Episode 121: Dystopian Visions

Gender wars, pandemics, and, of course, workaday clones: is it the daily news, or our shared future? In the latest GrottoPod Gabfest, co-producers Susan Gerhard, Daniel Pearce and Beth Winegarner plus special guest Andrew Braithwaite take on dark visions, with four of our favorite dystopian novels under discussion: Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and Ling Ma’s Severance.

Episode 120: Cornelius Eady On Poetry and Jazz

Cornelius Eady

Cornelius Eady has published seven books of poetry, including Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, which won the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and Brutal Imagination, a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award in poetry. Running Man, a music-theatre piece Eady coauthored with jazz musician Diedre Murray, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1999 and received Obie awards for best musical score and lead actor in a musical. Eady is also the co-founder of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to the advancement of young African-American poets. In this episode of the GrottoPod, Cornelius talks with Cave Canem fellow and poet George Higgins in a wide-ranging conversation about improvisation, Cornelius’s new music project, the poet Sterling A. Brown, Jim Crowrecording in Elvis’s Memphis studio, Cave Canem, Rooted and Written and a photo shoot by the New York Times of the 32 black male writers of our time. 

Episode 119: The Making of ‘Rooted & Written’

This week we go inside Rooted & Written, a new Writers Grotto initiative by and for writers of color. Featured in this one-hour show: live poetry and prose readings from the first Rooted & Written workshop series in September, 2019, as well as discussions and reactions from the event. Rooted and Written’s Melissa Pandika leads us on this behind-the-scenes tour, which also features an in-depth conversation between some of the members of the workshop’s founding team — Susan Ito, Aditi Malhotra, and Jesus Sierra — talking about the inception and making of this community-empowerment program.

Episode 118: Our Favorite Books of 2019

As the year races to a close, we revisit the adrenaline rush of five key books: one inspired in part by SCUM Manifesto scribe Valerie Solanas; another powered by a Great Dane; a play-by-play plus backstory on the epic James Baldwin-William F. Buckley debate of yore; a biographer attempting to reveal his secret sauce; and one book to help us detox from it all, on defusing women’s stress. Along with an introduction to 16 books published by Grotto writers in 2019, this rangy conversation involving Amelia and Emily Nagoski’s Burnout, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us, Andrea Long Chu’s Females, and Robert Caro’s Working has something for just about everyone.

Episode 117: Michael Frank in conversation with Lindsey Crittenden

Michael Frank

Michael Frank is the author of the memoir The Mighty Franks, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection that was named one of the best books of 2017 by The Telegraph and The New Statesman and won the 2018 JQ Wingate PrizeIn October, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published What Is Missinghis first novel. In this episode of the GrottoPod, Frank chats with author and Grotto instructor Lindsey Crittenden about What Is Missing, which The New Yorker has described as “a penetrating examination of how a life can be defined by contingency and surprise.” The two writers and friends also discuss the roles they have played as early and trusted readers of each other’s work.

Episode 116: The Delights of Writing Historical Fiction

Writer Lucy Jane Bledsoe, whose new novel is Running Wild, interviews fellow authors Pam Berkman and Dorothy Hearst. Berkman and Hearst’s new children’s book is Filigree’s Midnight Ride, the first entry in a series about, as Berkman says, “turning points in history, particularly American history, from the point of view of a dog who was there.” Filigree’s Midnight Ride tells the story of Paul Revere’s ride, and of a Pomeranian, Filigree, who assumes that he can’t help Revere because of his small size.

In this lively discussion, the writers discuss the differences between writing for children and writing for adults, the challenges and delights of writing historical fiction, and the dynamics of co-authorship and collaboration.

Episode 115: Mary Ladd’s “disrespectful cancer book”

In this special episode of the GrottoPod, author and former GrottoPod co-host Bridget Quinn interviews writer Mary Ladd and San Francisco Chronicle “Bad Reporter” cartoonist Don Asmussen for the Betabrand podcast theater, recorded with a live studio audience at the apparel company’s San Francisco headquarters on October 17, 2019. This event celebrated Ladd’s publishing debut of her “disrespectful cancer book,” The Wig Diaries, illustrated by Asmussen. Ladd and Asmussen swap cancer stories, invariably finding the gallows humor in their circumstances — which is poignant, knowing Asmussen’s cancer returned last year and is now in his brain. Quinn’s irreverence adds to the medical mayhem, which makes this one of the funniest interviews about cancer you’ve probably ever heard.

Episode 114: Spooky Reads for Halloween

What’s scarier: an abusive father imposing the re-enactment of an iron-age human-sacrifice ritual on his teenage daughter, an idealistic young man imprisoned and brutalized for a crime he clearly did not commit, a cast of characters adrift in a genuinely haunted house, or the political history of the United States? This week’s GrottoPod takes a look at four books that touch on these skin-crawling topics. They are Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and These Truths by Jill Lepore. GrottoPod hosts and producers Beth Winegarner, George Higgins, Daniel Pearce, and Ben Marks each present a book, and at the end the show, the group votes on their favorite. With apologies to the language of clickbait, the results may shock you!

Episode 113: You and AI—David Ewing Duncan and our Robotic Futures

Julia Scott and David Ewing Duncan

The future is already here—but there’s another one, two, or three futures right around the corner. David Ewing Duncan’s new book, Talking to Robots: Tales from our Human Robot Futures, speculates on the possibilities of what comes next in the AI-human interface, with help from theoretical physicist Brian Greene, futurist Kevin Kelly, and more. What could go right? What could go wrong? Duncan, whose previous books include Experimental Man and The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With my DNA, is interviewed by Writers Grotto print and radio journalist Julia Scott about his unique hybrid of storytelling and speculative nonfiction.

Episode 112: Talking Books with The Stacks host Traci Thomas

Traci Thomas, the Stacks

Rummaging through piles of books has never been more fun than with books podcaster Traci Thomas, whose ebullient personality and searing smarts have grown her show, The Stacks, into a true indie media phenomenon. Whether she’s in a page-by-page read of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, revisiting Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or getting honest over Iain Reid, Thomas and guests dig up treasures, poring over the best nuggets and helping us understand why we need to discard the worst. Thomas stopped by the Writers Grotto for lunch and visited the GrottoPod for a chat with Susie Gerhard that (spoiler alert!) includes lists of Traci’s favorite fiction and nonfiction titles.