Beyond the Page Episode 11 – George Packer: “How Do We Wrap Our Arms Around America?”
As the country reeled under the weight of one shock after another—first the pandemic, then levels of mass unemployment not seen since the Great Depression, and most recently an unprecedented wave of protests against racism and police brutality—the June issue of The Atlantic magazine ran a cover story with the provocative title, “We Are Living in a Failed State.” The author was GEORGE PACKER, one of the preeminent long-form journalists writing in the US today.
His last three books—The Assassins Gate about the invasion of Iraq, The Unwinding about the economic and social transformation of America since the 1970s and Our Man, a biography of the larger than life American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke—each in its own unique way, tried to provide a window into the big challenges America has faced, both abroad and at home, over the last 25 years. In this episode, George talks with LIAQUAT AHAMED, a board member of the Sun Valley Writers Conference about where we are as a country, how we got here, and how a writer of nonfiction like him is able, using techniques drawn from the great novelists, “to wrap his arms around America.”
Beyond the Page Episode 10 – Alexander Maksik: “Caring For an Ill and Aging Parent From a Distance”
What happens, what emotional threads get pulled, when halfway around the globe a father gets sick from Covid? In an evocative personal essay for The New Yorker, “My Father’s Voice from Paris,” novelist ALEXANDER MAKSIK faces those questions and all the attendant thoughts and feelings provoked by them. Living in Maui with his wife, the novelist Madhuri Vijay, and his six-month-old daughter Ela, Maksik’s only contact with his father was through the phone. He listened as his father grew weaker knowing he could not go to him. It is both a story for our time and a timeless one about a son’s love for a father. In this episode of Beyond the Page, Xander talks with ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING, associate director of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, about the essay, about fatherhood and about Paris, the city both father and son know intimately.
Beyond the Page Episode 9 – Dani Shapiro: “The End of Secrets: Family History in the Age of Bio-Ethics”
In the spring of 2016, author DANI SHAPIRO received the stunning news through a genealogy website that her father was not her biological father. Her memoir, Inheritance, captures her urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than 50 years. It caused her to rethink everything she knew about herself, her roots, her family, the ground underneath her. In this episode of Beyond the Page, she talks with physician and author ABRAHAM VERGHESE about living in a time in which science and technology are uncovering long-held secrets and about the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
Beyond the Page Episode 8 – Frank McCourt: “The Underlying Story”
In 1996, (a 66-year-old) retired New York City public school teacher named FRANK MCCOURT published his first book, a memoir about his brutally impoverished Irish Catholic childhood in the slums of Limerick. If ever there was a “rags-to-riches” story in publishing, Angela’s Ashes was it: The book would go on to receive the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, sell more than four million copies in hardcover alone, and become a film directed by Alan Parker. At the age of 66, Frank emerged almost overnight as one of the most celebrated authors in America.
But if you knew Frank, you knew two things, at least: First, he never took anything at face value, including, and perhaps especially, his own extraordinary, late-blooming success. And second, for all the joy and gratitude he took from his unexpected good fortune, he refused to ever completely shed his (the) core of (coal-dark) anger that remained from (his childhood of poverty) growing up in terrible poverty. That he was able to so often turn that anger into unforgettable humor was just one of the many reasons why he was such a gifted writer. As he himself tells us, however, before becoming that writer, he somehow had to learn what he still needed to know. And in order to do that, he first had to become teacher.
Beyond the Page Episode 7 – Edwidge Danticat: “Literary Immigration: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat”
This episode is an edited recording of novelist Edwidge Danticat at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. In one way or another, from the moment she left Haiti to settle in Brooklyn, New York, at age 12, Edwidge Danticat has been writing stories (prize-winning novels, memoirs, and essays) about the experience and effects of immigration. In conversation with Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour, she talks about the ways that first seismic journey in her life has shaped all the journeys she has lived and written since.
Beyond the Page Episode 6 – Mitch Landrieu: “A White Southerner Confronts History”
This is an edited recording of New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu speaking at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference in 2019. When Landrieu addressed the people of his city in May 2017 about his decision to take down four Confederate monuments, including the statue of Robert E. Lee, he struck a nerve throughout the nation—his brave and inspirational speech has now been heard by millions.
As he described that experience in his powerful memoir In the Shadow of Statues—and as he tells it here—Mayor Landrieu’s relationship to the question of race in America is deeply personal and complicated, and begins for him with his own family’s history, and the history of the city of his birth.
Beyond the Page Episode 5 – Alexandra Fuller: “Memories of an African Childhood”
This episode is an edited recording of writer Alexandra Fuller at the 2012 Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. Fuller, whose two best-selling, award-winning memoirs about her parents and her childhood in southern Africa, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, indelibly evoking a landscape of love, loss, longing and reconciliation, discusses both what she has found in the process of writing those books, and what she has lost.
Beyond the Page Episode 4 — Ayad Akhtar: “Muslims in America: A Playwright’s Compendium of Characters”
No playwright has challenged our perceptions of Muslims in America as boldly, and with such dramatic vigor, as has AYAD AKHTAR, the Pakistani-American playwright and author, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Disgraced, the most produced play of the 2015-2016 season.
Beyond the Page Episode 3 — Min Jin Lee: “On Speaking and Power”
MIN JIN LEE speaks about the struggle she found in finding her own voice, first as a profoundly shy Korean girl growing up in America and eventually as the exceptional novelist she became. The speech is based on The New York Times essay Lee wrote, “Breaking My Own Silence.”
Beyond the Page Episode 2 — David Grossman: “To the End of the Land”
In this episode, we hear from the great Israeli novelist DAVID GROSSMAN, widely regarded as part of the collective liberal conscience of Israel, about his masterpiece To the End of the Land.
Beyond the Page Episode 1 — Anthony Doerr: “The Beautiful Art of Failure”
Welcome to the SVWC podcast Beyond the Page: The Best of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. In a world obsessed with success, Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist ANTHONY DOERR has maintained an abiding belief in, and a creative need for, the bracing tonic of failure. In a talk filled with humor and hard-won wisdom, he discusses how being willing to risk failing at stuff to realize one’s original vision is the writer’s most essential job.