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#224: No Place Is Perfect

When Thomas More wrote Utopia in the 16th century, he ensured that all those who would seek out a perfect society, inspired by his book, would have to answer for the literal Greek meaning of its title: “no place.” So, has there ever been a utopia? It depends on whom you ask. Adrian Shirk, who joined Smarty Pants several years ago to talk about her previous book, takes utopia to mean communities that “have intentionally understood themselves as world-building a way out of a death-dealing system, in the service of making, if only briefly, some idea of heaven on earth—not just for themselves, but however foolhardy, for all of humankind.” From that definition—and from the bop by Belinda Carlisle, of course—comes the title of her new book, Heaven Is a Place on Earth, an exploration of moments and movements in American utopianism then, today, and tomorrow, from the Shakers to the rebuilding of the Bronx to a Waffle House by the side of the road.


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Tune 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. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


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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! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

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12/2/2022

#258: The Forgotten Radical

Whether it was to grandmother’s or grandfather’s house we went, most of us grew up with enough of the tune to get us “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Yet few know much about the poem’s author, Lydia Maria Child. A literary celebrity by the age of 23, she spent much of the 1820s publishing stories, fables, and riddles for young readers, in addition to her blockbuster first novels. But by 1830, Child became an early, and fierce, abolitionist, and in 1833 published one of the first book-length treatises advocating for the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. How Child gained her convictions—and how she weathered the backlash—is the subject of philosopher Lydia Moland’s new biography, which brings renewed attention to Child’s incisive—and, until now, largely forgotten—critiques of racism and imperialism in 19th-century America.Go beyond the episode:Lydia Moland’s Lydia Maria Child: A Radical American LifeRead her essay “Freedom Tales” in our Autumn 2022 issuePeruse our back catalog of conversations about the 19th-century: Hollywood influencer Elinor Glyn, the divorce capital of the United States, abortion, the Jerusalem of South America, Gilded Age cocktails, Russian spies in China, white women slaveowners, smells …Tune 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.Subscribe: iTunes • Stitcher • Google Play • AcastHave 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! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
11/18/2022

#257: Roughing It

In Colorado’s San Luis Valley, five-acre lots of land go for less than $5,000, but protection against marauding cattle, blistering winds, and distrustful neighbors isn’t included. In 2017, Ted Conover began spending part of the year on the high prairie, volunteering with a local organization called La Puente, which tries to keep valley residents from falling into homelessness during the cold Colorado winters. Soon enough, Conover—who has previously explored the lives of prison guards, railroad tramps, and Mexican migrants—bought a parcel of land and immersed himself in life on this margin of society, where contradiction and conspiracy theories thrive. His new book, Cheap Land Colorado, is a window into a world that is too often overlooked.Go beyond the episode:Ted Conover’s Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s EdgeRead “The Last Frontier,” Conover’s 2019 essay about the beginning of his experienceOur Autumn 2022 cover story explored another American margin: the wild ginseng hunters of AppalachiaTune 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.Subscribe: iTunes • Stitcher • Google Play • AcastHave 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! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
11/11/2022

#256: The Abortion Underground

The Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, codenamed “Jane,” performed an estimated 11,000 low-cost abortions in Chicago in the years immediately preceding the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Jane began in 1969 as a counseling service that connected people with doctors willing to terminate their pregnancies. But soon enough, its members started assisting with the procedures, and by the end of 1971, were themselves providing as many as 90 abortions a week in addition to basic gynecological care. None of the Jane volunteers—all of them women—were doctors. They simply believed that women should take reproductive care into their own hands, as they had done for centuries prior to the advent of bans on abortion. In The Story of Jane, activist Laura Kaplan tells the story of the legendary service, of which she herself was a member. Go beyond the episode:Laura Kaplan’s The Story of JaneWatch Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’s 2022 documentary about the group, The JanesYou still might be able to catch the new feature film Call Jane, directed by Phyllis Nagy, in theatersIn December, the FDA permanently allowed abortion pills to be delivered by mail, which it had previously restrictedNew underground networks are smuggling abortion pills north across the Mexican border into Texas and California, from which they can be mailed anywhere in the United StatesListen to “Free, Legal, On Demand,” our interview with Tamara Dean on the ubiquity—and safety—of 19th-century abortionListen to our interview with Scott Stern about the decades-long U.S. government plan to imprison “promiscuous” womenTune 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.Subscribe: iTunes • Stitcher • Google PlayHave 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! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.