Launched in 2021, our podcast includes 12 interview-based episodes. Read about and listen to them here or via Apple Podcasts, Audible, Deezer, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
1. Radclyffe Hall / Jana Funke
Radclyffe Hall‘s 1928 novel about lesbianism, The Well of Loneliness, was the subject of articles in the tabloid Daily Express, then tried and found obscene in a London court. Its scandalous public life ensured the novel’s prominent place in queer literary history. But Hall’s writing and life speak to us, today, for many reasons. With Jana Funke of Exeter University, who has spoken about queer writing and history on BBC Radio and elsewhere, we focus on the relationships among Hall’s life and writing, fiction, print culture, and queer culture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Cover of Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness, Penguin Modern Classics edition, 2015
2. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu / Isobel Grundy
How do we identify the development of feminist writing before the beginnings of the formal movement? This episode’s subject is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). She declared “I am a woman” in her first volume of poetry, written when she was 14, and later and forged her ideas about women’s agency via poems, a romance, and her own periodical. Montagu also played a key role in bringing smallpox inoculation practices to London from women medical practitioners in Istanbul (then Constantinople). We’re joined by Isobel Grundy, University of Alberta, who recently spoke about Montagu on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Painting, “Portrait of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,” by Charles Jervas after 1716, photographed by the Yorck Project
3. Bola Agbaje / Kanika Batra
Beginning with her breakout play Gone Too Far! (2007), Bola Agbaje has used her writing to explore themes of pressure and belonging in British-Nigerian communities, partly via collaborations with mainstream and experimental theatre groups including the Royal Court Theatre, Talawa Theatre Company, and Young Vic Theatre. In this episode we speak with Kanika Batra of Texas Tech University, who identifies how Agbaje’s plays illuminates intersections of the local and global along with various manifestations of Blackness in contemporary British culture, and tells us why Detaining Justice (2009) is a standout text in Agbaje’s body of work.
Colour portrait of Bola Agbaje, shot by Dujonna
4. Lady Hester Pulter / Alice Eardley
In this episode we explore archival writing of the seventeenth century, a time marked by the political turmoil of the English Civil Wars, radical developments in scientific enquiry, and changes to the social status of women. With Alice Eardley of Activate Learning, we discuss the life and poetry of Lady Hester Pulter, who leveraged her confessional style and manuscript texts to address some of the most pressing issues confronting early modern Britain.
Cover of Pulter’s Poems, Emblems, and The Unfortunate Florinda, volume edited by Alice Eardley for Iter Press, 2014
5. Margaret Paston / Diane Watt
Margaret Paston was a prolific letter writer during the War of the Roses. The Paston Letters, currently held in the British Library, were written by four generations of this well-off Norfolk family, and span almost the whole fifteenth century. In this time of conflict, the land-owning family may have kept close track of their papers in part for legal reasons. We talk with Diane Watt of the University of Surrey about Margaret Paston’s life within her family along with her epistolary writing, which caught the attention of Virginia Woolf and many others over time.
Cover of The Paston Women: Selected Letters, volume edited by Diane Watt for Boydell and Brewer, 2004
6. Phillis Wheatley Peters / Tara Bynum
Tara Bynum (University of Iowa) joins us for an exploration of the writing and life of Phillis Wheatley Peters in this episode.
Peters is best known as a poet, and it is easy to see her as the first point in a lineage of black American women poets stretching on to Amanda Gorman in the twenty-first century. But Bynum makes a compelling case for a fuller portrait of the author, seeing her also as a letter writer in multiple currents of late- eighteenth-century history.
Cover of Peters’s Complete Writings, published by Penguin Classics, 2001
7. Mary Seacole / Alisha Walters
This episode is about the complicated intersection of race, class, colonization and women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century, with a focus on the work of Mary Seacole. A Jamaican-British nurse and writer, Seacole used her medical skills to help the soldiers whom she called “her sons” during the Crimean War. She wrote her story in the Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1858).
Seacole was well-known in the nineteenth century but has only re-emerged recently as an important historical figure and writer. We talk with Alisha Walters of the Pennsylvania State University about the reception of Seacole’s writing and what intrigues her about Seacole and her work.
Photograph of Mary Seacole portrait, painted by Albert Charles Challen c. 1869, photographer unknown
8. Jane and Anna Maria Porter / Devoney Looser
In this episode we talk to Devoney Looser (Arizona State University) about Jane and Anna Maria Porter, two phenomenally successful sister novelists who were better known than their contemporary, Jane Austen, in their day. Between them, the Porter sisters wrote more more than two dozen books. Many of them were early instances of the historical novel, in settings ranging from fourteenth century Scotland to seventeenth century Norway. We discuss Looser’s forthcoming monograph on the Porters, Sister Novelists (Bloomsbury, Fall 2022) and the place of Orlando in her research.
Cover of Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës, to be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2022
8. Sylvia Plath / Jennifer Douglas
In conversation with Jennifer Douglas (University of British Columbia) we explore women’s writing in the archive and women’s role as record-keepers in both families and institutions, with a focus on the work of Sylvia Plath and her mother Aurelia Plath. While archives are traditionally imagined to be collections of material coalescing organically, Douglas highlights the strategic and subjective elements of their creation. Drawing from her years of research on Plath and her personal experience, Douglas argues for a reading of Plath’s archives, annotated in Aurelia’s hand, as ‘grief work,’ a testament of a mother’s grief for her beloved daughter.
Black-and-white photograph of Sylvia Plath, 1961, credited to Giovanni Giovannetti
10. Alice King / Vanessa Warne
Vanessa Warne (University of Manitoba) joins us in this episode about Alice King, a Victorian novelist and poet who was blind. King’s parents read aloud to her when she was a child and encouraged her to memorize verse. She remembers, “My capacity for writing began to develop at a very early age, and broke out into little ripples of verse almost as soon as I could speak. It seemed to come naturally to me, like song to a young thrush.” Her career suggests the value of emerging technologies of the time: the development of Braille allowed some to read through their fingertips, and the typewriter, which became commercially available in the 1870s, helped those who were sighted and those with vision impairment alike to compose legible manuscripts quickly and efficiently.
Greyscale illustration of Alice King in profile, published in Demorest’s Monthly magazine, 1885
11. Alice Munro / Annie Murray
In this episode, Karen and our podcast producer, Jessica Khuu, visit the archives at the University of Calgary and conduct a live interview with Annie Murray about the short stories of Alice Munro, which often centre the tangled relationships between men and women, small-town existence, and the fallibility of memory. Exploring archival work, Canadian literature, and women’s writing in the twentieth century, they discuss how Munro’s materials made their way to Calgary’s Special Collections, and the textual scraps of Munro’s stories as documented by the archives. We take a close look at the drafts of one well-known Munro story, “Royal Beatings,” which tells the story of a young girl’s family life in western Ontario during the Great Depression. We also discuss the intersection between life and story through the non-textual traces of her life – from coffee stains to children’s drawings, each manuscript and letter bears the mark of Munro’s daily existence, not unlike her stories themselves.
Cover of Alice Munro’s Dear Life: Stories, published by Vintage, 2013
12. Heid E. Erdrich / Mishuana Goeman
This episode explores Indigenous women’s writing, technology, and community in contemporary American culture. We interview Mishuana Goeman (University of Buffalo) about Heid E. Erdrich, a Turtle Mountain Ojibwe writer whose body of work experiments with multigenre, multimedia expression and places poetry at its centre. We discuss poems from several collections by Erdrich, titled National Monuments, Cell Traffic and Curator of Ephemera, along with Erdrich’s cookbook, titled Original Local. Kinship concepts and practices permeate Erdrich’s work: we consider the place of publishing and bookselling as part of the intellectual and material conditions of the Erdrich family’s community, with a look at their establishment of Wiigwaas Press and Birch Bark Books, specializing in Indigenous writing and art, in Minneapolis and the author’s additional focus on editing anthologies that highlight and make accessible the work of recent and current Indigenous authors for wide public audiences.
Cover of Heid E. Erdich’s Little Big Bully, published by Penguin Books, 2020