Podcasts

Author Spotlight: Edgar Allen Poe

As I read The Masque of the Red Death for this week’s podcast, I felt a deep fear and modernity despite the older Gothic style of Edgar Allan Poe. While this was my first experience reading Poe, I also experienced a subtle sense of déjá vu as I read. Like many, I grew up watching and reading horror, but I was drawn to the emotional psychological style. Reading Poe was an odd experience as I finally read the father of several genres that I’d only experienced through the descendants. Researching Edgar Allan Poe as a person gave me not only insight into him as an artist, but also helped me understand The Masque of the Red Death on a deeper level.

Born in 1809, Poe was a year old when his father abandoned the family. Both of his parents were actors and while the trade was commonly seen as one step up from prostitution, his mother, Elizabeth, was well-loved as a leading actress. She died when he was 3 years old from a long bout of tuberculosis; this set him on a pattern that, to me, felt almost as inevitable as the outcome of one of his stories.

Because his mother was well respected, John and Frances Allen took him in. They were a well off family and Poe was emotionally close to Frances. Educated in languages and the classics Edgar Allan Poe showed genius early. Though raised as if he was the Allan’s son, he was an angry and troubled teen. When Frances became sick with tuberculosis, the relationship between Edgar and John became even more difficult.

Fed up with Edgar, John sent him to the University of Virginia but didn’t give him enough money to live on. It didn’t take long for Edgar to go into debt from gambling and after parting ways with John he enlisted in the military under an assumed name out of fear of arrest for his debts. Later, Poe shortly reunited with John. John helped him get a discharge from the military so he could enroll in West Point. During this time he self-published two collections of poetry. But his time at West Point didn’t last long and John Allan cut him off after Frances’ death.

Many scholars trace Poe’s intense respect and apotheosis of women to these two deeply felt female losses. When he decided to take his writing seriously as a profession, he became an editor well known for his acerbic style of literary criticism. While this style made him popular, the offense within the literary community played a part in his future struggles. Jumping from job to job and moving frequently, he finally settled with an aunt and her young daughter, Virginia Clemm. This was a huge influence on him as he finally had a sense of family. While living away, he received a letter from his aunt explaining that she’d arranged for her daughter to live with extended family to be raised as a proper lady.

Then 26 year old Edgar Allan Poe, immediately wrote her a passionate rambling suicidal letter declaring his love for his 13 year old cousin Virginia. They married several months later. While they struggled financially, his early years with Virginia were very happy. They played games, and he taught her many academic subjects including math and music. During these years, he published stories in the Gothic and Dark Romantic styles while also dabbling in satires and humor. This happy period in Poe’s life ended when she began coughing up blood while singing for him.

Edgar Allan Poe nursed his wife for several years often struggling to pay for medication or heating oil. She would get better only to turn around and get worse. He was overcome with grief each time she worsened and it was during this time that he wrote some of his most emotional work including his breakthrough poem, The Raven. While an instant success and invited to read publicly, he only made 9 dollars for the poem. Poe became friends with the poet Frances Osgood. Their friendship was flirtatious and a source of rumors socially. When Osgood’s reputation was damaged, they stopped seeing one another. Virginia’s tuberculosis worsened in the stress of the situation and she died. Unfortunately, he began drinking heavily again as he fell into grief.

After his wife’s death his heavy drinking was accompanied with erratic behavior. He courted several women simultaneously, often copying entire sections of a letter to one woman for a letter to another. Edgar became engaged to the poet Sarah Whitman, but Whitman’s mother put an end to the engagement when she demanded they sign a form declaring if they marry, Sarah would be cut off. Offended by the request, Edgar left Sarah. Professionally, he suffered as well as editors paid low wages or refused him work.

Destitute, childless, and sickly he visited a local bar near the Baltimore docks. On October 3rd 1849 Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious on a Baltimore street. Wearing too small clothing that did not belong to him, he was taken to Washington medical college. Incoherent, he called the name “Reynolds” repeated and only became coherent enough to say, “Lord help my poor soul,” right before he died. Edgar Allan Poe was 40 years old. His cause of death remains a mystery.

The drama of Poe’s life did not end after death. Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote a scathing obituary for the New York Tribune and despite his grudge against Poe, he became Poe’s literary executor and promptly began trashing Edgar Allan Poe’s reputation.

The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe lives on in our modern horror and crime genres. His relationships and loss of the women in his life bleed into his work. Often focusing on the death of beautiful women Poe wrote some of the most memorable female characters of the day. There are many great documentaries on Edgar Allan Poe but I really enjoyed the BBC’s Edgar Allan Poe: Amor, Morte e Mulheres

And here’s one more for good measure!

Axolotl – Julio Cortázar – Literary Roadhouse Ep 18

Next week’s story The Masque of the Red Death by Edger Alan Poe

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review (for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

Rated Explicit

Caleb J Ross (@calebjross) dropped by this week since Gerald is still on his amazing vacation (no, I’m not jealous at all). Caleb is the author of several books including the novels Stranger Will and I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin. He is also one of the hosts of the Important Question Podcast and possibly the most well read person I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with. He both elevated the conversation and drove it right into not safe for kids territory.

Axolotl was a fascinating story and I left the taping with a long list of books added to my TBR pile. The highlight has to be, Anais’ final question… wan the narrator crazy? We debated surrealism versus magical realism, the uncanny valley and how specific the language was in the story compare to the emotions in evoked. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did.

Sam gave us a link to an entire pdf of a book of short stories by Julio Corázar check out these this collection Blow-up and the novel Hopscotch.

Don’t forget, to rate the story! For the history of our goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. While Anais and I didn’t really enjoy last weeks episode, you guys definitely did. I was really excited to hear the different opinions and I am determined to give last weeks story a re-read once I’ve had some distance. Y’all rated What We’re Sure of by Brandi Reissenweber, 5.25 Bradberries.

So tell us, on a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate Axolotl? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week we are reading The Mask of the Red Death by Edger Alan Poe

What We’re Sure Of – Brandi Reissenweber – Literary Roadhouse Ep 17

Next week’s story Axolotl by Julio Cortázar

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

This weeks podcast is rated Explicit for early discussion of erotica and mild swearing.

We were joined by Sam Tarakajian and had an amazing discussion. While Anais and Maya found many faults with this weeks story, they agreed that many of the literary choices were interesting and even brave. Sam enjoyed the story a great deal more and wondered if it was because as a man, he had more distance from the story which actually allowed him to enjoy it more. This episode was a blast and Sam was a gracious guest co-host with many interesting observations. If you would like to follow him on twitter, his handle is @starakaj

We do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  4.5 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate What We’re Sure Of? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week we are reading Axolotl by Julio Cortázar

Birdsong – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Literary Roadhouse Ep 16

Next week’s story What We’re Sure Of by Brandi Reissenweber

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

Please pardon the sound quality this week. I made a few changes to my recording area that did not work out so well. ~Maya

This week both Maya and Anais were absolutely enchanted by Birdsong. Even Gerald enjoyed many aspects of this short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Don’t miss the Author Spotlight for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she is an interesting author and – finally!- after 16 episodes it’s Maya’s first author spotlight.

Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, To Build a Fire by Jack London, 3 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate Birdsong? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week we are reading What We’re Sure Of by Brandi Reissenweber

Author Spotlight: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian born novelist. Born in 1977 to a middle class family of university educators, Chimamanda was raised in Southeastern Nigeria and read at an early age. Surrounded by English children’s literature she felt the call to write stories very young, but the lack of African children’s literature had a profound effect on Adichie. She often recounts that her initial stories featured white children doing things that she read about rather than stories of children like herself and the reality she saw everyday.

Adichie studied medicine briefly at the University of Nigeria before leaving for the United States to study communications and political science at Drexel University. Eventually, she transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University where she graduated with distinction in 2001. In 2003 she received a master’s degree in creative writing from John Hopkins University and went on to also receive a Masters of Arts in African Studies from Yale University in 2008.

A collection of poetry entitled Decisions was her first published work, which was quickly followed by a play and short stories. In 2003 she published her debut novel Purple Hibiscus to critical acclaim, earning Adichie recognition as one of the leading new young English speaking African novelists breathing new life into African literature.

When I looked at the list of awards Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has won, I was struck by the depth and breadth. Since 2002 she has been nominated for an award every year and won an award in all but four of those years. Most recently, her Ted Talk “We Should all be Feminists” was sampled for the song Flawless that appeared on the Grammy Award nominated album Beyoncé.

Currently, she has a published collection of 12 short stories entitled The Thing Around Your Neck. Multiple stories published in literary magazines and three novels. In additional to Purple Hibiscus, she has published Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah—which was selected as one of the ten best books of 2013 by the New York Times Book Review.

Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted to film and released in 2014. Americanah is set to become a movie starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. This film is being produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B along with Lupita Nyong’o and Andrea Calderwood. Plan B has previously produced a number of films including Selma, 12 Years a Slave, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

I highly recommend you listen to her Ted talks. They are funny, engaging and, for me, provoked a feeling of recognition and contemplation as I researched her. Below is her speech called The Dangers of One Story.

To Build a Fire – Jack London – Literary Roadhouse Ep 15

Next week’s story Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

We were having an excellent conversation when the UK power outage hit and kicked Gerald offline.  As a result, not only is this episode late but Anais and I recorded an extra conversation were we really talked about our relationship with reading. I think that conversation had a positive effect on this episode as we went deeper into character than we had on previously. After 15 episodes, I am looking for ways to make the podcast more fun, informative and dynamic. If you have ideas or suggestions, please post below. Also, don’t miss Anais’ article on Jack London, it is a wonderful read.

Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, The Veldt by Ray Bradbury, 4.25 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate To Build a Fire? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week we are reading Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Our Relationship with Reading – Anais and Maya Chat – Literary Roadhouse Extras Ep 1

The UK had a power outage when we were recording the 15th episode and lost Gerald mid recording. Because we didn’t realize it was a power outage, Anais and I kept talking and ended having an interesting discussion about ourselves as readers. We thought you would enjoy this extra episode as we edit To Build a Fire – Jack London  Episode 15. You can expect your normal Literary Roadhouse episode by Thursday morning at the latest. We reference several books in this episode including:

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The essay ‘Rereading Barthes and Nabokov’ by Zadie Smith in her collection entitled Changing My Mind.

We also mentioned The Saturday Show Podcast

Author Spotlight: Jack London

Jack London in his office.

Jack London was born John Griffith Chaney in January, 1876, in San Francisco, California to Flora Wellman. Although records were destroyed in fires that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is widely believed that his father was the astrologer, William Chaney. When Flora was pregnant, Chaney demanded that she have an abortion. She refused; as a result, Chaney said that he wanted nothing to do with the unborn child. Wellman then attempted suicide by shooting herself, but escaped without seriously injury.

She carried the child to full term, and a year after his birth, she married a civil war veteran, John London, and Jack took his stepfather’s name.

His interest in literature was initially sparked by the Victorian novel Signa by Maria Louise Lamé (writing under the pseudonym Ouida), and by a friendly local librarian at Oakland Public Library who encouraged him. However, his first job, at age 13, was at a cannery. Desperate for a way out of 12 to 18 hour days, he borrowed money to buy a boat and became an oyster pirate. [Ed. Note: Emphasis mine – Anais]

After his boat was damaged, he signed on as a member of the California Fish Patrol, and then on to a seal-hunting schooner bound for Japan. Following even more gruelling jobs at a jute mill and power plant, he joined the Coxey’s Army’s protest march in 1894, specifically the Kelly’s Army subdivision, and marched on Washington D.C. to protest unemployment that resulted from the panic of 1893. He then led a vagrent life, and even spent some time in jail. Eventually, he returned to Oakland and attended Oakland High School.

Professing a desire to become a writer, he borrowed some money from a bar owner in Oakland, and began studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1896 at the age of 20. However, lack of money meant that he left college the next year without graduating.

In 1897, London and his brother-in-law sailed to join the Klondike Gold Rush, and despite returning the next year, his experiences of hardship during that time greatly influenced some of his work, especially this week’s story, “To Build a Fire”.

On his return to Oakland, he was determined to further his writing career. Fortunately, this coincided with the arrival of new printing technologies which enabled lower-cost production of books and magazines. His first writing to pay any money was for “A Thousand Deaths”, printed in 1899 in the literary magazine The Black Cat, from which he earned $40.

Between 1900 and 1904, London was married to Elizabeth “Bessie” Maddern, and they had two children. It was during this time that London wrote and sold his novel The Call Of The Wild, perhaps one of his most famous works.

In January 1904, London agreed to work for the San Francisco Examiner as a war correspondent, covering the Russo-Japanese war from Yokohama. However, whilst he was there, London was arrested three times, the last time only being released through the personal intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt. London returned to the United States in June. The following year he married Charmian Kittredge.

London died in November 1916, aged 40, at his ranch in Sonoma County, California. Despite being a robust man, at the time of his death he was suffering from dysentery, uremia, and late stage alcoholism. He was in great pain, and was taking morphine. There are suggestions that his death may have been suicide through morphine overdose.

During his eighteen-year professional writing career, London was prolific – producing 23 novels, 119 short stories, 45 pieces of poetry, as well as plays, autobiographical memoirs and essays. His phenomenal output raised occasional accusations of plagiarism, which he never quite denied outright, instead accepting that there were common areas between his work and that of other writers, particularly Frank Harris, a journalist and biographer.

During his life, he had strong views on race and immigration, on atheism and socialism, and on animal activism. He lived life to the full, wrote well and successfully.

The Veldt – Ray Bradbury – Literary Roadhouse Ep 14

Next week’s story To Build a Fire by Jack London

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spreaker. Please take a few moments to leave a review ( for Spreaker follow & heart us). Those reviews encourage us and help us be found by new listeners.

This week we say goodbye to Kenechi as he moves toward graduation and the great job search. We all wish him luck, his voice will be missed on the podcast.

So, we finally read a story by the very catalyst of our rating system. The Veldt is an interesting story that crosses horror, sci-fi and literary fiction. Because of the depth of meaning, we had a wonderful discussion crossing many topics. We all seemed to really enjoy the story, but we also read the story very differently from one another.

Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, Constance’s Law by Bridget Hardy, 3.75 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate ‘The Veldt‘? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week we are reading To Build a Fire by Jack London.

Author Spotlight: Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury circa 1980. Michael Ochs Archives  /  Getty Images Ray Bradbury circa 1980. Michael Ochs Archives  /  Getty Images

Ray Douglas Bradbury started writing at the age of 12. Throughout his life, he liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician and sword performer, Mr. Electrico. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, “Live forever!” Bradbury later said to The Paris Review:

When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.

Bradbury was born in 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, to Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, a lineman for power and telephone utilities, and Ester Moberg Bradbury, a Swedish immigrant. He had an older brother named Leonard, and a younger brother and sister who died during childhood. The Bradburies moved to Los Angeles, California when Ray was 14. His childhood formed the basis for many of his short stories and early works, such as “Dandelion Wine” and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury recounted his early influences in an autobiographical essay published by the New Yorker in 2012.

After graduation from high school in 1938, Bradbury couldn’t afford to go to college, so he went to the local library instead. “Libraries raised me,” he told the New York Times during an interview profiling his campaign to save Ventura County public libraries . “I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression, and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” He told The Paris Review, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do – and they don’t.”

He celebrated high school graduation in 1938 by publishing his first short story in a fan magazine. The following year he published a fan magazine of his own, Futuria Fantasia. He wrote nearly every piece in the magazine under different pseudonyms to disguise the fact that the magazine was a virtual one-man show. You can revisit Futuria Fantasia at Project Gutenberg for free.

His first big success didn’t come until 1947, when his short story “Homecoming” (narrated by a boy who feels like an outsider at a family reunion of witches, vampires and werewolves because he lacks supernatural powers) was discovered in a pile of unsolicited manuscripts at Mademoiselle by a young editor named Truman Capote. “Homecoming” won an O. Henry Award as one of the best American short stories of the year.

Along with 26 other stories in a similar vein, “Homecoming” appeared in Mr. Bradbury’s first book Dark Carnival, which was published in 1947. That same year he married Marguerite Susan McClure, whom he had met in a Los Angeles bookstore. McClure was the breadwinner in the early days of their marriage, supporting Bradbury as he worked on his writing for little to no pay. The couple had four daughters, Susan, Ramona, Bettina, and Alexandra.

In 1950, Bradbury published his first major work, The Martian Chronicles, which detailed the conflict between humans colonizing the red planet and the native Martians they encountered there. While taken by many to be a work of science fiction, Bradbury himself considered it to be fantasy.

First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see?

Bradbury’s best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, became an instant classic in the era of McCarthyism for its exploration of themes of censorship and conformity. In 2007, Bradbury himself disputed that censorship was the main theme of Fahrenheit 451, as we’ve examined in a past blogpost.

Farenheit 451 like many of Bradbury’s other works was critical of mass media consumption and creature comforts, in particular television. Bradbury opined that “Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was.” Despite this aversion to television, Bradbury developed his own HBO series, allowing him to produce adaptations of his short stories. The Ray Bradbury Theater is an anthology series that ran for six seasons on HBO and USA Network.  All 65 episodes were written by Bradbury and many were based on short stories or novels he had written, including “The Veldt.

Bradbury’s career spanned 70 years, and during that time he wrote more than 30 books, over 600 short stories, and numerous poems, essays, screenplays and plays. More than eight million copies of his books have been sold in 36 languages. He also earned many honors and awards along the way. His favorite was perhaps being named “ideas consultant” for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. “Can you imagine how excited I was?” he later said about the honor. “‘Cause I’m changing lives, and that’s the thing. […] That’s my function, and it should be the function of every science fiction writer around. To offer hope. To name the problem and then offer the solution. And I do, all the time.”

Though none of his works won a Pulitzer, in 2007 Bradbury received a special citation from the Pulitzer board for his “distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.” In his final years, Bradbury felt content about his place in the annals of science fiction history, having achieved his childhood ambition of living forever through his work. Bradbury died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91.