In this episode, we resume our look at Walt Whitman’s life and body of work, focusing in particular on the years 1840-1855. Did Whitman’s teaching career end with him being tarred and feathered by an angry mob, as has long been rumored? What happened during his three months in New Orleans? And how did this printer and hack writer wind up writing the twelve poems in Leaves of Grass (1855), thereby becoming the “true poet” that Ralph Waldo Emerson had been searching for?
In this best-of History of Literature episode, Jacke revisits the topic of war and literature with three guests: Professor Elizabeth Samet (Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point), who teaches literature to military officers in training; Matt Gallagher (Empire City and Youngblood), a veteran who served in Iraq; and Tom Roston (The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five), who places Kurt Vonnegut’s writing in the context of his POW experiences in WWII and his position as an antiwar prophet to the Vietnam generation.
Full episodes are available at:
143 A Soldier’s Heart (with Elizabeth Samet) Conflict Literature (with Matt Gallagher) 362 Kurt Vonnegut (with Tom Roston)
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.
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!
In 1961, poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath rented their flat to a Canadian poet and his wife, the beautiful, accomplished, and slightly mysterious Assia Wevill. Soon afterward, Ted and Assia began having an affair. Within a year, Assia was pregnant with Ted’s child and Sylvia, after years of suffering from depression, had committed suicide. Six years later, Assia would do the same.
It’s a horribly tragic tale, like something out of Shakespeare, with genius and artistic ambition and love and sex and poetry entangled with themes of power dynamics, infidelity, and mental health problems. The poetic gifts of Ted and Sylvia – and the tragic ending of their marriage – has kept biographers and essay writers busy. But what about the third woman, Assia Wevill, a successful professional with ambition of her own? What did she write? How did she fit into this triangle? In this episode, Professor Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and Peter Steinberg, editors of The Collected Writings of Assia Wevill, join Jacke for a discussion of the “Other Woman” in the Plath-Hughes marriage.