If you live/work/study near the New York Public Library and can attend their literary events you’re very lucky. The rest of us can enjoy them as podcasts or videos. Here are two of the best (yep, three names, two talks).
Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz (1 hour 32 minutes)
To be able to hear these literary giants in conversation is one of the wonders of the modern world. I listened to Morrison (her work as an editor, why it’s necessary to know your characters, the importance of controlled research) while walking around a suburban Melbourne park, past an outdoor tai chi class and two men doing push ups on wet grass, listened to Diaz (how books invite us to read them in certain ways) as I yanked my dogs away from hissing geese at the edge of the lake. This is astounding to me.
Joyce Carol Oates (32 minutes, part of the Books at Noon series)
There’s probably no reason to explain why listening to Joyce Carol Oates is enlightening, fascinating and, in fact, necessary for anyone who writes. But in case you’re not an admirer, Oates is one of the most skilled, intelligent, well-read writers in the English-speaking world. Since 1963, she has published more than forty novels, as well as plays, essays, poems and short stories. She has won more awards than I could list here. And to hear her talk about writing is to sit-in on a masterclass: a privilege.
I’m aware I recommend American, Canadian and British podcasts exclusively. I only speak English so podcasts in other languages are unavailable to me. Which is a shame. I’d like to mention an Australian podcast but haven’t heard one worth sharing. Maybe it’s a numbers thing. There are more American, Canadian and British podcasts so there is more of a chance to hear a good one.
I tried to address this recently. I sought out Australian interviews online but they were so often dull, ponderous or twee, so often the same voices, so often advertisements for recent work. They didn’t allow the listener into the conversation in any meaningful or engaging way. I subscribed to an Australian podcast run by two women who work at a writers’ centre. The first episode I listened to opened with them discussing school holidays and childcare arrangements. Can you imagine Michael Chabon, James Wood or Francine Prose starting a discussion about the craft of writing in this way? Truly, we can be our own worst enemies.
So, back to New York… I hope you enjoy listening to Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz and Joyce Carol Oates.