A Night at the Brooklyn Museum

10171194_10101691225457436_1695760793926855948_nThank you to everyone who came out to the Brooklyn Museum for a night of conversation with Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Panic in a Suitcase), Jason Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest), Mark Chiusano (Marine Park: Stories) and Evan Hughes (Panic in a Suitcase)!  It was fantastic to see WNYC join forces with the Brooklyn Book Festival.

UPDATE: The audio from the full event is now online here: http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/brooklyn-bound-writing-kings-county/

Brooklyn Bound: Writing Kings County

Mark your calendars for September 18th!

I’m thrilled to be hosting an interactive discussion on literature, identity, and geography at the Brooklyn Museum in a special WNYC Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event.

The event is called Brooklyn Bound: Writing Kings County and it centers around writers past and present who have taken inspiration from the expansive borough.

The evening will feature Evan Hughes, author of Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life), plus three emerging writers whose work focuses on three distinct Brooklyn neighborhoods. Yelena Akhtiorskaya‘s debut novel Panic in a Suitcase is set in the Brighton Beach of her immigrant childhood; Jason Reynolds writes about the pressures of life in Bed-Stuy in his young adult novel When I Was the Greatest; and Mark Chiusano (Marine Park: Stories) examines the far reaches of the borough in his new collection of stories.

See WNYC’s events page for details and tickets. I hope to see you there!

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Everyone’s A Critic

But not everyone gets profiled by their alumni magazine!  I was incredibly flattered to be interviewed by the brilliant Molly Minturn for the most recent issue of Virginia Magazine.  I’ve got some fantastic company, too– check out the profile of SNL’s Sasheer Zamata, reflections from bioethics professor John Arras (and others) and much more.

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Meet The Hummus, A Fake News Site for Muslim-Americans

This week, I produced an interview with the anonymous founders of The Hummus on The Takeaway, and then blogged about their project for On the Media.  PRI ended up republishing the interview on their site too.  Check ’em out. Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.58.27 PM

2013 is Officially the Year of the Selfie

selfieIn early October, The Takeaway explored the possibility of doing a story about The National #Selfie Portrait Gallery.  Suspecting that our host would be more than a bit skeptical about the premise of the segment, I spent some time reading up.

We ultimately scrapped the segment but on Tuesday when Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” 2013’s Word of the Year, it was time to return to the topic.   Writer Casey Cep gave Takeaway guest host Anna Sale a lot to chew on in her radio interview. To round things out I blogged about the selfie think-piece and my own relationship with the selfie for On the Media’s TLDR:

I fall into the selfie-averse crowd.  I’ve tried, but I can’t figure out the right angle at which to position my camera or the best way to purse my lips.  At selfie-range, I don’t recognize—or particularly like—my own features.  I’d like to think my selfie-allergy is a symptom of humility but writer Brian Droitcour might interpret it differently.  “The real narcissists are the ones who never take selfies,” Droitcour argues. “They imagine their self as autonomous, hermetic—too precious to be shared.”

Writing the post was fun; seeing the reaction to the piece on social media has been even more fun. Turns out people have strong feelings about selfies– and about my big cat shirt.

(This photo, by the way, was taken a few hours before my bachelorette party in response to inquiries about my level of excitement.  I was very excited.)

Hot Reads: Lost Girls, Memories of a Marriage, The Madonna on the Moon, The Measures Between Us

Picture 1Summer: such a blur.  Here’s the most recent set of Hot Reads!  If you read just one of these books, let it be Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls.  It was hard to do it justice in less than 300 words.

Crowd-Sourcing a People’s Poem for the Inauguration

When I was in Florida for the Miami Book Fair this past November, I got the chance to see The Takeaway’s Miami affiliate, WLRN, launch a cool crowd-sourced short story project on Twitter.  They recruited Junot Diaz to supply their story with an opening line, sent it out over Twitter, and then watched as listeners pieced together a narrative. It was a real, live, many-headed story — messy but compelling.

Inspired by WLRN’s success, last week, my WNYC colleagues and I decided to attempt a similar project– this time with poetry rather than prose.

The inauguration provided a theme.  The Takeaway invited poet Kwame Dawes to kick things off with a discussion of inaugural poetry last Wednesday.  In that interview, Dawes presented the first (original) line for what would become our crowd-sourced poem:  Say nation. In the wake of quarrels, say hope. We Tweeted out the line and asked listeners to follow up with subsequent lines of their own using the hashtag #prezpoem.

Almost immediately, the lines started pouring in.  By the end of the week, we’d recieved hundreds of Tweets.  On Friday, Dawes returned to the program to survey the lines– and to share the poem he’d assembled from them.  (He was joined by poet Elizabeth Alexander, who delivered the 2009 inaugural poem —  and who had some very smart things to say about poetry and politics.  Hear their whole interview here.)

But it didn’t stop there.  For me, the best part of the project was the grand finale, which aired this morning.  After picking out a couple dozen of the strongest Tweets, I asked their authors to send audio of themselves reading their line (plus a few stanzas before and after). Piecing together the lines with the help of The Takeaway’s resident audio wizard Jay Cowit, a gorgeous audio poetry mash-up emerged.

This is what audio of the final poem sounded like.  And this is what the final text of the poem looked like:

A People’s Poem for the Inauguration

Say “nation.” In the wake of quarrels, say “hope.”
Be not divisive nor divided.

Say “neighbor.” Say, “What can I do?”
Doors open. Together walk through.
In the hurly-burly of the day’s governing
remember the freedom of peace.

At the dawn of uncertain tomorrows, say “change.”
While darkness floods our spirit, say “light” and shatter
all our scattering shadows.

Dream, “neighbor.” In the face of fear, sing, “mercy.”
Hear unity from voices that speak.

Say that freedom, both the blessing and right,
remain the provenance of open minds.
Acknowledge the dreams that birthed a great nation — say “freedom.”
Speak it into action and watch our dreams reshape the future.

And heart in hand, for the sake of the young,
of the old,
of all those who
wade thru injustice’s tide, say “freedom.”

Say and shout and sing! Progress is a storm and our voices the thunder.

Say “peace” for the hearts of a nation’s people, in times of grief.
Say one, say all. To abandon hope is to further the fall
Say “take my hand” to the downtrodden, the lost.
Sing harmonies that blend in a spectrum of love.

In the dark of failures, say “try”; encourage, persist to light.
Say friend, my hand for your strength, your eyes for my light as we forward together.
Say hope is ours.
Wash away morose pessimism and the failings of the nascent.
Remember our virtue; remember our lofty intent.
In the wake of the struggle, speak, so that together we all may speak courage.

Say “hope,” eyes turned not to the gauzy sky
nor to the brassy gates of power
but to the frost-bitten grass beneath our feet.

I need to hear, again, those antiquated words
in this new light.

The Principled Quit

To get a little perspective on Greg Smith’s “I quit” letter to Goldman Sachs while brainstorming at work today, I decided to call up Evan Harris.  Back in 1995 she was pretty much the poster-child for quitting.  She quit her job, boyfriend, and city, and started a zine called Quitters Quarterly.  She was featured in an episode of This American Life, and she wrote a book called The Quit.  Seventeen years later? She’s married with kids, back in her hometown. Here’s what she told me.

Recently on The Takeaway

Here are just some of the segments I’ve recently worked on for The Takeaway:

A New Legal Challenge to Affirmative Action “Since George Washington, universities have been thought of as places where the American melting-pot idea could be realized, in part,” Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told The Takeaway.  Nearly a decade ago, Bollinger was part of two landmark Supreme Court Cases on affirmative action, Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger.  He weighed in on how the new challenge to affirmative action posed by the Fisher vs. Texas case could change the face of the student body of universities of the future.

NYPD Surveillance Program Monitored Muslim Students at 13 Colleges A recently leaked New York Police Department report provides a startling picture of just how far the NYPD’s intelligence division went in a surveillance program targeting monitoring Muslims students at 13 colleges in the northeast. CUNY student Jawad Rasul told The Takeaway he was shocked to find out he’d given an undercover agent a ride to a student whitewater rafting trip. “These things come out which really are kind of a slap in the face to the people who are trying to assimilate into the country and lose our foreign identity to become American,” he said. (More on this story from the WNYC Newsroom.)

Electoral Demographics and the History of Presidential Primaries  Ken C. Davis, author of Don’t Much About History joined the show to help  fact-check some claims made by writer Timothy Egan in a recent New York Times op-ed.  “There is no other way to put this without resorting to demographic bluntness: the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large,” Egan claimed.  Davis explained why that comparison is somewhat — but not entirely — accurate.

60 Lives Connected in the Largest Chain of Kidney Transplants  Candice and Michael Ryan, a husband and wife kidney recipient and donor shared their moving experience as part of the largest-ever chain of kidney transplants.  “It’s life-changing,” an emotional Candice Ryan told The Takeaway.  Check out The New York Times’ incredible multimedia coverage of this story here.

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping Visits The US  The Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows explained how the Communist Party’s role in business has evolved in China.  Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association also joined the show to discuss how Vice-President Xi’s visit to the state would reinforce a multi-billion dollar trade partnership.

California’s Ban on Gay Marriage Struck Down  “You cannot give a right to marry and then take it away solely on the ground that the individuals that you are taking it away from are a despised or disfavored group,” explained NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino.  While working on this segment, I also recorded a short audio interview with John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, a phenomenal couple.  Read more about them here or listen to a longer interview with them from 2010 here.

Tebow Bill May Allow Home-Schoolers to Play on High School Teams  Homeschooler Patrick Foss is a talented soccer player heading to University of Virginia in the fall to play college soccer. He told The Takeaway he wished he’d been able to play soccer on the local high school team. “My parents are taxpayers just like next door neighbors, just like the person two doors down who is the starting point-guard at our high school,” he said.