The New Yorker Radio Hour
The New Yorker Radio Hour
About The New Yorker Radio Hour
Profiles, storytelling and insightful conversations, hosted by David Remnick.
In 2018, at the midpoint of the Trump Presidency, the journalist and historian Jon Meacham wrote a book called “The Soul of America,” warning of the gravity of Trump’s threat to democracy. This was hardly a unique point of view, but Meacham’s particular way of putting things, steeped in a critical reverence for American history, hit home with one reader in particular: Joe Biden. In the years since, Meacham became an informal adviser to Biden, helping him recently with the State of the Union address. Meacham, who has written biographies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, George H. W. Bush, John Lewis, and, now, Abraham Lincoln, reflects on the vulnerability of American democracy in the current moment, with an overt autocrat as the leading Republican contender for the next Presidential election. “Having a dictatorial figure is not new either in human experience or American history. What is new is that so many people are willing to suspend their better judgment to support him,” he says. “I am flummoxed to some extent at the durability of partisan feeling.” Plus, the music critic Kelefa Sanneh on a fleet of artists bringing fresh sounds to what has become the least cool genre: mainstream rock. He shares tracks by HARDY, Giovannie & the Hired Guns, AVOID, and Jelly Roll.
H. G. Carrillo was a writer’s writer—not a household name, but esteemed in literary circles. He began writing later in life, and was in his mid-forties when his first novel, “Loosing My Espanish,” was published. The book, which describes a Cuban-immigrant experience, was hailed as a triumph of Latino fiction; Junot Díaz praised the author’s “formidable” talent, calling his “lyricism pitch-perfect and his compassion limitless.” Carrillo went on to literary positions in and outside of the academy. He was an early casualty of the COVID pandemic, dying in the spring of 2020 at the age of fifty-nine. But his obituary—instead of tying a bow on the historical record—unspooled in quite a different direction, revealing secrets that Carrillo had worked for decades to conceal. For two years, the staff writer D. T. Max has been trying to trace what happened, and why.
The prescription drug Ozempic was designed to help people with Type 2 diabetes manage their disease, and, under the name Wegovy, to treat obesity. But it has been embraced recently as a tool for weight loss, and many celebrities are rumored to use it in order to shed pounds. Known generically as semaglutide, the drug gives users the feeling of satiation—even to the point of uncomfortable fullness. “One doctor I spoke to compared it to a turkey dinner in a pen,” the staff writer Jia Tolentino tells David Remnick. Tolentino recently reported on the use and misuse of the drug, and what its prominence among celebrities says about our relationship to thinness today. After some years in which body culture seemed to become more accepting, Tolentino fears the drug will wind the clock back to the brutal insistence on thinness of decades past. “Like any technology, it’s very complicated,” she says. “For some people, this drug might save their lives. For others, it does not make sense to be used in any casual way.”
The pontificate of Pope Francis, which just reached its tenth year, has brought a greater willingness to engage with modern issues. Francis has addressed Catholics on the climate emergency, arguing a religious position against consumerism and irresponsible development. Without changing the Church’s doctrines, he struck a very different tone than his predecessors Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the inclusion of gay people and the involvement of women in Church leadership. The traditionalist reaction against Francis has also been unprecedented, with prominent figures in the Church openly seeking to discredit him. The New Yorker contributor Paul Elie, who recently wrote about this decade of Francis’s leadership, explores how tensions in the Church were overtaken by an American-style culture war. Elie speaks with Bishop Frank Caggiano, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and M. Cathleen Kaveny, a prominent law professor and theologian at Boston College. “For John Paul,” Kaveny says, “the main challenge that the faith faced was moral relativism. The conservatives . . . are worried that [moral relativism] is not appreciated by Pope Francis.”
In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears likely to strike down affirmative action, in a decision expected by this summer. The practice of considering race as a tool to counteract discrimination has been in place at many colleges and universities, and in some workplaces, since the civil-rights era. But a long-running legal campaign has threatened the practice for decades. David Remnick talks with two academics who have had a front-row seat in this fight. Ruth Simmons tells him, “For me, it’s quite simply the question of what will become of us as a nation if we go into our separate enclaves without the opportunity to interact and to learn from each other.” Simmons was the Ivy League’s first Black president, and more recently led Prairie View A. & M., in Texas. Lee Bollinger, while leading the University of Michigan, was the defendant in Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark case twenty years ago in which the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action. The Court’s current conservative majority is likely to overturn that precedent. Remnick also speaks with Femi Ogundele, the dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of California,Berkeley. Consideration of race in admissions at California state schools has been banned for nearly thirty years. “A lot of us are being kind of tapped on the shoulder and asked, ‘How are you doing what you’re doing in this new reality?’ ” he says. “I want to be very clear: I do not think there is any race-neutral alternative to creating diversity on a college campus,” Ogundele tells Remnick. “However, I do think we can do better than what we’ve done.”
Janet Mock first heard the word “māhū,” a Native Hawaiian word for people who exist outside the male-female binary, when she was twelve. She had just moved back to Oahu, where she was born, from Texas, and, by that point, Mock knew that the gender she presented as didn’t feel right. “I don’t like to say the word ‘trapped,’ ” Mock tells The New Yorker’s Hilton Als. “But I was feeling very, very tightly contained in my body.” Eventually, Mock left Hawaii for New York, where she worked as an editor for People magazine. “[Everyone was] bigger and louder and smarter and bolder than me,” she tells Als. “So, in that sense, I could kind of blend in.” After working at People for five years, she came out publicly as trans; since then, she has emerged as a leading voice on trans issues. She’s written two books, produced a documentary, and signed a deal with Netflix. In 2018, she became the first trans woman of color to be hired as a writer on a TV series—Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose,” which just concluded its final season. This story originally aired January 4, 2019
Many culture-war politicians are attacking the rights of trans people, and making a regressive view of gender as biology the key to their platforms. In this episode, David Remnick talks to two people who’ve found themselves at the center of the battle over transgender rights. In Nebraska, a state senator has committed to filibustering every piece of legislation to ward off a vote on a Republican-sponsored bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans people under age nineteen. Then Masha Gessen—who fled Russia years ago as an L.G.B.T. person targeted by government repression—explains why anti-trans messaging has been effective for the right, and why discussions of trans issues can be fraught even for those who support them.
“In The Dark,” the acclaimed investigative podcast from American Public Media, is joining The New Yorker and Condé Nast Entertainment. In its first two seasons, “In The Dark,” hosted by the reporter Madeleine Baran, has taken a close look at the criminal-justice system in America. The first season examined the abduction and murder, in 1989, of eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling, and exposed devastating failures on the part of law enforcement. The second season focussed on Curtis Flowers, a Black man from Winona, Mississippi, who was tried six times for the same crime. When the show’s reporters began looking into the case, Flowers was on death row. After their reporting, the Supreme Court reversed Flowers’s conviction. Today, he is a free man. A third season of “In The Dark,” which will be the show’s most ambitious one yet, is on its way. David Remnick recently sat down with Baran and the show’s managing producer, Samara Freemark, to talk about the remarkable first two seasons of the show, and what to expect in the future. To listen to the entirety of the “In The Dark” catalogue, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
When they were just thirteen and eleven years old, sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey started posting videos of themselves singing on YouTube and quickly built a following. Their covers often went viral—their version of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” even caught the attention of Beyoncé, who brought them on tour as her opening act. Now, with two albums and five Grammy nominations behind them, the sisters are for the first time working on separate projects: Halle is starring as Ariel in an upcoming remake of “The Little Mermaid,” and Chloe is releasing a solo album, “In Pieces,” later this month. Chloe Bailey spoke with the contributing writer Lauren Michele Jackson at the New Yorker Festival in October about the mixed blessing of social-media stardom. “When we program our minds to think about being No. 1 … it really suffocates you and it stifles the process,” she says. “Right now, I’m just creating to be creating, and I have never felt more free.” Plus, the lost New Jersey photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1975, the French master photographer spent a month documenting New Jersey, which he called a “shortcut to America.” Why did the pictures disappear?
Well before launching the horrifying campaign against Ukraine a year ago, Vladimir Putin had been undermining Russia as well: normalizing corruption on a massive scale, and suppressing dissent and democracy. One of the darkest moments on that trajectory was the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny with the nerve agent novichok. Navalny and a team of investigators had illustrated the corruption of Putin and his circle in startling detail, and Navalny began travelling the country to launch a bid for the Presidency. “Every time when I heard Navalny giving an interview, I don’t think there was one interview where he wasn’t asked, ‘How come you’re still alive? How come they still haven’t they killed you?,’ ” recalls the Russian activist Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations and media for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. “And Navalny is rolling his eyes saying, ‘I don’t know, I’m tired of this question, stop asking. I don’t know why I’m still alive and why they haven’t tried to assassinate me.’ ” Pevchikh was travelling with Navalny when he was poisoned, and helped uncover the involvement of the F.S.B. security services. After surviving the assassination and recuperating abroad, Navalny returned to Russia only to be arrested and then detained in a penal colony. “I think Putin wants him to suffer a lot and then die in prison,” Pevchikh tells David Remnick. Still, she maintains hope. “The situation is so chaotic, specifically because of the war,” she says. “Is the likelihood of Navalny being released when the war ends high? I think it is almost certain.” Pevchikh also served as an executive producer of the documentary “Navalny,” which is nominated for an Academy Award.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is in a genre all its own, and is an extremely unlikely favorite for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s a loopy sci-fi quest that becomes a martial arts revenge battle, superimposed on a sentimental family drama. Stephanie Hsu plays both Joy, a depressed young woman struggling with her immigrant mother (played by Michelle Yeoh), and Jobu Tupaki, an interdimensional supervillain bent on sowing chaos, and possibly the end of the world. “The relationship between Evelyn and Joy in its simplest terms is very fraught,” Hsu tells the staff writer Jia Tolentino. “It’s the story of a relationship of a daughter who’s a lesbian who is deeply longing for her mother’s acceptance . . . but they keep chasing each other around in the universe and they can just never find one another. Until, of course, they launch into the multiverse and become nemeses.” The film is nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress, for Hsu’s performance. Plus, in a New Yorker Radio Hour annual tradition, the incorruptible film critic Richard Brody bequeaths the awards that really matter: the Brody Awards, recognizing the finest performances and the best picture of 2022.
As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its fourth year, we can begin to gain some clarity on which countries, and which U.S. states, had the best outcomes over time. In a conversation with David Remnick, Dhruv Khullar, a contributing writer and a practicing physician in New York, explains some of the key factors. Robust testing was key for public-health authorities to make good decisions, unsurprisingly. What also seems clear from a distance, Khullar says, is that social cohesion was a decisive underlying condition. This helps explain why the United States did poorly in its pandemic response, despite a technologically advanced health-care system. Peer pressure, in other words, trumped mandates. Khullar also speaks to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about how misinformation and political polarization inhibit our country’s efforts on public health.
It’s been almost three decades since Angela Bassett emerged in Hollywood as a “totem of empowered Black womanhood,” as Michael Schulman puts it—known for groundbreaking roles in films like “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Now, at sixty-four, Bassett is nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” As the fierce, grieving Queen Ramonda, she is the first actor nominated for any Marvel movie. Bassett speaks with Schulman about her preparation for the film, and reflects on how a poetry recitation drove her to acting as a young person. “It was the first recognition for me, at fifteen, that drama, that theatre, that words, that passion from one human being could move another,” she says. “And that maybe I had a gift for it.”
In the year since Russia’s invasion, Ukrainians have shown incredible fortitude on the battlefield. Yet an end to the conflict seems nowhere in sight. “Putin’s strategy could be defined as ‘I can’t have it—nobody can have it.’ And, sadly, that’s where the tragedy is right now,” Stephen Kotkin, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a scholar of Russian history, tells David Remnick. “Ukraine is winning in the sense that [it] didn’t allow Russia to take that whole country. But it’s losing in the sense that its country is being destroyed.” Kotkin says that the standards for a victory laid out by President Volodymyr Zelensky set an impossibly high bar, and that Ukraine—however distasteful the prospect—may be forced to cut its losses. He suggests it could accept its loss of control over some of its territory while aiming to secure expedited accession to the European Union, and still consider this a victory. Remnick also speaks with Sevgil Musaieva, the thirty-five-year-old editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, an online publication based in Kyiv, about the toll that the war is taking on her and her peers. “We have to destroy the Soviet Empire and the ghosts of the Soviet Empire, and this is the goal of our generation,” Musaieva says. “People of my generation, they don’t have family. They don’t have kids. They just dedicate their lives—the best years of their lives—to country.” Kotkin says that the standards for a victory laid out by President Volodymyr Zelensky set an impossibly high bar, and that Ukraine—however distasteful the prospect—may be forced to cut its losses. He suggests it might need to accept its loss of control over some of its territory while aiming to secure expedited accession to the European Union, and still consider this a victory.
Martin McDonagh burst onto the London theatre scene as a young playwright in the nineteen-nineties. At one point, he had four plays running simultaneously on stages across London. But McDonagh also aspired to work in movies, and he eventually shifted his focus to directing films such as “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” “When you sit down to write something, how do you know if it’s a movie or a play?” the staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe asked McDonagh at The New Yorker Festival. “If it has four characters, and it’s set indoors, it’s a play,” McDonagh replied—“if it doesn’t have any donkeys or dogs.” McDonagh’s new film, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, is his first feature set in Ireland, and it prominently features a donkey. “Banshees” traces the story of a friendship breaking apart in the beautiful, remote hills of the country’s west. “I just wanted this [movie] to be sort of plotless in a way,” McDonagh said. “Just to have the unravelling of this breakup be what the whole story was about.” The film is now nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. This segment originally aired on October 21, 2022.
Forty years ago, Chuck D showed listeners how exciting, radical, and unpredictable hip-hop could be. His song “Fight the Power” became a protest anthem for a generation, and a Greek chorus in Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.” The Public Enemy front man talks with the staff writer Kelefa Sanneh about his life in music. “I wanted to curate, present, navigate, teach, and lead the hip-hop art, making it something that people would revere,” he says. Now, at sixty-two, Chuck D is an elder statesman of his genre, and also a critic of it and some of its more commercial impulses. His latest project is a four-part documentary, “Fight the Power: How Hip-Hop Changed the World,” which is airing now on PBS. “I’ve been to one hundred sixteen countries over thirty-eight years, so I’ve seen the changes,” he says. “People have made their way to me to say, ‘Chuck, this is what this art form has meant to me,’ in all continents except for Antarctica.” Plus, Alex Barasch, who wrote about “The Last of Us,” joins David Remnick to talk about why adapting video games to film and television has been so challenging: for every “Tomb Raider,” there are dozens of forgotten shows and flops. “The Last of Us” has been years in the making, but it’s paid off for HBO, winning both critical and commercial success.
Thirty-four years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of the novelist Salman Rushdie, whose book “The Satanic Verses” Khomeini declared blasphemous. It caused a worldwide uproar. Rushdie lived in hiding in London for a decade before moving to New York, where he began to let his guard down. “I had come to feel that it was a very long time ago and, and that the world moves on,” he tells David Remnick. “That’s what I had agreed with myself was the case. And then it wasn’t.” In August of last year, a man named Hadi Matar attacked Rushdie onstage before a public event, stabbing him about a dozen times. Rushdie barely survived. Now, in his first interview since the assassination attempt, Rushdie discusses the long shadow of the fatwa; his recovery from extensive injuries; and his writing. It was “just a piece of fortune, given what happened,” that Rushdie had finished work on a new novel, “Victory City,” weeks before the attack. The book is being published this week. “I’ve always thought that my books are more interesting than my life,” he remarks. “Unfortunately, the world appears to disagree.” David Remnick’s Profile of Rushdie appears in the February 13th & 20th issue of The New Yorker.
You couldn’t write a history of American music without a solid chapter on Bonnie Raitt. From her roots as a blues guitarist, she’s created a gorgeous melange of rock, R. & B., blues, folk, and country—helping to establish a new category now known as Americana. But she’s far from resting on her laurels; her latest album, “Just Like That . . . ,” is nominated for four Grammy Awards this year, including Song of the Year—a category in which her competition includes Beyoncé and Adele, stars a generation younger than Raitt. She talks with David Remnick about her early career in the blues clubs of Boston; the relationship between older Black artists and the nineteen-sixties generation of younger white afficionados; and the state of the genre today. “The way that blues and R. & B. and soul music [are] interwoven with so many different styles now . . . the cross pollination of influences that streaming has made possible—it means that blues is always at the root of whatever funky music is out at the time,” she says. Raitt also reflects on how finding sobriety in her forties changed her music. “I think a lot of us are busy putting on a big persona—proving ourselves in the world—for the first two decades of our careers,” she says. “I became more who I really am at forty-one than I was at thirty-one.”
Exceptions in the case of rape used to be considered a necessity in abortion legislation, even within the pro-life movement. But today ten states have no rape exception in their abortion laws, and more will likely consider moving in that direction this year. “I think few people understand how common this scenario actually is,” the contributing writer Eren Orbey, who has reported on the issue, says; according to C.D.C. statistics, nearly three million women have become pregnant as a result of rape. With abortion laws changing, more and more women will be forced to carry these pregnancies to term. In some cases, they’ll find themselves tied to their assailants through the family-court system until their children turn eighteen. “Many states . . . require a conviction for first-degree rape—which is really hard to come by even if there’s a lot of evidence—in order to terminate parental rights,” Lucy Guarnera, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, says. Orbey talks with Guarnera, one of a few researchers who have studied this issue in depth, and with a mother of twins about the challenges of parenthood under these conditions. “The reality is: these exceptions are far less effective than we assume they are,” Orbey says. “They create the false impression that we’re taking care of all rape survivors when we’re not.”
Many on the right blame “wokeness” for all of America’s ills—everything from deadly mass shootings to lower military recruitment. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, recently signed a so-called Stop WOKE Act into law, and made the issue the center of his midterm victory speech. In Washington, there has been talk in the House of forming an “anti-woke caucus.” “I think ‘woke’ is a very interesting term right now, because I think it’s an unusable word—although it is used all the time—because it doesn’t actually mean anything,” the linguist and lexicographer Tony Thorne, the author of “Dictionary of Contemporary Slang,” tells David Remnick. Plus, the poet Robin Coste Lewis talks with the staff writer Hilton Als about how suffering a traumatic brian injury led her to a career in poetry. Her most recent book, “To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness,” was published last month.
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