Virtual Memories Show 431:
Louis Menand

“Writing a book like this is like an advent calendar: each day you open a little window and there’s somebody in there. You hadn’t known about them before and you learn a fascinating story.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cultural critic Louis Menand joins the show to celebrate his phenomenal new book, THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War (FSG). We get into his process for chronicling the artistic, cultural, intellectual, technological and literary movements of the postwar era, the stories of the lives behind those movements and how he threads them together, what we mean when we talk about freedom, why writing can be like kicking open a rolled-up carpet, and the toughest art form to write about. We talk about the influence of John Cage (whose work we both dislike), the amazing creative lineage of Black Mountain College, the ~75,000 words he had to cut (the book is plenty hefty as is) and why he would have liked to include a chapter on Japan’s art scene, the role of the CIA in funding movement and artistic venues, and the one person he regrets not interviewing for this project. We also discuss his pandemic life, the One More Book he wants to write, his father’s anti-anti-Communist stance, the book’s original title and why it had to change, and why his students at Harvard seem more interested in the ’50s than the ’60s. Give it a listen! And go read THE FREE WORLD!

“The word ‘Freedom’ was everywhere, but then you start to think, ‘What does it actually mean?’ It could be used to describe a musical composition, or the condition of racial segregation, or what the US stood for in the Cold War. If you could use it for such varied purposes, did it mean anything?”

“The movement with the greatest impact was decolonization. We’re still living through in the consequences of that moment. It’s like a Big Bang in reverse. Between 1945 and 1970, dozens and dozens of countries came into being that were former colonies. That changed the geopolitical map forever.”

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“Our culture was so dominant, we could’ve conquered the world without all the deception of CIA funding and cutouts.”

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“What made the Cold War an intense period intellectually was that people didn’t really know what side they were on. There were a lot of intellectuals and artists who were sympathetic to the Soviet experiment. That fades with Stalinism, but doesn’t get replaced completely with capitalism.”

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

Louis Menand is professor of English at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. His books include The Metaphysical Club, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. In 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. His new book is THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War.

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 Louis by Matthew Valentine. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 415:
Jerome Charyn

“Any great work is a shove to the incomprehensible, but it’s JUST on our side instead of the other side. You have to take tremendous risks in order to find your language.”

With his amazing new novel, Sergeant Salinger (Bellevue Literary Press), Jerome Charyn evokes and explores J.D. Salinger’s WWII experience in the Counter Intelligence Corps. We talk about Jerome’s history with Salinger’s work, his disdain for The Catcher in the Rye and his love of Nine Stories and their depiction of NYC of the 1940s and early ’50s, the range of meanings and misunderstandings of Salinger’s later silence, and Jerome’s own terror of writing. Along the way, we get into Jerome’s ventriloquism in his historical fiction, the limits of his artistic audacity, falling in love with Maria Callas, and whether he’d write a pastiche of Hemingway now that Hem’s in public domain. Jerome being Jerome, we also discuss ping-pong, professional basketball, the older Michael Jordan as a Shakespearean character, and why he’s writing a big essay about Mank. Give it a listen (& check out our 2019 conversation)! And go read Sergeant Salinger!

“I’ve never seen a great difference between fiction and non-fiction. They’re still sculpting sentences, and those sentences have to have a certain kind of music.”

“No novel is easy to write. It’s a kind of death you go through. Sometimes you survive it and sometimes you don’t.”

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

Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sergeant Salinger; Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; Jerzy: A Novel; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. Among other honors, his work has been longlisted for the PEN Award for Biography, shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and selected as a finalist for the Firecracker Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He has also been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Follow Jerome on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and listen to our 2019 conversation.

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 Jerome by Philippe Matsas. 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 395:
Derf Backderf

“There have been a lot of stories written about Kent State, but I was going to tell it through the eyes and the experiences of the four people we lost that day.”

With Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio (Abrams ComicArts), Derf Backderf not only creates a graphic history of one of America’s darkest chapters, he gives voice to the students killed by the National Guard 50 years ago and warns us about the times ahead. We talk about the legacy of the Kent State shootings, what Kent State taught America about the suppression of dissent and what we must learn from it as protests grow across the country, as well as the research and work that went into this book, the ways in which it challenged him as a comics artist, how he rendered the mundane aspects of life for both the students and the guardsmen, and his own childhood connection to the events leading up to the massacre. We also get into the unique power of comics to tell this story, how cartoons and other pop culture covered the Vietnam protests in that era, the international book tour that would have accompanied the originally planned release of this book last spring, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Kent State! (& check out our 2015 live podcast)

“We have spent 50 years developing and deploying this huge array of crowd control armaments to our police force, specifically to control civil unrest. It’s truly scary, the weapons that the government is willing to deploy against its own citizenry.”

“When you have some experience, you have a relationship with your work, and you always shoot for this: This is the best book I can do at this moment in time. That leaves you some leeway, some element of forgiveness, for when you get better a few books down the road.”

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

Derf Backderf is the bestselling author of My Friend Dahmer and the recipient of the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for political cartooning. His weekly comic strip, The City, appeared in more than one hundred newspapers over the past twenty-two years. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. His new book is Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio.

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 Derf by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
COVID-19 Bonus Mini-Episode

“I’m not one to rely on outside aids, but this time I felt like that jungle rat William Burroughs mentions in Naked Lunch, just responding to a hopeless situation by dropping dead on the spot.”

No conversation this time. Instead it’s me rambling on about the effects & fallout of COVID-19, and what it means for the future of the podcast. Give it a listen!

Enjoy the droning monologue! Then check out the archives for some great conversations!

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

Credits: No music this time. The episode was recorded at my home on 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 me & Amy by Amy, but it’s on my instagram.