175 episodes

In this weekly series, we air previously recorded conversations with leading authors, poets, graphic novelists, playwrights, songwriters, historians and more about craft, processes, influences, inspirations, and what it's like to live as a writer. These episodes are edited and condensed versions of our programs and they are a great way to discover new writers, listen to a program you missed, or relive a program that you loved!

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    • Arts

In this weekly series, we air previously recorded conversations with leading authors, poets, graphic novelists, playwrights, songwriters, historians and more about craft, processes, influences, inspirations, and what it's like to live as a writer. These episodes are edited and condensed versions of our programs and they are a great way to discover new writers, listen to a program you missed, or relive a program that you loved!

    Episode 175: Sara Paretsky

    Episode 175: Sara Paretsky

    This week, acclaimed mystery writer Sara Paretsky discusses her new book Pay Dirt, the latest installment of her iconic V.I. Warshawski detective series. Paretsky is joined by Booklist editor Donna Seaman. This conversation originally took place April 16, 2024 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.



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    See Sara and Donna at the American Writers Festival too! This entirely free literary event takes place May 19, 2024 at the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago, co-presented by the American Writers Museum and Chicago Public Library. Sara and Donna are part of the Freedom to Read panel presented by the American Library Association.



    More about Pay Dirt:



    V.I. Warshawski is famous for her cool under fire, her intelligence, her humor, her unflinching courage, and her love of good coffee. But even the strongest people sometimes need a break to recharge, so her friends send her to Kansas for a weekend of college basketball where Angela, one of her protégées, is playing. And that’s where trouble finds V.I.



    Sabrina, one of Angela’s roommates, disappears and V.I. agrees to try to find her. Finding a missing person in a city where she knows few people and doesn’t have her trusted contacts is hard, but not as hard as the brutally negative reaction to the detective from some of the locals. When V.I. finds Sabrina close to death in a remote house, she lands herself in the FBI’s crosshairs and faces a violent online backlash. The men running the county’s opioid distribution are also not happy.



    Discovering a dead body in the same house a few days later, V.I. is pitched headlong into a local land-use battle with roots going back to the Civil War. She finds that today’s combatants are just as willing as opponents in the 1860s to kill to settle their differences.



    V.I.’s survival depends on keeping one step ahead of players in a game she never intended to play, before the clock runs down.

    • 54 min
    Episode 174: Daniel de Visé

    Episode 174: Daniel de Visé

    This week, we’re on a mission from God. Journalist and author Daniel de Visé discusses his book The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Classic. Hit it.



    This conversation originally took place March 19, 2024 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.



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    More about The Blues Brothers:



    "They're not going to catch us," Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. "We're on a mission from God."



    So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theatres on June 20, 1980. Their scripted mission was to save a local Chicago orphanage; but Aykroyd, who conceived and wrote the film, had a greater mission: to honor the then-seemingly forgotten tradition of rhythm and blues, some of whose greatest artists—Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles—made the film as unforgettable as its wild car chases.



    Late and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft drugged-out stars, The Blues Brothers opened to tepid reviews at best. However, in the 44 years since it has been acknowledged a classic: inducted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance; even declared a “Catholic classic” by the Church itself; and re-aired thousands of times on television to huge worldwide audiences. It is, undeniably, one of the most significant films of the 20th century.



    The story behind any classic is rich; the saga behind The Blues Brothers, as Daniel de Visé reveals, is epic, encompassing the colorful childhoods of Belushi and Aykroyd; the comedic revolution sparked by Harvard’s Lampoon and Chicago’s Second City; the birth and anecdote-rich, drug-filled early years of Saturday Night Live, where the Blues Brothers were born as an act amidst turmoil and rivalry; and of course the indelible behind-the-scenes narrative of how the film was made, scene by memorable scene. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to SNL creator Lorne Michaels and Aykroyd himself, The Blues Brothers vividly portrays the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

    • 52 min
    Episode 173: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

    Episode 173: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

    This week, pop culture historian Jennifer Keishin Armstrong discusses her new book So Fetch: The Making of Mean Girls (And Why We’re Still So Obsessed With It). From the New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia comes the totally fetch story of one of the most iconic teen comedies of all time, Mean Girls, revealing how it happened, how it defined a generation, "like, invented" meme culture, and why it just won't go away, filled with exclusive interviews from the director, cast, and crew. Get in, loser. We're going back to 2004.



    This conversation originally took place March 6, 2024 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.



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    More about So Fetch:



    It's been 20 years since Mean Girls hit theaters, winning over critics and audiences alike with its razor-sharp wit, star-making turns for its then unknown cast, and obsessively quotable screenplay by Tina Fey. Fast forward two decades and Mean Girls remains as relevant as ever. Arguably, no other movie from the 2000s has had as big of an impact on pop culture.



    In So Fetch, New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, offers the first ever authoritative book about this beloved classic that shaped an entire generation. Based off revealing interviews with the director, cast, and crew, So Fetch tells the full story of the making of Mean Girls, from Tina Fey's brilliant adaptation of a self-help guide for parents of teen girls, to the challenges of casting Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and the iconic supporting players. So Fetch also explores the film's lasting cultural influence, from its role in the rise of Y2K tabloid culture, impact on girls of all ages and lgbtq+ culture, to how we use it to define female relationships to this day.



    Timed for the 20th anniversary and the release of the new movie musical adaptation, So Fetch is the perfect companion for fans and anyone who understands that when it comes to Mean Girls' enduring legacy, the limit does not exist!

    • 49 min
    Episode 172: Ed Zwick

    Episode 172: Ed Zwick

    This week, award winning filmmaker Ed Zwick discusses his memoir Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood, a heartfelt and wry career memoir that gives a dishy, behind-the-scenes look at working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Zwick is interviewed by Carey Cranston, President of the American Writers Museum. This conversation originally took place February 8, 2024 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.



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    More about Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions:



    "I'll be dropping a few names," Ed Zwick confesses in the introduction to his book. "Over the years I have worked with self-proclaimed masters-of-the-universe, unheralded geniuses, hacks, sociopaths, savants, and saints."



    He has encountered these Hollywood types during four decades of directing, producing, and writing projects that have collectively received eighteen Academy Award nominations (seven wins) and sixty-seven Emmy nominations (twenty-two wins). Though there are many factors behind such success, including luck and the contributions of his creative partner Marshall Herskovitz, he's known to have a special talent for bringing out the best in the people he's worked with, especially the actors. In those intense collaborations, he's sought to discover the small pieces of connective tissue, vulnerability, and fellowship that can help an actor realize their character in full.



    Talents whom he spotted early include Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Denzel Washington, Claire Danes, and Jared Leto. Established stars he worked closely with include Leonardo DiCaprio, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Connelly. He also sued Harvey Weinstein over the production of Shakespeare in Love—and won. He shares personal stories about all these people, and more.



    Written mostly with love, sometimes with rue, this memoir is also a meditation on working, sprinkled throughout with tips for anyone who has ever imagined writing, directing, or producing for the screen. Fans with an appreciation for the beautiful mysteries—as well as the unsightly, often comic truths—of crafting film and television won't want to miss it.

    • 51 min
    Episode 171: Tim Spofford

    Episode 171: Tim Spofford

    This week, journalist and historian Tim Spofford discusses his book What the Children Told Us: The Untold Story of the Famous “Doll Test” and the Black Psychologists Who Changed the World. Does racial discrimination harm Black children's sense of self? The "Doll Test" illuminated its devastating toll. Spofford is interviewed by AWM Program Director Allison Sansone. This conversation originally took place February 6, 2024 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.



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    More about What the Children Told Us:



    Dr. Kenneth Clark visited rundown and under-resourced segregated schools across America, presenting Black children with two dolls: a white one with hair painted yellow and a brown one with hair painted black. "Give me the doll you like to play with," he said. "Give me the doll that is a nice doll." The psychological experiment Kenneth developed with his wife, Mamie, designed to measure how segregation affected Black children’s perception of themselves and other Black people, was enlightening―and horrifying. Over and over again, the young children―some not yet five years old―selected the white doll as preferable, and the brown doll as "bad." Some children even denied their race. "Yes," said brown-skinned Joan W., age six, when questioned about her affection for the light-skinned doll. "I would like to be white."



    What the Children Told Us is the story of the towering intellectual and emotional partnership between two Black scholars who highlighted the psychological effects of racial segregation. The Clarks' story is one of courage, love, and an unfailing belief that Black children deserved better than what society was prepared to give them, and their unrelenting activism played a critical role in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The Clarks' decades of impassioned advocacy, their inspiring marriage, and their enduring work shines a light on the power of passion in an unjust world.

    • 43 min
    Episode 170: Laurence Leamer

    Episode 170: Laurence Leamer

    This week, bestselling author Laurence Leamer discusses Truman Capote and his book Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, which served as the basis for FX's hit show Feud: Capote vs. The Swans. Leamer reveals the complex web of relationships and scandalous true stories behind Truman Capote’s never-published final novel, Answered Prayers—the dark secrets, tragic glamour, and Capote’s ultimate betrayal of the group of female friends he called his "swans."



    This conversation originally took place October 13, 2021 and was recorded live online.



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    More about Capote's Women:



    "There are certain women," Truman Capote wrote, "who, though perhaps not born rich, are born to be rich." Barbara "Babe" Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C. Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy's sister)—they were the toast of midcentury New York, each beautiful and distinguished in her own way. Capote befriended them, received their deepest confidences, and ingratiated himself into their lives. Then, in one fell swoop, he betrayed them in the most surprising and startling way possible.



    Bestselling biographer Laurence Leamer delves into the years following the acclaimed publication of Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1958 and In Cold Blood in 1966, when Capote struggled with a crippling case of writer's block. While en­joying all the fruits of his success, he was struck with an idea for what he was sure would be his most celebrated novel...one based on the re­markable, racy lives of his very, very rich friends.



    For years, Capote attempted to write An­swered Prayers, what he believed would have been his magnum opus. But when he eventually published a few chapters in Esquire, the thinly fictionalized lives (and scandals) of his closest fe­male confidantes were laid bare for all to see, and he was banished from their high-society world forever. Laurence Leamer re-creates the lives of these fascinating swans, their friendships with Capote and one another, and the doomed quest to write what could have been one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

    • 32 min

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