Ever wonder who wrote the first play in the North American colonies? Or who was the first published African American poet? Or what year it was when an Arab American first published a novel in the United States? Or who wrote the first published gay-themed poetry in America? The answers to all of the above might surprise you – sometimes because they’re earlier than you expected, and sometimes because they’re later. Sometimes the “first” comes from a famous writer, and sometimes the authors have been completely overlooked or forgotten. But in every case, seeing what a “first” looks like expands our understanding of what came before, what came after, and what it means for us today.
In this episode, Jacke talks to Ulrich Baer and Smaran Dayal, editors of an exciting new anthology Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts, which focuses on the literary pioneers who broke barriers, inaugurated new traditions, and proved that the diverse imagination and creative efforts of a wide range of individuals helped forge a nation.
In 1896, the 36-year-old Chekhov suffered one of the worst experiences of his life, when his play The Seagull was performed in front of an audience so hostile that one of the lead actresses lost her voice. Two years later, a production of the same play (in better hands) became one of the great triumphs in the history of Russian theater. In this episode, Jacke kicks off a look at Chekhov’s four greatest plays by exploring the relationship of comedy to tragedy in The Seagull.
Since its first appearance, Marcel Proust’s magnum opus In Search of Lost Time has delighted and confounded editors, readers, and critics. Published in seven volumes over a fourteen-year period, the enormous novel has generally been recognized as both the highest form of artistic achievement and one of the most difficult reading experiences imaginable. In this episode, Jacke and Mike discuss Swann’s Way (1913) to see whether this opening volume serves as a good introduction to the entire work.