Virtual Memories Show 403:
Merrill Markoe (+ Emily Flake)

“What you find when you look at your old writings is that you’re a completely different person until you’re about 13 or 14.”

Comedy legend Merrill Markoe returns to the show to celebrate her new graphic memoir, We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)! We talk about how it felt to spend time with her childhood self over the course of the book, the decision to illustrate it and what that process taught her about cartooning, what contemporary Merrill has to say to her younger self, and how she owns up to having a crush on a junior high boy who made Heil Hitler salutes at her. We also get into the influence of Lynda Barry on her work, why she’s considering leaving Malibu for the Pacific Northwest, her decision to auction off her Late Night with David Letterman gear to contribute to charities (like this one!), her love for Pen15, the joy of the Undo button, and how the world has changed for funny women. And speaking of, Emily Flake also joins the show to talk about the Kickstarter for St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Ladies (expiring Oct. 30, so go check it out)! Give it a listen! And go read We Saw Scenery!

(& check out Merrill’s first Virtual Memories Show appearance in 2014)

“Everybody I know who’s compulsively funny for a living, it comes to them young.”

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 Guests

Merrill Markoe was the head writer for the original The David Letterman Show (the live NBC morning show that was recognized with a Daytime Emmy Award) and the co-creator and first head writer of NBC’s groundbreaking Late Night with David Letterman, for which she won three additional Emmy Awards. She engineered the majority of the show’s original concepts and created the segments “Stupid Pet Tricks,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” and “Viewer Mail.” Merrill also won a Writer’s Guild award for her writing/performing work on HBO’s Not Necessarily the News. She has written for television shows such as Sex and the City, Newhart, and Moonlighting and has written for many periodicals, including Rolling Stone, Time, US Weekly, People, Esquire, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, and her cartoon work has appeared in The New Yorker. She was recently awarded the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement.

Follow Merrill on Twitter, and Instagram.

Emily Flake‘s cartoons and humorous essays run regularly in The New Yorker, The Nib, and many other publications. Her weekly strip, Lulu Eightball, ran in alt-weeklies for many years. She’s written and illustrated two books: These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves and Mama Tried. Her illustrations and cartoons appear in publications all over the world, including the New York Times, Newsweek, the Globe and Mail, The Onion, The New Statesman, and Forbes. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, daughter, and a new cat. Her new book is That Was Awkward: The Art and Etiquette of the Awkward Hug (Viking Books).

Follow Emily on Twitter 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 Merrill by . . . someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 402:
Darryl Pinckney

“The vote has to be rethought in our American hearts as a radical act, because so many people don’t want you to vote. We have to think about the vote as the center of American culture and American purpose, that cuts across lines of identity that people have drawn so vividly.”

Writer and cultural critic Darryl Pinckney joins the show to celebrate the new edition of Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (NYRB) and the paperback of Busted in New York and Other Essays (Picador). We talk about revisiting his Obama-era writings in the post-2016 world, the importance of the vote and the question of whether there’s a Black vote, or Black voters. We discuss his surprise at the persistence of makeup of the BLM protests, his place in the historical chain and the moment he felt out of touch, and his history at the New York Review of Books and its roots in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We also get into the fractured relationship between Jews and Blacks (following their close ties during the civil rights movement), the companionship of books during the pandemic, the commodification of the arts, the memoir he’s working on about Elizabeth Hardwick and 1970s NYC, and more, including an image I’ve pondered for years: Jesse Jackson’s tears the night of Obama’s election in 2008. Give it a listen! And go read Blackballed and Busted in New York!

“Our generation didn’t think we were getting older the way we saw the previous generation get older. People made the mistake of thinking their children were their friends. They’re not; they’re your judges.”

“The past is so case by case, there’s no one rule for confronting it. Because there’s no end to what you can find out.”

“We have a lot of books, most of which I’ve not read. Now that I’m aware time is running out, I’m more enchanted by the book as an object than ever. The companionship of a book at a time like this means a lot to me.”

“None of this was ever certain. That things worked out the way they did is the surprise.”

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

Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of the novel High Cotton (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and the works of nonfiction, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, and Busted in New York and Other Essays. He is a recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for Distinguished Prose from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

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. Banner photo of Darryl by Dominique Pinckney; office photo by by Rich Gilligan. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 401:
John Keene

“How do we think about the past in this country? What tends to be erased? Once we start to dig deeper into a story, we don’t wind up just in one rabbit-hole, but a warren of sorts.”

Author, translator, professor and MacArthur Fellow John Keene joins the show to talk about how voices are found and how they’re erased. We get into how Benedictine monks started him on the road to translation, which languages he wishes he had, the perils of knowing just enough of a language to get in trouble, and how translation trains one to let go of ego. We discuss his amazing but uncharacterizable fiction collection, Counternarratives (New Directions), along with his powerful essay, Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness, and how to explore Black representation across cultural boundaries. We also get into the performative aspects of BLM by corporations and institutions and would it would take to transform into real change, the impact of his MacArthur “genius” grant, why he’s trying to move away from Counternarratives’ narrative density in his new work, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Counternarratives!

“With George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you go on throughout the list, and these moments remind us of how much still needs to be done, in terms of rethinking how this society functions, and our relationship to each other.”

“With Counternarratives, I wanted to write a book that was grounded in specificity but also pulled away from the self, from myself. Which runs counter to today’s trend for autofiction.”

“There’s no frictionless change.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

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 R. Keene was born in St. Louis in 1965. He graduated from the St. Louis Priory School, Harvard College, and New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. In 1989, Mr. Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops. He is the author of Annotations, and Counternarratives, both published by New Directions, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He is the recipient of many awards and fellowships—including a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, and the Whiting Foundation Prize for fiction. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram and harass him about blogging more.

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 Nina Subin. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 398:
R. Sikoryak

“I really wanted to make a book where anyone could pick it up and say, ‘That’s something I know!’, whether it’s something from a bumper sticker or a comic that they avidly read.”

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak rejoins the show to talk about his new book, Constitution Illustrated (Drawn & Quarterly), and how his mode of parodying other comics made a perfect complement to the founding document of the United States. We get into what surprised him about the Constitution as he read it for this project, the challenge of representing the Three-Fifths Compromise, as well as the other artistic and compositional challenges of the book (all those dense word balloons!). We also talk about his family’s immigrant history, how he’s coping with the pandemic after finishing this book, why we both miss SPX, the artists he had the most trouble parodying, the secondary reading that went into Constitution Illustrated, why he was glad to do a book without Trump in it, his devotion to the scratchy old newspaper style of comics, and why he had to use Peanuts to represent the First Amendment. Give it a listen! And go read Constitution Illustrated! (& check out our 2012 podcast)

“One thing that’s so great about Constitution is that it was written in the 18th century, but Amendments were continually added. Stuff happens. Things are decided in the beginning that are terrible ideas, but later on they’re replaced, eliminated, reconsidered.”

“I would love this book if I hadn’t made it. I can enjoy it abstractly, but maybe 20 years from now I’ll look back and it’ll surprise me.”

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

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak is the author of Masterpiece Comics, Terms and Conditions, and The Unquotable Trump (Drawn & Quarterly). He’s adapted the classics for various comics anthologies, including RAW, Drawn & Quarterly, The Graphic Canon, and more. His comics and illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, MAD, and SpongeBob Comics, as well as on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’s done storyboards and character designs for Augenblick Studios on various animated projects. Bob teaches in the illustration department at Parsons The New School for Design and at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since 1997, he’s presented his live cartoon slide show series, Carousel, around the United States and Canada. He lives in New York City with his spouse, Kriota Willberg. His new book is Constitution Illustrated.

Follow Bob on Twitter 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 Bob by Kriota Willberg. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 397:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Each of my four books is secretly exploring a genre: lyric, epic, novel, and I’m not even sure what this one is, but I wrote it entirely to please myself.”

With Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (UVA Press), Daniel Mendelsohn has written one of my favorite books of 2020. We get into Homer’s use of Ring Composition and how it shapes Three Rings, how this book grew out of his experience writing An Odyssey, why he chose François Fénelon, Eric Auerbach, and WG Sebald as the three exiled subjects of his book, and how we understand the relationship between “what happened” and “the story of what happened” (that is, how narration changes the nature of facts). We also get into how he managed to compress and capture just about all of his major themes in his briefest book, why Auerbach disliked ring composition, and what it says about Homeric vs. Hebrew — or optimistic vs. pessimistic — styles of story, how every story has more stories embedded in it, and why Istanbul may serve as the fusion of Athens & Jerusalem. We also get into Daniel’s pandemic experience and coping mechanisms for anxiety and dread, his mom’s involvement in Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the Holocaust in America, why translation is like a crossword puzzle for him, the negatives of focusing on STEM to the detriment of the liberal arts, and how we can both relate to Auerbach’s comment, “If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might have never reached the point of writing.” Give it a listen! And go read Three Rings! (& check out our previous conversation!)

“I was very attracted to the idea of the way in which their own wandering lives ended up being analogs for the narratives they ended up being interested in.”

“For the writer, anything is a subject. Even nothing is a subject, so to speak.”

“Colleges are going to abandon the humanities and go for more STEM stuff than ever, because it’s ’employable’. The irony is that NEVER have we needed the humanities more, because that’s the stuff that tells you how to deal with these crises.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

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

Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays, and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones. His new book is Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

There’s a longer version at his website.

Follow Daniel on Twitter 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. Photos of Daniel by me. It’s on my instagram.