Virtual Memories Show 387:
Benjamin Taylor

“I had a reverent feeling about the writers of that generation. They were little children in the Great Depression, and they saw fear in their parents’ eyes, and it made workhorses of them.”

Author, editor & memoirist Benjamin Taylor joins the show to talk about his wonderful new memoir, Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth (Penguin). We get into how his relationship with Roth evolved over 20 years, how it affected his own writing, and his notion that everything that happened is still happening. We talk about the nature of friendship and how it may differ from literary friendship, Benjamin’s fixation on older friends, why The Human Stain is his favorite of Roth’s novels, the notion of “literary lions” like Roth, Bellow, Oates, Updike, and Ozick, and why this era seems bereft of them. He also fills us in on how long walks with Vivian Gornick have helped him handle Pandemic World, why fiction isn’t the only worthwhile game in town, what it means to be an American and a heartbroken patriot, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Here We Are!

“I think that American writers in general are heartbroken patriots, who see more of the disparities than ordinary citizens. Think of Hawthorne, think of Whitman. This is what makes us an essentially Romantic civilization. We believe that the ideal is what is most real.”

“Did I feel I was in their shadow? No, I felt I was in their light!”

“The grafting of manhood onto his particular childhood was always uneasy and awkward.”

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“There was an amoral streak in Philip. He was also a man of great tenderness.”

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

Benjamin Taylor‘s family memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House, received the 2018 Los Angeles Times/Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice; his Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2016 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review; and his Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay was named a Best Book of 2012 by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker. He is also the author of two novels, Tales Out of School, winner of the 1996 Harold Ribalow Prize, and The Book of Getting Even, winner of a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He edited Saul Bellow: Letters, named a Best Book of 2010 by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times and Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and Bellow’s There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, also a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His edition of the collected stories of Susan Sontag, Debriefing, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2017. Taylor is a founding faculty member in the New School’s Graduate School of Writing and teaches also in the Columbia University School of the Arts. He is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. His new book is Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth.

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 Benjamin by Alison West. It’s on my instagram.

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 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 376:
Calvin Reid

“The biggest shift in comics right now is the explosion of independent publishing, the impact of Kickstarter on the ability of artists to not have to go through the superhero gatekeepers, the explosion of diversity in terms of creators and in genres, and the impact of the book publishing world.”

Through his work at Publishers Weekly, editor Calvin Reid has been an important advocate for comics and graphic novel publishing for decades. We get into his history with comics and making art, how he began writing about the book publishing world, and the weirdness of having to update the annual retailer survey to reflect the effect of the pandemic on booksellers. Calvin talks about the transformative nature of Black Lives Matter, the lack of diversity in publishing (which he wrote about 25 years ago), and how Black artists are represented in mainstream comics, as well as how wearing a mask helps protects him from COVID, satisfies his superhero fantasies, AND gets him likes on social media. Give it a listen!

“BLM has been transformative in every way. It’s triggered a sense of looking around at the systemic nature of racism, of realizing that maybe what’s killing young black men has been stifling careers, suppressing voices, and so much more. I’m astonished and inspired to see what young people are doing.”

“I think a new and revived New York will come out of the pain and the death and some of the shortsighted decisions about the pandemic that have caused so much suffering.”

“I’m a product of the romantic mythology of New York City. I love the idea of New York City. I love baseball, and black music, and Harlem, and jazz, and all the things that create the mythos of New York.”

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

Calvin Reid is Publishers Weekly‘s news editor and head of its comics department. He oversees PW’s annual African American issue. He also edits the PW Comics Week eNewsletter. He has edited the graphic novels Comanche Moon by Jack Jackson and David Chelsea in Love by David Chelsea.

Follow Calvin on Twitter, Facebook, 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. Photos of Calvin supplied by him. It’s on my instagram.