Best of 2009

It’s that time of year to reflect on “The List”: The Ten Best Of list, that is. This year was really tough (not unlike the 2008 best of list!), because there were so many show episodes I could have included. I was a bit chagrined that it was so dominated by men — I strive for gender balance in these lists — but so many of the guys wrote books of such heart and human compassion (Tracy Kidder, Abraham Verghese, Nicholsen Baker, Tyler Boudreau) that I just had to include them. Browse through the list and enjoy!

Writers Voice Ten Best of 2009

  1. Richard Wilbur
  2. Tracy Kidder
  3. Nicholson Baker
  4. Gail Hornstein
  5. David Grann
  6. Tyler Boudreau
  7. Les Leopold
  8. Kenneth Turan
  9. Abraham Verghese
  10. James W. Douglass
Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur

I first met poet Richard Wilburat the memorial service for his friend and fellow poet Peter Viereck. I was struck by his genuine warmth and resolved to ask him to talk some day with Writers Voice about his work. That day took two years, but finally, in the summer of 2009, he welcomed me and my friend Christian McEwen into his spacious writing studio in Cummington, Massachusetts to talk about his new poems and old, the art of translation, and his evolution as a poet. Wilbur also read his poetry out loud for us in his deep, melodious voice.

Tracy Kidder has twice been a guest on Writers Voice, and both interviews are among my favorites. His writing is infused with a deep humanity and personal humility. We first spoke to him about his only memoir, MY DETACHMENT, back in 2005. This year, we talked to him about his brilliant and wonderful book about Deo, a refugee of genocide and war in Rwanda and Burundi: STRENGTH IN WHAT REMAINS.

Nicholson Baker is another writer who has graced Writers Voice with several wonderful interviews. He writes both fiction and nonfiction; in 2008, we talked with him about his meditation on the consequences of war, HUMAN SMOKE. This year, we spoke to him in a lighter vein about his delightful novel, THE ANTHOLOGIST.

Gail Hornstein
Gail Hornstein

I loved the interview Gail Hornstein gave us about her book, AGNES’ JACKET. I am a lapsed clinical social worker, who left the field in large part because of the disrespect toward clients I felt was rife in the profession. Hornstein’s book recounts her own evolution of profound respect for people who suffer from mental disorders, particularly schizophrenia. She shared that with us, as well as her impassioned plea for the world to listen to and honor what patients tell us.

David Grann’s LOST CITY OF Z was one of the most terrific reads I encountered this year. Part mystery, part history, part memoir, it’s a fascinating account of Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett’s ill-fated expedition to the Amazon in the 1920’s. And when Grann, a comfort-loving Manhattan urbanite, follows Fawcett’s footsteps into the Amazon himself, things get really interesting. He tells us the story in this marvelous interview.

Tyler Boudreau
Tyler Boudreau

When former Marine Captain Tyler Boudreau came into the WMUA studio to talk about his Iraq war memoir, PACKING INFERNO: The Unmaking of a Marine, he kept me spellbound. He brought the same passion and brilliance to the interview he shows in his book. His experience in Iraq “unmade” him as a Marine, but it deepened him as a person.

How many of us really understand what went wrong when Wall Street crashed in 2008 and brought Main Street with it? In clear simple language, Les Leopold unpacked the crisis and how it happened when he talked with us about his book, THE LOOTING OF AMERICA. His previous interview with WV was about his terrific biography of the American labor hero, Tony Mazzochi, THE MAN WHO HATED WORK AND LOVED LABOR.

And I played an excerpt from an interview I did with Sea Change Radio when co-host Bill Baue and I caught up with Barney Frank just as the Senate Finance Committee was about to consider the biggest bank bailout in the nation’s history. The Senator treated us to some of his famous barbed wit and testy temper.

I hugely enjoyed this interview guest host Chris Rohmann did with LA Times drama critic Kenneth Turan about the late theater producer Joe Papp. Turan’s book, FREE FOR ALL, is filled with wonderful anecdotes told to him by many of the actors Papp nurtured, like George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and James Earl Jones. Rohmann got Turan going, as he shared the stories from the book in this fast-paced, free-wheeling interview.

Abraham Verghese
Abraham Verghese

Early in 2009, we spoke with physician, novelist and memoirist Abraham Verghese about his semi-autobiographical novel, CUTTING FOR STONE. What I loved about the interview (and the book) was Verghese’s deeply compassionate — and passionate — view of the practice of medicine.

We also aired an archived interview with America’s holistic health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, about his book, HEALTHY AGING.

The interview I did with James W. Douglass about his book JFK: Why He Died and Why It Matters, occasioned the only outraged listener response I have ever gotten (telling me “I should be ashamed” to “rehash much refuted arguments” about the assassination, the listener conclude, “Get this show off the air!”).

That listener is in the minority — 70% of Americans are convinced that JFK was murdered by a conspiracy, with the CIA as the most likely perpetrator. Nonetheless, airing such views usually brings down scorn and vituperation. Douglass gives a reasoned, sober and detailed analysis which deserves consideration if we are to take our commitment to democracy seriously. Far from a conspiracy “nut”, he’s been honored internationally for his work on behalf of peace and against nuclear weapons. It was that dedication to peace that drew Douglass into studying JFK’s own evolution toward peace — an evolution that may have led to his assassination. Listen and decide for yourself.

Don’t forget, we also have our best of 2008 list still on the site in case you missed any of those wonderful guests.

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About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca Rheannon is an award-winning independent radio producer. In addition to hosting Writer's Voice, she's a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and its affiliates. Recipient of the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for reporting on substance abuse issues for her news series, VOICES OF HIV, produced for 88.5 WFCR public radio in western Massachusetts. She is also finishing a book on Provence (PROVINCE OF THE HEART) and working on a memoir of her father, THE ARGONAUTS.

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