177 Sherwood Anderson (with Alyson Hagy)

One hundred years ago, a collection of short stories by a little-known author from Ohio burst onto the literary scene, causing a minor scandal for their sexual frankness. In the years since, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) became more famous for its insightful portrayal of a town filled with friendly but solitary individuals, who wrestle with questions of love and lust, art and ambition, deep frustrations and the desire for spiritual uplift. How well have these stories held up? And how well do they speak to us today? We’ll talk with Alyson Hagy, author of the new novel Scribe, about this often overlooked American masterpiece – and we’ll see how it’s informed her own writing career.

SHERWOOD ANDERSON (1876-1941) grew up in a small town in Ohio before leaving in a state of desperation for Chicago and a literary career. His novels and short stories were often cited by the next generation of American writers (Wolfe, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) as helping them to develop their own literary voice.

ALYSON HAGY was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of eight works of fiction, including Scribe and Boleto. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. (We appreciate it!) Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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176 William Carlos Williams (“The Use of Force”)

Today, the American modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is famous among poetry fans for his vivid, economical poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” But for most of his lifetime, he struggled to achieve success comparable to those of his contemporaries Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Toiling away as a physician in working-class neighborhoods in New Jersey, Williams tried to write poems and short stories whenever he could, often typing for a few minutes in between patient visits. In this episode of The History of Literature, Jacke and Mike take a look at Williams’s incredible short story “The Use of Force,” in which a physician wrestles with a young patient determined to preserve her secret at all costs.

NOTE: This is another self-contained episode of The History of Literature! We read the story for you – no need to read it yourself first (unless you want to!).

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. (We appreciate it!) Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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168 Jhumpa Lahiri (“The Third and Final Continent”)

What was it like to relocate from India to London to America in the early 1970s? And how can a daughter hope to recapture the experience of her father and convey it in fiction? In today’s episode of the History of Literature, Jacke and Mike look at a contemporary classic story, Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent.” Along the way, they discuss the tropes of immigrant fiction, the pros and cons of epiphany stories, and whether a story is a “city” or “an old friend.” (Yes, that’s another one of Mike’s special theories.)

JHUMPA LAHIRI was born in 1967 in London, England, the daughter of Bengali Indian emigrants. She moved to the United States when she was two years old and grew up in Rhode Island. A graduate of Boston University, she began writing and publishing her stories of first-generation Indian-American immigrants in the 1990s. Her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, was a huge critical and commercial success, selling over 15 million copies and earning Lahiri the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

NOTE: This is a self-contained episode of The History of Literature, in which both the story and a discussion of it are provided. No prior reading necessary (unless you’d like to)!

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. (We appreciate it!) Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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158 “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Vietnam War dominated the hearts and minds of a generation of Americans. In 1990, the American writer Tim O’Brien, himself a former soldier, published “The Things They Carried,” a short story that became an instant classic. Through its depiction of the members of a platoon in Vietnam, told largely through the tangible and intangible things in their possession as they humped their way through the jungle, O’Brien’s story captures the soul and psyches of young men engaged in a war they cannot understand and filled with a longing for home that must compete with the brutal circumstances of present-day reality. In this episode of the History of Literature, host Jacke Wilson reads the entire short story “The Things They Carried,” then invites Mike Palindrome, President of the Literature Supporters Club, to join him for a discussion of the Vietnam War and the literary masterpiece it gave rise to.

Support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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150 Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog”

It’s a deceptively simple story: a man and a woman meet, have an affair, are separated, and reunite. And yet, in writing about Anton Chekhov’s story, “The Lady with the Little Dog” (1899), Vladimir Nabokov said, “All the traditional rules have been broken in this wonderful short story…. No problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written.”

What makes this story so good? How does it hold up today? In this episode, Jacke and Mike examine the masterpiece of one of the world’s greatest short story writers. NOTE: This is a self-contained episode of the History of Literature – we read the story itself, so no need to read the story on your own (unless you’d like to).

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC.

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139 “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

In 1922, the miserable genius Franz Kafka wrote a short story, Ein Hungerkünstler (A Hunger Artist), about another miserable genius: a man whose “art” is to live in a cage and display his fasting ability to crowds that don’t always appreciate what he is trying to do. Inspired by actual historical figures, though suffused with nostalgia and Kafka’s penetrating insight, the story asks us to reconsider our conceptions of art and spectacle, life and death, hunger and humanity. Host Jacke Wilson is joined by superguest Mike Palindrome, President of the Literature Supporters Club, to feast on one of the greatest short stories ever written.

For more on Franz Kafka, try Episode 134 – The Greatest Night of Franz Kafka’s Life

For more on short stories, try Episode 57 – Borges, Munro, Davis, Barthelme – All About Short Stories (And Long Ones Too)

For a deep dive into Alice Munro’s “A Bear Came Over the Mountain,” try Episode 115 – The Genius of Alice Munro

For a deep dive into Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” try Episode 110 – Heart of Darkness – Then and Now

Help support the show at patreon.com/literatureor historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com or facebook.com/historyofliterature. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or via our new Twitter handle, @thejackewilson.

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115 The Genius of Alice Munro

She was born Alice Ann Laidlaw on July 10, 1931, in a small town called Wingham Ontario, the daughter of a mink farmer and a schoolteacher. Eighty years later, Alice Munro was the first Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mike and Jacke look at Alice Munro and one of her greatest masterworks, the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” 

Support the show at patreon.com/literature. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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63 Chekhov, Bellow, Wright, and Fox (with Charles Baxter)

In this special episode, the revered American author Charles Baxter joins Jacke to discuss some of his favorite books, including works by Anton Chekhov, Saul Bellow, James Wright, and Paula Fox.

“Charles Baxter’s stories have reminded me of how broad and deep and shining a story can be, and I am grateful.” — Alice Munro 

CHARLES BAXTER is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collections Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World.  The stories “Bravery” and “Charity,” which appear in There’s Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Works Discussed:

Collected Poems by James Wright

Herzog, Henderson the Rain King, and Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Desperate Characters and The Widow’s Children by Paula Fox

Selected Stories by Anton Chekhov

Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Sweet Vermouth” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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60 Great Literary Endings

Everyone always talks about the greatest openings in the history of literature – I’m looking at you, Call me Ishmael – but what about endings? Aren’t those just as important? What are the different ways to end short stories and novels? Which endings work well and why? In this episode, Jacke and Mike take a look at great literary endings, with some assistance from David Lodge, Charles Baxter, Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Samuel Beckett, Iris Murdoch, Uncle Wiggily, The Third Man, Donald Barthelme, Alice Munro, Henry James, E.B. White, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Shelley, David Foster Wallace, O. Henry, Ian McEwan, Thomas Mann, and Joseph Conrad.

Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

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59 Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) lived a life that, in retrospect, looks almost like one of her short stories: sudden, impactful, and lastingly powerful. Deeply Catholic, O’Connor portrayed the American South as a place full of complex characters seeking redemption in unusual and often violent ways. She once said that she had found that violence was “strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace,” and it is this confrontation – restless faith crashing into pain and evil – that energizes O’Connor’s best works. Possessed of almost supernatural writerly gifts, O’Connor’s insight and artistry place her in the uppermost echelon of American authors. Host Jacke Wilson tells the story of O’Connor’s life, her most famous works, and his own near-connection to the author…before concluding with some troubling recent discoveries and a preview of a deeper examination of O’Connor and her place in American letters.

Show Notes: 

See the photo of the young Flannery O’Connor at the Amana Colonies at https://jackewilson.com/2014/08/08/writers-laughing-flannery-oconnor/.

Brand new! Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Porch Blues” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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