David Remnick is joined by The New Yorker’s award-winning writers, editors and artists to present a weekly mix of profiles, storytelling, and insightful conversations about the issues that matter — plus an occasional blast of comic genius from the magazine’s legendary Shouts and Murmurs page. The New Yorker has set a standard in journalism for generations and The New Yorker Radio Hour gives it a voice on public radio for the first time. Produced by The New Yorker and WNYC Studios.
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Hilton Als and Emma Cline on the Late Joan Didion
Joan Didion tried and failed, she said, “to think”; that is, to write about abstractions and symbols, and make grand arguments in the manner of the New York intellectuals of her time. Instead, the California native—who died in December, at the age of eighty-seven—built her work around close observation of American life as she saw it, withholding judgment. And while many of her intellectual contemporaries belong now to a bygone era, “for my generation,” Emma Cline notes, “her influence is so massive.” Cline’s best-selling novel “The Girls” is set in nineteen-sixties California, on the fringes of a cult—what we might think of as Didion country. “I almost can’t think of a writer who is more of a touchstone for every writer that I know.” In fact, younger writers need to “unlearn” her voice, Hilton Als tells David Remnick, in order to find their own. Als notes that Didion eventually rejected the persona of her early works, which was imbued with white female fragility; and she was prophetic, he notes, in placing race and gender at the center of America’s battles.
Since Joan Didion’s death, The New Yorker has published Postscripts by Als, Cline, Zadie Smith, and Nathan Heller. Some of Didion’s own contributions to The New Yorker can be found here.
The Biden Presidency, Year One
President Biden took the oath of office in a moment of deep crisis—the pandemic in full swing and just weeks after an unprecedented attempt to overturn the election by violence. Merely a return to normalcy would have been a tall order. But Biden was promising something more: a transformational agenda that would realign American economics and life on a scale rivalling Franklin Roosevelt’s long Presidency. Yet Biden never commanded Roosevelt’s indomitable popularity and electoral advantages. A year into the Administration, Evan Osnos takes stock of its successes, failures, and ongoing challenges, along with four New Yorker colleagues: Susan B. Glasser on legislation, Jonathan Blitzer on immigration, Elizabeth Kolbert on climate, and John Cassidy on the economy.
Nnedi Okorafor on Sci-Fi Through an African Lens
Nnedi Okorafor, a recipient of the prestigious Hugo Award, is a prolific writer of science-fiction and fantasy novels for adults and young adults. She spoke with Vinson Cunningham about how her Nigerian American heritage influenced her interest in fantastical worlds. “It’s part of the culture—this mysticism,” she says. “I wanted to write about those mystical things that people talked about but didn’t talk about because they were mysterious and interesting, and sometimes forbidden.” Her novel “Akata Woman,” which comes out this month, is the third in a series that also acknowledges complicated relationships among peoples of the African diaspora. Plus, Julian Lucas is a passionate gamer, with a particular interest in video games as a form of landscape art. He walks David Remnick through the forthcoming game Norco, a highly anticipated thriller set in coastal Louisiana.
A New Civil War in America?
When rioters, encouraged by the President, stormed the Capitol, one year ago, to overturn the results of the election, the idea that such a thing could play out in America was stunning. But the attack may have been just the beginning of an ongoing insurrection, not a failed attempt at a coup. David Remnick talks with Barbara F. Walter, the author of the new book “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them.” Walter is a political scientist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-director of the online magazine Political Violence at a Glance. She has studied countries that slide into civil war for the C.I.A., and she says that the United States meets many of the criteria her group identified. In particular, anti-democratic trends such as increased voting restrictions point to a nation on the brink. “Full democracies rarely have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars,” she says. “It’s the ones that are in between that are particularly at risk.”
The Power of Police Unions
The repeal of Section 50-A of the New York State Civil Rights Law was no technical change. Passed in the wake of the George Floyd protests, it was a big victory for police-reform activists. 50-A shielded the disciplinary records of police officers, meaning that, in an officer-involved killing, for example, neither lawyers, journalists, nor the victim’s family could determine if the officer had a history of disciplinary incidents. Laws like 50-A—and there are similar laws in many states—have played a big role in blocking police accountability. Because of the powerful influence of police unions, changing them is not easy, even for left-leaning politicians who champion reform. The New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan examines how the fight against 50-A was won. At the center of the story are the fraught relationships among politicians, protesters, and law enforcement.
This segment originally aired July 31, 2020.
Amanda Gorman on Life After Inauguration
One year ago, Amanda Gorman delivered the inaugural poem on the day that Joe Biden became President. Gorman was just twenty-two years old, and it was just two weeks after Trump supporters had assaulted the Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from certifying the election. At the ceremony, Gorman herself seemed to cast light on a dark situation. Her poem “The Hill We Climb” reads, “When day comes, we ask ourselves: / Where can we find light / In this never-ending shade? / The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. / We’ve braved the belly of the beast.” The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Kevin Young, wrote that her poem was “as vibrant and elegant as her yellow coat against the cold.” After that very public début, Gorman found the stakes of writing the poems for her new collection, “Call Us What We Carry,” to be impossibly high. (It was excerpted in The New Yorker with readings by Gorman.) She spoke with Young about being an inaugural poet—following in the footsteps of Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander—in a conversation from The New Yorker’s Poetry Podcast.