The History of Literature #237 – Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (with Amanda Stern)

In the autumn of 1902, a young man attending a German military school wrote to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to ask him for some advice. Rilke responded, and the two struck up a correspondence that has become one of the great moments in the history of literature. For more than a century, Rilke’s advice, conveyed in ten letters and published as Letters to a Young Poet, has helped readers find answers to questions about literature, creativity, and the nature of existence. In this episode, Jacke is joined by author and literary impresario Amanda Stern for a conversation about her literary career, the struggles she had growing up with an undiagnosed panic disorder, and the impact that Letters to a Young Poet had on her.

RAINER MARIA RILKE (1875-1926) was a German modernist poet whose innovative approach to poetry, expressed in poems like “The Panther,” “Torso of an Archaic Apollo,” and the collections Sonnets to Orpheus and The Duino Elegies, made him a leader in a style of poetry called “existential materialism” and a profound influence on subsequent generations of poets.

AMANDA STERN is a native New Yorker, a novelist, a children’s book author, and the host of the podcast Bookable. For years, she was the organizer of The Happy Ending music and literary reading series, which encouraged writers to take risks on stage. Her memoir Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life has been called “a creative feat and existential service of the highest caliber.”

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Photo of Amanda Stern by Jon Pack

History of Literature #66: James Baldwin, Wallace Stegner, GB Tran, Lois Duncan (with author Shawna Yang Ryan


What can we do to unlock the past? How do family secrets affect us? Author Shawna Yang Ryan has spent a lot of time thinking about these issues – and in this episode, she joins Jacke for a discussion of some of her favorite books, including the novel that led her to rethink her understanding of the American West and the graphic novel about a family’s journey that can bring her to tears.

SHAWNA YANG RYAN is a former Fulbright scholar and the author of Water Ghosts (Penguin Press 2009) and Green Island (Knopf 2016). She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Her short fiction has appeared inZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary ReviewKartika Review, andThe Berkeley Fiction Review. She is the 2015 recipient of the Elliot Cades Emerging Writer award. Originally from California, she now lives in Honolulu.


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Works Discussed:

Green Island and Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

Another Country by James Baldwin

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran

Locked in Time by Lois Duncan

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Yi Yi [A One and a Two…] directed by Edward Yang

Show Notes:  Continue reading