In 1843, Edgar Allan Poe, desperate for money and terrified that his wife was about to die, “became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” Fueled by alcohol and despair, he fell into “fits of absolute unconsciousness”–and yet managed to write some of his greatest masterpieces, including “The Black Cat,” which has been shocking readers for more than 150 years. In this first installment of “Edgar Allan Poe Month,” Jacke explores Poe’s life leading up to “The Black Cat” before reading the hair-raising tale of uncontrollable rage, murder, and haunting remorse.
Robin Lithgow spent her life immersed in the performing arts, including a childhood in the theater and decades spent as an educator and arts administrator. But it wasn’t until she read a little-known work by Erasmus that she fully realized the importance that performance had on Shakespeare and his generation–which mirrored the experiences she had had as an English and drama teacher in inner-city schools in Los Angeles. In this special episode, Robin joins Jacke to talk about her life in the theater, her epiphanies regarding Shakespeare’s education, and the centrality of the performing arts in a child’s development.
ROBIN LITHGOW was the first Theatre Adviser, and eventually the Director, of the Arts Education Branch of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the United States. Before becoming an arts administrator, she was a teacher for twenty-one years, teaching every grade level from kindergarten through senior high school and ending her classroom tenure as an English and drama teacher. And before that, she was the daughter of Arthur Lithgow, a theater impresario who developed Shakespeare festivals all over Ohio, which meant that Robin and her younger brother John Lithgow, the acclaimed actor, grew up traveling from place to place, watching rehearsals and performances, as their father mounted productions of every play in the Shakespearean canon.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) was born in Mexico or, as it was known then, New Spain. She was a poet, a philosopher, a dramatist, a scholar, a poet, and a nun, known in her time as the “Tenth Muse” and to later generations as the “Mexican Phoenix,” as her powerful body of work rose from the ashes of religious condemnation. Today, she is widely viewed as one of the earliest feminist advocates, one of Mexico’s first and greatest intellectual giants, and a poet whose talent has rarely been equalled.
Fan favorite Margot Livesey returns to the History of Literature to discuss her new novel, The Boy in the Field, and to help Jacke choose the greatest writers in Scotland’s history.
MARGOT LIVESEY is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
The “Forgotten Women of Literature” series continues with a look at Aemilia Bassano Lanyer (1569-1645), the first Englishwoman to publish a volume of poetry, the protofeminist Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, which tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion from a woman’s perspective. In addition to her many accomplishments and incredible life story, Lanyer has tantalizingly close connections to William Shakespeare, leading Jacke (and other scholars) to speculation about whether she might have been the inspiration for the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
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The History of Literature Podcast presents “Copperopolis,” written and performed by Tommy Orange, and produced by Storybound, a radio theater podcast. PLUS Jacke Lonelyhearts takes a look at the personal ads in The New York Review of Books.
Tommy Orange is faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts MFA program. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California. He’s the author of There There, which was one of the finalists for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of many other awards and accolades.
Ryan Dann is a sound designer and composer based in Brooklyn, New York.
Storybound is a radio theater program designed for the podcast age. Hosted by Jude Brewer and with original music composed for each episode, the podcast features the voices of today’s literary icons reading their essays, poems, and fiction.
Cai Yan (Wenji) (c. 178 – c. 250?) was the daughter of Cai Yong, one of the most famous scholars of the Han Dynasty. After being widowed at a young age, Cai Wenji was abducted by a nomadic tribe, where she was forced to marry a chieftain and bear his children. The tragedy of her life story, and the songs of lament that have been attributed to her, combine the art of noble suffering with the powerful precision of Chinese poetry at its finest. In this episode, Jacke continues the “Forgotten Women of Literature” theme with a look at the Chinese poet whose suffering blazes through the mists of time.
Ovid (43 BCE – 17 or 18 AD) was one of the most successful poets in the Roman Empire–until he was banished from Rome by Augustus himself. What led to his exile? What had he written, and how might it have offended the emperor? In this episode, Jacke takes a look at the author of The Art of Love, Metamorphoses, and many other works.