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.

Virtual Memories Show 396:
Keith Knight

“There have been plenty of woke moments throughout my life, but the police incident in San Francisco made me double and triple down the work I did about it.”

To celebrate the launch of WOKE, his fantastic new comedy series on Hulu, Keith Knight rejoins the show! A lot has gone on since our 2015 conversation, so we get into how the country has changed, how his slideshows about police brutality and racial illiteracy are more in demand than ever (pandemic notwithstanding), and the reasons behind the surge in approval for BLM. We talk about how WOKE came together, the choice of Lamorne Morris to play Keef, why he wanted to be involved in producing WOKE, rather than selling the idea & walking off, what it was like to work in a collaborative environment after years as a solo artist, how different TV writing is than comics, the fun in casting the voices of the objects that come to life in the show, and how closely the lead character’s woke experience parallels his own. We also discuss his drive to keep making comics, the good fortune of finishing shooting the series right before the pandemic shut everything down, and why he sure wishes he & his family could have gotten out of NC for a few weeks this summer for their annual Schwarzwald trip to see the in-laws. Give it a listen! And go watch WOKE on Hulu!

“We figured out a fine line of talking about serious issues but using humor and magical realism.”

“TV is a big learning curve, but it’s not rocket science. I had to remind myself when I got too stressed, ‘We’re just making television.'”

“As horrible this pandemic is, it’s revealed how untenable capitalism-over-everything society is. If you don’t ensure that everybody is doing okay, then that’s when you have problems.”

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 Knight is an award-winning cartoonist whose “Knight Life Chronicles,” and “(th)ink” strips ran for more than a decade in such newspapers as the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Herald. His funny yet hard-hitting cartoons fuel a comic strip slideshow he tours on America’s racial illiteracy called Red, White, Black and Blue. Combining cartoons, storytelling, historical facts, and humor, the slideshow scored him a Belle Foundation grant and a NAACP History Maker award. Knight is also the illustrator of the critically acclaimed tween book, Jake the Fake Keeps It Real. He will beat you at pinball.

Follow Keith on Twitter and Instagram, and show him some support on Patreon

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 by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 393:
Betsy Bonner

With her new memoir The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing (Tin House), author Betsy Bonner explores her sister’s mysterious death by overdose in a Tijuana hotel. We talk about how she knew she was ready to write this story, what it was like to look at her sister’s life like a detective rather than as a sibling, the history of trauma in her family and whether she considers herself a survivor, the process of rereleasing her sister’s music, and the ethics of writing a memoir with some shady characters and unreliable documents. We get into Betsy’s literary influences, the writers she plotzed over when she was Director at 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, her pandemic life & what she misses about NYC, how her modes of writing differ from poetry to memoir to fiction, how the meaning of family changes over the course of The Book of Atlantis Black, and more. Give it a listen! And go read The Book of Atlantis Black!

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

Betsy Bonner is the author of The Book of Atlantis Black, a memoir published by Tin House; and of Round Lake, a poetry collection published by Four Way Books. She is a former Director of the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, where she now teaches creative writing. She is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the T.S. Eliot House. She grew up in Chadds Ford, PA, and lives in southwestern VT.

Follow the linktree of The Book of Atlantis Black.

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 Betsy by Catherine Talese. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 389:
Woodrow Phoenix

Who’s driving whom? With Crash Course (Street Noise Books), British cartoonist, artist and designer Woodrow Phoenix examines what cars do to us: physically, mentally, and environmentally. We talk about the evolution of Crash Course, the stint in LA that inspired it, the visual and design choices that make it a haunting piece of art, and how he reconciles driving his Mini Cooper One. We also get into growing up in South London, what being Black means in the UK and US, his compulsion to experiment with styles, why he sticks with pencils and inks, and his typography and design background and how they inform the semiotics of Crash Course. Plus, he nerds out HARD for Carmine Infantino, we nerd out together for Al Hischfeld, and we try to figure out why his recurring themes are duplication, language, perception and the shifting nature of reality. Oh, and I try to get him to spend a lot of money on bookshelves. Give it a listen! And go read Crash Course!

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

Woodrow Phoenix is a writer, an artist, and a designer whose work has appeared in publications across Europe, Japan and the US. His previous books include Plastic Culture: How Japanese Toys Conquered the World, Felt Mistress: Creature Couture, and the giant graphic novel She Lives. Woodrow grew up in South London after his parents emigrated to the UK from Guyana. He lived for some time in the US in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. He currently lives and works in both London and Cambridge, and spends a lot of time driving between them in his Mini Cooper One. His new book is Crash Course.

Follow Woodrow 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. Photos of Woodrow by him. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 388:
Margot Mifflin

“It’s especially odd for Miss AMERICA to have a crown, because if it’s a pageant that represents America and American values, then the symbolism is off, and has been for a long time.”

With her new book, Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood (Counterpoint), Margot Mifflin has written a compelling, thoughtful history and exploration of a uniquely American phenomenon. We got together to talk about the story of the Miss America Pageant — sorry, Competition — and its cultural significance (including its racist restrictions), how the pageant has evolved over a century, sometimes reflecting women’s roles in America, sometimes reflecting men’s perspectives of women, the pageant’s heyday of the 1950s and ’60s and its struggles since then, and the 2018 decision to get rid of the swimsuit portion. Along the way, we talk about feminist protests of the pageant, the great life-story of 1951 winner Yolande Betbeze, the history of Atlantic City and its decline, the common elements of most Miss America memoirs, the one winner she wishes she’d interviewed, Philip Roth’s thread throughout her book, and how she’d change Miss America for this era. Give it a listen! And go read Looking for Miss America!

“The feminist protest of 1968 was the point at which second-wave feminism unleashed the phrase ‘women’s liberation’ into the public lexicon.”

“I would keep the scholarships, because that seems to be the real, concrete value of Miss America. . . . It’s benefited lower economic and middle-income women who might not have been able to college if not for these scholarships.”

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

Margot Mifflin is an author and journalist who writes about women’s history and the arts. She wrote the first history of women’s tattoo culture, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, and The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Her new book, Looking For Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, is the first feminist cultural history of the Miss America pageant. Margot’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Vice, Elle, ARTnews, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, O, The Oprah Magazine, The New Yorker.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Margot is an English professor at Lehman College/CUNY and teaches arts journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She’s served as a consultant on exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, The New York Historical Society, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and she curated the exhibition “Body Electric” at Ricco/Maresca Gallery.

Follow Margot 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 Margot by someone else. It’s on my instagram.