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.
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.