In 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson called for a new poet who would reflect the spirit and potential of America. In 1855, a then-unknown poet named Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, his attempt to fulfill Emerson’s wish. In this episode, Jacke looks at Whitman’s early life and career, contrasting Leaves of Grass with the works of a pair of poets that Emerson may have had in mind when he railed against “men of poetical talents…of industry and skill in meter” who nevertheless failed to be what Emerson called “true poets.”
America, America, America… a continent, a nation, a people, and a whole lotta books. But how does America define itself? Who defines it? Where did the idea of American exceptionalism come from? And how does literature fit into any of this? In this episode, Jacke talks to Professor Ilan Stavans about his new book, What Is American Literature?
ILAN STAVANS is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, the publisher of Restless Books, and the host of the NPR podcast “In Contrast”. The recipient of numerous international awards, his work, adapted into film, theatre, TV, and radio, has been translated into twenty languages.
In our last look at Søren Kierkegaard, we left our hero after he had just left the love of his life, Regine Olsen, in favor of a life devoted to God and philosophy. In this episode, Jacke looks at one of the great products of that seismic schism: Fear and Trembling, or Kierkegaard’s analysis of God’s command that Abraham should sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. How does Abraham’s decision fit into moral and ethical principles? And if it doesn’t fit, what does that mean for our society – or for Christianity itself?
Do not go gentle into this good episode! Rage, rage against the dying of the… well, things fall apart there, don’t they? (Because we’re not gifted poets like Dylan Thomas!) In this episode, Jacke talks to producer, playwright, and performer Scott Carter about his lifelong passion for the Welsh bard who took the U.K. by storm in the mid-twentieth-century and America by even stormier storm soon thereafter. Which poems are best? What’s good about them? How did they feed into the mythic reputation of Dylan Thomas? And what does it all mean for us today?
Elizabeth Gaskell had only written one novel when Charles Dickens started publishing her work in his journal Household Words. But soon she would become famous as the author of Cranford and North and South, two of the best novels of the Victorian era. Dickens proved to be a generous and artist-friendly editor, offering suggestions but allowing Gaskell to have the final say over her work (with one exception). In this episode, Jacke looks at the ghost story that Dickens asked Gaskell to write, along with the alternative ending that Dickens first suggested and then wrote for her consideration.
Novelist Beverly Gologorsky joins Jacke for a discussion of the tumultuous years from 1967 to 1971, which provides the background for her new novel. In Can You See the Wind?, a working-class family in the Bronx struggles to make a better world, even as the world spins into chaos.
Columbia professor (and friend of the podcast) Farah Jasmine Griffin says “Beverly Gologorsky brings a clarity of vision and purpose to this extraordinary novel—a story about the complexities and love that both bring families, lovers and comrades together and tears them apart. Can You See the Wind? renders the urgency of political movements as well as moments of individual contemplation. That she does so in breathtaking prose is a testament to her brilliance and artistry.”
The nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is well known as the father of existentialism and one of the great Christian thinkers of all time. But it is in his relationship with Regine Olsen – his love for her, their brief engagement, and the horrible breakup, in which he left her for a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge – where we see his true literary gifts. In this episode, Jacke looks at Kierkegaard’s life and writing, with a special focus on the agonizing relationship with a young woman that perhaps brought out his truest self.
Author Robin Hemley joins Jacke for a discussion of Kafka, writerly ambition, and his new novel Oblivion: An After Autobiography, which tells the story of a midlist author who finds himself in the posthumous world where authors fade from obscurity into the world of Oblivion…unless they can manage to write their way out.
Mysteries! In this best-of episode, Jacke revisits conversations with three guests for three different angles on this popular and enduring literary genre. First, Jonah Lehrer (Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution) discusses what exactly makes mysteries so compelling. Then, novelist Christina Kovac, author of the mystery The Cutaway, joins Jacke for a discussion of setting a mystery in the world of television news. Gillian Gill, author of Agatha Christie: The Women and Her Mysteries, stops by next for a discussion of the Queen of Mystery and her mysterious disappearance. And finally, Jonah Lehrer returns for a discussion of mysteries as they play out in Hamlet, Harry Potter, and human beings. Enjoy!