Home > News > Books Unbound

Category Archives: Books Unbound

Feed Subscription

Un-silencing voices of writers who embody the courage of free expression.

Books Unbound – Exploring with Robert McAlmon: ‘A Vacation’s Job,’ Part One

Play

“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

Books Unbound – “Killing Voltaire: An Observance for Charlie Hebdo”

Play

“Killing Voltaire: An Observance for Charlie Hebdo” is a collaborative response by the Books Unbound community to the deadly attack January 7 on the offices of the French satiric weekly. The episode was originally broadcast January 17. (Note to WFHB listeners: Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, previously announced for this date, has been postponed to April 25.)

Classic and contemporary free-speech quotations from the Voice of Reason (Patsy Rahn), probing passages from authors by the Provocateur (Tony Brewer), and readings from Voltaire himself on fanaticism, blasphemy, and liberty vs. destiny (Frank Buczolich) are interwoven with selections made by the readers or by series producer Cynthia Wolfe, including:
• Excerpt from a posthumously published essay by the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politskovskaya, selected, read, scripted and produced by Sarah Torbeck, with a sample of the original Russian read by Pavel Abramov.
• “Fragment, 1959,” Lauren Robert reading a poem by Anna Akhmatova, selected by Doug Storm.
• Excerpt from a 2012 speech by Salman Rushdie, selected, read and produced by Jack Hanek.
• Excerpts from “Balqis,” a long poem alternating love elegy and political passion by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, selected and read in Arabic by Ali Alnahhabi, and by Berklea Going in a loose English adaptation.
• “The Auroras of Autumn”, eight of ten cantos of the poem by Wallace Stevens on unease in the house of the mind, containing the famous line “The house will crumble and the books will burn”, selected by Cynthia Wolfe and read by Doug Storm.
• Afterword by Maria McKinley, reading a passage on the true source of personal daring from Eudora Welty’s memoir One Writer’s Beginnings.
The episode also features Guillaume Ansart, associate professor at Indiana University and a specialist in 18th-century French literature and satire, with perspectives on Voltaire, Enlightenment values, and the French tradition of satire. Special music for the episode comes from the Floodplain album of Kronos Quartet.

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Doug Storm and Sarah Torbeck.
Script by Cynthia Wolfe, with contributions by readers.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music by The Impossible Shapes

“Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin, Conclusion

Play

The interconnected story cycle “Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin concludes. Austin’s character types and settings are in many ways familiar from other westerns, but her perspectives are feminist, conservationist, and anti-gun. She died in 1934, and her books soon went out of print—just as Hollywood was establishing its masculinist myths of a Wild West dominated by gun violence.

Although Austin offers sympathetic portrayals of male psychology throughout, female characters are central to the final two stories, with the frontier allowing women to push against social boundaries. In “The House of Offence” (read by Lauren Robert), a deteriorating fence represents the social dividing line temporarily crossed when an upstanding Christian woman reckons with the humanity of the madam who runs the brothel next door. The title character of “The Walking Woman” (read by Sarah Torbeck) triumphs through love and work in a harsh communion with the land.

Jack Hanek hosts. Sarah Torbeck has read the role of the author throughout. The recurring poem that appeared at the beginning of the original book is read by Berklea Going. Special music comes from the album River of Light: American Short Works for Violin and Piano (Naxos, 2011), as performed by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang. Books Unbound is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck.

“‘Lost Borders’ by Mary Hunter Austin, Conclusion” was produced during WFHB’s Spring Fund Drive, and contains messages from the Books Unbound community. For information on how to support this and other programs from WFHB, call 812-323-1200 or visit wfhb.org.

The Books Unbound podcasts allow you to listen to the complete “Lost Borders” story cycle from beginning to end in Austin’s original order:
• “The Land, “The Hoodoo of the Minnietta,” “A Case of Conscience,” and “The Ploughed Lands” in Part One
• “The Return of Mr. Wills,” “The Last Antelope,” and “Agua Dulce” in Part Two
• “The Woman at the Eighteen Mile” and “The Fakir” in Part Three
• “The Pocket-Hunter’s Story,” “The Readjustment,” and “Bitterness of Women” in Part Four

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin, Part 4

Play

The interconnected stories of ‘’Lost Borders’’ are set in the desert landscape of southern California, where author Mary Hunter Austin moved with her mother and brothers in 1888 at the age of twenty. The ailing Austin found strength in this challenging environment, and came to regard the land as a central character in her writing.

The Books Unbound podcast presents the stories in the order of the original book, which will differ from the broadcast: “The Pocket-Hunter’s Story,” read by Frank Buczolich, with a web-extra introduction on pocket-prospecting from Austin’s first book, ‘’Land of Little Rain’’; “The Readjustment” (Katy Ratcliffe); and “Bitterness of Women” (Berklea Going, who also reads recurring fragments from the poem that appeared as the book’s epigraph). This episode’s stories show in particular Austin’s skill at balancing both sympathetic and critical perspectives on male psychology—with a frisson of the supernatural and the monstrous.

Jack Hanek hosts. Special music comes from the album River of Light (Naxos, 2011), as performed by violinist Tim Fain and pianist Pei-Yao Wang. Books Unbound is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck.

“‘Lost Borders’ by Mary Hunter Austin, Part Four” was produced during WFHB’s Spring Fund Drive, and contains messages from the Books Unbound community. For information on how to support this and other programs from WFHB, call 812-323-1200 or visit wfhb.org.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin, Part 3

Play

“Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin continues with interconnected stories about the American West from a feminist and conservationist perspective. Austin’s settings and subject matter may be familiar from Hollywood westerns, but she challenges masculinist myths of dominance and exploitation. Although she was a prolific and highly regarded writer at the time of her death in 1934, nearly all her work soon fell out of print.

The Books Unbound podcast presents the stories in the order of the original book: “The Woman at the Eighteen Mile” is read by Sarah Torbeck, who plays the role of the author throughout the series, and “The Fakir” is read by Shayne Laughter. (Listeners of the March 28 broadcast who are looking for the story “The Return of Mr. Wills,” also read by Laughter, will find it in podcast episode two; “The Readjustment,” read by Katy Ratcliffe, will be in podcast episode four next week.)

Jack Hanek hosts. The recurring poem, read by Berklea Going, appears at the beginning of the print volume of “Lost Borders”.

Special music for the episode comes from the album River of Light (Naxos, 2011), as performed by violinist Tim Fain and pianist Pei-Yao Wang.

This episode is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford

Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin, Part 2

Play

In the interconnected story cycle of “Lost Borders,” Mary Hunter Austin challenges the masculine myths of the American West through the perspective of a feminist and conservationist.

Austin was an ailing transplant from the Midwest who began to thrive personally and artistically in the desert landscape among the spiritual and expressive traditions of Native peoples. Although she published thirty-one books, most fell out of print soon after her death in 1934. In recent decades, there have been efforts to restore her to the literary canon, but she remains largely unknown compared to her contemporaries and friends Jack London, Ansel Adams, and Willa Cather.

The stories for the podcast are presented in the order in which they appear in the original book. (Listeners of the original broadcast may note differences.) Sarah Torbeck is the voice of the author that threads throughout.

In “The Return of Mr. Wills,” read by Shayne Laughter, a wife and mother gains confidence as an independent working woman, while her husband disappears into the desert on a quixotic quest for fabled gold and silver mines.

Early conservation laws and bounties on predator animals play a role in “The Last Antelope,” a heartbreaking exploration of the complex relationship between a shepherd and an aging buck in an over-hunted region. The homesteader armed with axe and gun is a twist on the western bad guy. Tony Brewer reads.

Also read by Shayne Laughter, the story “Agua Dulce” unfolds from an apparently racist remark made by a stagecoach driver, who struggles to overcome the taciturnity expected of a white male Westerner to tell about his love for a courageous and selfless Paiute woman.

Jack Hanek hosts. The poem that recurs as a refrain in the Books Unbound production appears as a prelude in the book. Berklea Going is the reader.

Special music for the episode comes from “The Light Guitar” by Patrick Zimmerli and “Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom, as performed by violinist Tim Fain and pianist Pei-Yao Wang on the album River of Light (Naxos, 2011).

This episode is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Lost Borders” by Mary Hunter Austin, Part 1

Play

Mary Hunter Austin was born in Illinois in 1868 and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1934. Her father encouraged her interest in writing, but died when she was only ten. Her mother considered fiction mere “storying” akin to lying, and found Mary too insistent about shaping her identity as an individual. Mary did attend college, and earned a degree in math and science—not typical of women at the time. But her physical and emotional health deteriorated, and the family moved to California partly in the hope that the climate would strengthen her. In the West she found a husband, who proved to be unenduring, and her true calling as a writer. She was inspired by the desert landscape of the Mojave, and by the spiritual and storytelling traditions of Native peoples.

Austin was a prolific writer publishing thirty-one books, and belonged to a creative community that included Jack London, Willa Cather, and Ansel Adams. Soon after her death, however, her work fell out of print, and she has been largely forgotten and omitted from the literary canon.

The interconnected story cycle of Lost Borders challenges myths of the West as a setting for masculine self-definition from an ironic feminist perspective. Her own myth-making sometimes leads her into essentialism—variously interpreted by critics as either challenging or merely perpetuating stereotypes. Her depictions of Shoshone and Paiute women are sympathetic, but raise similar questions.

Sarah Torbeck represents the voice of the author throughout, and reads the story “The Land.” Other voices of “Borderers,” as Austin called them, are represented by Renee Reed (“The Hoodoo of the Minnietta”), Shayne Laughter (“A Case of Conscience”), and Berklea Going (“The Ploughed Land,” and poem). Doug Storm hosts, and Jack Hanek is announcer.

Special music for the episode comes from “The Light Guitar” by Patrick Zimmerli, performed by violinist Tim Fain on his album River of Light (Naxos, 2011).

This episode is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck, Robert Shull, and Doug Storm.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – The Many Voices of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Part Two

Play

Born in New Orleans and an early figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935) considered fiction her most representative form of writing, but enjoyed more recognition as a poet. Much of her fiction was considered unsuited for the literary market, especially when it dealt with racial issues. As a multiracial woman, she identified strongly with “the race,” but was sometimes taken as white—and then penalized for “passing”. The ambivalence of racial identity is a theme throughout her work.

From the age of 19 Dunbar-Nelson was a regular columnist for black newspapers and journals. She worked tirelessly on behalf of education, women’s and labor rights, and what were then called Negro causes, especially anti-lynching legislation. She was a popular speaker on the lecture circuit for her eloquence, acerbic wit and passion as a public speaker, but for most of her life had to struggle to earn a decent living.

The extended podcast features two short stories read by Renee Reed, “The Pearl in the Oyster,” which deals with Dunbar-Nelson’s favorite themes of racial passing, education, politics and labor, and class boundaries; and “His Great Career,” an entertaining tale about old friends with a twist at the end. Berklea Going read “M’sieu Fortier’s Violin,” a story about an aging musician who loses his job with an orchestra; a poem of same-sex desire, “You! Inez!”; and the powerful “April Is on the Way”. The poems “The Proletariat Speaks,” “Violets, a Sonnet,” and “I Sit and Sew” are read by Cynthia Wolfe. Special music for the episode comes from the albums Barktok/Korcia and Dances/Doubles Jeux/Bartok by Laurent Korcia. Music for the opera scene in “M’sieu Fortier’s Violin” comes from the opera itself, Roland à Roncevaux by Auguste Mermet, from the album Tragédiennes (Erato). Sarah Torbeck hosts, with Doug Storm as announcer.

Cynthia Wolfe produced, wrote and edited the episode with assistance from Doug Storm, Robert Shull and Sarah Torbeck. Special thanks to Community Access Television Services for production support.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – The Many Voices of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Part One

Play

Born in New Orleans, Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935) was the daughter of a seamstress and former slave, and a sailor. She grew up poor and felt affluent only for a very brief period in her life, but had great personal elegance and was drawn to the pleasures of high culture and sensuality. She wrote fiction, poetry, and plays in a fluid and often gracefully romantic style, but was also a prolific columnist and essayist with a fiercely independent and blunt perspective. Much of her work was left unpublished in her lifetime, because it didn’t suit the literary market of the day, but also because she was protective of her public image.

Dunbar-Nelson described herself in multiracial terms, but as a hardworking educator and activist identified strongly with “the race,” as she put it simply. She was much in demand as a lecturer on what were then called Negro causes, as well as women’s and labor rights. Her fiction by contrast was racially ambiguous and universalizing. The first of a two-part program touches on some of her rich complexities as a writer and woman of color.

Episode One features fiction from her New Orleans story cycle and two essays: “A Carnival Jangle” and “Facing Life Squarely,” read by Renee Reed; “On the Bayou St. John” and the often-anthologized “Sister Josepha,” read by Berklea Going; and “The Woman,” read by Sarah Torbeck, who also hosts. Doug Storm is the announcer.

Special music for the episode comes from the albums Barktok/Korcia and Dances/Doubles Jeux/Bartok by Laurent Korcia.

This episode was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Doug Storm, Robert Shull, and Sarah Torbeck. Special thanks to Community Access Television Service for production support.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “The Mulatto” by Victor Séjour

Play

“The Mulatto” first appeared in 1837 in an anti-slavery magazine published by free people of color in France. Its author was the 19-year-old Victor Séjour, who had come as a student to Paris from New Orleans. Séjour was a French-speaking person of color whose baptismal record identifies him as a free quadroon. His father had come to New Orleans among refugees of the Haitian Revolution. “The Mulatto” is set in Haiti, and is thought to be the first short story published by an American of African descent.

It’s a frank melodrama, a mode of extreme passion and good-and-evil morality that permeated 19th-century fiction and drama. An oedipal tragic secret lies at the heart of a story fueled by rape, injustice, revenge and murder. Gothic elements of horror speak to the violence done to family within the institution of slavery. Séjour went on to have a highly successful career as a dramatist, with twenty of his plays in a variety of genres produced at the Comédie Française.

“The Mulatto” continues a series on race in literature that began with the four-part program “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville. In an extended podcast edition, Indiana University associate professor Maisha Wester returns to talk about the racial implications of gothic melodrama.

Our reader is Lauren Robert. Hosted by Sarah Torbeck, with Jack Hanek as the announcer. Special music comes from the Twelve Grand Études of Frédéric Chopin, which were published the same year as “The Mulatto”, performed by Martha Goldstein courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The episode was produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe, with the interview produced by Doug Storm.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Scroll To Top