Eight Excellent Literary Podcasts for Your Morning Commute
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by Jessica Gross
Forlornly staring at your iTunes library every Thursday morning, missing Serial? Tired of Serial, Serial, SERIAL already and annoyed that I’m invoking it in this intro?
Literati: as you may or may not be aware, there are many, many podcast niches, and they don’t always overlap. (On a recent episode of the business podcast StartUp, the host — who used to work alongside Serial’s host — was surprised to discover that a significant group of his own listeners had never even heard of Serial.) Lucky for us, one of these niches is podcasts for and about writing. Below, some of the best literary podcasts out there.
Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie have been friends for years, sharing work and talking about basketball. On their truly excellent podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, which launched in August, they do both plus interviews. The guests address “work” from a wide range of perspectives — singer/songwriter Peter Himmelman discusses his artistic process in this great conversation, while Alexie’s wife’s friend Polly’s current major task is convalescing from back surgery. Alexie and Walter discuss their own work, too, and the best part is that they read aloud early drafts of their fiction and poetry. The insights are incredible, and while of course their work is usually pretty excellent, it’s sometimes rough — a reminder for any writer that this stuff doesn’t pop out fully-formed, for anyone.
The Longform Podcast features some of the most well-researched interviews anywhere — on par, I’d say, with Fresh Air. (Close, anyway.) The guests are longform nonfiction writers, with a couple of podcasters thrown in there. No fiction here, but the writers, pretty much without fail, approach their craft with intense creativity and skill. A few favorites: the episodes with essayist Meghan Daum, New York Times Magazine staff writer Susan Dominus, Grantland staff writer Wesley Morris, New York magazine writers Jessica Pressler and Dan P. Lee, and New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy.
On the Selected Shorts podcast, listen to recordings of live events in which actors read/perform short stories. (Not to brag, but I saw this one, with Lorrie Moore and Sherman Alexie, and It. Was. Amazing.) Only the most recent back episodes are available, so subscribe in iTunes for a weekly installment going forward.
The Greenlight Bookstore Radio Hour, out of its namesake Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, features authors in conversation with each other. Sometimes nonfiction writers interview novelists; other times it’s fiction-on-fiction. In a favorite episode, Rebecca Mead, New Yorker staff writer and author of My Life in Middlemarch, interviews Elizabeth Gilbert about her novel The Signature of All Things.
On each episode of the New Yorker’s Fiction Podcast, a writer who’s been published in the magazine selects a favorite story by another writer to read and discuss. (See all New Yorker podcasts here, or the Fiction Podcast on iTunes here.) Writers are not always the liveliest readers of their own work, but reading fiction they admire deeply is a whole different ballgame.
If you’re looking for a book club you can enter and exit at will, and don’t actually have to participate in at all, Slate’s Audio Book Club is for you. A range of Slate critics get together to parse and debate books new and old. Spoilers are guaranteed, so don’t listen until you’ve read.
On the Books and Authors podcast, Cary Barbor, who has a background in arts radio, interviews a range of (mostly fiction) writers, including Roxane Gay, Emily St. John Mandel, Ben Dolnick, and Celeste Ng.
The Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day podcast is just that: a poem, usually read by the poet, every day. They’re often just a minute or two long — perfect for a new daily ritual.