“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