Smarty Pants

A podcast from The American Scholar magazine

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  • #292: Indiana Absurd

    The late Budi Darma, one of Indonesia’s most beloved writers, spent a formative chapter of his life far from home, studying at Indiana University in the 1970s. He wrote a series of strikingly lonely short stories that would go on to form the collection People from Bloomington, first published in Indonesian in 1980. A man befriends his estranged father only to control him and ends up controlled himself. Someone steals his dead roommate’s poetry and enters it into a competition. Another character desperately tries to make contact with the old man across the street who may or may not be trying to shoot people from his attic room. With this absurd but oddly real little collection—and with his next novel, Olenka, also Indiana-inspired—Darma ascended into the pantheon of Indonesian literature, winning numerous awards, including the presidential medal of honor. Budi Darma may be barely known in the United States, but Tiffany Tsao—who has recently translated People from Bloomington for Penguin Classics—hopes that an English-language audience is ready to embrace this unparalleled Indonesian artist.Go beyond the episode:Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington, translated by Tiffany TsaoRead Tsao’s post in memory of Budi Darma, who died in August 2021Check out these other Indonesian writers mentioned in the episode: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Umar Kayam, Chairil Anwar, Ajip RosidiWant to hear more about the art of translation? Listen to these conversations with German-English translator Susan Bernofsky, Bible translator Robert Alter, Malagasy writer Naivo and his translator Alison Cherette, and Tibetan-English translator Tenzin DickieTune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek and sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society.Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!

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  • Changing the Lens

    Over the course of our miniseries Exploding the Canon, Smarty Pants host Stephanie Bastek has examined Reed College students’ efforts in 2016–2017 to fundamentally transform a mandatory freshman humanities course. Now, in the final episode, Bastek looks at how much has really changed since that time. The protestors were ostensibly successful—the Humanities 110 syllabus underwent significant revision. But though the college has bolstered several support programs for students of color, in the last decade Black, Latino, and Indigenous student enrollment at Reed has not increased. Some professors are satisfied with the current humanities program; others would like to see more change. Perhaps the fundamental lesson to be gained from Reed’s upheaval is that the work is hardly finished—and a way forward might be found in how classicists have radically reimagined their discipline in recent years. Please visit our episode page for a full list of linksReed College Office of Institutional Research data on historical enrollment by ethnicity (2002–2024)The 2023–24 Hum 110 syllabus, with timelines and mapsFeatured voices in this episode: Salim Moore, Brittany Wideman, Paul Marthers, Mary James, Nigel Nicholson, Kritish Rajbhandari, Pancho Savery, Milyon Trulove, alea adigweme, Mary Frankie McFarland Forte, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Sasha-Mae Eccleston, Jan Mieszkowski, Colin Drumm, Albert Kerelis, Peter Steinberger, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, and Addison Bates. Thanks to the Reed staff, faculty, and students—past and present—who made this series possible.Produced and hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Original music by Rhae Royal. Audio storytelling consulting by Mickey Capper.Subscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS Feed
  • In Memoriam: American Modernism’s Lost Boy-King

    We were saddened to learn of Paul Auster’s passing on April 30, at the age of 77. In his memory, revisit this interview, which originally ran on November 5, 2021, on the late author’s favorite writer: Stephen Crane. Exploding the Canon will return next week. In his decades-long career, the writer Paul Auster has turned his hand to poems, essays, plays, novels, translations, screenplays, memoirs—and now biography. Burning Boy explores the life and work of Stephen Crane, whose short time on earth sputtered out at age 28 from tuberculosis. Like his biographer, Crane, too, spanned genres—poetry, novels, short stories, war reporting, and semi-fictional newspaper “sketches”—striking it big in 1895 with The Red Badge of Courage, which was widely celebrated at the time and is still regarded as his best work. But in Auster’s estimation, the rest of Crane’s output (and there is a surprising amount of it) is sorely neglected, and the pleasure of Burning Boy lies in reading one of the 19th century’s finest writers alongside one of today’s. Paul Auster joins the podcast to talk about the task of restoring Stephen Crane to the American canon.Go beyond the episode:Paul Auster’s Burning BoyRead Steven G. Kellman’s review, “Poet of the Extreme”Eager for a taste of Stephen Crane beyond the novels? We recommend The Black Riders and Other Lines and “The Open Boat”Subscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS FeedHosted by Stephanie Bastek. Theme music by Nathan Prillaman. Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us wherever you listen!
  • 4. Let Us Compare Mythologies

    Reedies Against Racism’s protest of the Humanities 110 curriculum at Reed College reached a turning point in the 2017–2018 school year. After a year and a half of debate, dozens of faculty members voted on a revised syllabus, the second semester of which introduced brand new material from Mexico City and the Harlem Renaissance. But in September 2018, an entire department voted not to teach the spring syllabus—and as the years passed, discontent with the syllabus grew, among both faculty and students.Visit our website for a transcript and links to documents and articles mentioned in the episode.Featured voices in this episode: Addison Bates, Eden Daniel, Mary James, Libby Drumm, Roger Porter, Jan Mieszkowski, Pancho Savery, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Peter Steinberger, Nathalia King, Kritish Rajbhandari, Nigel Nicholson, and Albert Kerelis.Produced and hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Original music by Rhae Royal. Audio storytelling consulting by Mickey Capper.Subscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS FeedCorrection: The original episode misrepresented the faculty composition of the Religion department after it stopped teaching in Humanities 110; when the tenured faculty member in question retired, the relevant committee approved a visiting position rather than a tenure-track appointment.
  • 3.5. Interlude: The Idea of “The West”

    This week, Smarty Pants host Stephanie Bastek revisits a conversation from 2023 that originally sparked her desire to return to the debate over Humanities 110 at Reed College. The idea of “Western civilization” looms large in the popular imagination, but it’s no longer taken seriously in academia. In her book, The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives, historian Naoíse Mac Sweeney examines why the West won’t die and, in the process, dismantles ahistorical concepts like the “clash of civilizations” and the notion of a linear progression from Greek and Roman ideals to those of our present day—“from Plato to NATO.” Through biographical portraits of figures both well-known and forgotten—Herodotus and Francis Bacon, Livilla and Phyllis Wheatley, Tullia d’Aragona and Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi—Mac Sweeney assembles a history that resembles less of a grand narrative than a spiderweb of influence. Successive empires (whether Ottoman, Holy Roman, British, or American) built up self-mythologies in the service of their expansionist, patriarchal, or, later, racist ideologies. Mac Sweeney joins the podcast to talk about why the West has been such a dominant idea and on what values we might base a new vision of contemporary “western” identity.Go beyond the episode:Naoíse Mac Sweeney’s The West: A New History in Fourteen LivesIn “Claiming the Classical,” Mac Sweeney and her co-authors examine how classical antiquity is used by 21st-century political actorsSubscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS FeedHosted by Stephanie Bastek. Theme music by Nathan Prillaman. Exploding the Canon returns next week.
  • 3. The Spirit of ’68

    This week, Smarty Pants host and Scholar senior editor Stephanie Bastek delves into the history of Black Studies at her alma mater, Reed College, drawing connections between the fight for a Black Studies program in 1968 and the efforts of Reedies Against Racism to diversify the college’s mandatory freshman humanities course 48 years later. Speaking with former students and members of Reed’s Black Student Union, Bastek recounts the 1968 BSU occupation of Eliot Hall, one of the largest buildings on campus, as part of the campaign for a Black Studies program. The program was established, but not without backlash—and rifts among faculty members would threaten Reed's foundation for decades to come.Read Martin White’s essay, “The Black Studies Controversy at Reed College, 1968–1970” in the Oregon Historical QuarterlyIn Memoriam: Linda Gordon Howard, Calvin FreemanVisit our episode page to see more of Stephen Robinson's photographs from 1968Transcript available on our websiteFeatured voices in this episode: Andre Wooten, Mary Frankie McFarlane Forte, Martin White, Stephen Robinson, Roger Porter, George Brandon, Steve Engel, and Suzanne Snively. Ron Herndon oral history audio courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society. Archival recording of the October 28, 1968 BSU town hall featuring Cathy Allen and Ron Herndon courtesy of the Reed College Library.Produced and hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Original music by Rhae Royal. Audio storytelling consulting by Mickey Capper. Subscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS Feed
  • 2. Reedies Against Racism

    The autumn of 2016 at Reed College was tumultuous. On September 26, students organized a boycott of classes in response to recent police killings of Black people, both to allow time to mourn and to highlight the ways in which they felt Reed was failing people of color. They also put forward a list of demands—including an overhaul of the mandatory freshman humanities course, Humanities 110, which, they alleged, focused too narrowly on European history and ideas, wrongly discounting the contributions of other cultures. That same week, they would begin a year-long occupation of Vollum Hall, where lectures were held, thereby creating fissures among the faculty and kickstarting the process of changing the course.RAR’s 25 demandsReed’s November and December 2016 Progress Reports in response Featured voices in this episode: Addison Bates, Eden Daniel, alea adigweme, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Peter Steinberger, Jan Mieskowski, Pancho Savery, Mary James, Nathalia King, and Mary Frankie McFarlane Forte. Newsreel: KOIN News.Produced and hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Original music by Rhae Royal. Audio storytelling consulting by Mickey Capper.Subscribe: iTunes/Apple • Amazon • Google • Acast • Pandora • RSS FeedTranscript available on our episode page.