Home > News > Books Unbound

Category Archives: Books Unbound

Feed Subscription

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

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

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Four

Play

A four-part presentation of Herman Melville’s classic and problematic historical fiction “Benito Cereno” concludes. In the final episode, Captain Amasa Delano has realized what underlies the unease and disorder he’s been witnessing all day aboard the San Dominick. The Spanish captain Benito Cereno has been the puppet of Babo, a Senegalese slave who has led his fellow Africans to revolt. The Africans have been in charge of the decimated Spanish crew the whole time, with the intention of returning home. When Don Benito makes escape by leaping into Captain Delano’s transport boat, the elaborate masquerade is exposed, and the Africans are forced back into violent action. Melville shifts from Delano’s blinkered, racist perspective into a fast-paced action narrative.

The Africans are re-enslaved and taken for trial to Lima, Peru. Melville then devotes nearly a fifth of the story’s total length to sections from the court deposition taken from Don Benito—raising the question of whether legality serves justice, or only the property rights of whites. Babo meets a tragic end, and Don Benito wastes away.

Doug Storm is our reader, with Frank Buczolich reading the deposition. The episode concludes with Tony Brewer reading the poem “Babo Speaks from Lima” by Gary Whitehead, first published in the October 2003 issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies. Sarah Torbeck hosts.

Special music comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, as recorded by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang.

Previous episodes:

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Three

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Two

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville

Produced by Doug Storm and Cynthia Wolfe with Sarah Torbeck.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Doug Storm.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Three

Play

“Benito Cereno” is based on the memoir of the real-life Captain Amasa Delano, who during his voyages in 1805 came upon a Spanish merchant-ship in distress. Melville preserves the main elements of the story—the ship is manned by a skeleton crew of Spaniards under the haggard and enigmatic captain Benito Cereno, and carries Africans for the slave trade—but provokes interpretation by altering some historical facts. He sets the story in 1799, and renames the ship San Dominick. In this and other details, Melville evokes the Haitian Revolution of 1791–1804 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue.

Haiti is the only republic founded as the result of a slave revolt. But white Americans, despite their own revolution only a couple of decades earlier, sided against black Haitians fighting for freedom, and feared that slave revolts would spread throughout the Caribbean and into the slavery-based southern United States. Melville’s story captures this unease.

In the third of a four-part program, Captain Delano finally discovers the true nature of the enclosed society on board the San Dominick. The painstaking interiority of the first half of the story switches abruptly to violent action.

This episode features guest Maisha Wester, an associate professor at Indiana University and author of African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places. Wester discusses the Haitian Revolution as background to Melville’s story, and Babo as a figuration of the white inability to “read” the black slave.

The episode was produced by Doug Storm and Cynthia Wolfe with Sarah Torbeck, and written by Cynthia Wolfe with Doug Storm, who is the reader and interviewer. Special music comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, as recorded by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang.

Announcer: Berklea Going
Host: Sarah Torbeck
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Two

Play

The second in a four-part program on Herman Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno,” based on the memoir of the real-life sea captain Amasa Delano. Melville’s mastery of point of view takes us into the mind of the well-meaning but clueless Delano as he spends the day aboard a Spanish merchant-ship in distress. The ship is manned by a skeleton crew of haggard Spaniards, and carries 150 Africans bound for the slave trade. As the American captain struggles to understand the demeanor of his Spanish counterpart, he fails to see what’s really happening within this microcosm of society.

“Benito Cereno” was published serially in Putnam’s Magazine in 1855. One installment appeared in the same issue as a laudatory review of Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom. The indirect connections between Douglass and Melville point to complex issues of abolition and racial attitudes in the crisis years leading up to the American Civil War. Since the mid-20th century, the story has been viewed as exposing, as one critic put it, “the dominant culture’s ignorance of its own repressive tactics”.

Our reader is Doug Storm. This episode also includes Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Captain Amasa Delano’s Dilemma,” read by Tony Brewer. Special music for the episode comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, as recorded by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang.

Host: Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Berklea Going

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe and Doug Storm with Sarah Torbeck.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Doug Storm.
Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville

Play

The first of a four-part program on Herman Melville’s masterpiece of historical fiction, “Benito Cereno.” This American novella is based on a chapter from the memoir of the real-life Captain Amasa Delano, who during his voyages in 1805 encountered a mysterious merchant-ship carrying a skeleton crew of Spaniards, an ineffectual and perplexing captain, and 150 Africans for the slave trade. In changing some of the details from the original factual account, Melville creates a dark and suspenseful allegory of race and class, fraught with tragic irony, that appeared during the crisis years leading up to the American Civil War.

Listeners are advised that the story is told mainly from the point of view of Captain Delano, who harbors the racial stereotypes characteristic of most white Americans at the time. The novella raises such compelling questions about race that Ralph Ellison took his epigraph for Invisible Man from Melville.

Our reader is Doug Storm. Special music for the episode comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, performed by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang. Produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe with Doug Storm.

Credits

Host: Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Berklea Going
Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
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 on the offices of the French satiric weekly.

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 themselves 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.

• Excerpt from Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, selected, produced and read by Richard Fish.

• 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 an 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 by Kronos Quartet.

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

This podcast is expanded from the original broadcast.

Scroll To Top