Ep. 66 - The Rigorous Refusal to Waste a Reader’s Time, with Jo Ann Beard, author of Festival Days

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“It’s a testament to [Jo Ann] Beard, a towering talent, that she ... deliver[s] a book as forceful as it is fine, leaving us both awed and unsettled.” -- New York Times review of Festival Days

In this week’s episode, Eve and Julie talk to Jo Ann Beard about Festival Days, her extraordinary new collection of essays, some of which took decades to write. Jo Ann describes her deeply reflective, painstaking process and shares why so many of the pieces in Festival Days involve life and death moments and the kinds of reminiscences that emerge from thoughts about death. She discusses, too, her most famous essay, “The Fourth State of Matter” and wonders aloud about herself, “Why are you talking about this essay that you never talk about?” Published in The New Yorker in 1996, “The Fourth State of Matter” depicts a mass shooting at the University of Iowa lab where Jo Ann worked. “How do you take something like that, which is essentially meaningless, and infuse it with meaning?” Jo Ann asks during this Book Dreams episode. And she offers an answer to that heartbreaking question.

Jo Ann has received a Whiting Foundation Award and nonfiction fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She’s the author of the groundbreaking collection of autobiographical essays The Boys of My Youth and the novel In Zanesville. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Best American Essays, and the O. Henry Prize anthologies. She teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

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