Rank #1: Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison begins her lecture by saying she wants to discuss two of her books in particular—Beloved (1987) and Jazz (still forthcoming at the time)—and the progression of her writing. She considers the impact of history on both novels. In discussing Beloved, Morrison touches on the pornography of writing about violence as a voyeur and how she worked to keep the focus on the characters themselves, not the institution of slavery. For Jazz, Morrison discusses the genre’s contradictions, its place in the cultural psyche, and how the Jazz Age “was a period when black people placed an indelible hand of agency on the cultural scene.” All of this, she says, was part of her sustained investigation of “self-regard, in both racial and gendered terms.” Morrison also discusses the interior, imaginative freedom that jazz fostered and how this agency changed the course of cultural history in America.
Toni Morrison was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She was an avid reader, and her favorite authors included Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison attended Howard University and wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, while teaching there and raising two children. She went on to become the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including Sula, Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Home. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved, and in 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous twenty-five years. In 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her most recent book, The Source of Self-Regard: Essays, Speeches, Meditations, was published in February of 2019. Morrison passed away in August of 2019.
The embrace of history and fiction is what I was concerned with—or rather, the effort to disentangle the grip of history, while remaining in its palm, so to speak.
We move from data to information, to knowledge, to wisdom. And separating one from the other, being able to distinguish among and between them, that is knowing the limitations and the danger of exercising one without the others, while respecting each category of intelligence. That’s generally what serious education is about.
It’s impossible to hear that sort of blues cry without acknowledging in it the defiance, the grandeur, the agency that frequently belies the wale of disappointed love. And it may be through that agency—and the even more powerful assertiveness of what we call Jazz, which uses those gestures—that is how compromise becomes reconciliation. It’s also the way in which imagination fosters real possibilities. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t have it.
Aug 07 2019
Rank #2: Joan Didion
Joan Didion, a prominent writer within the New Journalism movement, reads from her newest book at the time, Political Fictions, selecting excerpts that focus on her experience observing and participating in the American political process. Following this, David Sarasohn, then Associate Editor for The Oregonian, joins her for an onstage interview. Their discussion centers on Didion’s essays exposing the backstage of American politics.
I have a strong sense that we better start noticing the rest of the world.
American novelist and essayist Joan Didion began her writing career working for Vogue magazine from 1956 to 1963, first as a copywriter and later as an editor. During this period, she also wrote her first novel, Run River (1963), which examines the disintegration of a California family. While in New York City, she met and married writer John Gregory Dunne, with whom she returned to California in 1964. A collection of magazine columns published as Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) established Didion’s reputation as an essayist and confirmed her preoccupation with the forces of disorder. Other works by Didion include the short novels Play It as It Lays (1970), A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984), and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996), and the essays Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), and Where I Was From (2003). Essays on U.S. politics, including the presidential election of 2000, were collected in Political Fictions (2001). Didion also wrote several screenplays with her husband. Following Dunne’s death in 2003, she wrote The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), in which she recounted their marriage and mourned his passing. The memoir won a National Book Award, and Didion adapted it for the stage in 2007. In 2011, she again visited tragedy and loss in Blue Nights, a memoir in which she attempts to come to terms with the death of her daughter. In 2013, Didion was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Obama, and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
May 22 2019
Rank #3: Malcolm Gladwell
In this episode of The Archive Project, Malcolm Gladwell examines the idea of the underdog (namely, why the underdog persists in their quest despite the odds) through the story of Alva Belmont, also known as Alva Vanderbilt, a prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and major figure of the suffragette movement in the early 20th century.
“Why do underdogs fight? We have all of these cases, in all sorts of contexts, where the weaker party in a conflict continues to rebel long after we feel like they should, when the odds seemed overwhelming stacked against them, when the logic of the situation would suggest that what they really should do is give up. But they don’t give up. They keep fighting.”
“Nothing serves as a greater engine of defiance than the condition of being denied standing and neutrality.”
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers–The Tipping Point, Blink,Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He is also the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio content company that produces the podcasts Revisionist History, which reconsiders things both overlooked and misunderstood, and Broken Record, where he, Rick Rubin, and Bruce Headlam interview musicians across a wide range of genres. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list and touted as one of Foreign Policy‘s Top Global Thinkers. His latest book is 2019’s Talking to Strangers.
See Gladwell speak in person at the 2019 Portland Book Festival on Saturday, November 9 in downtown Portland! The Festival line up had just been announced. For more information about the author line up, schedule, and tickets visit literary-arts.org.
Sep 25 2019
Rank #4: Tom Hanks
This humorous and personal conversation between renowned actor Tom Hanks and Parul Sehgal, book critic for the New York Times, was from the Portland Book Festival in 2018. The Portland Book Festival 2019 line up has just been announced. The Festival will take place on November 9 in downtown Portland. For more information about the author line up, schedule, and tickets visit: literary-arts.org/what-we-do/pdxbookfest/
About the book: A small-town newspaper columnist with old-fashioned views of the modern world. A World War II veteran grappling with his emotional and physical scars. A second-rate actor plunged into sudden stardom and a whirlwind press junket. Four friends traveling to the moon in a rocket ship built in the backyard. These are just some of the stories that Tom Hanks captures in his first work of fiction: a collection of shorts that explore—with great affection, humor, and insight—the human condition in all its foibles. The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central.
To many, typewriters represent a level of craftsmanship, beauty, and individuality that is harder and harder to find in the modern world. In these stories, Hanks gracefully reaches that typewriter-worthy level. By turns whimsical, witty, and moving, Uncommon Type establishes him as a welcome and wonderful new voice in contemporary fiction.
Tom Hanks has been an actor, screenwriter, director and, through Playtone, a producer. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. Uncommon Type is his first collection of fiction.
Oct 02 2019
Rank #5: Barbara Kingsolver (Rebroadcast)
This episode of The Archive Project features bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist Barbara Kingsolver discussing her then most recent novel Flight Behavior. The novel is a heady exploration of climate change, along with media exploitation and political opportunism that lie at the root of what may be our most urgent modern dilemma. Set in Appalachia, a region to which Kingsolver has returned often in both her acclaimed fiction and nonfiction, its suspenseful narrative traces the unforeseen impact of global concerns on the ordinary citizens of a rural community. As environmental, economic, and political issues converge, the residents of Feathertown, Tennessee, are forced to come to terms with their changing place in the larger world. [Book description courtesy of Kingsolver.com]
Kingsolver is writer who has never shied away from the political, who embraces the inherent presence of the political in all artistic creation. In this interview, Kingsolver discusses her belief in the power of art for change and the distinctly American myth of apolitical art.
Barbara Kingsolver is the author of nine bestselling works of fiction, including the novels, Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams, and The Bean Trees, as well as books of poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction. Her work of narrative nonfiction is the enormously influential bestseller Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned literary awards and a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts, as well as the prestigious Dayton Literary Peace Prize for her body of work. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia. [Bio courtesy of HarperCollins]
Jul 10 2019
Rank #6: Amos Oz
Israeli writer Amos Oz discusses Israeli Literature, Hebrew as a spoken and written language, the influence of the Holocaust on literature, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
I love Israel, even at times that I don’t like it. In fact, I love Israel even at times that I cannot stand it. And Israel, as I’m sure you know, ladies and gentlemen, Israel is neither a country, nor a nation. Actually, it is a fiery collection of arguments. A noisy assembly of 5.6 million citizens, 5.6 million Prime Ministers, 5.6 million prophets and Messiahs, each with his or her own personal formula for instant redemption.”
“I know the word compromise has a terrible reputation in English, especially on the West Coast. This is the place of idealists, and they regard compromise as lack of principles, lack of backbone, lack of integrity, lack of devotion, lack of everything. Let me tell you, in my vocabulary, the word compromise is synonymous to the word life itself. And the opposite of compromise is not integrity, and the opposite of compromise is not idealism—the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death. Where there is life, there is compromise. Compromise, not capitulation.”
Amos Oz, born Amos Klausner, was a novelist, short story writer, and essayist whose work examined Israeli culture. Educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Oxford, Oz served in the Israeli army during three separate stints and joined the Israeli peace movement following the Six-Day War in 1967. It was at this time that he began advocating for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oz’s fiction combines realism with irony, resulting in a critical, unapologetic tone. He credited Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio with his choice to write about his own experiences and point of view. “The written world,” he wrote in his memoir, “always revolves around the hand that is writing, wherever it happens to be writing: where you are is the center of the universe.” Oz published 40 works of fiction and nonfiction, had his work translated into 45 languages, and won literary prizes from around the world. Oz passed away in December, 2018.
May 08 2019
Rank #7: Mitchell Jackson & Jesmyn Ward (Rebroadcast)
Jesmyn Ward is the author of the National Book Award-winning novels Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones, and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir Men We Reaped. Ward is in conversation with Mitchell S. Jackson, Whiting Award-winner, native Portlander, and author of the novel The Residue Years and nonfiction book Survival Math (forthcoming 2019). Both Ward and Jackson address the uncomfortable realities of the black experience in America in their work. In this conversation between real-life friends and colleagues, Ward and Jackson seriously discuss the issues of systemic racism, poverty, and violence that are central to their works. Despite the weight of these topics, the intimacy and comfort between the authors creates a light and even humorous discussion. In this episode, Ward and Jackson invite us not only to think, but to laugh with them as well.
Jesmyn Ward is a two-time National Book Award winner, a MacArthur Genius, and a recipient of the Strauss Living Award. She is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, and editor of The Fire This Time. She teaches creative writing at Tulane University.
Whiting Award winner Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel The Residue Years won The Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for The Center for Fiction Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Jackson’s honors include fellowships from Lannan Foundation, Ford Foundation, PEN America, TED, NYFA, and The Center for Fiction. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Harpers, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, The Guardian, and Tin House. His newest is the nonfiction book Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of writing in Liberal Studies at New York University.
Sep 04 2019
Rank #8: Jacqueline Woodson
What is my story, and what is not my story? Jacqueline Woodson, acclaimed author of more than two dozen award-winning books for children and young adults, broaches this question in her 2019 lecture in Portland, Oregon. A highly personable and conversational Woodson discusses how her passion for writing began and grew from a young age. Through recollections from her own life and stories from her family’s history, she shares how her past has shaped her writing craft and career. Woodson recites excerpts from a selection of her works—including her Newbery Honor-winning picture book, Show Way, and her National Book Award-winning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming—and speaks to the importance of gathering people together to have tough conversations in an increasingly polarized world.
One thing that’s so great about literature is that it is a way of getting people together and gathering around a narrative—or gathering around a writer—to have conversations that we might not otherwise have had.”
“A long time ago, I realized I was no longer writing for Jacqueline Woodson. I was writing for the people who had historically not seen themselves in literature, and for the people who were too scared to make that leap and meet someone outside of their own existences.”
“This is what living is and what writing realistic fiction is, right? It’s the highs and lows of our every day. It’s the stuff that makes us laugh, and it’s the stuff that makes us cry. It’s the stuff that makes us think, and it’s the stuff that we sometimes don’t want to think about.”
“Life is too short to finish a book you don’t love.”
Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, the NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. She is also the author of New York Times bestselling novel Another Brooklyn, which was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist and Woodson’s first adult novel in twenty years. In 2015, Woodson was named Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She is the author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a three-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Most recently, she was named the 2018 Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Woodson’s latest book is Harbor Me and the picture book The Day You Begin, both published in 2018. In 2019, she will publish Red at the Bone.
May 01 2019
Rank #9: Chef Edward Lee
This conversation between chef Edward Lee and Sam Sifton, food editor for the New York Times, was from the Portland Book Festival in 2018. The Portland Book Festival 2019 schedule has just been announced! The Festival will take place on November 9 in downtown Portland. For more information about the author line up, schedule, and tickets visit: literary-arts.org
American food is the story of mash-ups. Immigrants arrive, cultures collide, and out of the push-pull come exciting new dishes and flavors. But for Edward Lee, who, like Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton, is as much a writer as he is a chef, that first surprising bite is just the beginning. What about the people behind the food? What about the traditions, the innovations, the memories?
A natural-born storyteller, Lee decided to hit the road and spent two years uncovering fascinating narratives from every corner of the country. There’s a Cambodian couple in Lowell, Massachusetts, and their efforts to re-create the flavors of their lost country. A Uyghur café in New York’s Brighton Beach serves a noodle soup that seems so very familiar and yet so very exotic—one unexpected ingredient opens a window onto an entirely unique culture. A beignet from Café du Monde in New Orleans, as potent as Proust’s madeleine, inspires a narrative that tunnels through time, back to the first Creole cooks, then forward to a Korean rice-flour hoedduck and a beignet dusted with matcha.
Sixteen adventures, sixteen vibrant new chapters in the great, evolving story of American cuisine. And forty recipes, created by Lee, that bring these new dishes into our own kitchens.
Edward Lee is the author of Smoke & Pickles and Buttermilk Graffiti; the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia, MilkWood, and Whiskey Dry in Louisville, Kentucky; and culinary director of Succotash in Penn Quarter, Washington D.C. and National Harbor, Maryland. He appears frequently in print and on television, earning an Emmy nomination for his role in the Emmy Award–winning series The Mind of a Chef. Most recently, he wrote and hosted the feature documentary Fermented. He lives in Louisville and Washington, D.C. Visit Edward online at chefedwardlee.com
Oct 10 2019