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Literary works banned by those who fear the power of the pen
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Books Unbound – The Many Voices of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Part One

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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 Much of her work was left unpublished in her lifetime, because it didn’t suit the literary market of the day, but also because she was protective of her public image.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

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“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

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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“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.

Books Unbound – The Massacre of Yangzhou

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The protagonist of “The Massacre of Yangzhou” is the southern Chinese city of Yangzhou, a rich and beautiful center of the failing Ming Dynasty as it succumbed to the rising Qing Dynasty. The episode is based on “‘Horrid Beyond Description’: The Massacre of Yangzhou”, from the book Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ Jaws by Lynn Struve. Struve is a professor emerita of the Departments of History, and East Asian Languages and Culture, at Indiana University.

In May 1654, the city of Yangzhou came under siege by northern invaders. The defender of the city, the noble and educated Shi Kefa, refuses to surrender despite inevitable defeat. When the city falls, the forces under Qing command are set loose for five days of punitive violence, as an example to other cities to capitulate. Unsanctioned looting, rape, and killings continue for another five days.

But there are no good guys and bad guys in this story. Internal systemic failures and ineffectual leadership among the Ming left them weak. Renegade Ming forces had been recruited by the Qing along with the northern Manchus and allied tribes. Many of the atrocities in Yangzhou seem to have been committed by renegade Ming. Individual residents of Yangzhou attempt to appease or collaborate with the invaders. The Qing are portrayed as restoring order, charity, and the rule of law.

In Lynn Struve’s presentation and her masterly translations, these complexities are represented by the voices of two very different men. In his last days, the viceroy and defender of the city Shi Kefa wrote sorrowful letters to his family, agonizing over his failures. Although traditionally viewed as the embodiment of integrity and loyalty, Shi Kefa’s choice to keep his word and not negotiate terms of surrender led to the slaughter of tens of thousands who lacked the power to choose.

The scholar Wang Xiuchu was one of these ordinary residents of Yangzhou who suffered its devastation. Unlike Shi Kefa, he survived to write a powerful and unsparing memoir of wartime atrocity, free of either self-aggrandizement or sentimentalized victimhood. If there’s a hero in this account, it’s Wang Xiuchu’s wife—who is left unnamed.

Listeners are advised that the episode contains brutal descriptions of the acts Wang witnessed.

The memoir of Wang Xiuchu is read by Eric Rensberger, and the letters of Shi Kefa by Frank Buczolich. Special music comes from the album Dialogue Between Fisherman & Woodcutter: Singing About the Beautiful Legend of China.

Guest host is Patsy Rahn, who co-produced.
Co-hosted and co-produced by Doug Storm.
Books Unbound is produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe.

For an extended interview with Lynn Struve, plus commentary by Patsy Rahn, listen to “Beyond Description: Witnessing Historical Trauma,” a crossover episode of WFHB’s Interchange.

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin

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“The Queen of Spades” is a mock fairy tale about debt, gambling, guilt and the supernatural—and the deadening effect of money on love. An aging, once-beautiful Countess possesses the secret to a one-time super-win at cards—but at what price?

Third in a trilogy of Russian fiction recently read on Books Unbound, “The Queen of Spades” is often considered the best of the short stories by Alexander Pushkin—and if the plot seems familiar, it’s because of its enormous influence. Pushkin was an aristocrat with African slave ancestry who sympathized with the liberal reforms sought by the revolutionary Decembrists. He was exiled and his works subjected to such strict censorship that none of his plays was even performed during his life—which ended at the premature age of 37 following a duel with his beautiful wife’s reputed lover. Despite the official constraints on his work, Pushkin is widely regarded as Russia’s greatest poet and as the founder of modern Russian literature. Special music for the episode comes from the album The Russian Viola by Nobuko Imai and Roland Pöntinen.

Reader: Frank Buczolich

Host: Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Doug Storm

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe and Doug Storm
Written by Cynthia Wolfe

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Storytellers of Immortality: Contemporary World Poetry

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An encore presentation of a program that originally aired November 15 for Day of the Imprisoned Writer, featuring poetry in translation from writers around the world who have experienced imprisonment, exile, military occupation, censorship, and other forms of extreme literary suppression.

Announcer: Sarah Torbeck
Host: Doug Storm

• Aron Atabek, “My Throat Will Die” (Tony Brewer)
• Tsering Woeser, “A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife” and “The Past” (Cathi Norton)
• Liu Xiaobo, “Words a Cell Can’t Hold” (Eric Rensberger)
• Enoh Meyomesse, “Despair” (Frank Buczolich)
• Tal al-Mallouhi, “You Will Remain an Example” (Berklea Going)
• Zargana, “Oblivion” (Eric Rensberger)
• Kajal Ahmad, “Separation from Earth” (Berklea Going)
• Dmitry Bykov, “I lived the wrong one … ” (Frank Buczolich)
• Raúl Zurita, excerpt from “A Path in the Solitudes” (Tony Brewer, Spanish reading of untitled excerpt by Carlos Bakota)
• Liu Xia, “Black Sail”, “Another Kind of Death”, and “June 2nd 1989″ (Patsy Rahn; Chinese reading of “Another Kind of Death” by Lu-San Lai)
• Abdul-Wahhab Al-Bayati, “Poem for the Man of Light” and “Western Civilization” (Phil Kasper; Arabic reading of “Poem for the Man of Light” by Ali Alnahhabi)
• Nadia Anjuman, “Rich” (Berklea Going)
• Ko Un, “The Moon” (Frank Buczolich)
• Rashid Hussein, “Passport” (Tony Brewer)
• Mansur Rajih, “The Fatherland” (Eric Rensberger)
• Dunya Mikhail, “Tablets” (Lauren Robert)
• Ahmed Matar, “Poetry for the Censors” (Frank Buczolich)
• Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, “Voice from Beyond the Grave” (Cathi Norton)

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe with Doug Storm and Robert Shull.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe.

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.
Special music for the episode from Gran dereit’, Visions and Miracles by Ensemble Alcatraz

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