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 375:
Arthur Hoyle

“What really was hammered home by the stories in my book was the persistence of injustice in our society, the ongoing struggle make this country live up to its ideals.”

Author Arthur Hoyle joins the show to talk about his new book, Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain (Sunbury Press), in which profiles of American figures help illustrate the paradoxes and aspirations of a nation. We get into how the book grew out of the concept of the exemplar put forth by Henry Miller (the subject of Arthur’s first book), his vision of America and how the florid language of the founding fathers is like PR for a damaging product, and how his selection of biographical subjects in MM&M represents the diversity of America in its ethnicity and geographic spread. We also get into climate change and rampant capitalism, his practice of “first draft, best draft”, the fascist seed of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, how the pandemic scrambled his trip to Patagonia and led to an odyssey to get back to Southern California, his next book about the tension artists face between the muse & the mundane, our various ideas of how to treat Henry Miller in film & fiction, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits!

“To Henry Miller, exemplars were larger-than-life figures who lived well, pushed their potential, challenged the circumstances they were born into, and stood out as models.”

“What makes good prose nonfiction writing is extreme clarity and finding the true relationship between the subject of your sentence and the words you use to make that subject. Then I look for a verb that will bring that subject to life, that will put it in motion, animate it.”

“You find that all mystical traditions, if you follow them to the core, take you to the same place. They all lead to the same conclusion of what God is, and how one can experience that God, contact with which we’re closed off by because of our ego.”

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

Arthur Hoyle is a writer, educator, and independent filmmaker. His documentary films have won numerous awards and have aired on PBS, and he received a media grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Before becoming an author, he produced corporate communications materials in print and video for a broad array of clients. He received Bachelors and Masters Degrees in English from the University of California, Los Angeles, and taught English, coached tennis, and served as an administrator in independent schools. He currently volunteers as a naturalist in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, leading interpretive walks on Chumash Indian culture. His biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published in March 2014 by Skyhorse/Arcade. He has also published essays in Huffington Post, Empty Mirror, Across the Margin, Counterpunch, and AIOTB: As It Ought To Be. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California. His new book is Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, from Sunbury Press.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at remotely. I was using 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 Arthur by Peter Register (the portrait) and Arthur’s wife (the piano). It’s on my instagram.