Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

The stories Katherine Heiny collected in her appealing 2015 debut, Single, Carefree, Mellow, were mainly about that many-splendored thing called love and the often baffling, complicated forms it can take — including blithely indulged-in adultery. Her warmhearted and even funnier first adult novel (she's published dozens of young adult novels under assorted pen names) also explores the complexities and ambivalences that color even our most central relationships.

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Radio Diaries: Down to Basics

May 22, 2017

After a day of hiking and canoeing, my husband and I sit by the campfire awhile.  Then, when cold and fatigue get the best of me, I crawl into the tent.  Zipping up my sleeping bag, I review what’s important.

It’s not the same checklist that I have at home when I often fall asleep reviewing what work assignments await me the following day or what’s in the refrigerator for supper.  No, my sleeping bag list is much more basic and carefully prioritized.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball legend...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: Three NCAA championships at UCLA. Six NBA titles with Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

Here's Kareem, the sky hook.

Margot Sanchez has big dreams of fitting in at the new, expensive prep school her family has sacrificed to send her to. But it's summer and instead of going to the Hamptons with her rich, white friends, she's stuck working at her family's business in the Bronx.

Margot is the protagonist of Lilliam Rivera's new young adult novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez. Rivera explains that Margot is "being punished because she stole her father's credit card to charge some pants and clothes for herself, and her punishment is to work off her debts at her father's supermarket."

Is our hunger for the intrigues of the English Tudors never to be sated? A cursory search for books on Henry VIII yields over 9,000 titles. The cottage industry has outgrown its cottage and is on its way to filling up a castle. What's a determined author to do? Alison Weir's answer is to forge new approaches to time-worn situations by focusing on the women of the period. Her new historical novel, Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession, represents a persuasive attempt to restore the humanity of a tragic, misrepresented figure, one of history's original nasty women.

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How does Rez, a laid-back stoner surfer dude from Laguna Beach, get drawn into a web of fanaticism?

Laleh Khadivi's new novel A Good Country tells the story of Alireza Courdee from the time he's a 14-year-old chemistry whiz, the son of Iranian immigrants, to his transformation into an American kid who leaves America behind, in all ways, to disappear into a forbidding and destructive life.

We Have Always Been Bored — 'Yawn' Wonders Why

May 20, 2017

Boredom is a going concern, particularly in a Western culture over-saturated with things designed to make every moment count. Freelance researcher Mary Mann began writing Yawn: Adventures in Boredom because she was concerned with her own restlessness; was she succumbing to the depression that ran in her family? Was modern malaise taking hold? Was she fundamentally ungrateful for life, as her parents had always suggested about bored people? If she was broken, was there a cure? (And if you're already rolling your eyes at Mann, this is not going to be an easy read for you.)

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If our next guest's career had a soundtrack, it might go pretty much like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Ortiz to right field, back goes Souza, looking up and it's gone.

Choosing the right words can be the difference between life and death, says Sir Harold Evans.

Evans, a legendary editor knighted by the Queen of England for his service to journalism, spent a lifetime pouring over documents. He’s corrected files from reporters on the battlefield, memos by past U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and now, Evans is out with a new book that celebrates the importance of clear writing. It’s called, “Do I Make Myself Clear: Why Writing Well Matters.”

An American Abroad Searches For Self In 'Florence In Ecstasy'

May 18, 2017

There's no shortage of stories in the genre of Westerners experiencing a personal disaster and then globetrotting in search of answers about themselves. There's always potential for these narratives to go awry in subtle and damning ways — to seem unthinkingly privileged and navel-gazing and selfish — and so the endeavor of writing one is both a sure thing in terms of finding an audience, and risky as a self-aware artistic endeavor.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's get this out of the way: The best part of The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings is not the title piece. In his introduction, translator Douglas J. Weatherford makes a big deal out of El gallo de oro, Mexican master Juan Rulfo's long-ignored second novel, but it's nothing compared to the sketches and fragments that come after.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his 50-year relationship with his coach John Wooden, how he shaped his life and career. A conversation about friendship and personal tragedy, the importance of mentoring young athletes, and confronting racism in sports.

Guests

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball Hall of Famer; author, “Coach Wooden And Me”

© 2017 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Susan Burton knows just how hard it is to get back on track after being released from prison. It's an experience she lived through six times, once for each of the prison terms she served.

"One of the things about incarceration is that you're deprived. You lose all of your identity and then its given back one day and you're ill-equipped to actually embrace it and work it," Burton says. "Each time I left prison I left with the resolve to get my life together, to get a job, to get back on track. And each time the task became more and more and more daunting."

Thomas generously gives us the whole messy life. This is deeply satisfying, but you have to pay attention.

This spring brings a bumper crop of short story collections, some introducing distinctive new writers, others strategically timed to tide us over the wait between an established author's novels. I've been enjoying a stack of these books, most notably by Haruki Murakami, Joshua Ferris, Penelope Lively, and Tessa Hadley. They're all worthwhile, but if pressed to recommend just one, it would be Hadley's Bad Dreams. Her meticulously observed, extraordinarily perceptive stories are as satisfying as Alice Munro's. Yes, Hadley is that good.

Intellectual, philosophical, literary, rebellious, Simone de Beauvoir spoke a mile a minute, and wrote quickly, too — novels, essays, a play, four memoirs. She was an atheist, bisexual, pioneer feminist, and her longtime lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote the book on Existentialism. When she died in 1986 she was world-famous — now the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., is saluting her again.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse shares something in common with President Trump: both are serving in elected office for the very first time.

The similarities pretty much end there.

Sasse earned a doctorate in history. Before his election in 2014, he was a federal health official, and president of Midland University, which is linked with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Grocery stores in America have changed from neighborhood corner markets to multimillion-dollar chains that sell convenience — along with thousands of products — to satisfy the demand of the country's hungry consumers. What caused this transformation? And what will our grocery stores be like in the future?

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Radio Diaries: Convertibles

May 15, 2017

A young man cruises past me in his convertible with the top down and I’m supposed to be impressed.  I’m supposed to say, “Oh, wow, that is SO cool.  I wish I had a boyfriend with a convertible.”

But I don’t say those things because I had a father with a convertible.  Harold Anderson was the most conservative man imaginable except for his car.  He always drove a late-model Buick convertible in metallic blue or canary yellow.

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