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coloring-booksThe radio version of my New Yorker story on South Korean literature airs this week in a special hour I’ve been working on for On the Media, which is all about the state of the publishing industry and the enduring presence of physical books in a digital world.

Check out Laura Marsh’s brilliant look at the subversive history of adult coloring books, Rob Salkowitz on why Amazon might be opening physical bookshops, Bob Garfield’s visit to a massive warehouse selling books by the foot, and more!

oreoMy story about Fran Ross’s all-but-forgotten 1974 novel Oreo aired on this week’s episode of On The Media.

I talked to Harryette Mullen, author of the afterword of the new edition of the book, and to Danzy Senna, author of the book’s new introduction, plus novelist Mat Johnson, and Duke African-American studies professor Mark Anthony Neal– all of whom are big fans of this strange and singular book.

Warning: Their excitement for Oreo is contagious.

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I recently spent a glorious spring afternoon with Gregory Pardlo, the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in poetry.  We chatted on his stoop, and then we walked to a few of the neighborhood spots that feature prominently in his poetry– including the Fulton Street Foodtown, which is the setting for his poem “Problema 3.”  There, we talked about Baltimore, Toya Graham and being a black parent. Hear my story for The Takeaway and listen to him read and discuss a few other poems on The Takeaway’s site.

UPDATE: A second version of the story I filed for the WNYC newsroom is now online too.  In it, we talk about the changing visual landscape of his neighborhood, and why his young daughters have mixed feelings about his Pulitzer.

I was on The Takeaway on Monday talking about Renaissance publishing innovator Aldus Manutius and why technophiles like Robin Sloan consider him the Steve Jobs of his era.  Manutius, who died in 1515, is the subject of a 500th anniversary exhibition at the Grolier Club in Manhattan running through the end of April.  The story’s also airing as a feature on WNYC.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 10.06.24 PM

ferrisHear me explain why the new Joshua Ferris novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, made me floss— and why it’s already divided The Takeaway team.  If you haven’t read it, now’s the perfect time to pick it up– just in time for The Takeaway Book Club’s discussion in a few weeks.

It’s got baseball, dentistry, online trolls, a made-up religion, and a protagonist who associates oral hygiene with moral seriousness.  What more can you ask for in a summer read?

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.)

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.

A round-up of some of the segments I’ve particularly enjoyed working on for The Takeaway recently:

Listeners Respond: Things You Would Have Said  A funny thing happens when you call up strangers and tell them you’re a public radio producer: They tell you things, personal things. After doing a short interview with Jackie Hooper, the author of The Things You Would Have Said, we were flooded with listener comments about things they wished they’d said to people in their past.  I had the task of calling up a handful of listeners for longer phone interviews. We finally aired the stories of three listeners.

An Argument Against Happiness  Last month the United Nations took up the topic of moving beyond conventional economic measures in a session called “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” As a follow-up to our segment on this move, we invited Wake Forest University English Professor Eric Wilson, author of Against Happiness, onto the program.  He argued the virtues of melancholy. “In America there is a sense that we can have all up with no down and all light with no dark — that we can be happy all the time,” he said.  “I’m in favor of honestly facing the world as it is and trying to make the best of it.”

March Heat Breaks Records Across the Country According to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 15,000 weather records were set in the United States this March.  John Harold, a farmer in Olathe, Colorado described the dilemmas the unseasonably warm weather had presented on his farm.  Andrew Revkin of The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” blog summed things up this way: “Expect more of the same as the climate warms.”

Walmart’s Mexican Bribery Scandal Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect joined the program from his home in Mexico City to provide some perspective on reports of widespread bribery in Walmart’s Mexican operations.  When Fishman was working on his book years before, he’d been struck by how rigidly ethical the company’s practices were in the US. “What’s interesting is instead of Walmart changing the culture of Mexico, Mexico changed the culture of Walmart,” Fishman said.

Baby Boomers Squeeze Savings to Support Parents and Children  According to a new survey from Ameriprise Financial, more than half of baby boomers help their parents pay for groceries, medical expenses, or utilities. What’s more, a stunning 93% provide their adult children with financial support too. “Boomers’ attitudes about spending and saving have changed dramatically,” Suzanna de Baca of Ameriprise Financial explained. Boomer Mark Niedt in Denver described his own predicament. “While I’d love to be socking away some money for my own retirement, I’m really forced to derail that and give some assistance when I can,” he said.

Men — You Talk Too Much  Yale organizational behavior professor Tori Brescoll shared her fascinating research about just how much powerful men and women talk in the workplace. “Give men power and they’ll talk a lot — but that wasn’t really the case for women,” Brescoll found.  What’s more, women who were particularly outspoken paid a price: They were perceived as incompetent and unlikeable. “Indeed what I found is that whether it was politics or business, really talkative women were really slammed,” she said.

A Sign of the Times: Underearners Anonymous  Genevieve Smith‘s cover story in the latest issue of Harper’s magazine describes her experiences in “Underearner’s Anonymous,” a 12-step program for the chronically underpaid.  She explained how following the country’s economic recovery had made her a “connoisseur of financial pessimism” and why she was drawn to the program.

Behind the Scenes Diplomacy for Chen Guangcheng NYU Law Professor Jerome Cohen has maintained a friendship with Chinese dissedent Chen Guangcheng for more than a decade and remained in touch with him as he tried to navigate between US and Chinese officials in the days following his daring escape from house arrest.  “He was confronted by two unattractive opportunities,” Cohen explained.