There are a lot of great literary podcasts out there and we’re certainly not the first to make a list of our favorites but, whether we’re on a long bus trip across town or doing the dishes, we listen to podcasts. We wanted to throw our hat in the ring and point out a few that we haven’t seen mentioned and add our reasons for loving the ones we have. Like something we didn’t mention? Add your favorites to the comments below.
THE LIT UP SHOW
I came across the Lit Up Show through a former MFA workshop-mate, Angela Ledgerwood, who cohosts with Emily Gould. She’s an incredibly charming and sweet person with this cotton-soft voice, and she’s genuinely curious about what makes writers tick. Her latest podcast with Emma Straub and Jess Walter is quite good. I listened until the very end while eating an entire tin of gummy candies. Very conversational, insightful and big-hearted (since Jess Walter is like the kindest writer ever). Plus, they do fun activities like drink Bloody Marys, crack jokes and talk craft. Other podcasts include Heidi Julavitz and Catherine Lacey. I like this place.
LATE NIGHT DEBUT
This podcast is put on by Late Night Library. It features debut writers who are interviewed, usually, by their writerly friends. It’s a great way to get a taste of up-and-coming authors before committing to their book because, well, we’re all a little choosey. My fellow writing group member, Amber Keller, is one smart cookie and does a wonderful job of hosting the authors. My favorite episode so far is the one between Jay Nebel and Carl Adamshick because I like Jay’s poems and have enjoyed his readings in Portland. At times the podcasts can be a smidge stuffy, but what I like most about this series is the little pang of excitement you have for these debuters, that they have this opportunity to talk about their first books, maybe for the first time. It’s sort of magical and dream-fulfilling and I appreciate that.
OTHERPPL WITH BRAD LISTI
I’m totally new to this one. It caught my attention because a publisher in Portland posted a link to an article about Brad Listi in LA Weekly. If you’re interested in the inner lives of writers, this is the podcast for you. It has a lightly edited feel, which works to give the podcast a refreshing frankness. In the style of Marc Maron, Listi starts off the podcast by talking a little about his personal life. Glimpses into his world grow on you the more you listen. At this point, I’m already addicted. As an interviewer, he’s generally interested in the paths writers’ lives have taken; he’ll ask about spirituality and childhood in a causal way that seems unexceptional but sparks interesting answers. He comes off as an empathetic listener and a generally nice person. It’s well worth a listen if you want to know more about your favorite contemporary literary writer but don’t be surprised if you get hooked on Listi’s unassuming, yet engrossing, personal narrative.
POEM OF THE DAY FROM POETRY FOUNDATION
It’s simply one poem per day. There’s usually no intro and no discussion. Just a poem. It’s a nice one. I also like that you can access their archive. I recommend the poem from Dorothea Lasky, a great lady and a great poet.
A TINY SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
This was a fun one to stumble into. It’s Jess Water and Sherman Alexie talking about writing and it’s delightful. These are two guys who take the craft seriously but not themselves. Their deep insight into the writing process is continually engaging. When I was an editor at Tin House, I hung a sign on the wall that read: Beware of Sherman Alexie. I did this because he continually submitted through the slush and I didn’t want the interns to overlook him. I’m not sure why he did that instead of submitting though an editor, but in my mind it speaks to a humbleness that I admired. I eventually took the sign down because visiting writers kept asking about it and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Anyway, you should listen to this. I hope these guys keep doing it for a long time.
THE ALLUSIONIST AND LEXICON VALLEY
I’m putting these together because they are both about language and etymology. I like them both for different reasons. The Allusionist is part of the wonderful podcast collective, Radiotopia. (I highly recommend any of their programs). It’s short and sweet, while Lexicon Valley tends to be more in-depth but also a little more self indulgent (in a good way, I think). Both have an episode about the entymology of the word orange. Did you know the fruit was called orange before the color? You would if you listened to either of these podcasts.
HOME OF THE BRAVE
This is not a literary podcast but I wanted to throw it in because I think Scott Carrier, the host, has a literary sensibility. At his best, his essays and reports are emotionally raw, lyrically constructed, and closely observed. Carrier is a veteran radio producer but his podcasts are usually more loosely produced than his work for outlets like This American Life. In some of the newest episodes, he and his daughter went to Nepal to report on the recent devastation. He was there and gone before the final earthquake hit. The resulting episodes felt immediate, personal, and distinct.
This one used to be hit or miss for me but since One Story editor, Hannah Tinti, got involved, it’s been great. I ran into an actor in real life one day. He was the kind of guy who’s been in everything, including like five seasons of True Blood, but I couldn’t place his face. When I heard his voice I knew him instantly. He’d read several stories for the podcast. So Selected Shorts looms pretty large in my mind–at least larger than True Blood, of which I have seen an embarrassing amount.
The last episode featured Stacey Richter’s “The Minimalist,” read by Parker Posey. I wasn’t a huge fan of her readings of some Dorothy Parker stories in an earlier podcast but her intentional rhythm in this one fit the tone perfectly. It pulled me in. The story manages to be emotionally rich and complex even as it’s building this sparse inner world of a minimalist artist who finds even a white canvas “too representative.”
THE NEW YORKER FICTION PODCAST
This is, by far, my favorite podcast but, weirdly, might be the one I listen to least. Why? Because it’s so good and so thoughtful that I want to devote all of my attention to it. There’s no doing dishes or mowing the lawn. I don’t even like to knit complicated patterns while I listen to it. But I will save them up and listen on long cross-country drives (which maybe says something not super great about my driving).
Here’s a brief story about that: I was driving from California to Portland and as I was entering the onramp for I-5, I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker in a cowboy hat. Somehow, the cowboy hat lured me in, As soon as he got into the car, I realized that, even if he wasn’t a serial killer, he might not be that interesting and I’d be stuck talking to him for the next three hours on our way up to Humboldt county. Lucky for me, he turned out to be a drug dealer (a profession I know little about) who had a thick southern accent, which, he said, he’d acquired after spending three months in New Orleans. He spent the next few hours telling me drug-dealing stories—mostly pot (his brief foray into heroin did not turn out well, apparently).
I let him off at a gas station and everything was fine until started the podcast featuring Jennifer Egan reading “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill. Have you read it? No? Well might I recommend that you don’t read or listen to it right after you’ve been alone with a hitchhiker for any period of time. If that’s not the case, there’s no reason not to listen to it now: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/fiction-podcast-jennifer-egan-reads-mary-gaitskill
TL;DR: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is flawless.