The Amherst Affair: Austin, Mabel & Emily, Too


William Nicholson talks about his new novel, AMHERST. It’s about the passionate affair between Emily Dickinson’s brother Austin and Mabel Todd. And later we re-air part of our 2007 interview with Debby Applegate about her biography of another 19th century figure associated with Amherst, Massachusetts: fiery evangelical preacher Henry Ward Beecher. Her book is THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN AMERICA.

William Nicholson

William Nicholson

Amherst, Massachusetts in the late 19th century was the setting for one of the most famous illicit affairs in American history. In 1882, Mabel Todd, the beautiful young wife of Amherst College physics professor David Todd began a passionate longterm liaison with then 53-year old Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s brother — a liaison that lasted until the latter’s death in 1895.

AustinAustin and Mabel left behind a detailed record of their affair, which has provided British writer William Nicholson with ample material for his new novel, Amherst. But he also invents another, contemporary affair running in parallel to that of the two nineteenth century lovers.

Romance sparks between a young woman who has come to Amherst to write a screenplay about Austin and Mabel and a handsome, older professor of English at Amherst College. The novel employs the two affairs to explore the nature of love and attraction — and the role they play in the pursuit of selfhood.

amherst-9781476740409_lgThroughout Amherst, the figure of Emily Dickinson hovers like a muse. She and Mabel Todd never met in person, but nonetheless they had a mysterious bond. Emily approved of and may have abetted the affair between her brother and Mabel. And after Emily’s death, Mabel Todd worked tirelessly to bring the poet’s work to the world. It is in large part due to her efforts that we know and celebrate Emily Dickinson today.

William Nicholson is a prolific novelist, as well as a screenwriter. He was wrote the Oscar nominated screenplays for Shadowlands and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, among other films.

Listeners in western Massachussets can hear William Nicholson speak March 8, 2015 at the Amherst Women’s Club on Triangle Street. He will also give a talk and book signing at the Harvard Bookshop in Cambridge, MA on March 11, 2015.

Debby Applegate

The_Most_Famous_Man_in_America_book_coverIn 2007, WV spoke with historian Debby Applegate about another 19th century figure connected to Amherst’s history, Henry Ward Beecher.

In his time, Beecher was the most famous man in America. That’s also the title of Applegate’s biography of Beecher. Now, he’s probably more famous as the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of one of the most popular books of all time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But Henry has a fascinating story of his own — one involving Abolitionism, a new vision of religion and a scandalous affair.

We air a long excerpt from Francesca’s interview with Applegate in 2007 about The Most Famous Man In America. She was joined on the conversation by then WV associate producer, Michael Pollitt, who has gone on to his own projects since.

Hear the full interview here.


The Power of Asking Questions: Ethel Payne, First Lady Of The Black Press


Acclaimed biographer James McGrath Morris discusses his just-released biography, Ethel Payne, First Lady Of The Black Press. Few Americans today have ever heard of Ethel Payne, much less understood the giant role she played in reporting the story — and advancing the agenda — of the civil rights movement in America. Through Payne’s riveting personal story, Morris takes the reader on an inspiring journey through the civil rights movement — and to a greater understanding of issues that continue to resonate strongly today. Continue reading


Superstorms of the 21st Century: The Battle To Save The Coasts

Aerial photos of New Jersey coastline in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Kathryn Miles talks about her gripping moment-by-moment account of the biggest Atlantic storm ever recorded, Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy (Dutton 2014).

And beachfront homeowners are trying to save their property from sea level rise and storm surge by building hard structures to keep the ocean at bay. But at what cost to the public? And does it even work? Marine scientist Doug Hardy talks about his report for his local conservation advisory council, The Starvation of Southold’s Beaches.” It’s got lessons for every coastal resident — and every US taxpayer. Continue reading


What’s Wrong With Environmentalism (And How To Make It Better)

climate march

Former E.P.A. official E. G. Vallianatos talks about his book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and The EPA. And we have a conversation with pioneer environmentalist James “Gus” Speth. He co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council and founded the World Resources Institute. His new memoir, Angels By The River, looks back on his life in public policy — and also toward the future of the environmental movement. Continue reading


Kids and Character Building: What Works Best?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Psychologist Walter Mischel talks about his new book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control (Little, Brown, September 2014). It’s about his famed experiment testing delayed gratification in kids and what it can teach all of us.

And grownups everywhere complain that our kids are spoiled — but is that really true? Or is it just a case of conservative ideology going mainstream? Alfie Kohn talks about his latest book, The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting (Da Capo Lifelong Books, March 2014.)

Continue reading

Web Extras

Web-only Extra: Alfie Kohn on the Common Core

Alfie_Kohn11WV interviewed Alfie Kohn about his book, The Myth Of The Spoiled Child (Da Capo Lifelong Books, March 2014.) 

We also asked Kohn about his views on the Common Core and alternative education, but weren’t able to include it in the show. Here’s that segment.

Alfie Kohn is a frequent lecturer on the topics of education and parenting, and the author of twelve previous books, including The Homework Myth, Punished by Rewards, and Unconditional Parenting. His work has been covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and USA Today, and he has appeared on CNN, BBC, and numerous NPR shows. His website is at alfiekohn.org.

Listen here to the full radio interview.


Humanizing The North Koreans — Plus, A Cartoonist’s Take On Charlie Hebdo


Author Suki Kim talks about her gripping story of life in North Korea, WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US. She went undercover in the DPRK to bring a more humanized view of North Koreans to the West. Also, political cartoonist Ted Rall comments on the killings at Charlie Hebdo.

Suki Kim

cropped-author-photo-photo-credit-Ed-Kashi-VIIThe Korean War of 1950 to 1953 is a wound that has marked nearly every Korean family with tragedy and loss. South Korean born writer Suki Kim’s family is no exception. Her 17 year old uncle disappeared at the beginning of the war, probably taken captive by what was to become North Korea.

Kim teaching
Suki Kim teaching at PUST

That country is a pariah among nations, the butt of jokes and Hollywood lampoons like the movie The Interview. Its people are sealed behind impenetrable walls of tyranny and censorship.

See more of Suki Kim’s photos of North Korea.

When we think of the North Korean people, we picture them as a faceless mass, starving from famine or mindlessly hailing their Great Leader in brainwashed unison. Suki Kim wants to change that notion. She wants us to see the people inside the faceless mass.

Kim went to North Korea to find out for herself what life is like for the North Koreans — even though she knew she could only have access to a tiny slice of that society. She went undercover and got a job teaching English to the sons of the North Korean elite.

516uDGeKJUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Her every move was watched — not just by her North Korean minders, but also by her evangelical Christian colleagues who ran the school where she taught.

But despite the strict controls, Suki Kim was able to make a profound human connection to her students — young men who, after all, were not so different from teenage boys anywhere. Her wonderful book Without You,There Is No Us humanizes them and, in the process, invites her readers to deepen our own humanity.

In addition to Without You,There Is No Us, Suki Kim is the author of a novel, The Interpreter.

Ted Rall

The killing, in Paris, of the editor, several cartoonists and other staff of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has prompted a world wide reaction of horror and marshaled a huge response of support for the publication in the name of press freedom.

la-ol-rall-charlie-hebo-paris-victims-cartooni-001But questions have also been raised about whether Charlie Hebdo’s mocking of Muslim sensibilities might have fed into growing Islamophobia against a vulnerable minority population in Europe. Some critics even charged that the newspaper’s lampoons were designed to sell more copies.

Francesca caught up with political cartoonist Ted Rall the day after the massacre and asked him about his take on the controversy. Rall wrote a post for the LA Times stating: “Political cartooning may not pay well, or often at all, and media elites can ignore it all they want. But it matters. Almost enough to die for.”


The Four Big Reasons America Is Falling Apart — Plus, The Two Sides of Mario Cuomo


Bob Herbert talks about his penetrating new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. It connects the dots between our crumbling infrastructure, the jobs crisis, mass defunding of public education and the multi-trillion dollar tab for ongoing wars to explain why America is falling apart.

And former New York Governor Mario Cuomo was buried this week to throated praise for his liberal legacy. But how liberal was that legacy, really? Investigative reporter Greg Palast talks about the two Marios he knew and worked for: the golden throated defender of the working man and the back room dealer.

Continue reading


Big Changes in Cuba


Reuters journalist Marc Frank talks about his book, Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana. It’s about the profound changes that country is undergoing. Also, the US is stepping back from half a century of failed policy in Cuba. Will it take that long for us to correct our mistakes in the Middle East? We talk with foreign policy expert and Iraq War veteran Matthew Hoh (full interview is here.)

Continue reading

Web Extras

Blowback in The Middle East: Matthew Hoh on Torture, Veteran Suicide & Endless War

Matthew Hoh

A few weeks ago, WV aired an interview with New York Times national security reporter, James Risen about his book, Pay Any Price. One of the people Risen writes about in that book is Iraq War veteran and ex-Marine company commander, Matthew Hoh. In the years since his deployment, he suffered from combat-related PTSD so severe that he came close to suicide.

Matthew Hoh
Matthew Hoh

After Iraq, Hoh worked for the State Department in Afghanistan, but in 2009, he resigned in protest over US strategic policy and goals in that country.

Francesca spoke with him just after the US Senate’s report on torture was released in November 2014 about the blowback caused by US policy in the Middle East, including torture. They also discussed Hoh’s analysis of ISIS, moral injury affecting verterans, the epidemic of veterans’ suicides and his own PTSD.

Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and former Director of the Afghanistan Study Group. In 2010, Matthew was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling. He writes on issues of war, peace and post-traumatic stress disorder recovery at matthewhoh.com.



Doing Right by Our Companion Animals

dog cat

Ellen Cooney talks about her newest novel, The Mountaintop School For Dogs. It’s a mystery about an unusual and redemptive rescue operation. We also replay our conversation with animal behaviorist Vint Virga about his book, The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human.

Ellen Cooney

EllenCooneyWe use the word “humane” to describe behavior that is compassionate and caring. But maybe we should use something like “canane” instead or, yes, even “felane.” Because, can we really hold up humans as exemplars of such behavior? Maybe we need to act more like our companion animals act toward us.  If more of us treated them as well as they treat us, we’d have a lot fewer traumatized, abused and neglected animals. We also might have fewer traumatized, abused and neglected humans.

MttopcvrEllen Cooney ponders these questions in her new work of fiction, The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances. Wrapped within a kind of mystery novel is an exploration of our relationship to the animals who share our lives. What happens when things go wrong, either through misunderstanding or evil intent?

Cooney’s protagonist is a young woman who has been through some traumas of her own. Answering a mysterious ad in the paper, she finds herself in the midst of a unique rescue operation for abused dogs. What she learns there not only changes the lives the animals she has come to help, but her life, as well.

Ellen Cooney is the author of numerous previous novels, including Lambrusco, which we spoke about with her in 2008. She lives in Maine with her canine companions.

Read an excerpt from The Mountaintop School For Dogs

Vint Virga
soul-of-all-creatures-680x440We love our cats and dogs and thrill to the sight of wild animals. But we tend to forget that we are animals ourselves — and thus share our fragile planet with what are really our cousins in the animal kingdom.

Veterinary behaviorist Vint Virga says that other animals have much to teach us about being human — not just the biological traits we share, but also other qualities like resilience, compassion and being present in the moment.

Virga draws on his 25 years of working with both domestic pets and zoo animals to explore these themes in his thoughtful and moving book The Soul of All Living Creatures.

Vint Virga has appeared as a featured guest on ABC World News, PBS Nature, and National Geographic Explorer. He is one of only 61 behavioral veterinarians in the US. The Soul of All Living Creatures won a Nautilus Book Award in 2014.

Read an excerpt from The Soul of All Living Creatures


Following The Thread of History To Find Ourselves

the family

David Laskin talks about his family memoir of Jewish life in the twentieth century, The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century. Then, a poet’s dialog with the 1886 diary of an ordinary woman: Sarah Sousa talks about her books, Diary of Esther Small, 1886 and Church of Needles.

Continue reading


Paying The Price Of The War On Terror. Also, Talking Climate For Everyone


Journalist James Risen talks about his explosive new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. And George Marshall talks about what’s been keeping the climate crisis from seizing the hearts and minds of the public — and how to change that. His important book is Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. Continue reading


Rowing For The Gold Against Hitler & Shakespeare From The Female POV


Daniel James Brown talks about his bestseller, THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Then, a re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet — from the POV of Juliet’s nurse. We talk with historian-turned-novelist Lois Leveen about JULIET’S NURSE.

Continue reading