We often misuse the word melodrama with abandon, especially to characterize other people’s behaviors, but Greg Vargo defines it for us once and for all. Emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the predominant Western theatrical form, it is a genre of crisis. To that end, it employed hyperbolic language, extreme situations, extraordinary coincidences, stark oppositions and so on. Greg talks about his own ongoing work on melodramas about race, their histories of performance, and the storied career of the African American actor Ira Aldridge.

Greg Vargo is Associate Professor at the Department of English, New York University. His research focuses on the literary and cultural milieu of nineteenth-century British protest movements and the interplay between politics, periodical culture, the novel and theater. His first book, An Underground History of Early Victorian Fiction: Chartism, Radical Print Culture, and the Social Problem Novel (Cambridge UP, 2018), won the 2019 North American Victorian Studies Association’s award for best book of the year in Victorian Studies. He has recently edited Chartist Drama (Manchester UP, 2020), a collection of four plays written or performed by members of the working-class movement for social and political rights known as Chartism. A new project focuses on anti-imperialism in nineteenth-century popular culture (across such media as penny novels and stage melodrama) as well as in radical politics.

Image: © 2024 Saronik Bosu

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In this episode Kim talks to Adrienne Raphel about crossword puzzles.

For lots more about crosswords, check out Adrienne’s book Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them (Penguin Random House, 2021)

For some of the historical puzzles she mentions in the episode, Adrienne recommends The Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now by Ben Tausig.
If you’re inspired to start doing crosswords and looking for some guidance, she suggests the New York Times guide: “How to Solve The New York Times Crossword.”
For more on cryptic crosswords, check out Stephen Sondheim’s article “How to Do a Real Crossword Puzzle.” New York Magazine (April 1968). Also on cryptics, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s book The Random House Guide to Cryptic Crosswords (Random House, 2003) is out of print but very good. And the crossword blog in The Guardian has lots of cryptic crosswords too.

Adrienne is a poet, scholar, and lecturer in the Princeton writing program. She has a super cool web site with links to all the other amazing things she’s written!

Our cover photo shows the stage set from Puzzles of 1925, a crossword musical! The digital image is from the White Studio Theatrical Photography Collection at the New York Public Library.

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Kim talks with Sonya Posmentier about hurricanes.

Sonya writes about hurricanes and diaspora in her book, Cultivation and Catastrophe: The Lyric Ecology of Modern Black Literature, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

In the episode she references Kamau Brathwaite’s essay “The History of the Voice” and Rob Nixon’s book Slow Violence, Harvard University Press, 2011.

She also talks about a genre of Jamaican dancehall music that grew in the wake of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. To hear some of that music and learn more about the musical resonances of hurricanes, you can read her “Hurricane Season Playlist” on the Johns Hopkins University Press blog.

Sonya teaches African American literature in the English Department at New York University (where she is an excellent dissertation advisor for literary scholars and future podcasters).

This week’s image of a spiral evoking hurricane wind patterns was borrowed from Wikimedia Commons. Creative commons license, CC By Share Alike.

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