Virtual Memories Show 382:
John Vercher

“Growing up mixed-race, there’s a lot of soul-searching and identity-searching, and when you’re asked often enough ‘What are you?’, you start to ask that question of yourself.”

With Three Fifths (Agora), debut author John Vercher explores race and representation in a taut crime novel. We get into Black identity and the notion of ‘passing’ in America, the origins of Three Fifths and its evolution over a two-decade span, and how John’s literary idols led him to the spare prose that carries the book’s tension. We also get into his roundabout writing career, how an MFA program doesn’t necessarily prepare one for the job-aspects of writing, the decision to place Three Fifths in 1995 (think Rodney King, OJ trial, and no cell phones or internet), John’s martial arts background and how it informs his writing, how he integrated his characters’ love of superhero comics into their psychologies, the need to pay it forward, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Three Fifths!

“The shorter books of Ernest Gaines and James Baldwin pack far more emotional heft than books twice their length. At the end of 200 pages, you feel like you’ve just read an epic novel.”

“While I wrote the book to create conversations, I also write it selfishly, to explore some of the questions of representation.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

John Vercher is a writer currently living in the Philadelphia area with his wife and two sons. He has a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Mountainview Master of Fine Arts program, and served as an adjunct faculty member at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

His fiction has appeared on Akashic Books’ flash fiction features Mondays are Murder and Fri-SciFi. John is a contributing writer for Cognoscenti, the thoughts and opinions page of WBUR Boston. Two of his essays published on race, identity, and parenting were picked up by NPR, and he has appeared on WBUR’s Weekend Edition. His non-fiction work has also appeared in Entropy Magazine, CrimeReads, and Booklist.

John’s debut novel, Three-Fifths, launched September 10th, 2019, from Agora, the diversity-focused imprint of Polis Books. Three-Fifths was chosen as the launch title for the imprint and received strong advance praise from Kirkus and starred reviews from the Library Journal and Booklist. Three-Fifths was named one of the best books of 2019 by the Chicago Tribune, a Notable Mention in CrimeReads best crime novels of 2019, a Best Debut Novel by CrimeReads, a Top 10 Crime Fiction Debut by Booklist, a 2020 Nominee for Left Coast Crime’s “Lefty” Award for Best Debut Novel, a 2020 Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel, and a 2020 nominee for The Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Follow John on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of John by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 381:
Zena Hitz

“The forms of learning for its own sake that happen in ordinary life are more fundamental than the professional versions.”

Author & St. John’s College tutor Zena Hitz joins the show to talk about her wonderful new book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton University Press). We get into the nature of learning for its own sake, the corruption of academia and its potential reform, how St. John’s prepared us for the world by not preparing us, and why the Newton’s Principia is the toughest thing on the SJC curriculum. We also talk about the joy of autodidacts and our shared love of The Peregrine, why she disagrees with the notion that learning-for-its-own-sake is a privilege of the elite, the challenges of leading seminars by Zoom, and how bureaucracy creeps into every system. We also tackle my lightning round of questions for SJC tutors, what she’d add to the curriculum and what she’d subtract, and answer the long-standing question: What is virtue and can it be taught? Give it a listen! And go read Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life!

“St. John’s is a different place. It has different values, and you don’t want the rest of the world to be like that, but it changes the way you interact with the world.”

“Casual interaction really matters. During the pandemic, it’s a burden to have everything be done with real intention: ‘Who would I like to see, who would I like to talk to?'”

“Sometimes young people don’t get that these books are real. That what Thucydides wrote about was what he lived through. They don’t always understand the books are about life.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Zena Hitz is a Tutor in the great books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. She has a Ph.D. in ancient philosophy from Princeton University and studies and teaches across the liberal arts. Her new book is Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, from Princeton University Press.

Follow Zena on Twitter. There’s a more extensive bio at her site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Zena by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 380:
Bill Campbell

“When you own the field, it’s very easy to move the goalposts.”

Author & publisher Bill Campbell joins the show to talk about what he’s learned from running Rosarium Publishing (and how he accidentally became a publisher). We get into how having a diverse roster of authors and cartoonists is easy if you’re willing to look, how independent bookstores generally don’t support independent presses, and how work-life balance is something he doesn’t even consider. We also talk about the impact of Rosarium’s first book, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, the continued significance of their 2015 anthology, APB: Artists against Police Brutality, the cognitive dissonance of living in Washington, DC, his upcoming graphic novel about a Klan rally in Pittsburgh and why history equals horror, the challenges of continuing to publish during the pandemic, how lockdown taught him that he’s not as antisocial as he thought, and more. Give it a listen! And go read some Rosarium books!

“Independent bookstores always say, ‘Support independents,’ and I say, ‘Why don’t you support independent publishers?'”

“The work-life balance might work if you have a 9-5, but if you’re doing stuff like this, there’s just no balancing any of it.”

“What my novel Koontown Killing Kaper taught me was, if you’re doing something that’s actually controversial, people will ignore you. They just won’t show you the light of day.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Bill Campbell is the author of Sunshine Patriots, My Booty Novel, and the anti-racism satire, Koontown Killing Kaper. Along with Edward Austin Hall, he co-edited the groundbreaking anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. He also co-edited Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, with Nisi Shawl, Future Fiction: New Dimensions in International Science Fiction and Fantasy, with Francesco Verso, and APB: Artists against Police Brutality, with Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings. His Afrofuturist spaceploitation graphic novel, Baaaad Muthaz (with David Brame and Damian Duffy) was released in 2019. His historical graphic novel with Bizhan Khodabandeh, The Day the Klan Came to Town, will be released by PM Press in 2021. He lives in Washington, DC, where he spends his time with his family and helms Rosarium Publishing.

Follow Bill on Twitter and Instagram and follow Rosarium Publishing on Twitter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Bill hoarding toilet paper by him. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 379:
Jonathan W. Gray

“Literature has a role to play at precisely this moment, because we have to dream and think big.”

I nerd out with author, English professor, and hardcore comics reader Jonathan W. Gray. We talk about how Blackness is represented in American comics (the subject of his next book), how Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing changed his life, and how he was teaching comics when there weren’t a lot of college courses on comics. We get into the perils and perks of academia, what it’s like teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and protesting against police violence, the influence of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner & John Lewis’ March on his work, the horrifying question of whether we’re actually in the best timeline right now, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read his first book, Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination: Innocence by Association!

“Because police are in retreat, at least rhetorically, we’re finally having a conversation about their budget vs. the budget for social workers, for education, and housing.”

“You never know a thing until you have to teach that thing, and that was the case with teaching about comics.”

“The problem with professors is that professors overthink everything.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Jonathan W. Gray is Associate Professor of English at John Jay College-CUNY and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination (University Press of Mississippi) and is currently working on the book project “Illustrating the Race: Representing Blackness in American Comics”, which traces depictions of African Americans in comics from 1966 to the present by investigating how the twin notions of illustration — the creative act of depiction and the political act of bringing forth for public consideration — function in these texts. Prof. Gray co-edited the essay collection “Disability in Comics and Graphic Novels” for Palgrave McMillian and formerly served as the founding editor of the Journal of Comics and Culture (Pace). Prof. Gray’s journalism on popular culture has appeared in The New Republic, Entertainment Weekly, Medium, and Salon.com.

Arpi Pap Studio Images

Follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Jonathan W. Gray by Arpi Pap Studio. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 377:
Keith Henry Brown

“I was shocked no one had done a kids picture book about Miles Davis. I didn’t even read the script; I just said yes!”

Designer, artist and writer Keith Henry Brown joins the show to talk about his new kids book, Birth of The Cool: How Miles Davis Found His Sound (Page Street Books, written by Kathleen Cornell Berman). We get into the twists and turns of his illustration career, exploring the balancing act of art & commerce in his main role as an art director, the role of jazz in his work, how he started off by achieving his childhood goal of drawing for Marvel Comics, but rapidly realized it wasn’t for him, the ongoing evolution of his style, how he discovered his place at the Society of Illustrators, the longform graphic novel he’s hoping to create, the issues of race in his career, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Birth of The Cool!

“Part of my intense love for jazz is because it’s an incredibly brilliant art form that requires an incredible amount of talent, skill, practice, and intellectualism, and it’s a high art. And Black people had a lot to do with the creation of it.”

“I live in this weird balance of life where I’ve been treated incredibly well, and there’s another part where people don’t know me and they cross the street because they feel threatened.”

“Once I had my own style, I realized I had my own language.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Keith Henry Brown got his start drawing superheroes, but music has always been his true inspiration. He has worked as a designer for advertising agencies and high profile music-related projects, including creating posters for Jazz Appreciation Month and The Newport Jazz Festival, and creating jazz album covers for artists such as Christian McBride, Kevin Eubanks, and Wynton Marsalis. Keith’s first children’s book, Birth of The Cool: How Miles Davis Found His Sound, was published by Page Street Books in 2019 and received a Starred Review from Kirkus.

Born and raised in Staten Island, Keith is father to two magnificent boys (whom he affectionately calls his “two knuckleheads”) and lives and works in Brooklyn, surrounded by his favorite Spider-man, Batman and Black Panther action figures.

Follow Keith on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Keith supplied by him (illustrations are by him, too). It’s on my instagram.