appropriation remain the order of day. Telling tales of Late Capitalism in its interminable phase. The conversation also inspires Medaya Ocher, LARB's Managing Editor, to reveal details of her previous life as a Parisian fashion photographer.
Also, Ariana Reines, author of the A Sand Book, returns to recommend two exceptional works of poetry, one old, one new: James Merrill's National Book Award winning epic from the late 70s, The Changing Light at Sandover; and Edgar Garcia's Skins of Columbus: A Dream Ethnography.
Tom Lutz opens the show with a spirited introduction of co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher and author Leslie Jamison, who has a new collection of essays: Make It Scream, Make it Burn. Jamison describes her empathic approach to her eclectic subjects, her relationship to the body and how she thinks about writing and authorship.
Also, Jenny Odell returns to recommend Robin Wall Kimmerer's Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by filmmaker, Bong Joon Ho, whose latest film is Parasite. Parasite has already gathered a wide range of acclaim, winning the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and breaking specialty box office records. Bong joins us to discuss how he grew up, how he came up with the idea for the movie, and how he understands the relationship between the rich and the poor. Bong’s previous films include Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017).
Also, Sarah M Broom, author of The Yellow House, returns to recommend The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald.
Host Eric Newman is joined by Stephen Van Dyck, author of People I Met on the Internet, a series of narrative vignettes derived from the list Van Dyck kept for over a decade of all the men he first met online. Van Dyck talks about how internet chat rooms and blogs offered him a new safe world of contact as a shy queer teen; the unique counterintuitive intimacy of online encounters, and how sex often operates as a backdrop for more interesting experiences.
Also, Shelly Oria, editor of Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings from the Me Too Movement, returns to recommend the books authored by the contributors to the collection including Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Shappell; The Bed Moved: Stories by Rebecca Schiff; See Through: Stories by Nelly Reifler; The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt; Blue Talk and Love by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan; and Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury by Honor Moore.
This is the second episode in our series on LA and Southern California writers, artists and filmmakers. 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.
Co-Hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by Shelly Oria to talk about her new anthology Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings from the #MeToo Movement. The collection includes essays, poetry, and fiction around harassment, abuse and the underlying power dynamics in our everyday lives. Oria explains how the collection came together and the need for diverse voices and styles in our fraught political moment.
Also, Tea Obreht, author of Inland, returns again to recommend Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's short story collection Friday Black.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher speak with Sarah M Broom about her latest work The Yellow House; a moving and beautiful book rooted in one place, which combines memoir, archival history of her family, and a story of her growing up in New Orleans East. Sarah explains how the culture of this forgotten part of the city - isolated by the industrial canal, accessible only by the High Rise bridge - came alive in and around her family's home. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans East and destroyed The Yellow House; but through days of interviews and years of research Sarah conjures them back to life, reviving her large extended family, re-animating a lost world rife with character, tragedy, wisdom, and love.
Also, Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife and Inland, returns to recommend Salvatore Scibona's stunning second novel, The Volunteer.
Jenny Odell, author of How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, joins co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf to asses the state of the human soul in the age of social media reproduction. The verdict is clear: we need strategies of resistance. Constantly tracked and hunted by the digital panopticon, we have no time for reverie, reflection, letting go, or just being. We desperately need Nothing, which is everything. Jenny shares details of her own liberation.
Also, Susan Straight, author of In The Country of Women, returns to honor Toni Morrison by sharing how she has read her favorite book every single year since she was twelve, Morrison's luminous second novel, Sula.
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.