Episodes

  • Aimee Mann, the celebrated Los Angeles singer and songwriter, recently released an album called “Queens of the Summer Hotel.” The album was inspired in part by Susanna Kaysen’s best-selling memoir “Girl, Interrupted,” about Kaysen’s time in a psychiatric hospital. Mann sat down with Atul Gawande at The New Yorker Festival to talk about the new album, the lessons of living through a pandemic, and how liberated she felt when she broke her ties with major record labels. “When you’re at a record label and you’re trying to ascertain whether something can be a hit or a single, you listen in a different way—and then everything sounds like garbage,” she said. Mann decided that she didn’t “want to keep baring my soul to people who hate everything I’m doing.”

  • At The New Yorker Festival, Dave Grohl talked with Kelefa Sanneh about Grohl’s new book, “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music.” Grohl, who was the drummer for Nirvana and then the frontman of the Foo Fighters, recalls his earliest experiences of taking music seriously—harmonizing with his mom to Carly Simon on the car radio. Grohl also talks about what it was like to collaborate with Kurt Cobain, who was known for his capricious genius, and about stepping out from behind the drums to lead his own band. “After Kurt died, I was, like, I’m not playing music anymore—it’s painful,” he remembers. “And then I eventually realized that if music saved my life, my entire life, this is what’s going to save my life again.”

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  • Mexico is a deeply Catholic nation where abortion was, for a long time, criminalized in many states; just a few years ago Coahuilla, near the U.S. border, imposed jail time on women who had the procedure. This year, Stephania Taladrid reported, Mexico’s ten-member Supreme Court voted unanimously to deciminalize abortion throughout the country—to the shock even of activists. But before they had finished celebrating they turned their attention north, to Texas, which has practically banned most abortions with the S.B. 8 law, which is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Texans may find themselves crossing the border to obtain legal abortions. Taladrid spoke to activists who are sending medications that induce abortion—which are available over the counter in Mexico—across the border into Texas. But they may face risk in doing so. As the legal scholar Jeannie Suk Gersen explains, a new Texas law criminalizes delivering those medications to pregnant women.

  • The Supreme Court, with a six-to-three majority of conservative justices, is hearing critical cases on abortion rights. If it approves restrictive state laws, large swaths of the country might quickly ban abortion. Jia Tolentino co-hosts a special episode on the future of abortion rights for Americans, which includes a discussion of the legal issues at stake and the doctrine of privacy that is now in jeopardy, and a visit to the Mississippi clinic at the center of one of the court cases.

  • After storms and other climate disasters, legions of workers appear overnight to cover blown-out buildings with construction tarps, rip out ruined walls and floors, and start putting cities back together. They are largely migrants, predominantly undocumented, and lack basic protections for construction work. Their efforts are critical in an era of increasing climate-related disasters, but the workers are subject to hazards including accidents, wage theft, and deportation. “Right now, there is a base camp for the National Guard; FEMA officials in Louisiana are staying in hotels,” Saket Soni, the founder of the nonprofit group Resilience Force, tells Sarah Stillman. “But the workers who are doing the rebuilding with their hands are sleeping under their cars to protect themselves from rain.” Stillman travelled to Louisiana, to the parking lot of a Home Depot, to report on Soni’s effort to organize and win recognition for these laborers as a distinct workforce performing essential work. “These years ahead,” she notes, “are going to bring more brutal hurricanes, more awful floods, more terrifying wildfires, and heatwaves—more than any of us is really prepared to handle. … And what’s at stake is not just these workers’ fates but also our collective shared survival.”

  • “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” premièred nearly thirty years ago, but it’s one of the most current and important plays on Broadway right now. Anna Deavere Smith pioneered a form now known as verbatim theatre: instead of creating characters and writing dialogue, she would interview dozens or hundreds of people about an event, and weave a story from those real characters and their words. “Twilight” is about the deadly violence and unrest that erupted after police officers were acquitted of the ferocious beating of Rodney King—one of the first episodes of police brutality caught on videotape and broadcast to the nation. Her form, she tells David Remnick, let her complicate the racial dynamics of Black and white people, to include the voices of Asian Americans and Latinx people involved in the uprising. Deavere talks about how the play reads now, after George Floyd’s murder and the uprising that followed, and about what still hasn’t changed in the cultural climate for Black theatre artists.

  • Growing up, Rachel Held Evans was a fiercely enthusiastic evangelizer for her faith, the kind of kid who relished the chance to sit next to an atheist. But when she experienced doubt, that sense of certainty began to crumble. “We went to all these conferences about how to defend your faith, how to have an answer for what you believe,” her sister Amanda Held told Eliza Griswold. “That’s why it was particularly unsettling to have questions, because we were taught to have answers.” Held Evans began to blog and then wrote a string of best-sellers about her faith, beginning with “Evolving in Monkey Town,” in which she separated the Jesus she believed in from the conservative doctrine she was raised with. Her work spoke to the millions of Christians who have left evangelical churches since 2006. “There’s this common misperception that either you are a conservative evangelical Christian or . . . you become agnostic or atheist,” Griswold explains, but many Christians were turning away from politics and still retaining their faith. She calls Held Evans “the patron saint of this emerging movement.” After Held Evans died, at thirty-seven, after a sudden illness, her final, incomplete manuscript was finished by a friend, Jeff Chu. Griswold travelled to Held Evans’s home town of Dayton, Tennessee, to meet with her widower, Dan Evans, as well as Chu and others. “I think people resonate so much with her work [because] she was giving words that people couldn’t say themselves,” Evans says. “It’s not going to stop for them just because Rachel died. There’s going to be one less traveller. One less person to translate for them. But there’s more people born every day.”

  • Cal Newport, the author of “A World without Email” and other books, has been writing about how the shutdown has affected businesses and the culture of work. Remote operation, he says, has raised fundamental questions about the purpose of work, its role in our lives, and how productivity is measured. While most companies are asking employees to return to the office as the pandemic eases, Newport predicts that economic forces will eventually drive an exodus toward permanent remote work. Tech companies that launched as fully remote operations, he thinks, have a head start on the economic advantages of ditching the office for good.

  • Wole Soyinka is a giant of world literature. A Nobel laureate, he’s written more than two dozen plays, a vast amount of poetry, several memoirs, and countless essays and short stories—but, up until recently, only two novels. His third novel was published this past September, forty-eight years after the previous one. It's called “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth.” The book is both a political satire and a murder mystery involving four friends, with subplots that include a secret society dealing in human body parts and more corruption than any one country can bear.


    Like his cousin the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Soyinka has made social commentary integral to his work. Soyinka’s journey into political activism began at a young age, and, in 1965, when he was twenty-one, he was arrested for armed robbery. But Soyinka tells Vinson Cunningham that political opposition didn’t come naturally to him. “I love my peace of mind and my tranquility,” he says, “[but] I cannot attain that if I have not attended to an issue or problem which I know is . . . manifesting itself in a dehumanizing way in others.” “Chronicles” explores not only how the governments are corrupt but the effect of corruption on societies and peoples. Soyinka also talks about why he waited so long to write another novel, and what the medium offers that theatre does not.

  • The roughly ten thousand company documents that make up the Facebook Papers show a company in turmoil—and one that prioritizes its economic interests over known harms to public interest. Among other things, they catalogue the company’s persistent failure to control disinformation and hate speech. David Remnick spoke with Maria Ressa, an investigative journalist, in the Philippines, who runs the news organization Rappler. She has been the target of hate campaigns by supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and in October Ressa (along with the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov) received the Nobel Peace Prize for working to protect freedom of expression. Ressa is also a co-founder of what’s called the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group of expert observers and critics who are not affiliated with Facebook’s own quasi-independent Oversight Board. She doesn’t see easy tweaks to ameliorate the damage; the fundamental approach of steering content to users to maximize engagement, she feels, is inherently destructive. “We’ve adapted this hook, line, and sinker: ‘personalization is better,’ ” Ressa points out. “It does make the company more money, but is that the right thing? Personalization also tears apart a shared reality.” Plus, a disinformation researcher says that, to understand dangerous conspiracy stories like QAnon, you have to look at the online horror genre known as creepypasta.

  • Jane Goodall is as revered a figure as modern science has to offer, though she prefers to call herself a naturalist rather than a scientist. Goodall learned a great deal about being human by studying our close relatives among the primates. When she began working, some of her research habits, such as naming her subjects and describing their personalities, caused consternation among other primatologists, who insisted that intelligence and emotion were the exclusive province of human intellect; Goodall persevered, and shifted how we conceive of the relationship between humans and other creatures. She’s the author of more than thirty books for adults and children, including a new volume called “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.”

    In her work as a conservationist and a United Nations “Messenger of Peace,” the eighty-seven-year-old Goodall used to travel as many as three hundred days per year. Since the pandemic began, she’s been at her home in England, in the house where she grew up. In a conversation for the New Yorker Festival, The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz (known primarily as a humorist) asked Goodall about the secrets to her success as both a researcher and an advocate. “I’m very passionate,” she told him. “Secondly, I’m probably obstinate and I’m pretty resilient. So knock me over and I’m going to bounce back up. Because I will not be defeated.”

  • In the summer, Shabana Basij-Rasikh came on the Radio Hour to speak with Sue Halpern about founding the School of Leadership Afghanistan—known as SOLAwhich was the country’s only boarding school for girls. She and those around her were watching the Taliban’s resurgence in the provinces anxiously, but with determination. “It’s likely that Taliban could disrupt life temporarily here in Kabul,” one woman told Basij-Rasikh, “but we’re not going to go back to that time. We’re going to fight them.”

    In fact, Basij-Rasikh had already been forming a plan to take her girls’ school abroad, and soon settled on Rwanda. When the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan led to a precipitous collapse of the government, she suddenly had to sneak nearly two hundred and fifty students, staff, faculty, and family members to the airport to flee as refugees. She seems traumatized by the terror of that experience. “That thought still haunts me—it suddenly takes over all my senses in a way, just this idea of ‘what if’? What if we lost a student?” She spoke with Halpern about the evacuation to Rwanda, and what she hopes for as the school resettles.

  • “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” defined an era. For more than sixteen years, Stewart and his many correspondents skewered American politics. At the 2021 New Yorker Festival, Stewart spoke with David Remnick about his new show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart”; the potential return of Donald Trump to the White House; and the controversy around cancel culture in comedy. “What do we do for a living?” Stewart asks, of comedians. “We criticize, we postulate, we opine, we make jokes, and now other people are having their say. And that’s not cancel culture, that’s relentlessness.”

  • Daniel Craig made his career as an actor in the theatre and in British indie films. When he showed up in Hollywood, it was usually in smaller roles, often as a villain. So, in 2005, when Craig was cast as the original superspy, James Bond, he seemed as surprised as anyone. In “No Time to Die,” Craig gives his final performance as Bond—a role, he tells David Remnick, that sometimes grated on him. Craig hasn’t lost his love of theatre, and is set to play Macbeth on Broadway. “I try not to differentiate” between Shakespeare’s work and Ian Fleming’s, he tells David Remnick. “You’re trying to aim for some truth, to ground things in reality,” and “both require the same muscles.” Though he admits that “there’s a lot more chat” in a Shakespeare script. Plus, the beloved comic character actor Carol Kane discusses her Oscar-nominated turn in 1975’s “Hester Street,” which is being re-released.

  • Kara Walker is one of our most influential living artists. Walker won a MacArthur Fellowship (the “genius” grant) before she turned thirty, and became well known for her silhouettes, works constructed from cut black paper using a technique that refers to craft forms of the Victorian era. Walker has put modest materials to work to address very large concerns: the lived experience and historical legacy of American slavery. Though she often depicts the racial and sexual violence that went largely unspoken for centuries in the past, her work is aimed squarely at the modern world. “What I set out to do, in a way, worked too well,” she said, “which was to say, if I pretty everything up with hoop skirts and Southern belles then nobody will recognize that I’m talking about them. And then they didn’t! They said, ‘The past is so bad.’ But I’m not from the past. . . . I do live here now. And so do you.” Walker was interviewed at The New Yorker Festival by Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

  • At The New Yorker Festival, the renowned investigative journalist Jane Mayer asked Attorney General Merrick Garland about the prosecution of January 6th insurrectionists, the threat of domestic terrorism, and what the Justice Department can do to protect abortion rights. Plus, the staff writer Susan Orlean talks with David Remnick about her obsession with animal stories, and her new book, “On Animals.”

  • Broadway theatres are welcoming audiences to a new season, mounting original works and restaging shows that closed in March, 2020. In this unusual season, Broadway is featuring atypical works such as “Is this a Room,” directed by Tina Satter, which stages the F.B.I. interrogation of the whistle-blower Reality Winner using the official transcript verbatim for all of its dialogues. But the most notable thing about Broadway this season is the record-breaking eight plays by Black playwrights, including Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” and the reopening of Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play.” Two theatre critics, Alexandra Schwartz and Vinson Cunningham, discuss whether this diversity is a sign of change on Broadway or a short-term response to the racial reckoning that began in 2020. Plus, the music critic Amanda Petrusich shares three tracks from her playlist for a new baby—featuring Aretha Franklin, Paul and Linda McCartney, and the Velvet Underground.

  • Jonathan Franzen’s sixth novel, “Crossroads,” is set in 1971, and the title is firmly on the nose: the Hildebrand family is at a crossroads itself, just as the America of that moment seemed poised to come apart. In the course of his career, Franzen has evolved away from an early postmodernist sensibility that highlighted “bravura” writing, and “with this book I threw away all the po-mo hijinks and the grand plot elements,” he tells David Remnick. “It’s really only in the course of writing ‘Crossroads’ that I have said to myself, What I am is a novelist of character and psychology. . . . It’s not about formal experimentation and it’s certainly not about changing the world through my social commentary.” Franzen also discusses the complex ethics behind writing a character of another race, and takes issue with the belief of some in the academy (and much of the political right) that leftist sensibilities are stifling free expression; he declined to sign the “Harper’s Letter” last year. Despite political polarization, Franzen says, “It’s a much better time to be an American writer than I would have guessed twenty-five years ago.”

  • Andreas Malm, a climate activist and senior lecturer at Lund University, in Sweden, studies the relationship between climate change and capitalism. With the United Nations climate meeting in Glasgow rapidly approaching—it begins on October 31st—Malm tells David Remnick that he believes environmentalists should not place too much faith in talks or treaties of this kind. Instead, he insists that the climate movement rethinks its roots in nonviolence. His book is provocatively titled “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” though it is not exactly an instruction manual. Malm advocates for “intelligent sabotage” of fossil-fuel infrastructure to prevent more carbon from being emitted in the atmosphere. “I am in favor of destroying machines, property—not harming people. That’s a very important distinction,” he tells Remnick. Plus: Parul Sehgal, The New Yorker’s newest staff writer, introduces David Remnick to some notable works off the syllabus of a class she is teaching. It’s called “Writing the Unspeakable,” about the literature of trauma and atrocity.

  • In 1967, in the wake of a violent uprising in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson assembled the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate what had happened. This seemed futile: another panel to investigate yet another uprising. “A lot of people felt that way—‘We don’t need more studies, nothing’s going to come out of that commission,’ ” Fred Harris, a former senator from Oklahoma and the commission’s last surviving member, tells Jelani Cobb. But the conclusions were not typical at all. In the final analysis, known as the Kerner Report, the commission named white racism—no euphemisms—as the root cause of unrest in the United States, and said that the country was moving toward two societies, one Black, one White—separate and unequal.” The report called for sweeping changes and investments in jobs, housing, policing, and more; the recommendations went so far beyond Johnson’s anti-poverty programs of the nineteen-sixties that the President shelved the report and refused to meet with his own commission. The Kerner Report, Cobb says, was “an unheeded warning,” as America still struggles today to acknowledge the reality of systemic racism.

    Jelani Cobb co-edited and wrote the introduction to “The Essential Kerner Commission Report,” which was published this year.