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Lit Century

Author: Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols

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Host Catherine Nichols and guests choose one book for each year of the twentieth century (Nella Larsen's Passing, 1936, Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, 1966; Mohandas Gandhi's Indian Home Rule, 1909) and talk about it in its historical and literary context. Tune in to find out what the 20th century was all about.

69 Episodes
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Songs for Drella

Songs for Drella

2023-04-0401:11:44

Writer and musician Leeore Schnairsohn and host Catherine Nichols discuss Songs for Drella, the album Lou Reed and John Cale released in 1990 about their friend, mentor and manager Andy Warhol. They talk about the intimacy of artists' imitation of their friends voices, the paradox of Warhol's art, and where the album fits in both Reed's and Cale's career. Leeore Schnairsohn’s fiction, reviews, and translations have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Painted Bride Quarterly, the Slavic and East European Journal, Russian Review, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, with a dissertation on Osip Mandelstam, and teaches in the Expository Writing Program at New York University. A link to Leeore's conversation on Songs for Drella from his Camper Can Calethoven podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-5478ir3ac Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Death of the Heart

The Death of the Heart

2023-02-2801:03:00

Author Lucy Ferriss and host Catherine Nichols discuss Elizabeth Bowen's 1938 novel The Death of the Heart. They discuss the unique narrator—16-year-old Portia, almost unimaginably innocent and stubborn about refusing to learn the hard lessons of life—and whether her demands are reasonable within the world of the book, or the actual world. Lucy Ferriss is the author of eleven books, including her latest collection, Foreign Climes: Stories, which received the Brighthorse Books Prize; and the 2022 re-release of her novel, The Misconceiver. Other recent work includes the 2015 novel A Sister to Honor, as well as essays and short fiction in American Scholar, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Forthcoming in 2023 is a book of essays from Wandering Aengus Press, Meditations on a New Century, as well as Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, a monograph in Ig Publishing’s Bookmarked series. She is Writer in Residence Emerita at Trinity College. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Host Catherine Nichols discusses Svetlana Alexeivich's 1985 oral history The Unwomanly Face of War with author Megan Buskey. The conversation covers the ways World War II is remembered in Russia versus in the United States, and the feminism of the 1970s that created an audience for a book of this kind--and the topics it can't cover--as well as ways that the experiences of Soviet soldiers in World War II can shed light on the current war in Ukraine. Megan Buskey is the author of Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet: A Family History of Exile and Return (ibidem, 2023). A former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, she has been traveling to and studying the former Soviet Union for 20 years. She has written for The Atlantic, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
A Chess Story

A Chess Story

2022-12-0601:04:39

In this episode, guest Leeore Schnairsohn joins Isaac Butler and Catherine Nichols to talk about Stefan Zweig's 1943 novella A Chess Story. They talk about the features of the story that seem to belong to the 19th century and to the 20th, and how it resonates with the work of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the web comic "Garfield Minus Garfield." They also discuss the biographical details that may or may not give the story its special haunting quality, and whether it's important to know about Zweig's life—and his friendship with Freud—to interpret the text. Leeore Schnairsohn’s fiction, reviews, and translations have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Painted Bride Quarterly, the Slavic and East European Journal, Russian Review, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, with a dissertation on Osip Mandelstam, and teaches in the Expository Writing Program at New York University. Isaac Butler is the co-host of Slate's Working podcast. He previously hosted Lend Me Your Ears, a podcast about Shakespeare and politics, and co-wrote The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America with Dan Kois. His latest book is The Method: How the 20th Century Learned to Act. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

2022-10-1857:29

Book scout Kelly Farber joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Philip Pullman's 1995 novel The Golden Compass, the first of the His Dark Materials trilogy. They discuss the appeal of Pullman's imagined world and his place in both his intellectual and artistic traditions, his connections to C.S. Lewis and Milton, as well as the challenges of adapting this book for movies and television, and finally—what is Dust anyway? Kelly Farber is an international literary scout, owner/proprietor of KF Literary Scouting. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Parade's End

Parade's End

2022-08-3001:03:31

Writer Brian Hall joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Ford Madox Ford's 1928 quartet of novels, Parade's End, focusing particularly on the first book, Some Do Not.... Their conversation covers the book's place in Modernist literature, comparisons to the work of E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, and particularly its descriptions of World War One: as granular as a soldier's perspective on the field all the way outward to the war's effects on every part of British society. Brian Hall is the author of eight books, five of them novels, including The Saskiad (Houghton-Mifflin, 1997); I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company (Viking, 2003); and Fall of Frost (Viking, 2008). The Saskiad, a coming-of-age novel about a precocious and imaginative young girl, has been translated into 12 languages. I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company was named one of the best novels of the year by The Boston Globe, Salon Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. Fall of Frost was named one of the best novels of the year by The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. His most recent novel is The Stone Loves the World (Viking, 2021). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway

2022-08-0901:16:23

In this episode, writers Andrea Pitzer (Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World) and Matthew Hunte join host Catherine Nichols to discuss Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs Dalloway. They discuss the paired stories of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith and what these two characters bring to one another, the book's private nihilism, its place in both Modernist and Edwardian literature, and the meaning of a party where the host dislikes the guests. Andrea Pitzer is a journalist whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books, Outside, The Daily Beast, Vox, and Slate, among other publications. She has authored two previous books, One Long Night and The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov--both critically acclaimed. She received an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 1994, and later studied at MIT and Harvard as an affiliate of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. She grew up in West Virginia and currently lives with her family near Washington, DC. Icebound is her most recent work. Matthew Hunte is a writer from St. Lucia, whose essays include “In Praise of Minor Literature,” and “Albert Murray and the Americas.” Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Host Catherine Nichols discusses Helen Gurley Brown's 1962 Sex and the Single Girl with guests Briallen Hopper and Samantha Allen, both contributors to the 2022 collection Sex and the Single Woman: 24 Writers Reimagine Helen Gurley Brown's Cult Classic. The conversation covers Brown's class consciousness as well as the perplexing combination of hope and drudgery involved in her advice for living a glamorous, feminine life. While Brown acknowledged before her death that her advice was only for a narrow slice of the population--she acknowledged that lesbians might exist, but she had no useful advice for them—Nichols, Hopper, and Allen discuss how her form of femininity affected their lives. Briallen Hopper is the author of Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Gilead Reread (forthcoming from Columbia University Press). Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review, the Washington Post, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Queens College, CUNY and in the Yale Prison Education Initiative. Samantha Allen is the author of Patricia Wants to Cuddle (Zando, 2022) and the Lambda Literary Award finalist Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States (Little, Brown, 2019). She is a GLAAD Award-winning journalist and editor with bylines in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, CNN, and more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Man Who Loved Children

The Man Who Loved Children

2022-05-3101:10:00

In this episode, film critic K. Austin Collins and John Lingan (Homeplace, A Song for Everyone: The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival) join host Catherine Nichols to talk about Christina Stead’s 1940 novel The Man Who Loved Children. They discuss the book's place in American and Australian literature, and its political analysis of the traditional family, as well as its unique use of language to show the characters' psychological warfare on one another. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Denial of Death

The Denial of Death

2022-03-2252:53

In this episode, poet and critic Elisa Gabbert (The Unreality of Memory) joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Ernest Becker's Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death. The book draws from psychology and philosophy to develop a theory of human behaviors motivated by fear of death and the desire to influence the world past an individual's natural life span. Gabbert and Nichols talk about how Becker's ideas look in a modern context of climate change, pandemic and sexual liberation. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Love in a Fallen City

Love in a Fallen City

2021-12-1401:11:07

In this episode, writer and photographer Adalena Kavanagh and editor Jaime Chu join host Catherine Nichols to discuss Eileen Chang's 1943 novel Love In a Fallen City. Set in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the early days of World War II, it centers on Bai Liusu, a beautiful young woman who has divorced her husband and returned to her traditional Chinese family. They consider her spoiled goods and are trying to marry her off to a widower with five children. At the same time, they are trying to match her sister with the highly eligible and rich bachelor Fan Liuyuan; Bai Liusu decides she will have him instead. Adalena Kavanagh is a writer and photographer in New York. Her writing has appeared in Electric Literature and The Believer, among many other publications, and she writes the weekly photography newsletter Mamiyaroid 5.5. Jaime Chu is an editor, critic, and translator from Hong Kong, currently based in Beijing, who is currently a contributing editor at Spike Art Magazine, and a part of Chaoyang Trap, an experimental newsletter about contemporary life in China. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College and used to work in book publishing. Her writing on contemporary art and cultural criticism has appeared in Spike, The Nation, The Baffler, Groove, and Telekom Electronic Beats. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this episode, musician and editor Rob Weinert-Kendt joins hosts Isaac Butler and Catherine Nichols to discuss the musical "Sunday in the Park with George" with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The play focuses on the painter Georges Seurat and his common-law wife Dot, in the time when he was painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, but in its second act goes to Seurat's great grandson, also an artist, and his personal crisis. The conversation address issues of muses, second acts, artistic isolation and connection, and how the play is inevitably read through the lens of biography, especially in the wake of Sondheim's death. Rob Weinert-Kendt is the editor of American Theatre and a frequent contributor to America magazine. He is also a musician. Here are some of Rob's pieces on "Sunday in the Park with George" and Sondheim: An interview with Sarna Lapine, who directed the 2017 SUNDAY revival: https://www.americantheatre.org/2017/03/21/how-sarna-lapine-makes-sunday-in-the-park-sing/ A preview of the 2008 revival (not on Time Out's site anymore, but hosted on own janky website): http://robkendt.com/Features&News/sundayinpark.htm Thoughts on Sondheim's death https://www.americantheatre.org/2021/11/30/nothing-thats-not-been-said-on-sondheim/ An in-depth interview with him from 10 years ago https://www.americantheatre.org/2011/04/01/stephen-sondheim-playwright-in-song/ Then two from Isaac: https://slate.com/culture/2021/11/stephen-sondheim-dead-obituary-career-west-side-story.html https://slate.com/podcasts/culture-gabfest/2021/12/review-spencer-yellowjackets-stephen-sondheim Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this episode, writer Luke Epplin joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Leroy "Satchel" Paige's 1948 memoir Pitchin' Man: Satchel Paige's Own Story, written with sportswriter Hal Lebovitz. Paige was a baseball legend and an important figure in the early integration of baseball. He was one of the greatest athletes of his time, but his stardom was also the product of a genius for self-promotion. In the 1940s, this involved cultivating a comical, unthreatening persona that made white audiences comfortable. His memoir tells the story of his life through that persona, turning his career in Black baseball into a series of comical picaresque adventures. This pose would later be condemned by younger Black players. Luke Epplin is the author of Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball, about the integration of baseball, and specifically the Cleveland Indians, in the 1940s. His other writing has appeared online in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, GQ, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and The Paris Review Daily. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this episode writers Alex Higley and Willie Fitzgerald join host Catherine Nichols to talk about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1901 novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. The conversation includes discussion of how the figure of Watson is used as a magnifying frame for Holmes's genius and the lasting influence of that narrative device; the overwhelming influence Conan Doyle and Holmes had on the development of the mystery genre, and how this was first Holmes story Doyle wrote after eight years away from the character, of whom he had grown tired. Alex Higley is the author of the short story collection Cardinal and the novel Old Open. He is also co-host (with Lindsay Hunter) of the podcast "I'm a Writer But." Willie Fitzgerald is currently the Mari Sabusawa Editorial Fellow at American Short Fiction. His work has appeared in Hobart, Poor Claudia, City Arts, Keep This Bag Away From Children and elsewhere. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Writer Jessica Gross joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Freud's 1930 book Civilization and Its Discontents, in which Freud writes about the difficulty of living as an individual in society, and the ways in which society demands we repress our nature and our desires. How has psychoanalysis, and Freud's theories in particular, changed the way we see ourselves and tell our stories? Is the price we pay for living in a society too high, especially when that price includes world wars? Jessica Gross is the author of the novel Hysteria, about a young woman's relationship with Freud. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the Yiddish Book Center and the 14th Street Y in New York. Jessica earned her MFA in fiction from The New School, where she also taught courses in fiction and nonfiction writing. She currently teaches creative writing at Texas Tech University. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Tetris

Tetris

2021-11-0945:07

In this episode, video game designer Tracy Rae Bowling (The Fight) joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss the history and impact of the 1984 game Tetris—its place in the history of video games, the cultural impact on the late 20th century, and why it's not as popular as it used to be. Tracy Rae Bowling is a writer and video game designer. Their games include The Fight, available to play on itch.io, and The Color of the Moon, in development. Tracy also hosts Gift Horse, a comedy podcast about gift-giving with their husband, Mike Meginnis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this episode, guest K. Austin Collins joins hosts Elisa Gabbert and Catherine Nichols to talk about Louise Gluck's 1985 poem "Mock Orange" and through it, her work in general. Some topics are the unfashionable somberness and simplicity of Gluck's work, Gluck's extraordinary personal letter to her friend Brenda Hillman, and Gluck's near-fatal anorexia. Also discussed is Gabbert's recent review of Gluck's most recent collection in the New York Times. K. Austin Collins is a film critic for Rolling Stone, and formerly film critic for Vanity Fair and The Ringer. He was also the host of the film podcast Flashback for Slate. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train

2021-10-2653:04

In this episode, writers Mike Meginnis and David Burr Gerrard join host Catherine Nichols to discuss Patricia Highsmith's 1950 novel Strangers on a Train. In the novel, two characters, Guy and Bruno, meet on a train; each have someone they would like to see murdered. Bruno offers to kill Guy's estranged wife, Miriam, in exchange for Guy killing Bruno's father. Guy doesn't agree, but Bruno kills Miriam anyway, and then expects to be paid back in murder. The conversation touches on the homoeroticism in the novel, how it deals with blurred identity, and how it expresses Highsmith's identification with monsters. Mike Meginnis is the author of the forthcoming Drowning Practice (2022, Ecco) and Fat Man and Little Boy (2014, Black Balloon). His short fiction and essays have appeared in Hobart, PANK, The Lifted Brow, Recommended Reading, Booth, The Pinch, The Collagist, The Sycamore Review, Fanzine, American Book Review, and Writer's Digest. His story "Navigators" appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012. He lives and works in Iowa City. David Burr Gerrard is the author of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017) and SHORT CENTURY (Rare Bird, 2014). He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, The Yale Writers’ Workshop, Catapult, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Sound Tape

The Sound Tape

2021-10-1901:25:28

In this episode, writers Alex Higley and Willie Fitzgerald join host Catherine Nichols to discuss three short stories by Wright Morris: "The Sound Tape," "The Character of the Lover," and "The Cat in the Picture." Higley, who brought the stories to Lit Century, talks about how he discovered Morris's writing through his photographs and photo-texts. The group also talks about Morris's detached, bemused voice, that sometimes tips over into confusion or joy, and the way his stories cheat the reader of conclusive meaning and leave them in a place of mystery. Alex Higley is the author of the short story collection Cardinal and the novel Old Open. Willie Fitzgerald is currently the Mari Sabusawa Editorial Fellow at American Short Fiction. His work has appeared in Hobart, Poor Claudia, City Arts, Keep This Bag Away From Children and elsewhere. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

2021-10-1257:28

In this episode, hosts Catherine Nichols and Sandra Newman talk about F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Why is modernity (and the swimming pool) always deadly in twentieth century fiction? Where and how did Fitzgerald lose control of his material? Would it be a different book if Fitzgerald had chosen a different narrator? And most of all: why is this book so commonly seen as the great American novel? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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