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Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed has been a sensation of 2020 and beyond, and now she’s launched a new podcast titled with words of hers that have become a cultural force: We Can Do Hard Things. Meanwhile her wife, the soccer icon Abby Wambach, has her own bestselling books and is hosting a new tv show – Abby’s Places on ESPN+. Krista spoke with them before they were quite so much in the public eye together, and it’s a window into the passions that brought them here. They sat together in Seattle at the 2018 summit of Women Moving Millions, a consortium of women testing the meaning and boundaries of philanthropy. And courage was the theme of the day.

If we didn’t have vast civilizational challenges upon us, we might be living in a constant state of wonder at what science in this century is learning and showing us about the cosmos and about ourselves — the new questions it’s giving us to live. We are the generation of our species to map the genome, to detect black holes colliding, to hear gravitational waves. The physicist Brian Greene is one of our greatest interpreters from the human enterprise that is science. And in his most recent thinking and writing, there’s a stunning evolution in his own approach to science and life and the matters of purpose and meaning. We delve into his exuberant, cosmic lens on living in the here and the now.

The psychotherapist Esther Perel has changed our discourse about sexuality and coupledom with her TED talks, her books, and her podcast, Where Should We Begin? Episode after episode lays bare the theater of relationship, which is also the drama of being human. Her insights speak to the flip side of social isolation — the intense experience many have now had of togetherness. And her deep understanding of “erotic intelligence” feels so interesting as we grapple with emergent dynamics of the human condition writ large — coupled or not, and both intimate and societal.

Jason Reynolds is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature of the Library of Congress — and a magnificent source of wisdom for human society as a whole. He’s driven by compassion and the clear-eyed honesty that the young both possess and demand of the rest of us. Ibram X. Kendi chose him to write the YA companion to Stamped from the Beginning. In his person, Jason Reynolds both embodies and inspires innate human powers of fortitude and imagination. Hear him on “breathlaughter”; the libraries in all of our heads; and a stunning working definition of anti-racism: “simply the muscle that says humans are human… I love you, because you remind me more of myself than not.”

A new translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet has been released in a world in which his voice and vision feel as resonant as ever before. In ten letters to a young person in 1903, Rilke touched on the enduring dramas of creating our lives — prophetic musings about solitude and relationship, humanity and the natural world, even gender and human wholeness. And what a joy it is to delve into Rilke’s voice, freshly rendered, with the translators. Krista, Anita and Joanna have communed with Rainer Maria Rilke across time and space and their conversation is infused with friendship as much as ideas.

This poem stretches the word ‘expect’ into dozens of formulations. Proceeding alphabetically through the index of the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” Katie Manning creates an exhausting list of all the expectations created during pregnancy,about rejecting some pressures and embracing others; surviving some, being knocked over by others. The humor and pace of this poem places insight alongside insidiousness.

Alex Elle complicates the idea of self-care, opening it up as community-care, as a way towards generational healing. And she’s revivifying the meaning of meeting one’s “inner child” for a new generation. Our colleague Lily Percy says she could not have survived the physical isolation of the pandemic without Alex’s writing, teaching, and Instagram presence. So Krista hands over the mic to Lily for this conversation.

The opening poem to Ilya Kaminsky’s masterpiece, Deaf Republic, is written in the voice of someone who is confessing their complacency during a time of trial. There’s a war going on, but it doesn’t affect the person speaking, so they don’t get involved. Instead they stayed outside and caught the sun. They lived happily during the war, and are now saying (forgive us). This poem leaves us wondering what it would mean to make such a confession, to ask for forgiveness, and whether it’d do any good.

Elemental human capacities like friendship and love, teaching and learning, have tremendous, constant, practical force. We don’t think of these in terms of what has given our species the grit to endure through hard times and even evolve in the long run. They’re lived social intelligence, part of the everyday, and so can be hard to see as serious amidst the high tumult of our age. But these kinds of human qualities are what sociologist Nicholas Christakis studies from his Human Nature Lab at Yale and his life generously lived. He offers a wide lens, a broad perspective, that deepens and refreshes.

Bereavement brings all kinds of pressures. This poem by Martín Espada starts off with a grief-to-do-list: a phone call, a flight, a blizzard, cremations, shipments of ashes, memorial services. After all of this — in a first stanza that builds in intensity — he needs to be reconnected with something tangible. He goes to feed birds at the park, and among the birds is a goose, like a god of the geese, who shrieks with all the emotion stored in him. This goose is like a priest of grief for Martín Espada, voicing the sounds of all that he’s feeling.

In many ways this poem can be analyzed by how it ends: by examining the contents of organic shops. Roshni Goyate looks at one such item — coconut oil for hair — and considers its long line of history in her British-Indian family. As a child, she was shamed by classmates for using coconut oil in her hair, but now it’s double the price in shops. In a cruel irony, her race and culture were both hypervisible to those who taunted her and rendered invisible by those same people who invalidated her presence and citizenship.

There’s dark matter in the cosmos, and inside us, and hidden beneath our feet. Robert Macfarlane is an explorer and linguist of landscape and his book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is an odyssey that’s full of surprises — from caves and catacombs under land, under cities, and under forests to the meltwater of Greenland. “Since before we were Homo sapiens,” he writes, “humans have been seeking out spaces of darkness in which to find and make meaning.” Darkness in the natural world and in human life, he suggests, is a medium of vision — and descent, a movement toward revelation.

When looking at Andy Warhol’s painting of Geronimo — a leader and medicine man of the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe — b: william bearheart wonders who the Geronimo of the painting is looking back at, and who is looking at it. In many ways, this poem reflects on how this piece of art depicting an Indigenous American was painted by a White person for White people. However, the poet finds connections — of pain, occupation and experience — between himself and Geronimo; and the poem challenges the centrality of the White european gaze.

A poet considers his father, and, particularly, his father’s boots. These boots could be a hammer, a prop, a weapon. But Esteban Rodríguez also remembers how his father — a sleepwalker — would walk outside at night in his underwear, wielding his boots, slapping them against each other in a kind of protective ritual. What spirits was his father protecting them from? What was he asserting about land and place, by standing guard, even in his dreams?

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

The pandemic memoirs began almost immediately, and now comes another kind of offering — a searching look at the meaning of the racial catharsis to which the pandemic in some sense gave birth and voice and life. Tracy K. Smith co-edited the stunning book, There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis, a collection of 40 pieces that span an array of BIPOC voices from Edwidge Danticat to Reginald Dwayne Betts, from Layli Long Soldier to Ross Gay to Julia Alvarez. Tracy and Michael Kleber-Diggs, who also contributed an essay, join Krista for a conversation that is quiet and fierce and wise. They reflect inward and outward, backwards and forwards, from inside the Black experience of this pivotal time to be alive.

This ‘Essay on Reentry’ charts life after prison: and the way that others keep your sentence alive even when you’re wishing to just get on with your own life. It’s about secrets and choice and disclosure. And in the midst of all this, there is also love between a son and his dad, a son like a “straggling angel, / lost from his pack finding a way to fulfill his / duty.”

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

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