“Speaking a language inexpertly makes language visible, and malleable. You become aware of language not just as a medium but as matter itself, as something you manipulate, as something you have to work with.”
Garth Greenwell joins the show to talk about the poetics of cruising (and cruising’s great leveling potential) both in his life and in his debut novel What Belongs to You, the hyper-masculine culture and homophobia of Bulgaria, his concern that contemporary English-language writers don’t read in other languages (or read in translation), his role chairing the 2017 Festival Neue Literatur, the dangers of LGBTQ mainstreaming, the fragility of cosmopolitanism, the state of queer fiction, and our mutual admiration of Samuel R. Delany! Give it a listen! And go buy What Belongs to You: A Novel!
“I wanted in this book to create a space where I could think about what shame feels like to an open and proud gay man.”
Bonus: This episode is also part of our media partnership with Festival Neue Literatur, which is taking place March 2-5 in New York City! Garth’s the chairperson for the event! Go attend! Maybe I’ll see you there!
About our Guest
Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the LA Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and over 50 other publications. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Iowa City.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the apartment of Jeff Nunokawa on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Greenwell by me. It’s on my instagram.
“There were times when I was transcribing the tapes and I’d catch my breath and say, ‘Oh, my God.’ I would stop the tape and just sit there, staring into space. Did I hear what I just heard? It was a shocking, dramatic experience.”
Is wisdom possible? One of my favorite writers, Phillip Lopate, returns to The Virtual Memories Show to talk about his new book, A Mother’s Tale, where he revisits a series of taped conversations he had with his mother in the mid-’80s (and didn’t listen to for 30+ years). We talk about listening to his mother’s voice years after her death, whether I should record with my parents, the way people try to be honest but back away in the face of their own mythologies, the one venue he’s always wanted to write for, the border traffic between fiction and nonfiction, the impact of the 2016 presidential election on his psyche, his prediction for the New York Mets, what it’s like for him to write a blog and the mistrust between mother and son that never goes away. Give it a listen! And go buy A Mother’s Tale (Mad River Books)! (And here’s our 2013 conversation.)
“I feel like all the values I grew up with were repudiated in one election.”
“”We carry this adolescent self in us for so long, we’re not prepared to see ourselves as older.”
About our Guest
Phillip Lopate is a central figure in the resurgence of the American essay, both through his best-selling anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, and his collections: Getting Personal, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, Portrait Inside My Head, and To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. He directs the nonfiction MFA program at Columbia University, where he is professor of writing. His new book is A Mother’s Tale.
(There’s a more extensive version at his website.)
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Lopate’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Lopate by me. It’s on my instagram.
“The talk about race in America hinges on how comfortable white people are with it. Because once white people are too uncomfortable, they’ll either say you’re pulling the race card, or just say, ‘Enough.'”
We kick off 2016 with gentleman cartoonist Keith Knight! Keith & I met up at a cafe in Chapel Hill to talk about comics, race, fixing the Star Wars prequels, his career as a Michael Jackson impersonator, the literature course that made him a political artist, his campus lecture tour on race relations, the importance of crowdfunding, the reasons he continues with a daily comic strip (and two more strips), why you never see black people on Antiques Roadshow, the songs that will turn any party out (excluding tracks by MJ and Prince), the case for Off The Wall over Thriller, whether it’s an honor or a disgrace to be the first non-white guest on this podcast in two years, and more! Give it a listen! (the conversation starts at the 7:30 mark)
“The comics industry needs to catch up to its audience, because the creative side is not as diverse is not as diverse as their readers.”
BONUS: I launch a Patreon for the Virtual Memories Show! You get to hear me talk about all the neat stuff I’m planning for the show if we get enough support from listeners like you!
About our Guest
Keith Knight is many things to many people–rapper, social activist, father and educator among them. He’s also one of the funniest and most highly regarded cartoonists in America, and the creator of three popular comic strips: the Knight Life, (th)ink, and the K Chronicles. For nearly two decades, this multi-award-winning artist has brought the funny back to the funny pages with a uniquely personal style that’s a cross between Calvin & Hobbes, MAD, and underground comix. Keith Knight is part of a generation of African-American artists who were raised on hip-hop, and infuse their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics and race. His art has appeared in various publications worldwide, including the Washington Post, Daily KOS, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Ebony, ESPN the Magazine, L.A. Weekly, MAD Magazine, and the Funny Times. His comic musings on race have garnered accolades and stirred controversies, prompting CNN to tap him to grade America on its progress concerning issues of race. Follow him on Twitter and support his work on Patreon.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. “Yellow scarf” photos of Mr. Knight by me, no credit for the photo of him with a marker..
It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2015’s podcast guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2016! More than 30 responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) So now that you’ve got your Hanukkah and/or Christmas gelt, the Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Get ready to update your wish lists!
This year’s Guest List episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
About our Guests
The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Derf Backderf, Anthea Bell, John Clute, Michael Dirda, Matt Farber, Jonathan Galassi, Brad Gooch, Langdon Hammer, Liz Hand, Jennifer Hayden, Ron Hogan, Dylan Horrocks, David Jaher, Kathe Koja, Jonathan Kranz, Peter Kuper, Lorenzo Mattotti, JD McClatchy, Scott McCloud, Michael Meyer, Dan Perkins (a.k.a. Tom Tomorrow), Summer Pierre, Witold Rybczynski, Dmitry Samarov, Elizabeth Samet, Liesl Schillinger, Posy Simmonds, Levi Stahl, Rupert Thomson, Irvine Welsh, Warren Woodfin, Jim Woodring, Claudia Young, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. A few segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“In the late 1970s, I wanted to write against the grain, so I wrote about a marriage that lasted a long time, with all the strife and stresses.”
Novelist, essayist, poet, short story writer, and translator Lynne Sharon Schwartz sat down with me to talk about her newest essay collection, This Is Where We Came In: Intimate Glimpses (Counterpoint), but we talked about a lot more in our hour! Listen in to learn how she and her husband began recording literary readings by authors like James Baldwin, Philip Roth, John Updike, William Styron in the ’60s, and how they’ve re-launched those recordings. We also discuss how second-wave feminism convinced her to pursue a writing career, how her ear for music influences her writing, why she swears by audiobook reader David Case, and how Margaret Atwood once dropped the boom on Norman Mailer. Give it a listen!
“Although I identify with feminism, my literary tastes don’t divide into men and women; it’s the ones who are concerned with language and delight in language, rather than their gender, that I read.”
We also talk about her love of digressive essays, the joys of translation, her travel-anxiety, the difficulty in getting a book of essays published, why W.G. Sebald is one of her favorite authors, and how — kinda like last week’s guest, Caitlin McGurk — she got involved in bringing back lost women writers.
About our Guest
Lynne Sharon Schwartz is the author of more than 20 books, including novels, short story collections, non-fiction, poetry, and translations. Her new essay collection, This Is Where We Came In: Intimate Glimpses, was just published by Counterpoint. Her first novel, Rough Strife, was nominated for a National Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway First Novel Award. Her other novels include The Writing on the Wall; In the Family Way: An Urban Comedy; Disturbances in the Field; and Leaving Brooklyn (Rediscovery), nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She and her husband Harry have launched Calliope Author Readings, which offers lovers of literature a rare opportunity to hear great 20th century American authors interpreting their own works. Ms. Schwartz has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. Her stories and essays have been reprinted in many anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Essays. She has taught writing and literature at colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. She lives in New York City.
Credits: This episode’s music is Gladiolas by Scott Joplin. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Schwartz’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Schwartz by me.
Note: DG Myers died on Sept. 26, 2014, about 6 months after we recorded this episode. You can read my contribution to his festscrhift here.
“I would take an evil delight in asking my colleagues what they were reading, and watching the look of panic on their faces. Because everyone reads scholarship now, and very few primary materials. Our academic specialties are an inch wide and a mile deep.”
Literature professor and book critic DG Myers is dying of cancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go gentle into that good night. In a far-ranging conversation, we talk about why he believes university English departments will barely outlast him, how he made the move from Southern Baptist to Orthodox Judaism (getting recircumcised a few times along the way), what he’d like to be remembered for, why the idea of The Western Canon is a canard, which books and authors he’s trying to get to before he dies, who he regrets not reading before now, and the identity of the one author he’d like to hear from. Give it a listen!
“Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”
We also talk about his plans to dispose of his library, the joys of studying under Stanley Elkin, the relation of books to moral life, the things that cease to matter in the face of a terminal diagnosis, the failure of English departments in the age of Theory, the thorny question of whether creative writing can be taught, and what writers and readers should do to save the humanities. Also, check out the list of books that came up in our conversation.
About our Guest
DG Myers is the author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, a work of literary scholarship. He has been a critic and literary historian for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities, and was formerly the fiction critic for Commentary. He has written for Jewish Ideas Daily, the New York Times Book Review, the Weekly Standard, Philosophy and Literature, the Sewanee Review, First Things, the Daily Beast, the Barnes & Noble Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, American Literary History, and other journals. He is working on a memoir, Life on Planet Cancer, and lives in Columbus, OH, with his wife Naomi and their four children: Dov, Saul, Isaac, and Miriam (“Mimi”). He writes at A Commonplace Blog.
Credits: This episode’s music is First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Myers’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Myers by me.
“When you start out writing, you think, ‘Maybe I’ll become one of the great writers, like Dostoevsky or Goethe, Tolstoy.’ Then you quickly realize that that’s never going to happen. But I’ve been writing now for close to 50 years, and I’ve never really had writer’s block. I think success has been esteem in this particular world of the essay and nonfiction. When I go to conferences for the Association of Writing Programs, I’m treated like a demigod. But when I’m in the real world, I’m anonymous.”
Phillip Lopate, the finest personal essayist of our time, joins us to talk about finding his voice, the difference between memoir and essay, teaching students to use the self to fetch the world, why blogs remind him of Sei Shonagon’s pillow books, what’s too personal for a personal essay, and more!
“I had learned from the great essayists — Montaigne and Hazlitt and Lamb — that it wasn’t so much the subject matter as it was the voice and the display of consciousness that was intriguing. If you liked the essayist, you would read anything that they wrote.”
We discuss his five-decade-plus-long career (spanning 20 books and collections, including 2013’s Portrait Inside My Head and To Show and to Tell), the author who started him on his path, his balance between writing fiction and essays, how readers read and misread his work, his methods for fusing the personal and the critical, why students should read some of his essays before taking his classes, whether he considered going Hollywood, why and how he assembled The Art of the Personal Essay anthology, and who his favorite New York Met is. (I was surprised by his answer to that last one.)
“An editor once told me, ‘Phillip, your idea of a perfect assignment is one where you never have to leave the house.'”
About our Guest
Phillip Lopate is the author of numerous collections of personal and critical essays, including Bachelorhood, Notes on Sontag, Portrait of My Body, Against Joie de Vivre, and Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan,, as well as several novels and novellas, and three poetry collections, and has edited several anthologies, including The Art of the Personal Essay and Writing New York. His essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, several Pushcart Prize annuals, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Vogue, Esquire, Film Comment, Threepenny Review, Double Take, New York Times, Harvard Educational Review, Preservation, Cite, 7 Days, Metropolis, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He is the director of the nonfiction graduate program at Columbia University, where he also teaches writing. His two most recent books are the personal essay collection Portrait Inside My Head and To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sometimes The Truth Is All You Get by The Low and Sweet Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Lopate’s home in Brooklyn on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Top photo by me. Bottom photo by Cheryl Cipriani.
It’s time for the first double-episode of the season!
“To me, there are two types of YA: one is fiction written with the kid in mind, and the other is where the characters happen to be that age. It’s a fascinating age-group, because that’s where the world is changing. I tend to write for the latter.”
First, Craig Gidney, author of the new YA novel, Bereft, talks about bullying and how the internet has amplified it, his literary influences, his problems with “transparent” prose and Twilight, how his new book differs from his first collection, Sea, Swallow Me, and the joy of getting a blurb from one of his favorite authors.
“For the first 15 years or so, we’d occasionally get busted windows. It hasn’t happened in 10 or 15 years now, but in a period of two weeks, there were three windows smashed, and then we would go a few years without having any busted. It always struck me as interesting that these broken windows always came in the dead of night.”
Then Ed Hermance talks to us about the history of his queer bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, the changing face of gay literature, the challenges of selling books in The Amazon Age, the historical creation of gay identity, why he was a little embarrassed by Obama’s Stonewall shout-out, and the most poignant story that the store has to tell.
About our Guests
Craig Laurance Gidney writes both contemporary, young adult and genre fiction. Recipient of the 1996 Susan C. Petrey Scholarship to the Clarion West writer’s workshop, he has published works in the fantasy/science fiction, gay and young adult categories. His first collection, Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories, was nominated for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy and Horror category. He lives and writes in his native Washington, DC. He is on Twitter as @ethereallad.
Ed Hermance is the owner of Giovanni’s Room, the longest-operating queer bookstore in America. Ed was born in Houston in 1940, graduated Dartmouth College (’62, BA, philosophy) and Indiana University, Bloomington (’65, MA, comparative literature), and taught at Auburn, Indiana State , and Tuebingen University in Germany. Fearing that he might never escape the closet as long as he remained a teacher, Ed abandoned academia and joined a hippie commune in the mountains of Southern Colorado (still a going concern with a long history of distinguished perennial guests, including Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and John Corso). Ed moved to Philadelphia in 1971 to manage Ecology Food Co-op, a natural foods outlet. He bought Giovanni’s Room from its founders with partner Arleen Olshan in 1976.
Credits: This episode’s music is Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins. The conversation with Craig was recorded at the Doris-Mae Gallery in Washington, D.C., on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics. The conversation with Ed was recorded at the Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the interstitial stuff on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.