“After Katrina, I looked around and saw we had reporters out covering the destruction, but ain’t nobody looking around and what’s left. So that’s what I started to do to. I drove my car around the city until I ran out of gas. I got on my bike and rode around until I got a flat tire. And then I started walking. And I wrote about what was here, rather than what was gone.”
Chris Rose wrote the definitive book of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 1 Dead in Attic. I caught up with him for his Magical Musical Mystery History walking tour of the French Quarter, and after we sat down in Harry’s Corner bar and talked about his life, his art, his three literary feuds, how he went from winning a Pulitzer Prize to waiting tables, going from celebrity-stalker to the Bard of the Crescent City, the myths and truths of the French Quarter, and a whole lot more. Give it a listen! And buy 1 Dead in Attic and book a walking tour of the French Quarter!
“My tour is like standup comedy, but we keep moving the stage. Drop all the pretension, and just start telling the stories like you do on stage.”
If you can make it through my self-pitying ramble of an intro (just skip to like 6:45), and you’ll hear a great talk about being New Orleans famous and/or infamous, the catharsis of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the other walking tours he’d love to run, his literary and journalistic heroes, how he got blackballed by his college newspaper, the time he got a cease-and-desist letter from Richard Ford, and why he’s never leaving the city again. Now go listen to the show!
“I was an ordinary man living in an extraordinary time. . . . All I did was write every day about what it was like trying to live in an unlivable city.”
About our Guest
Chris Rose used to be a columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. He won a Pulitzer for his contributions to the Times-Picayune‘s Public Service. He was a finalist for the 2006 Michael Kelly Award. His book, 1 Dead in Attic, was a New York Times bestseller. In recent years, he worked as a waiter. Now he’s a licensed tour guide. He lives in New Orleans with his 3 children. Chris Rose reigned as King of the Krewe du Vieux for the 2007 New Orleans Mardi Gras season.
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 Harry’s Corner bar on Chartres St. on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Mr. Rose by Amy Roth.
“When you look at the history of northeast China, it’s all successive regimes that have tried to import their version of civilization into this area, and they’ve all failed.”
When he was a kid in Minnesota, Michael Meyer papered his walls with National Geographic maps. A Peace Corps stint in 1995 began his 20-year odyssey in China, yielding two books, true love, and a unique perspective on the world’s most populous country. We talk about his latest book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (Bloomsbury), life in rural China compared to suburban MN, the country’s changes in the past two decades, the flexibility of the Communist party, China’s uses and abuses of history, the tortured history of the Manchuria region, the need to explode Americans’ myths about the country and its people, our favorite jet-lag remedies, and the Chinese use of “uh” as a conversational placeholder. Give it a listen!
“China isn’t a billion-plus people marching in lockstep. Nor is it some mastermind sitting in some opulent room in Beijing and declaring, ‘Now we will do this!'”
We also get into the time the Beijing police took Michael in so he could teach them American curse-words, why it’s safe to be a writer but not to be a journalist, China’s transition from individual farms to an agribusiness model, why the time to write a book is when the book you want to read doesn’t exist, the differences in storytelling modes between Americans and Chinese, his debts to Bruce Chatwin, Pearl S. Buck, and Ian Frazier, and how tens of thousands of Jews wound up in the town of Harbin.
About our Guest
Michael Meyer is the author of the acclaimed nonfiction book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. He first came to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps, and for over a decade has contributed from there to The New York Times, Time, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Architectural Record, Reader’s Digest, Slate, Smithsonian, This American Life and many other outlets.He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, as well as residencies at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. He recently taught Literary Journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, and wrote the foreword to The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China, 1873, a collection of Scottish explorer John Thomson’s early images. He is a current member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches Nonfiction Writing. Michael’s new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, was published by Bloomsbury in February, 2015.
Credits: This episode’s music is Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy. The conversation was recorded at the Bloomsbury offices 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. Photo of Mr. Meyer by me.
“There is a kind of comfort in having a part of yourself that will never be known, can never be known, by others.”
Genre-jumping author Rupert Thomson joins the show to talk about his new novel, Secrecy (Other Press), a 1690’s-based thriller about the Florentine wax-sculptor Zumbo. Along the way, we talk about the arbitrariness of “historical fiction,” the perils of researcher’s block (as opposed to writer’s block), what he learned from a 90-minute audience with James Salter, discovering archaic Italian curses, letting one’s art follow one’s unconscious, the joys of visiting the graves and/or homes of his literary idols, why finding the psychological truth of a story is more important than the details and background, and why it always helps to know a good histopathologist. Go listen!
“When I first started out, what I liked was the unlikely image, the unlikely metaphor. What I like now is finding that simple sentence that captures something you haven’t thought of before.”
About our Guest
Rupert Thomson is the author of nine highly acclaimed novels: Dreams of Leaving, The Five Gates of Hell, Air And Fire, The Insult, Soft!, The Book of Revelation, Divided Kingdom, Death of a Murderer, which was short-listed for the 2007 Costa Novel Award, and Secrecy. His memoir, This Party’s Got To Stop, won the Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Award. He lives in London.
Credits: This episode’s music is Hotwax by Beck. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices 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 Mr. Thomson by Graeme Robertson.