“Exploring with Robert McAlmon” is a three-episode series of fiction and poetry by one of the lesser-known Modernists. Born in 1895, McAlmon grew up in the small towns of the Midwest as the son of an itinerant Presbyterian minister, and he never developed the habit of staying in place. He knew and offered support as a publisher to many of the key figures of Modernism, publishing Ernest Hemingway’s first book and typing in the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He also published Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedeker, selections from which were heard in the November 23 episode of Books Unbound.
The series begins with “A Vacation’s Job,” a selection for graduation season to be continued next week, published in McAlmon’s 1922 collection A Hasty Bunch. A smugly superior white male college student takes a summer job among manual laborers. He thinks of himself as an enlightened intellectual, but through techniques of ironic point of view, McAlmon reveals his unexamined racist hypocrisies. (Listeners are advised that the story contains offensive and derogatory racial and ethnic characterizations and language that reflect attitudes of the 1920s.) The story’s exploration of masculinist themes and male friendships is interesting in light of McAlmon’s own strong belief that bisexuality is normative, and that both homosexuality and heterosexuality are partial and restrictive.
The reader is Phil Kasper. Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, recorded and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.
The episode concludes with an observance for the deaths in Nepal after the April 25 earthquake. Cynthia Wolfe reads “Death Speaks” by Nepalese poet Dinesh Adhikari, in a translation by Wayne Amtzis.
McAlmon regularly refers to jazz and avant-garde classical in his work, and the episode features lavish portions of 1920s music. Special music for the Nepalese observance (and during a description of the desert in the story) comes from the Sonata for Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel, written 1920–1922, and performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco, from their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011).
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes