WBEZ | Books http://www.wbez.org/tags/books Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chris Offutt Reveals a Family Secret in 'My Father, The Pornographer' http://www.wbez.org/fresh-air/2016-02-05/chris-offutt-reveals-family-secret-my-father-pornographer-114724 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/my-father-the-pornographer-9781501112461_hr.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="storytext"><p><strong>Offutt&#39;s late father went from running a small insurance agency to writing more than 400 books, mostly pornography. The writer tells&nbsp;<em>Fresh Air</em>&nbsp;his dad believed he would be &quot;extremely famous&quot; for it.</strong></p><hr /><h2><strong>TRANSCRIPT</strong></h2></div><div>TERRY GROSS, HOST:</div><p>This is FRESH AIR. I&#39;m Terry Gross. I can&#39;t imagine what it would&#39;ve been like if my father had been a pornographer. That is so far from my experience. So I read, with fascination, what it&#39;s like for writer Chris Offutt to be the son of a pornographer. Offutt is the author of forthcoming memoir, called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer,&quot; which was excerpted in early February in The New York Times magazine. Chris Offutt is known for his fiction and literary memoirs. His father was known by his 17 pen names, under which he wrote nearly 375 porn books. He also wrote two science fiction and 24 fantasy novels. His first porn book was published in 1968, and in 1970, he shut down his small insurance agency, thinking porn would be more profitable. The timing was right, with the sexual revolution expanding the market. His readers probably wouldn&#39;t have guessed that he wrote from his home in Kentucky in, what Chris Offutt describes as, a hill-and-holler community, a ZIP Code with a creek. While Chris was growing up there, the source of his father&#39;s income was a family secret. In 2013, when Chris was 54, his father died and left Chris with the inheritance of thousands of letters and tens of thousands of novel pages. Chris moved back to his childhood home for several months to sort the papers and assemble a bibliography. By the way, this interview isn&#39;t explicit about porn. It&#39;s really about Chris&#39;s father.</p><p>Chris Offutt, welcome to FRESH AIR. You write that your father considered himself the class operator in the field of pornography. What was he known for in the field?</p><p>CHRIS OFFUTT: Well, I&#39;m not really sure. There hasn&#39;t been a great deal of scholarship on the field of pornography to separate out what one writer was known for with another. Dad believed that he had introduced various anatomical descriptions into pornography that had not been there before. He also believed that he had introduced the fact that a female could derive a great deal of pleasure. Then, that had not been seen in pornography before. At the same time, it&#39;s hard to know if that was true or not. The point, though, is that Dad believed it, and he thought he was a very good writer. And the other reason for that was that he believed that other porn writers were copying his style and some of these pioneering uses of anatomical language (laughter) regarding sexuality.</p><p>GROSS: So he wrote in so many subgenres of porn. Would you just name a few for us?</p><p>OFFUTT: Jeez, I don&#39;t think he left any out. There was ghosts, zombie porn, porn set in Atlantis, porn on alien planets with barbarian cultures, vampire porn in New York City. Another common subgenre was swingers, of course, and then multiple people at once. No telling how many numbers you could get up to, there - science fiction pornography, pirates and porns of the old West.</p><p>GROSS: Porn of the old West, wow (laughter). Who knew?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, I found a manuscript - you know, in addition to the 400 books, there were 25 unpublished novels, and one of them was porn in the old West that opened in a barn and had a great character named Quiet Smith - one of my favorite names.</p><p>GROSS: So your father, initially, was selling insurance, and he quit his job to help raise money for things like your orthodontia - your braces. And he became a team with your mother, who typed the manuscripts. And I mean, like, what a huge shift in the family to go from this, like, very secure kind of job to writing pornography and having your mother type it. I mean, was she comfortable even reading what he was writing?</p><p>OFFUTT: Oh, yeah. She was part and parcel from the beginning. He was a successful businessman in sales but wasn&#39;t happy. He&#39;d always written since he was a child and wanted to write, but at age 36, he had four kids and a mortgage. And I needed orthodontic care and all of my siblings and me were in school, so mom had suggested that she get a job outside of the home to pay for the dental care. And Dad didn&#39;t want to do that, so he - they just hatched this plan. And in a certain way, it&#39;s incredibly courageous for a 36-year-old person in this circumstance that he was in to just shut down a successful business and decide to be a writer.</p><p>GROSS: Why pornography? Like, why not Westerns or detective novels or any of the other popular genres?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, he had wanted to be a science fiction writer and had begun publishing science fiction in 1954, and that was his - always been his goal and interest. At a certain point, the markets for science fiction vanished. There was just dozens of these magazines folded. And many of the science fiction writers moved into writing pornography because at the same time, that market was starting to really open up. And then there was also the part that he liked it and was interested in it. He had gotten hold of some porn through the mail, and - just out of curiosity - and read it and, according to my mother, decided that he could write it better because it was so horribly written. And Mom just suggested that he do it, so that&#39;s kind of what got started.</p><p>GROSS: The way pornography often works in families is that parents, if they read pornography, hide it from their children.</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah.</p><p>GROSS: And the children who read pornography hide it from their parents. In your family, your parents were in the porn business. Did they hide it from you? How old were you when they told you about it?</p><p>OFFUTT: Oh, it was a secret, of course. It was a secret within the family, within the community. It just was not really talked about. How old was I? I mean, I was probably 12 or 13 when I came across porn in the house. That&#39;s not uncommon for many people to be a curious teenager. It took me a couple years to realize that it seemed like Dad was writing this, but I did not know that Mom was actually typing all of his final manuscripts for submission to the publishers. She could zip through it. I would come home from school - would walk through the woods along a little path into the house to the sound of two typewriters simultaneously clattering away. (Laughter) It was an unusual circumstance. But I knew Dad was a writer. I just assumed that it was science fiction.</p><p>GROSS: So how did the conversation in the family get opened? Did they tell you about the porn, or did you confront them with the fact that you suspected that this is what they were doing?</p><p>OFFUTT: Neither. There was no official formal conversation where, this is what we&#39;re doing, and you should know, or anything like that. It was a maintained secret as much as possible. Part of it was just living in a small community, in a conservative community in the hills of Kentucky. But it wasn&#39;t until I was out of the house and in my 20s that Dad became more forthcoming about his pornographic work.</p><p>My understanding prior to that had been that he was a functioning science fiction writer, and the pornography was generating supplemental income. It wasn&#39;t actually until after he - until I was in my 20s and 30s, I realized it was a much bigger enterprise on his part. And then after his death, I found out that it was lifelong and much larger than I had anticipated.</p><p>GROSS: Your father wrote a lot of the pornography under the pen name, John Cleve, and you write that he used to talk about John Cleve in the third person as if it was another person and that, you know, John Cleve had his own wardrobe, his own stationary, his own signature. And John Cleve had 16 pseudonyms. They weren&#39;t your father&#39;s pseudonyms. They were his pseudonym&#39;s pseudonyms (laughter). Did your father ever dress as John Cleve around you? Did you ever see that personality manifesting - that alter ego, and think, what&#39;s going on?</p><p>OFFUTT: Yes. I believe that he regarded John Cleve as an alter ego. The John Cleve as an alter ego gave him a great deal of freedom. And I&#39;ve talked to other writers who use pseudonyms, and there is - even if the writer&#39;s still sitting in the same chair, the same typewriter, the same house, the idea that he or she is not writing as who they actually are, but under this literary mask, it offers a little bit of freedom. I think in that case, that was important to Dad.</p><p>Also, using pseudonyms was a way of protecting identity and, to a certain extent, protecting the family from any sort of scandal or bias towards the kids or, you know, nasty comments. The other pseudonyms that he used were - some of them were for specific genres. Others, he would use to conceal his prolificity. He would be publishing with one publisher and then get a contract with another publisher and use a pseudonym to avoid the first publisher knowing that he was working for the competition. Dad didn&#39;t really care. He just wanted to get food on the table.</p><p>GROSS: If you&#39;re just joining us, my guest is writer Chris Offutt, and a memoir about his father, called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer,&quot; is going to be published next year. The New York Times Magazine recently excerpted the book in a piece called &quot;My Dad, The Pornographer.&quot; Let&#39;s take a short break here, and then we&#39;ll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.</p><p>(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)</p><p>GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you&#39;re just joining us, my guest is writer Chris Offutt. And he has a memoir that will be published next year called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer.&quot; It was recently excerpted in The New York Times Magazine. And his father wrote over 400 pornography books in every imaginable subgenre. Chris Offutt, my guest, has also written books of fiction as well as two other memoirs.</p><p>You write that when you found - you know, that after your father died and you went through his books, you found that he had a cataloging system for writing pornography - that he had whole sections ready to go into, like, kind of cut-and-paste in the appropriate book. So it had pages with, like, 150 synonyms for pain. There were sections for descriptions of the mouth, for descriptions of the tongue, the face, the legs, for kisses, spanking, distress. So it sounds like he cataloged all of this and had it all ready to paste into the appropriate book, and then he&#39;d kind of exit out of the catalog so he wouldn&#39;t use it a second time. I&#39;ve never heard of somebody writing that way before.</p><p>OFFUTT: Me neither. It was a remarkable discovery. In addition to what you described, there were also pages and pages like that of descriptions for the science fiction and for the fantasy - pages of description of landscape or of a storm or of a night sky. And what he did is he would watch television at night with a big clipboard and write longhand, and we would all be sitting there watching television. Dad was writing. We were kids. And I realized later that this was what he was doing at that - during those hours. He wasn&#39;t writing a novel or a short story, but he was just inventing descriptions while watching television. He liked to watch TV and write.</p><p>I was quite taken by this approach. He was working at a great speed and under enormous pressure - not deadline pressure but just economic pressure. You know, there were rarely contracts for these books in advance, you know? But he had to support his family. And he wrote one book in three days. His personal record was 94 pages in a single day. And the system that he devised reminded me of a assembly line of a car factory where you just have all the raw material and drop it in place as it goes down the assembly line, and at the end, there&#39;s a car. I have never met another writer who worked with this technique, and it was extensive. There were a lot of these notebooks, Terry.</p><p>GROSS: To give us more of a sense of what your father wrote, can you name some of the titles of some of his books?</p><p>OFFUTT: Sure. I&#39;d be happy to do that. I should also tell you that the book is dedicated to 17 people, all of - or 18 people, Dad and all of his pseudonyms.</p><p>GROSS: (Laughter) That&#39;s hysterical.</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah, well, I - it seemed to make sense. OK. Well, the first one was called &quot;Bondage Babes.&quot; In 1968, he published five - &quot;Bondage Babes,&quot; &quot;Swapper Town,&quot; &quot;Sex Toy,&quot; &quot;Gang Swap&quot; and &quot;The Seductress.&quot; &quot;Bruise,&quot; which I believe to be his best porn novel - the one that dad thought was the best was called &quot;Mongol!&quot; with an exclamation point. I&#39;ve never been - he had 12 or 14 books that had exclamation points in the title, so I&#39;m not sure how to pronounce it - &quot;Mongol!&quot; maybe. &quot;Mongol!.&quot; &quot;Fruit Of The Loin,&quot; &quot;The Devoured&quot; is vampires in New York City - not a bad book. I could keep on going. I mean, there&#39;s a lot.</p><p>GROSS: So I don&#39;t know if any of the stories are radio-friendly that your father told in his fiction, but is there one that would give us a sense of the kind of story that he dreamed up?</p><p>OFFUTT: Radio-friendly? One that I enjoyed the most - these two couples crash-landed on a deserted island but come to find out the island wasn&#39;t deserted after all, it was just unexplored. The middle of the island had a volcano. On the other side of the volcano, lived a primitive culture that would drop virgins into the volcano to sacrifice to the gods for good weather and good luck, right? Now, the other side, where they crash-landed, was occupied and inhabited by all the virgins who&#39;d managed to escape from the other side of the volcano. So you can imagine, then, what went on after the plane landed - crash-landed, and everybody survived. It was pretty interesting, like one of the guys goes native and one of the guys doesn&#39;t. And there&#39;s some morality in there and great concerns about impacting on this culture that had not been Westernized or anything.</p><p>GROSS: Do you think your father was obsessed with sex in real life or just in books?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, I don&#39;t think there was much distinction between the two. I think that he was obsessed - he&#39;d described himself as being hypersexual and had been ever since he could remember. And I think that it just found its way into his work and most of what he wrote.</p><p>GROSS: Did you ever get a chance to really talk with him about that?</p><p>OFFUTT: About what?</p><p>GROSS: How much - how obsessed he was with writing pornography?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, talking with Dad was often a case of listening to Dad...</p><p>GROSS: (Laughter).</p><p>OFFUTT: ...Talk about what he wanted to talk about. But it was something that he did talk to me about. I think that he became more open about it with me once I started writing and publishing myself. He realized that we could have a relationship as a writer to writer because our father-son relationship was quite strained. It was important to him that someone have some idea of the extent of his output.</p><p>GROSS: And that someone was you?</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah, it was me more so than my siblings, and mom didn&#39;t know about a lot of it either. I mean, she knew about it, but he didn&#39;t tell her everything. He had one friend that he - named Eric Stanton, a renowned New York underground fetish artist. They collaborated for 25 years. Dad wrote and Eric drew. Dad referred to him as his best friend. They only met once. So this, to me, is an example of the degree of isolation that he had in his life and also regarding the work that he did.</p><p>GROSS: I&#39;m wondering how your parents told you about the facts of life.</p><p>OFFUTT: (Laughter).</p><p>GROSS: I remember my mother giving me one of those books that are all about, like, the animals and the insects with like a quarter of a page about the humans (laughter). But I mean, considering that your father was so obsessed with sexuality and that he was writing the porn, your mother was typing the manuscripts, they had - how did they tell you? How did they break the news? Or maybe you already knew.</p><p>OFFUTT: I never had a conversation with my mother along these lines. There were two boys and two girls. Presumably, she spoke to my sisters and dad was in charge of my brother and me. I don&#39;t know what he told my brother. I do know how he dealt with it with me. He took me on a drive in a car, which was very rare for us to spend time privately together. He didn&#39;t leave the house much. He just worked 10, 12 hours a day for many years, so for him to leave the house and ask me to accompany him was a pretty big deal. Dad also liked to talk. I mean, he talked a lot when he was around people. And this car ride was notable for his silence. And then he would begin a few - to talk to me and just sort of sputter and stutter and trail off. And I didn&#39;t understand what was going on because this was so unlike dad, who really loved to talk. Then we finally got back home and he handed me a pamphlet on the reproduction of frogs.</p><p>GROSS: (Laughter).</p><p>OFFUTT: And - yeah. So - which, you know, as - for a 12, 13-year-old boy, it was very confusing. You know, the tadpole stage was - I don&#39;t really know how this fits into anything. But, you know - and I recount this in the book. There&#39;s something, to me, poignant and plaintive and quite unusual about a career pornographer who then was uncomfortable discussing sexuality with his son undergoing puberty.</p><p>GROSS: Right. That must&#39;ve been really confusing to you too. How did your parents hide the porn books from you?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, dad had an office in the house that was - had been a bedroom on the second floor, and we were just forbidden to enter. All of us - nobody was allowed to enter it. The door was either closed or partially closed at all times. You had to knock to get admitted. You had to wait till dad would allow you to come in, and that extended to my mother if she was bringing him coffee. I mean, you know, the key was, don&#39;t disturb Dad when he&#39;s working. And so that&#39;s where it was. And now and again when I was a kid, I would, of course, go in there when mom and dad were out of town and look around. And - but even in his office - and this was - is still interesting to me - even within his office, he - it was concealed. And I didn&#39;t realize it until after he&#39;d died there was a - you know, he had a wall of - two walls of built-in bookshelves that he&#39;d had hired to put in there. And behind every row of books was another deeper and higher row of books that was pornography. So there was an element of it that was hiding it of either from the family or the world or possibly himself.</p><p>GROSS: My guest is Chris Offutt. He&#39;s writing a memoir about his father called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer.&quot; Chris Offutt&#39;s father actually asked him to help write porn. We&#39;ll hear how Chris responded after a break. And we&#39;ll hear jazz critic Kevin Whitehead&#39;s review of the new album by organist Chris Foreman. Here&#39;s some music from the album. I&#39;m Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.</p><p>(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS FOREMAN SONG)</p><p>GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I&#39;m Terry Gross, back with Chris Offutt. His memoir, &quot;My Father, The Pornographer,&quot; will be published next year. Chris is known for his fiction and literary memoirs. His father, Andrew Offutt, wrote nearly 375 porn books and 24 fantasy novels under various pseudonyms, which helped him keep his source of income secret from his children and his community in the Kentucky hills, an area Chris describes as the buckle of the Bible Belt. His father&#39;s first porn book was published in 1968, coinciding with the sexual revolution. Andrew Offutt died in 2013. Chris returned to his childhood home for several months to organize his father&#39;s papers and create a bibliography.</p><p>Do you think that you grew up with this sense of secrets, you know, and that maybe even that - even if you didn&#39;t know that the secrets pertained to sex and pornography, that you&#39;ve somehow picked up on that anyways? I mean, I guess I&#39;m wondering what impact it had on you to grow up with all this secrecy, and especially since the secrets had to do with writing about sex.</p><p>OFFUTT: Yes, there was an element of secrecy to it that I grew up with. I don&#39;t know what the impact would&#39;ve been. I mean, Dad was - he was obsessed with sex, and he would talk about it, but obliquely, you know? He would often make jokes in sort of a naughty style of comments and all. But there was still a pall of secrecy that hung over the house that we all, you know, felt, or at least certainly I did. So as far as the impact, I&#39;m not really sure, you know, other than it could have motivated me to write memoir, for example, which is the opposite of a pseudonymous, secret writing life.</p><p>GROSS: Oh, that&#39;s true. That&#39;s a really good point. And I wonder how you feel about this forthcoming memoir about your father because you will be exposing all of the secrets he kept throughout his life, all the pseudonyms that he wrote under, everything that he hid from his family and from his neighbor.</p><p>OFFUTT: How will I feel about it?</p><p>GROSS: Yeah, do you - does it worry you that maybe your father would be upset? Or do you think your father would be happy that finally it can be revealed what a genius he was, you know, &#39;cause I know he saw himself that way?</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah, I - there was a part of me when I worked on it that - I mean, I worked on it pretty hard for a couple of years, and at times, I would be concerned that I was betraying the big family secret. And I would talk to my siblings about it, and I talked to my mother about it. And, you know, they all pointed out the obvious, which was, Dad&#39;s dead and you can&#39;t betray him. So I don&#39;t have any great concerns along those lines. As Mom said the other night, he would have loved the attention, and he liked attention. But there was some part of him that did not want to fully reveal the extent of this, of his output and his interest while he was alive. He started out as in sales for Procter &amp; Gamble - traveling salesman to little country stores with Procter &amp; Gamble products - then moved into selling health and life insurance. So sales relies on a great deal of self-belief, and I think that Dad incorporated that into his writing life. I don&#39;t know that I&#39;ve met anyone else who believed in himself as much as Dad did. And Dad fervently and fervidly and absolutely believed that after he was dead, in the 21st century, he would be well-known and extremely famous for the pornographer that he wrote under the name John Cleve.</p><p>So to answer the question, how would he feel about it? Yes, you know, in a way, this book to a certain extent is fulfilling his own prophecy that he made about his legacy in the world. If it&#39;s true - I don&#39;t know if it&#39;ll wind up true or not - but he would really have enjoyed it, yes.</p><p>GROSS: Do you ever think that the fact that you became a writer is related to the fact that your father wrote?</p><p>OFFUTT: Do I think that? Yeah, I&#39;ve thought that many times.</p><p>GROSS: So I read your memoirs but not your fiction. I&#39;m wondering if you write sex scenes in any of your fiction and if you&#39;re any more comfortable or uncomfortable thinking about writing sex scenes because of your knowledge of your father&#39;s work.</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, I think when I first started writing I just avoided it in general because I didn&#39;t want to - I didn&#39;t want to write pornography. Dad tried to hire me when I was about 25 or 26 to write a novel under a series that he was - gotten behind in and he needed somebody to - he needed writers to write under the name John Cleve. He would take all the rights. He would edit it and give the writer some money. It was flattering that he would ask me to. I mean, as a young writer or wannabe writer, he recognized, you know, enough talent to do it. I refused. It was not how I wanted to start my career - writing porn under my father&#39;s pseudonym (laughter). It&#39;s unimaginable.</p><p>GROSS: I can understand that (laughter)</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah, and it was a strain, too, actually because he took it personally and - as a personal rejection. So when I first started writing - you know, here&#39;s the other thing about writing about sexuality - there&#39;s really - it seems as if there&#39;s only two approaches. There is medical terminology. It&#39;s sort of formal, anatomical references or the language of porn. There&#39;s not much middle ground for it. And neither of them were interesting to me, so I didn&#39;t - I didn&#39;t - but at the same time, I didn&#39;t want to exclude sex and sexuality from my own work because I write about adults and what they&#39;re up to. So I would just kind of write around it, so to speak. Part of the - so to answer the question, part of the motivation was to not write that way because Dad did and avoid it, but also I wasn&#39;t certain how to go about it without descending to the pornographic language or the medical.</p><p>GROSS: So this is a question I&#39;ve never asked anybody before. I&#39;ve never had the occasion to.</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, let me get ready here. I&#39;m just going to be a first for FRESH AIR.</p><p>GROSS: Ready? OK. So...</p><p>OFFUTT: All right.</p><p>GROSS: So when you read your father&#39;s pornography after he died - I mean, the purpose of pornography is to be arousing, but when the author is your father, is it possible to be aroused by it?</p><p>OFFUTT: Not exactly. The fact that I was reading my father&#39;s work was always present in it. And the book actually deals with - one chapter really examines very carefully the effect on me of the total immersion in pornography for 18 months. When I say...</p><p>GROSS: While you were writing the book?</p><p>OFFUTT: Writing the book, going through it, cataloging 1800 pounds of archival material, looking at it and just dealing with it. You know, it was - it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.</p><p>GROSS: What do you mean when you say overwhelming?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, you know, say you love chocolate and you wind up with a job in the chocolate factory, maybe you lose your taste for chocolate.</p><p>GROSS: Got it.</p><p>OFFUTT: The book talks about it pretty honestly - about just the effects of it. And, you know, they weren&#39;t all great.</p><p>GROSS: Right.</p><p>OFFUTT: The thing about Dad&#39;s work though is there&#39;s an innocence to it, if that makes any sense. There&#39;s a quaintness to it, in contrast to what is available on the Internet, for example, now.</p><p>GROSS: Right.</p><p>OFFUTT: So this golden age of porn is also - it was taboo; it was underground; there was tongue-in-cheek. A lot of Dad&#39;s stuff was funny, was satirical. And you just don&#39;t see anything like that today in terms of - I&#39;m not sure what - if there is a mainstream porn. It seems like it&#39;s moved to the Internet, but there&#39;s not a lot of humor or tongue-in-cheek or satire with it.</p><p>GROSS: One more thing about your father, the pornographer. Your mother is still alive. She&#39;s in her early 80s now. Your father died in 2013. Can you talk to her openly about the collaboration they had, where your father wrote the porn books and your mother typed the manuscripts? Is she comfortable talking about that?</p><p>OFFUTT: She&#39;s very comfortable and open talking about it. I think for a couple of reasons. First of all, she&#39;s 80, and, you know, this was stuff that happened at least - that wound down 30 years ago in her life. She also moved to Mississippi - where I live - and, perhaps surprising to many people, Oxford, Miss., is slightly more - is more progressive than the town where she lived before where she had a greater concerns about this. She always referred to them with me as your father&#39;s sex books. That was how she saw them. And the last time we spoke, she expressed a little bit of surprise at their popularity &#39;cause, as she said, they were all the same; the same things happened, it&#39;s just different names and different venues. So the answer is yes, she is quite open to talking about it, and it&#39;s charmingly so. And, you know, she is this 80-year-old Southern lady who lived all of her life in two counties in Kentucky, and now can sort of reveal her own past, which there&#39;s a part of her that thinks it&#39;s kind of cool.</p><p>GROSS: If you&#39;re just joining us, my guest is writer Chris Offutt. And his memoir about his father, which will be called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer,&quot; will be published next year. It was recently excerpted in The New York Times magazine. Chris, let&#39;s take a short break here...</p><p>OFFUTT: OK.</p><p>GROSS: ...And then we&#39;ll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.</p><p>(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)</p><p>GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you&#39;re just joining us, my guest is writer Chris Offutt. He has a memoir coming out next year about his father who it turns out wrote about 400 books of pornography and science-fiction. And the memoir will be called &quot;My Father, The Pornographer.&quot; It was recently excerpted in The New York Times Magazine. Chris Offutt also writes books of fiction and has written two memoirs. In one of your memoirs, &quot;No Heroes,&quot; part of the book is about your wife&#39;s parents who were Holocaust survivors.</p><p>OFFUTT: Right.</p><p>GROSS: And you write, (reading) growing up in Kentucky, there were no Jews where I grew up. As a kid, I thought Jews were the same as Christians, only they went to church on Saturday. I married the first Jew I met.</p><p>What was the impact on you of hearing your wife&#39;s parents&#39; Holocaust stories?</p><p>OFFUTT: It was devastating. I really didn&#39;t know much about it. I knew that World War II had been bad - that a lot of people had died - that 6 million Jews had died. But I didn&#39;t really have a context for it. And this was - became a very personal context because, you know, I had married into this family. And they didn&#39;t talk about it. And my wife at the time, Rita, had grown up with her mother telling her sort of bedtime stories about her experiences in the concentration camp that put a positive spin on it. So she didn&#39;t quite know the extent of it. And then my father-in-law, Arthur Gross, spoke to me. And as near as I can understand, it was the first time he had ever spoken to anyone other than a fellow survivor. There was a community of survivors who had lived in New York City. And I&#39;m sure they communicated. So it was just a - it was unbelievable to me to sort of hear these stories and realize these horrible events had occurred to people I loved.</p><p>GROSS: And it sounds like when your wife read your manuscript before it was published, she learned so many stories about what her parents went through during the Holocaust - stories that they had withheld from telling her.</p><p>OFFUTT: Right.</p><p>GROSS: And your wife went through a period of profound depression after reading that. Did, like - did it completely change her understanding of who her parents were?</p><p>OFFUTT: I don&#39;t know. I can&#39;t - I&#39;m not comfortable speaking for her in that regard. I cut out a chapter from the book about her response to it because it just seemed too personal and more about her and - rather than her parents and me. I&#39;m not sure - I think that some of the information in that book was new to her and to her sister. And if anything, it would probably supply just a greater kind of understanding for her - for their parents and sympathy and compassion. And Arthur is 95, I think, and still - you know, still alive. He&#39;s - and healthy. He&#39;s - you know, is surviving still and will - quite possibly could be the last of the survivors - the surviving survivor, as it were.</p><p>GROSS: I&#39;m just thinking, you know, since you&#39;ve written about your father who wrote hundreds of books of pornography and you&#39;ve about your in-laws who were Holocaust survivors, you&#39;ve written about two such extremely different experiences.</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah.</p><p>GROSS: I&#39;m not even sure what my question is but to have such extremely different experiences represented - like, your children&#39;s grandparents experienced, like, such profoundly different lives.</p><p>OFFUTT: That&#39;s right. And, I mean, I don&#39;t think I would&#39;ve taken on these writing projects if they weren&#39;t so personal. They were part - these people are part of my family. It wasn&#39;t like I thought, wow, this is a - you know, this here&#39;s an interesting subject. I think I&#39;ll just jump on this. It was more - it meant something to me. And my approach to writing is only to write about what is important and meaningful to me on every level intellectually, emotionally and personally. So it just happened to be this way. Yes, my kids&#39; grandparents are pornographers and Holocaust survivors from Kentucky and Poland.</p><p>GROSS: Right. Wow. (Laughter).</p><p>OFFUTT: Yeah. I&#39;m eager to see what books they write one day. (Laughter). We&#39;ll continue the tradition.</p><p>GROSS: You&#39;ve written for TV in addition to writing books. You&#39;ve written for &quot;True Blood,&quot; for &quot;Treme...&quot;</p><p>OFFUTT: &quot;Treme&quot; and &quot;Weeds&quot; and a few pilots, yes.</p><p>GROSS: But it sounds like you intentionally left that life after a while. How did you enter it in the first place, and why did you leave?</p><p>OFFUTT: Well, very pragmatic. I was in my mid-40s, and my sons were in high school and had this notion of going to college. I had about - I didn&#39;t have very much money. In fact, I had very little money, and I&#39;d always heard that Hollywood was where the money was. So I started looking into that and, you know, I got lucky. I worked really hard to learn the skill of writing a screenplay and particularly of a pilot. And, you know, one thing led to another, and I sort of found myself working and living in Hollywood afraid to drive in the freeways there, walking around - the only person ever walking to work - and then, again by happenstance, having to work on shows that became popular. And &quot;Treme&quot; was certainly critically acclaimed as well.</p><p>So - but the goal was just to get the money to pay for their college. And I knew - and unfortunately they went to, you know, out-of-state, private schools so it was like - it was even more of a burden, so to speak. But that was my goal. I got the money and - to pay for their college, and I thought, OK, I think I&#39;m going to - I need to get out.</p><p>What happened - it&#39;s an alluring world. There&#39;s an intensity to what&#39;s going on. It&#39;s very dramatic. Everyone works very hard. People are creative. They&#39;re smart. They&#39;re diligent. And there&#39;s a - it&#39;s kind of cool in a lot of ways. And Los Angeles has, you know, good weather, great restaurants and very cool old cars. And I was drawn to it. I found myself being, you know - falling prey to its enticement. And there&#39;s a certain point where I thought, well, you know, I want a Jaguar, and I want a big house in the Hollywood Hills. Well, that&#39;s not who I am. And when I found myself sort of having that - harboring that desire, I thought, it&#39;s time for me to get out.</p><p>So I quit - you know, more or less I quit living out there and taking staff jobs and then just began writing pilots from home. And that was better for me, and then I could work on my other projects as well. But it was really - you know, my attitude towards Hollywood was very similar to Dad&#39;s with pornography. It was like, there&#39;s money there. I&#39;m going to get it. I&#39;m going to get out. Difference was Dad didn&#39;t get out.</p><p>GROSS: Chris Offutt, thank you so much for talking with us.</p><p>OFFUTT: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.</p><p>GROSS: Chris Offutt&#39;s memoir, &quot;My Father, The Pornographer,&quot; will be published next year. His other books include the memoirs &quot;No Heroes&quot; and &quot;The Same River Twice.&quot; Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album by Chris Foreman, an organist that Kevin describes as one of Chicago&#39;s jazz heroes. This is FRESH AIR.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/03/02/390160777/chris-offutt-reveals-a-family-secret-in-my-father-the-pornographer"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 12:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/fresh-air/2016-02-05/chris-offutt-reveals-family-secret-my-father-pornographer-114724 Teaching Kids About Slavery: Picture Books Struggle with the Task http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-25/teaching-kids-about-slavery-picture-books-struggle-task <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/9780375868320_custom-cf00cbbd1229995eac509848e751fe9ea5ad5b63-s400-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The shelves and desks at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.teachingforchange.org/">Teaching for Change</a>&nbsp;in Washington, D.C., are full of picture books. For years, the nonprofit, which advocates for a more inclusive curriculum in public schools, has been keeping track of what it considers to be some of the best &mdash; and worst &mdash; multicultural children&#39;s books out there.</p><p>Allyson Criner Brown, Teaching for Change&#39;s associate director, says they keep the bad ones because &quot;there&#39;s so much to learn from them.&quot;</p><p><em>A Birthday Cake for George Washington</em>&nbsp;was just put on the bad shelf.</p><p>Over the weekend, the publisher&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/18/463488364/amid-controversy-scholastic-pulls-picture-book-about-washingtons-slave">Scholastic announced it would stop distributing the children&#39;s picture book</a>&nbsp;after public outcry.</p><p>Even though it was created by a multicultural team, the book came under heavy criticism for whitewashing the history of slavery. Just a few months ago, another children&#39;s book,&nbsp;<em>A Fine Dessert,</em>&nbsp;drew similar criticism.</p><div id="con463985245" previewtitle="Book Edition Information"><div id="res463985287" previewtitle="A Fine Dessert"><div data-crop-type=""><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/463985215/a-fine-dessert-four-centuries-four-families-one-delicious-treat"><img alt="A Fine Dessert" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/a/a-fine-dessert/9780375868320_custom-cf00cbbd1229995eac509848e751fe9ea5ad5b63-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 257px; width: 310px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall" /></a></div></div></div><p>It also raised questions about the diversity of the publishing industry and especially about the struggle parents, teachers and authors face when presenting such sensitive topics to young children.</p><p><em>A Birthday Cake for George Washington</em>&nbsp;tells the story of Hercules, a slave Washington used as a chef. It&#39;s a book full of smiles, as Hercules and his daughter, Delia, take pride in baking for the president.</p><p>But the story glosses over the fact that Hercules and Delia are in bondage. And it&#39;s only in a note following the story that the author writes that Hercules escaped, leaving his daughter behind.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s almost as if the book presents that because he had moments of happiness and because he took pride and joy in his work that outweighs the fact that he was enslaved,&quot; Brown said. &quot;And that cannot ever be a part of telling any story about somebody who was held in bondage.&quot;</p><p>Brown said that kind of simplistic, idealized narrative in a picture book is just a reflection of the adult world.</p><p>This is a country, she said, that wants to believe that the United States started as the land of the free and the home of the brave.</p><p>&quot;The nation didn&#39;t start like that for everyone,&quot; she said. &quot;So, as much as we struggle with it, how to then have these difficult conversations with our children with things that we&#39;re wrestling with ourselves, I think is very tough for a lot of people.&quot;</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/138262863/elijah-of-buxton"><img alt="Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/e/elijah-of-buxton/9780439023450_custom-3c16b48f1ca25885968694532a3e28c195e1a960-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 450px; width: 310px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis" /></a></p><p>But&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Ebonyteach?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">Ebony Elizabeth Thomas</a>, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said children are not waiting around for adults.</p><p>Thomas studies how schools approach touchy subjects like slavery, and she spent time with students at a Philadelphia middle school.</p><p>&quot;I found out that kids are not only ready to discuss these topics, but they are already discussing these topics with their friends,&quot; Thomas said.</p><p>At the time of her research, the students were reading<em> Elijah of Buxton</em>,&nbsp;a book about a runaway slave in Canada. Thomas said the kids were making sophisticated connections between the historical fiction and the realities of the Black Lives Matter movement today.</p><p>So the reality is that while kids&nbsp;are already grappling with some of the world&#39;s ugliness, she said, adults&nbsp;are still clinging to a Victorian ideal of an innocent child.</p><p>Adults are thinking &quot;the innocence of the ideal child must be protected at all costs,&quot; she said. &quot;We must keep the dirty secrets of our society away from those kids. And I think that kids are seeing those contradictions.&quot;</p><p>That protection instinct is familiar to writer Matt de la Peña &mdash; especially because he&#39;s a new father.</p><p>&quot;I have a 20-month-old daughter,&quot; he said. &quot;And you really just want to protect your daughter so much from the sadness. And you feel like, she&#39;s gonna see it eventually on her own. But then you have to take a step back and say my need to protect isn&#39;t as important as for her to see the truth.&quot;</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/383856474/last-stop-on-market-street"><img alt="Last Stop on Market Street" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/l/last-stop-on-market-street/9780399257742_custom-3b33ff288b57c2455cbfda64d074e73507324032-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 381px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson" /></a></p><p>The truth is something de la Peña thinks about a lot. His books for young adults often deal with the harsh realities of crime and violence. That honesty, he said, is valuable to kids.</p><p>&quot;Young readers have a chance to experience very scary and sad and dark things in books,&quot; he said. &quot;It&#39;s kind of the safest way to experience these things for the first time.&quot;</p><p>De la Peña&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberymedal">just won a Newbery Medal</a>&nbsp;for his book<em>&nbsp;Last Stop on Market Street.</em></p><p>It&#39;s about CJ, a black kid taking a bus ride to the soup kitchen with his grandma.</p><p>At one point CJ asks why the poor neighborhood is always so dirty.</p><p>&quot;Sometimes when you&#39;re surrounded by dirt,&quot; the wise grandma responds, &quot;you&#39;re a better witness for what&#39;s beautiful.&quot;</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/01/22/463977451/controversial-picture-books-surface-struggle-to-help-children-understand-slavery?ft=nprml&amp;f=463977451"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-25/teaching-kids-about-slavery-picture-books-struggle-task PEN American Center Awards Free-Speech Prize to J.K. Rowling http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/pen-american-center-awards-free-speech-prize-jk-rowling-114620 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/jk.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The free-speech organization PEN American Center says it is giving its 2016 PEN/Allen award to author J.K. Rowling. The prize honors &quot;a critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity.&quot;</p><p>In particular, the award recognizes Rowling&#39;s two charitable foundations &mdash;&nbsp;<a href="https://www.volanttrust.com/">Volant</a>, which works to alleviate poverty and social deprivation, especially among women and children, and&nbsp;<a href="http://wearelumos.org/about">Lumos</a>, which helps institutionalized children return to family life.</p><p>Rowling is a frequent target of censorship. In 2006, the American Library Association named her&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2006/september2006/harrypottermostchallenge">the most challenged author of the 21st century</a>.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m deeply honored to receive this award and humbled that my work has been recognized as having moral value by an organization I so admire,&quot; Rowling&nbsp;<a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/232fc18709de421d828631bef39b19bd/jk-rowling-receive-pen-award-literary-service">told The Associated Press.</a></p><p>&quot;Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor, and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us better understand ourselves,&quot; PEN American President Andrew Solomon said in a statement. &quot;Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but the critical importance of hearing others.&quot;</p><p>Past winners include Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. PEN is also honoring Hachette Book Group CEO&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2013/02/05/171164095/why-traditional-publishing-is-really-in-a-golden-age">Michael Pietsch</a>. Pietsch joined with several other publishers last year in&nbsp;<a href="http://worldvoices.pen.org/blog/publishers%E2%80%99-pledge-chinese-censorship-translated-works">an informal pledge to combat censorship of translated books in China</a>. Hachette imprint Little, Brown also published the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/01/02/461754069/charlie-hebdo-the-licensed-anarchist-clowns-of-french-society">posthumous manifesto</a>&nbsp;<em>Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression&nbsp;</em>by&nbsp;<em>Charlie Hebdo</em>&nbsp;editor Stephane Charbonnier, who died in the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine last year.</p><p>Both prizes will be handed out at PEN&#39;s annual literary gala in May. Last year,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/04/27/402541818/6-novelists-withdraw-from-event-honoring-charlie-hebdo-for-free-speech">six authors withdrew</a>&nbsp;from the gala and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/04/27/402541818/6-novelists-withdraw-from-event-honoring-charlie-hebdo-for-free-speech">more than 150 signed an open letter</a>&nbsp;of protest after PEN gave&nbsp;<em>Charlie Hebdo</em>&nbsp;its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award.</p></p> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 12:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/pen-american-center-awards-free-speech-prize-jk-rowling-114620 An Unkillable Myth About Atheists http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/unkillable-myth-about-atheists-114593 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/atheism.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In his new book,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/11/11/455573765/like-it-or-not-we-may-be-meaning-junkies">The Big Question: Why We Can&#39;t Stop Talking About Science, Faith and God</a>, Alister McGrath argues that &quot;we need more than science to satisfy our deep yearnings and intuitions.&quot; That something more for McGrath is God, specifically, the Christian God.</p><p>As he develops this argument, again and again&nbsp;<a href="http://alistermcgrath.weebly.com/biography.html">McGrath</a>&nbsp;characterizes atheists who embrace science but not God as stuck in a place devoid of full understanding or meaning. There&#39;s a &quot;richness&quot; in the Christian engagement with nature that atheists miss, for example.</p><p>McGrath understands the foundational atheist perspective to be this: &quot;Since science discloses no meaning to the universe, the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no meaning to find.&quot;</p><p>Here, yet again, is the unkillable myth, the persistent blind spot about atheism that apparently no amount of explaining can make go away. No matter how lucidly atheists explain in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theatheistbook.com/products/abetterlife">books</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.argumentsforatheism.com/arguments_against_meaning.html">essays</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/09/16/348949146/is-atheist-awe-a-religious-experience">blog posts</a>&nbsp;that, yes, life can and does for us have meaning without God, the tsunami of claims about atheists&#39; arid existence rolls on and on.</p><p>Where does this persistent (is it also willful?) misunderstanding come from?</p><p>McGrath offers some quotes from atheists that may seem, at first glance, to support his stance, as in this excerpted passage from&nbsp;The Atheist&#39;s Guide to Reality&nbsp;by Alex Rosenberg: &quot;What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto.&quot; Yet, to conclude from these lines that atheists&#39; lives suffer from a lack of meaning amounts to conflating two very different things.</p><p>First is the understanding, emergent from evolutionary theory, that neither the universe as a whole, nor we humans within it, have evolved according to some plan of design. Cosmic evolution and human evolution unfold with no guiding hand or specific goals. Most atheists do accept this, I think.</p><p>Second is to embrace as a logical next step the idea that our own individual lives have no purpose or meaning. Do you know of any atheists who believe this? I don&#39;t.</p><p>Nor do I recognize the scientific communities of which I am a part &mdash; both online and offline &mdash; in McGrath&#39;s insistence that a &quot;sense of cosmic pointlessness haunts many today, particularly within the scientific community.&quot;</p><p>An anthropological perspective teaches us that we humans are a quintessentially meaning-making species. We create love and kindness (hate and violence, too), and also work that matters. We recognize and protect (or, too often, harm) our sense of connection to other animals, to plants and trees, to all of nature&#39;s landscapes. What are those acts if not ones of meaning and purpose?</p><p>Another new book, this one published just last week, takes up questions of meaning and purpose. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/books/review-in-when-breath-becomes-air-dr-paul-kalanithi-confronts-an-early-death.html">When Breath Becomes Air</a>&nbsp;is a memoir by a physician confronting, at age 36, a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, made all the more poignant because we readers know at the outset that Kalanithi died at age 37, before he could fully complete the book.</p><p>Lurking within passages that speak to creating meaning in the face of death &mdash; passages beautiful enough to cause me to recommend the book to anyone and everyone &mdash; is a version of the unkillable myth. Kalanithi writes:</p><blockquote><div><p><em>&quot;To make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning &mdash; to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in. That&#39;s not to say that if you believe in meaning, you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life doesn&#39;t have any.&quot;</em></p></div></blockquote><p>Kalanithi describes the &quot;sacredness&quot; of his work as a neurosurgeon, the burdens that make medicine &quot;holy.&quot; His view, though powerful and rewarding to read about, doesn&#39;t render his equation &mdash;&nbsp;<em>science provides no basis for God = life has no meaning</em> &mdash;&nbsp;into a truth.</p><p>Let&#39;s return to McGrath. His central theme in&nbsp;The Big Question&nbsp;revolves around &quot;the ultimate coherence of science and faith.&quot; I&#39;d like to say that open dialogue about the interweaving of scientific and religious narratives that McGrath champions &mdash; dialogue asking if that interweaving is really a possible, or even a desirable, goal &mdash; is the way forward. At the same time, I find intriguing and persuasive the perspective of physicist<a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/i_won_t_take_money_from_templeton_science_and_religion_can_t_be_reconciled.html">Sean Carroll</a>, who explains why he takes no money from the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.templeton.org/who-we-are/about-the-foundation/mission">John Templeton Foundation</a>&nbsp;by saying it is because its underlying goal is to further this very notion of consilience.</p><p>It&#39;s a real irony that McGrath spills a lot of ink in his book railing against Richard Dawkins&#39; reductive judgments about people of faith &mdash; which I, too,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2012/03/26/149310560/atheist-firebrand-richard-dawkins-unrepentant-for-harsh-words-targeting-faith">have questioned</a>&nbsp;&mdash; while McGrath himself makes reductive judgments about atheists.</p><p>I&#39;m yet another atheist voice&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/08/28/343952506/atheists-feel-awe-too">chiming in</a>&nbsp;to say that my life, thanks very much, is full of meaning.</p><p>Now, how to make this unkillable myth about atheism into a moribund myth?</p><div><hr /></div><p><em>Barbara J. King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, often writes about human evolution, primate behavior and the cognition and emotion of animals.&nbsp;Barbara&#39;s most recent book on animals is titled&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/176686699/how-animals-grieve">How Animals Grieve</a>.&nbsp;You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter:&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/bjkingape">@bjkingape</a></em></p></p> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 12:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/unkillable-myth-about-atheists-114593 'In A Different Key' Traces History and Politics of Autism http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-21/different-key-traces-history-and-politics-autism-114550 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/thestoryofautism.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res463615359" previewtitle="In the 1940s, a psychoanalytic approach to autism — &quot;the refrigerator mother theory&quot; — suggested that the condition was caused by bad parenting."><div data-crop-type="">In their book published this month,&nbsp;<em>In a Different Key: The Story of Autism</em>, journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker delve into the history of the good and bad intentions, sometimes wrongheaded science and shifting definitions that can cloud our understanding of what has come to be called the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml">autism spectrum</a>.</div></div><p>In their Tuesday conversation with NPR&#39;s Robert Siegel, host of&nbsp;<em>All Things Considered</em>,&nbsp;<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/News/john-donvan/story?id=128658">Donvan</a>&nbsp;and Zucker tell of a particularly dark period in the 1940s when psychiatrists blamed autistic behavior on &quot;refrigerator mothers&quot; &mdash; emotionally distant women who, supposedly, didn&#39;t love their children enough.</p><p>&quot;This was a very, very poisonous idea,&quot; says Donvan. And it wasn&#39;t the last flawed notion about autism&#39;s roots.</p><p><em>Highlights of the interview follow, edited for space and clarity.</em></p><hr /><p><strong>INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS</strong></p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;How would you define autism?</p><p><strong>Zucker</strong>:&nbsp;Well it depends who you are actually, because autism is now seen as a spectrum, and the spectrum is so broad right now that there are people on one end of it that are severely, severely disabled and you can&#39;t help but call it a disability because people are literally injuring themselves &mdash; they can&#39;t communicate, they can&#39;t do things by themselves. On the other extreme end of the spectrum are people who can speak for themselves, they can manage their lives; they do not see autism as a disability but just as a different fabric in humanity.</p><div id="res463612553" previewtitle="In researching their book, Caren Zucker and John Donvan tracked down Donald Gray Triplett (center), the first person officially diagnosed with autism. Now in his 80s, Triplett has had a long, happy life, Donvan says, maybe partly because his hometown embraced him from the beginning as &quot; 'odd, but really, really smart.' &quot;"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="In researching their book, Caren Zucker and John Donvan tracked down Donald Gray Triplett (center), the first person officially diagnosed with autism. Now in his 80s, Triplett has had a long, happy life, Donvan says, maybe partly because his hometown embraced him from the beginning as &quot; 'odd, but really, really smart.' &quot;" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/19/autism-1-4b9924b11342469f873ffe1a3854ff5820271f90-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 233px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="In researching their book, Caren Zucker and John Donvan tracked down Donald Gray Triplett, center, the first person officially diagnosed with autism. Now in his 80s, Triplett has had a long, happy life, Donvan says, maybe partly because his hometown embraced him from the beginning as &quot; 'odd, but really, really smart.' &quot; (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)" /></div><div><div><p><strong>Donvan</strong>:&nbsp;Because this condition is not one that has a biological marker, you cannot identify autism by a cheek swab or a blood test, but you identify it by looking at people&#39;s behaviors. That has allowed, over decades, for so many various interpretations of those key traits that the definition itself has moved again and again.</p></div></div></div><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;The book describes how autism was first diagnosed, how it was named and explained. I want you to describe this: For years, there was a psychoanalytic approach that dominated the understanding of autism, and the cause was really held to be bad parenting.</p><p><strong>Donvan</strong>:&nbsp;It was called the&nbsp;<a href="https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/early-infantile-autism-and-refrigerator-mother-theory-1943-1970">refrigerator mother theory</a>, and the idea was that children were somehow insulted &mdash; psychologically insulted &mdash; by their mothers, who, for some reason, signaled that they didn&#39;t love their children enough. And, as a defense mechanism, the children were said to have withdrawn into their own world. So this was a very, very poisonous idea.</p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;Much of the story of autism is frankly about parents and about what parents have done to bring attention to the condition of their children &mdash; very often for the good. [But] sometimes &mdash; in the case of advocating a vaccine theory as the cause of autism &mdash; not for the good.</p><div id="con463602384" previewtitle="Book Edition Information"><div id="res463602410" previewtitle="In a Different Key"><div data-crop-type=""><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/463601896/in-a-different-key-the-story-of-autism"><img alt="In a Different Key" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/i/in-a-different-key/9780307985675_custom-0a316c36714b57a4742cd7ee4f2cb2294cede238-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 453px; width: 310px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Cover, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker" /></a></div></div><div id="res463602031"><p><strong>Zucker</strong>:&nbsp;Well, in our book, we really see the parent as unsung heroes. They literally change the world for children with autism. I mean, parents were told to put their children into institutions, and that was what the norm was 50 years ago. And they opened up the schools for them. [Before parents insisted on a change in policy] the schools were allowed to not have children with autism in them. So without parents, we wouldn&#39;t be anywhere near where we are today.</p></div></div><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;On the other hand, parents did lend their voices to, well, to the vaccine theory. And the fact that there are many voices saying something doesn&#39;t make it scientifically true.</p><p><strong>Donvan</strong>:&nbsp;Absolutely not. The story of autism has very often been the story of bad science, many, many times. In the case of the vaccine issue, yes, 15 years ago, when the question had not been investigated, it made sense to ask it; it was not a ridiculous question. But it was asked; it was answered, and the science settled it. Vaccines don&#39;t cause autism.</p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;By the year 2000, the rise in the number of autism diagnoses became the subject of congressional concern. In hearings that year, Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana said, &quot;The rates of autism have escalated dramatically in the last few years. What used to be considered a rare disorder has become a near epidemic.&quot;&nbsp;<em>Has&nbsp;</em>there been an autism epidemic?</p><p><strong>Donvan</strong>:&nbsp;The truth is that we don&#39;t really know whether there has been an epidemic. And I know that sounds strange to people, because they hear so much more about autism now than they ever have before, but what we think is that there has been an explosion in&nbsp;<em>autism diagnoses</em>,&nbsp;which is different from there being more autism. We started looking for autism, so found it. Also, at the same time, what we call autism became a much, much broader spectrum, and the definition kept changing over time.</p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;Toward the very end of your book, you acknowledge the &quot;neurodiversity movement.&quot; These would be people who are on the spectrum and who say, &quot;Look, this isn&#39;t an illness. We don&#39;t want to be cured. This is a different way of being wired, a different way of your brain working.&quot; And there&#39;s an exchange between an activist of that sort with a mother whose son has autism. Describe what goes on between them.</p><p><strong>Donvan</strong>:&nbsp;It&#39;s a conversation between&nbsp;<a href="http://autisticadvocacy.org/home/about-asan/staff/">Ari Ne&#39;eman</a>, who is a very, very prominent and successful activist for the concept of neurodiversity. And Ari Ne&#39;eman, whom we have a lot of respect for, has been very, very successful in promulgating the idea that people with autism should be accepted as they are. And he had a conversation with a mother named&nbsp;<a href="http://blog.autismspeaks.org/tag/liz-bell/">Liz Bell</a>. Liz Bell is the mother of a young man named Tyler.</p><p>In his mom&#39;s opinion, Tyler&#39;s experience of autism is very, very limiting in his life and his ability to dress himself, to shave himself, to feed himself, to go out the front door by himself and not run into traffic. And these are two very, very different views of what autism represents that come down to the fact that the spectrum is so broad that there is room for an Ari Ne&#39;eman on it and there is room for a Tyler Bell on it. And the basic disagreement between them is whether autism is something that should be cured &mdash; whether the traits that limit Tyler&#39;s ability to be independent in life should be treated to make those traits go away.</p><p>On one side, Ari is saying that it&#39;s suppressing who he actually is and his identity; on the other side is Tyler&#39;s mother saying that to treat him, and even cure him, of his autism would be to liberate who he is.</p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;But it does pose a question: Since there is no biological test &mdash; as you say, &quot;no cheek swab that defines someone&#39;s condition as being autism&quot; &mdash; are we really clear that Ari and Tyler have the same condition, and that we should group them together on this spectrum? Or does the spectrum inevitably include everybody in the world?</p><p><strong>Donvan</strong>: Boy, that is the question of the moment in the autism conversation. How big is the umbrella under which we want to include people who have autistic traits? We don&#39;t look at the spectrum concept as necessarily the last word. We may end up splitting the spectrum again into different parts. And this tension between lumping together or splitting apart has been repeated again and again through the history of autism. We happen to be in what&#39;s called in the field a &quot;lumper moment&quot; in that the spectrum idea is dominant, popular &mdash; it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.</p><p><strong>Siegel</strong>:&nbsp;Caren Zucker, is it any easier to be the parent of someone with autism today than it was, say, 15 or 20 years ago?</p><p><strong>Zucker: </strong>Absolutely. I have a 21-year-old son [with autism], and when I was trying to get services for my son, I was making it up, or I was on a list for 300 people to try to get into a program that could actually help him. And if you look back at how far we&#39;ve come in 15 years, it&#39;s remarkable in terms of awareness, in terms of education. We have figured out what to do, to a very large extent, with the kids. But we have not gotten to the adults. And part of that is because adults weren&#39;t around, you know, 50 years ago &mdash; they were mostly in institutions. So that&#39;s really the heart of where we&#39;re also trying to go with our book &mdash; for people to see: Look how far we&#39;ve come. Look at what these parents and advocates have done. But look how far we still have to go.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/19/463601735/in-a-different-key-traces-history-and-politics-of-autism?ft=nprml&amp;f=463601735" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 11:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-21/different-key-traces-history-and-politics-autism-114550 Can The Best Financial Tips Fit On An Index Card? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-best-financial-tips-fit-index-card-114490 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/index_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res462287935" previewtitle="Harold Pollack's index card of finance tips."><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Harold Pollack's index card of finance tips." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/07/index-67f786d0f1fbbf302d422c5bf30dd1624f991dac-s1600-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Harold Pollack's index card of finance tips." /></div><div><p>A couple of years ago, University of Chicago professor&nbsp;<a href="http://www.samefacts.com/2013/04/everything-else/talking-personal-finance-with-helaine-olen-parts-1-and-2/" target="_blank">Harold Pollack did an online video chat</a>&nbsp;with personal finance writer Helaine Olen. The topic was how regular people get steered into bad investments by financial advisers.</p></div></div><p>Pollack said that the best personal finance advice &quot;can fit on a 3-by-5 index card, and is available for free in the library &mdash; so if you&#39;re paying someone for advice, almost by definition, you&#39;re probably getting the wrong advice, because the correct advice is so straightforward.&quot;</p><div id="res462288801"><div><p><em><strong><a href="http://n.pr/yourmoney">Join NPR&#39;s Your Money And Your Life Facebook group</a>&nbsp;for more personal finance know-how.</strong></em></p></div></div><div id="res462278385" previewtitle="Harold Pollack wrote personal finance advice on an index card. Now he's written a book about it."><div><div><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="The Index Card" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/t/the-index-card/9781591847687_custom-eb6cc111b501487e67877e6fab3619e41d7dfa33-s700-c85.jpg" style="height: 439px; width: 310px;" title="Cover, The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated, by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack" /></p></div></div></div><div id="con462250965" previewtitle="Book Edition Information"><div id="res462250752"><p>After they posted the video, the emails started pouring in &mdash; people wanted to know, where could they get this index card? What was this fantastic yet simple advice for managing their money?</p></div></div><p>&quot;Since I was speaking metaphorically, I was kind of stuck,&quot; Pollack says. &quot;But I just took one of my daughter&#39;s index cards and I scribbled a bunch of principles, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.samefacts.com/2013/04/everything-else/advice-to-alex-m/" target="_blank">I took a picture with my iPhone and I posted it on the Web</a>.&quot;</p><p>The index card got into Google&#39;s news results.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/09/16/this-4x6-index-card-has-all-the-financial-advice-youll-ever-need/" target="_blank">It got into big newspapers</a>. Famous economists tweeted about it. Self-help sites like Lifehacker mentioned it.</p><p><img alt="Harold Pollack wrote personal finance advice on an index card. Now he's written a book about it." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/07/pollack_vert-b154c4c8430330223057a7e03dc9695066d77995-s700-c85.jpg" style="height: 387px; width: 290px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Harold Pollack wrote personal finance advice on an index card. Now he's written a book about it. (Credit: Kyle Zimmerman)" /></p><p>In short, it went viral.</p><p>The ideas on the index card weren&#39;t new &mdash; pay off your credit cards, invest in low-fee index funds, etc. &mdash; but there clearly was an appetite for this simple, good financial advice.</p><p>So Pollack and Olen have now written a book (The Index Card) about it. Which &mdash; if the whole point is that this stuff is so simple you can fit it on an index card &mdash; might seem counterintuitive.</p><p>&quot;Well, I would just say that, why do we need an entire Bible really? We have the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount,&quot; Pollack says &mdash; adding that he does not mean to elevate his work to the level of scripture.</p><div id="res462374568" previewtitle="Personal finance writer Helaine Olen."><div><div><p>The point is, sometimes you need more than the basics.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;We all know, for example, in tennis, how do you win a tennis match?&quot; Pollack says. &quot;You hit the ball low. I could tell you that, but I haven&#39;t told you&nbsp;how&nbsp;to do that.&quot;</p><p>And this actually gets at what many economists say is the reality with financial advice: Most of it is pretty simple. The rules on Pollack&#39;s index card start with saving 10 to 20 percent of your income, maxing out your 401(k), not buying or selling individual stocks.</p><p><img alt="Personal finance writer Helaine Olen." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/08/olen_vert-f8e9355a053eb4374a732874d5fda9ddbb676086-s700-c85.jpg" style="height: 387px; width: 290px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Personal finance writer Helaine Olen. (Credit: Willy Soma)" /></p><p>But there also are more subtle points of advice &mdash; including whom you should bring on to help advise you.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m struck by the number of my friends and relatives who believe that their financial adviser is free, and say things &mdash; &#39;Oh, the funds pay for that,&#39; &quot; Pollack says. &quot;I don&#39;t know about you, but I generally don&#39;t work for free. So you want to understand, how is this person being paid?&quot;</p><p>Rule No. 6 on the index card is to make your financial adviser commit to the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/fiduciary-standard-1.aspx" target="_blank">Fiduciary Standard</a>&nbsp;&mdash; meaning that your interests come first.</p><p>But the regulations around that can be mushy. Some economists say an easier approach is to use what&#39;s called a &quot;fee-only&quot; adviser, who can&#39;t take commissions for steering you into overpriced mutual funds. If you have an adviser, Pollack and Olen say you need to talk about this stuff.</p><p>&quot;It shouldn&#39;t be awkward &mdash; if it&#39;s awkward, there&#39;s already a problem,&quot; Olen says. &quot;If somebody is making you feel guilty for asking questions, you shouldn&#39;t be there &mdash; period, full stop &mdash; no matter what standard they&#39;re working to.&quot;</p><p>That said, both Pollack and Olen say a good, reasonably priced financial adviser can sometimes be helpful &mdash; especially when life gets too complicated to fit on an index card.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/01/08/462250239/when-an-index-card-of-financial-tips-isnt-enough-this-book-is-there?ft=nprml&amp;f=462250239" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Sun, 10 Jan 2016 16:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-best-financial-tips-fit-index-card-114490 New Conservation Effort Aims to Protect Papa's Papers http://www.wbez.org/news/new-conservation-effort-aims-protect-papas-papers-114329 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-72766039_wide-4abb2b2410d206426dd304cff3f0f301ad5e7661-s700-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res460841124" previewtitle="Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea here at the Finca Vigia, his home outside Havana."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea here at the Finca Vigia, his home outside Havana." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/12/23/gettyimages-72766039_wide-4abb2b2410d206426dd304cff3f0f301ad5e7661-s700-c85.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" title="Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea here at the Finca Vigia, his home outside Havana. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)" /></div><div><div><p>It&#39;s been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties &mdash; Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.</p></div></div></div><p>But years of hot, humid Caribbean weather has taken a toll on the author&#39;s thousands of papers and books. A Boston-based foundation is helping restore those weathered treasures, and who better to lead that effort than the original dean of home repairs: Bob Vila, of public television&#39;s&nbsp;This Old House. He tells NPR&#39;s Carrie Kahn that he has a personal connection to Cuba. &quot;I&#39;m American-born Cuban,&quot; he says. &quot;My Havana-born parents emigrated during the latter part of World War II, and I was born in Miami, raised there and partially in Havana up until the revolution in 1959.&quot;</p><div><hr /></div><p><strong><span style="font-size:18px;">Interview Highlights</span></strong></p><p><strong>On the condition of the house</strong></p><p>It&#39;s restored &mdash; I mean, the restoration, the new roof, the new windows, all of the basics of the house were, the restoration was completed five or six years ago, it&#39;s now into its first major maintenance phase. The work that continues is really about the conservation of the papers, the books. Hemingway&#39;s private library of over 9,000 books were all left there. The changes that President Obama has brought forth have allowed us to actually begin fundraising so that we can help with the work of creating a paper conservation laboratory as well as an archival storage facility where many of these literary treasures will find a safe home.</p><p><strong>On the treasures in the house</strong></p><div id="res460841229" previewtitle="Hemingway left his books, papers and typewriter (seen here in 1964) in Cuba when he returned to America."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Hemingway left his books, papers and typewriter (seen here in 1964) in Cuba when he returned to America." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/12/23/gettyimages-141550987_sq-4d05629687bdcd88a9ad99a90ba4473ae829a705-s300-c85.jpg" style="height: 310px; width: 310px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Hemingway left his books, papers and typewriter, seen here in 1964, in Cuba when he returned to America. (Mondadori Portfolio /Getty Images)" /></div><div><div><p>The very first time I went to the Finca, I came as an expert on termite damage. And what happened was that the accessory building that Hemingway put up back in the &#39;50s, which was a wooden building, was essentially a guesthouse/garage. And this is where the Cubans had been storing a great many items, and I needed to get in to see what the structure looked like, and to just poke around at it to see how bad the damage was.</p><p>But they were very very jealous about it; they didn&#39;t want me to go in there. But I finally convinced them, and we opened these doors and turned on a spare light bulb that&#39;s in there. And I&#39;ve always compared it to what it must have been like to find Tutankhamen&#39;s tomb. Because in the dim light, I just saw a row of all his African hunting trophies, boxes upon boxes of books, and I look to the left, and there&#39;s his typewriter.</p></div></div></div><p><strong>On the house after the revolution</strong></p><p>He left the home to the Cuban people, not to the revolution, and he wanted it to become a museum. His widow eventually went and removed personal belongings, you know, her grandmother&#39;s tea set kind of things, and papers ... but generally speaking, everything that you see there, he meant to leave there, so that it could become a center for learning, a center for understanding more about his literature, and part of a cultural bridge between our United States culture and the Cuban culture.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/12/27/460822063/new-conservation-effort-aims-to-protect-papas-papers?ft=nprml&amp;f=460822063" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Sun, 27 Dec 2015 10:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-conservation-effort-aims-protect-papas-papers-114329 The 'Amazing Fantastic Incredible' life of Stan Lee, now in comic form http://www.wbez.org/news/amazing-fantastic-incredible-life-stan-lee-now-comic-form-113759 <p><p>Stan Lee is a legend. Along with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee helped populate the Marvel Comics universe with heroes like the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.</p><p>Their most famous creation &mdash; Lee calls him &quot;Spidey&quot; &mdash; is everywhere in this office, as a painting, a life-size doll, and even a pinball machine. &quot;Nobody plays pinballs anymore,&quot; Lee tells NPR&#39;s Renee Montagne. &quot;And it&#39;s really a good thing, because it doesn&#39;t work anymore.&quot;</p><p>The man who dreamed up lots of backstories for Marvel characters has now put out his own origin story: <em>A memoir,&nbsp;Amazing Fantastic Incredible</em>, in comic book form. It begins with Lee as a boy, transported to other worlds through books by Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and William Shakespeare. His real world was the Depression, a father mostly out of work and a dingy New York apartment with laundry hanging in the kitchen and a brick wall for a view. Lee says his mother doted on him; he remembers she&#39;d just watch him read. &quot;One of the best gifts I ever got &mdash; she bought me a little stand that I could keep on the table while I was eating, and I could put a book in the stand, and I could read while I was eating. I mean, I always had to be reading something,&quot; he recalls.</p><div><hr /></div><p><img a="" alt="" amazing="" and="" by="" class="image-original_image" colleen="" david="" fantastic="" incredible:="" marvelous="" peter="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/stanleecover.jpg" stan="" style="height: 608px; width: 400px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="" /><strong><span style="font-size:20px;">Interview Highlights</span></strong></p><p><strong>On comics and picking a pen name</strong></p><p>I realized that people had no respect for comic books at all. Most parents didn&#39;t want their children to read comics. And I was a little embarrassed to be doing the work I did, and I figured someday I&#39;ll write the Great American Novel and I don&#39;t want to ruin my possibilities by having my name disliked this way. And I became Stan Lee.</p><p>The stories in the comic books then were a little bit different. My publisher was typical of all the publishers, and in the early days he would say to me, &quot;Just give me action! I want a lot of action in every panel! That&#39;s what the kids want.&quot; So I wanted the characters to have good personalities, I wanted provocative situations &mdash; I don&#39;t think he knew what the word provocative meant. Aside from the fights, there was nothing much to recommend the books.</p><div id="con455640956" previewtitle="Related NPR Stories"><div id="res455640955">&nbsp;</div></div><p><strong>On creating the Fantastic Four</strong><br /><br />I was really ready to quit. I was getting sick of doing these one-character-punches-another and says, &quot;Take that, you rat.&quot; So my wife said to me, &quot;You want to quit. Before you do, why don&#39;t you get one story out of your system? Do one the way you want to do it. The worst that will happen, he&#39;ll fire you. But you want to quit anyway. So what have you got to lose?&quot; So that&#39;s when I did the Fantastic Four.</p><p><strong>On artist Jack Kirby&#39;s original vision for Spider-Man</strong><br /><br />Jack made him look very heroic and strong. But that isn&#39;t the way I wanted him. I wanted him to look like a typical, thin high school kid. And he doesn&#39;t get all the girls because of his athletic prowess. He&#39;s just kind of a shy high school kid who&#39;s a science major. It was no big deal. I said, &quot;Jack, forget it. I&#39;ll give it to someone else.&quot; And he was busy with a dozen other books. He didn&#39;t care. So I called Steve Ditko, and Steve gave him just the right look. And that&#39;s how Spidey was born.</p><p><strong>On whether he feels his creations around him</strong></p><p>Not really. I love those characters I&#39;ve done. But I&#39;ve moved on to other things. I love talking about them, I love people being interested in them. And I&#39;m interested in them too. But as I say, they&#39;re things that I had written. I&#39;m glad they turned out to be successful. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Uh_RucKz8" target="_blank">But today is another day.</a></p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/11/12/455639075/the-amazing-fantastic-incredible-life-of-stan-lee-now-in-comic-form?ft=nprml&amp;f=455639075" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 12 Nov 2015 14:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/amazing-fantastic-incredible-life-stan-lee-now-comic-form-113759 When it comes to counterterrorism, why Bush and Obama aren't so far apart http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/when-it-comes-counterterrorism-why-bush-and-obama-arent-so-far-apart-113603 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/President Barack Obama responds to questions on Russia&#039;s intervention in Syria during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House, October 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C..jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res453253849" previewtitle="President Barack Obama responds to questions on Russia's intervention in Syria during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House, October 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="President Barack Obama responds to questions on Russia's intervention in Syria during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House, October 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/30/63374001_h39845986-1--154c244304a2fe7486dfb0cbb95e02b133e2af00-s800-c85.jpg" title="President Barack Obama responds to questions on Russia's intervention in Syria during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House, October 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C." /></div><div><div><p>President Barack Obama responds to questions on Russia&#39;s intervention in Syria during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House, October 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C.</p></div>Mike Theiler /UPI /Landov</div></div><p>In a pile of books about the Obama presidency,&nbsp;Power Wars: Inside Obama&#39;s Post-9/11 Presidency&nbsp;stands out.</p><p>Author Charlie Savage&nbsp;<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Power-Wars-Inside-Obamas-Presidency/dp/0316286575" target="_blank">provides the most thorough look</a>yet at how this administration has handled counterterrorism and national security. There are sections on drones, detainees, spying, leak prosecutions and much more.</p><p>The Pulitzer prize-winning reporter with&nbsp;The New York Times&nbsp;tells NPR&#39;s Ari Shapiro why Obama&#39;s approach to national security differs from his predecessors.</p><p>&quot;All these years after 9/11, this is still a moment of flux,&quot; Savage says. &quot;You know, what are things going to be like later in the 21st century? Is this the new normal? Is this a &#39;forever war&#39;? Obama wanted to get us out of the war in Afghanistan and to sort of declare it over, but events made that impossible.&quot;</p><hr /><p><img alt="Power Wars" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/p/power-wars/9780316286572_custom-cf435b4a5a70d52f65157bee49b89e156ee74909-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 300px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="(Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency, by Charlie Savage)" /></p><p><span style="font-size:20px;"><strong>Interview Highlights</strong></span></p><p><strong>On why it matters where the U.S. picks up terrorist detainees</strong></p><p>Typically we think of the world as being divided into two types of places &mdash; war zones where there&#39;s ground troops engaged in hostilities, and normal countries with functioning governments and police forces, where if there&#39;s a threat emanating from that country, the person can go and be arrested.</p><p>But especially in the 21st century, in the sort of &quot;War on Terror&quot; era, the world is encountering this problem of badlands &mdash; ungoverned, broken states, failed states. Places where there&#39;s neither a normal war happening in any kind of sustained way&nbsp;or&nbsp;a functioning government.</p><p>And so when al-Qaida or its allies go into those places, the old rules don&#39;t really seem to apply.</p><div id="res453255736"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p><strong>On why Bush was a CEO president and Obama is a lawyer president</strong></p><p>A lot of the situations the government is encountering now in the sort of post-9/11 world are completely different than what the rules were written for. The rules were developed for 20th century situations &mdash; wars between nation-state armies and so forth. And the government is then encountering new problems for which they do not quite map onto very well. And the Bush administration responded to that disconnect by essentially saying &quot;there are no rules&quot;: The president as commander-in-chief, can do what he thinks is necessary &mdash; whether it&#39;s Geneva Conventions or domestic laws on things like interrogation or surveillance, we can just override those.</p><p>The Obama administration has taken a very different approach &mdash; in part because they are extremely &quot;lawyerly.&quot; Bush and Cheney were CEOs by background, not lawyers; Biden and Obama are lawyers, and they put a lot of lawyers into policymaking roles throughout their administration &mdash; and so they&#39;re trained to think like lawyers, and they&#39;re exceedingly interested in the law.</p><p>And so that has led them &mdash; when encountering this disconnect between what the rules were written for and the situations arising today &mdash; to think about things through a legal lens.</p><p><strong>On how Obama&#39;s approach is less transformational and more transitional</strong></p><p>All these years after 9/11, this is still a moment of flux. You know, what are things going to be like later in the 21st century? Is this the new normal? Is this a &quot;forever war&quot;? Obama wanted to get us out of the war in Afghanistan and to sort of declare it over, but events made that impossible: The Islamic State arose and now the Taliban is sort of coming back, and we&#39;re sort of getting &mdash; staying &mdash; sucked in over there.</p><p>And I think that the next president will have a lot to say about whether this was en route to the ... rolling back of some of this stuff, or was en route to the entrenchment and the normalization and the making permanent of all these post-9/11 policies that have such implications for individual rights and collective security.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/10/30/453217073/when-it-comes-to-counterterrorism-why-bush-and-obama-arent-so-far-apart?ft=nprml&amp;f=453217073" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Mon, 02 Nov 2015 16:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/when-it-comes-counterterrorism-why-bush-and-obama-arent-so-far-apart-113603 Sandra Cisneros crosses borders and boundaries in 'A House of My Own' http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2015-10-06/sandra-cisneros-crosses-borders-and-boundaries-house-my <p><p>For many students, Sandra Cisneros is required reading. She tells stories of working-class Latino life in America, particularly Chicago, where she grew up, and where she set her well-known book,&nbsp;<em>The House on Mango Street.</em></p><p>The meaning of home has been a central theme in Cisneros&#39; life and work. And in her new memoir,<em>&nbsp;A House of My Own</em>, she writes about leaving home, her parents&#39; house &mdash; without getting married, which was a shock to her father.</p><p>&quot;Unless you&#39;re exiled from your father&#39;s house for some transgression, you really are expected to live there,&quot; she tells NPR&#39;s Ari Shapiro. &quot;And if you don&#39;t marry, you&#39;re expected to stay there and take care of your parents. I&#39;m an only daughter in the middle of six brothers. And I think I did things that were rather shocking if I had been a man.&quot;</p><hr /><p><span style="font-size:20px;"><strong>Interview Highlights</strong></span></p><p><strong>On her father, an upholsterer</strong></p><p>My father was a craftsman, and I&#39;m a craftsperson, too. And I have the same standards of making things, putting them together and ripping the seams apart if they don&#39;t match. I think my father, as a&nbsp;tapiceros,&nbsp;an upholsterer, taught me a lot about mastering craft and taking the time to make something well if your name was going to be put on it. And, you know, I always admired that my father had this little business card that said &quot;Cisneros Upholstery: Custom Quality Furniture.&quot; And my dream was to have a card that said: &quot;Sandra Cisneros, Writer. Custom Quality Work.&quot; And I finally did it ... I showed it to my dad. And he was so &mdash; he looked like he was going to cry when he saw it.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cisneroscover.jpg" style="float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; height: 414px; width: 280px;" title="Cover of 'A House of My Own.The much-loved author of The House on Mango Street presents a collection of true stories and nonfiction pieces, spanning nearly three decades, that, read together, paint an intimate portrait of a literary legend's life and career." /></p><p><strong>On her mother, whom she describes as a &quot;prisoner-of-war mother&quot;</strong></p><div id="con446352246" previewtitle="Related NPR Stories"><div id="res446352245">&nbsp;</div></div><p>She was an unhappy camper. My mom really wanted my life and didn&#39;t realize that she was opening the path for me to follow my dream. And then at the end of her life, I think she felt so unhappy that she had wasted her life, that she hadn&#39;t achieved what she had aspired to as a young person. And that dissatisfaction and that person that used to exist before she became a mother &mdash; you know, I understood her better at the end of her life. I could understand who she wanted to be and how we came into the picture and kind of thwarted her plans. She didn&#39;t realize what she&#39;d done. She could only see what she had not done.</p><p><strong>On writing about women&#39;s lives and stories</strong></p><p>You know, when I was a child, I always felt that I wanted to rescue my mom from the slights of her mother-in-law. She had a lot of pain that she opened up to me about as a little girl. And I always wanted to come to her rescue and, as I became a writer, to tell her story. But I felt always that my mother knew so little about her own mother and her own grandmother, and all of the women in the family just got erased, that I wanted to honor them as much as I could. Write about them, think about them, even though I didn&#39;t know their names, to somehow imagine their lives.</p><p><strong>On crossing borders and boundaries</strong></p><p>I guess I didn&#39;t realize I was gonna be crossing borders my whole life. Even in Chicago when I grew up &mdash; because I lived in the border zone between black and white communities. Usually in Chicago, it&#39;s so segregated, you have a brown corridor, to create a wall. And I didn&#39;t realize that growing up in Chicago, even then, I was living on the borderlands.</p><p>Maybe my job is to be an amphibian so that the water people and land people can understand each other. And I think, especially in this time, climate of fear, who better to travel between these two worlds than those of us who are mixed race, or&nbsp;<em>mestizos</em>.&nbsp;We&#39;re the diplomats, the ambassadors, so to speak, during the age of <em>susto&nbsp;</em>[fear].</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/10/06/446301433/sandra-cisneros-crosses-borders-and-boundaries-in-a-house-of-my-own" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Tue, 06 Oct 2015 16:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2015-10-06/sandra-cisneros-crosses-borders-and-boundaries-house-my