Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode School of Life

Even though kids learn to read in school, many hate it. Educator Alvin Irby shares insights on inspiring children—especially Black boys—to discover books they enjoy and begin identifying as readers.

About Alvin Irby

Marilynne Robinson created the Boughton and Ames families of Gilead, Iowa in her 2004 Gilead, a lingeringly beautiful epistolary novel in which the aging Reverend John Ames reflects on his life in a letter to his son. Robinson's three subsequent novels — Home, Lila, and, most recently, Jack, all as transcendently lovely as the first — return to Gilead's world, characters, and plot points, retelling and re-examining each one with lapidary care.

The college admissions process has long been sold as a system of merit: Do well in school, write a killer essay, score well on the SAT, and you'll get in. Yet the recent nationwide scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, laid bare just how much money, instead of aptitude, often drives admissions at elite colleges.

A bestiary is, traditionally, a compendium of beasts, both real and mythical. It's fitting, then, that K-Ming Chang's debut novel is titled Bestiary, for it too is a compendium of real and mythical beasts — some human, some animal, most a bit of both — that roam through a family's lineage and the stories its members tell each other from one generation to another. Everything is alive in their stories: The ground grows mouths, rivers become women, roads become rivers, crabs give birth to girlchildren, trees get up and march off in search of lost loves.

For the Aldabaans, a Syrian refugee family, the path to the American Dream has begun with mortgage on a house in suburban Connecticut — one with a grassy backyard and room for bikes and birds.

Adeebah and Ibrahim, parents of five school-aged children, work while their kids — who now speak English — attend school. The oldest two, Naji, 19, and Ammal, 18, are seniors in high school and making plans for college.

Their travels to this reality, though, have not been easy ones.

Anyone who's even vaguely familiar with Jimmy Carter has heard the assessment of his career that's become something of a political cliché: His presidency was largely a failure, but he's the best ex-president the country's ever had.

Like many well-worn bromides, there's a grain of truth to it: He left the Oval Office with dismal approval ratings, but in the 40 years since, he's developed a reputation as one of the country's most beloved humanitarians.

Since the release of the Mueller report in April 2019, it's been analyzed, praised and criticized — and cited by President Trump as proof that there was no collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.

Andrew Weissmann was one of the lead prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller's team. In his new book, Where Law Ends, Weissmann looks back on where the Mueller investigation succeeded — and where it fell short.

Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is a slippery and duplicitous marvel of a novel. When, deep into the night, a vacationing couple hears a knock at the door of their remote Airbnb rental in the Hamptons, as a reader you think, "Oh, this is a suspense story." Then, when that couple, who are white, opens the door to a couple outside who are Black and conversational awkwardness ensues, you think, "Oh, this is a comedy of manners about race, a kind of edgy riff on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Children don't often get to read stories by or about Latinos. The American book publishing industry remains overwhelmingly white, according to the Cooperative Children's Book Center, which found only five percent of books published for young readers are by or about Latinx people. But several new groups of writers, editors and agents are trying to increase Latino representation in children's literature. They're working in different ways, and have their own stories to tell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Years ago, Al Sharpton was a young preacher and civil rights activist. The New York City tabloids portrayed him as a questionable figure, who was ultimately sued for defamation when he accused a prosecutor of racism.

He shared New York City tabloid space with another New York figure — Donald Trump.

Today, of course, Trump is president. And Sharpton, gray-haired, is a kind of elder statesman.

On a June night in 1995, a package was found in the mailroom of the Washington Post. Inside was a 56-page manuscript and a letter from "FC," the signature of the man the FBI called the Unabomber.

At this point, he had sent out 16 bombs to targets across the U.S., killing three people.

The Unabomber would stop killing, the letter promised, if either the Washington Post or The New York Times published the manifesto in full, as Leonard Downie Jr. recounts in All About the Story, his memoir of his 44-year career at the newspaper.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Juan Felipe Herrera is an artist and educator and activist and a former U.S. poet laureate. The poems in his latest book are urgent and haunting, like this one - "Border Fever 105.7 Degrees."

There are a lot of things I miss during this pandemic. Shoot, we do so little with other people that I have a sneaking suspicion I've lost all my social skills. We keep our bubble pretty tight, and it's a good thing we all like each other, because we've kind of sort of run out of stories to tell. Seriously, the other day I sent a very excited text message because our latest litter of kittens started using the litterbox. Yes, there are a lot of things I miss, but one thing I don't.

The afterschool activities.

This week on the Code Switch podcast, we tried to settle a months-long debate we've been having on the team: Which kind of books are best to read during the pandemic? Ones that help you escape our current reality? Or ones that connect you to it on a deeper level? In doing so, we got a chance to catch up with the authors of some of our favorite pandemic reads.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Romancelandia never fails to deliver fun, sexy, escapist reads and this month's new releases are no exception. For the couples in these three novels, work threatens to get in the way of their Happy Ever After — too many hours, too much travel, too many other women (!). But with passion and connection like these characters experience, it's worth taking a risk on happy ever after.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Nic Stone says "Dear Justyce," her new novel for young readers, began in a series of text messages she received from a pair of boys she met because of her previous bestseller, "Dear Martin."

James Hamblin is tired of being asked if he's smelly.

Hamblin, a physician and health reporter, has been fielding the question since 2016, when the article he wrote about his decision to stop showering went viral. The piece outlines compelling reasons why one might want to spend less time sudsing up: Cosmetic products are expensive, showering uses a lot of water, and the whole process takes up valuable time.

In 2020, we are familiar with the economic costs of natural disasters. They are blazoned across every story, destroyed property valued to the last cent. We might be less familiar with how to estimate lifeyears lost, but be assured (note, I don't write reassured) there is a method to calculate that loss, too.

This week on the Code Switch podcast, we tried to settle a months-long debate we've been having on the team: Which kind of books are best to read during the pandemic? Ones that help you escape our current reality? Or ones that connect you to it on a deeper level? In doing so, we got a chance to catch up with the authors of some of our favorite pandemic reads.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Gloria Steinem, who is having quite a year being portrayed on film and TV by various actresses. In April, FX on Hulu presented the miniseries "Mrs. America," a dramatization of the battle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. And next Wednesday, Amazon Prime Video presents a new movie called "The Glorias" directed by Julie Taymor who directed the film "Frida" and the Broadway musical version of "The Lion King."

This week on the Code Switch podcast, we tried to settle a months-long debate we've been having on the team: Which kind of books are best to read during the pandemic? Ones that help you escape our current reality? Or ones that connect you to it on a deeper level? In doing so, we got a chance to catch up with the authors of some of our favorite pandemic reads. We'll be sharing interviews with those authors throughout the week.

Pages