Arts: Literature

Ariel Levy

“It has been made overwhelmingly clear to me now that anything you think is yours by right can vanish, and what you can do about that is nothing at all.” So writes New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy, who built her own successful, but unconventional life, which eventually came crashing down with an affair, a miscarriage during a Mongolian reporting trip and the breakup of her marriage. Levy shares these stories — and some less painful ones about writing for The New Yorker — and ponders her future in her new memoir, “The Rules Do Not Apply.” Ariel Levy joins us in-studio to discuss her life and work.

Related Links:

Thanksgiving in Mongolia (The New Yorker)

Author Yiyun Li poses for a portrait.

Oakland-based writer Yiyun Li has a resume that many writers would covet: she’s just published her sixth book and was awarded a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Award. Less enviable, however, is her struggle with suicidal depression, a battle which she explores in her new memoir, “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.” Li joins us today to talk about confronting her two essential questions: Why write? And why live?

Megan Marshall poses for a portrait.

Poet Elizabeth Bishop once famously told fellow poet Robert Lowell that “when you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.” Bishop must have understood what it was to be lonely: She was an infant when her father died and a child when her mother was institutionalized. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Megan Marshall sheds light on the life and legacy of the poet in “Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.” We’ll talk with Marshall, a former student of Bishop’s, about the very private and reticent poet.

Author Roxane Gay poses for a portrait.

Roxane Gay has never shied away from writing about racism, being overweight, sexual assault or her bisexuality. Her new book of short stories, “Difficult Women,” dives deep into these same topics. She joins us to talk about her work, the language of protest and Simon & Schuster canceling Milo Yiannopoulos’ book. Gay pulled out of her deal with the publisher in January after it extended a $250,000 contract to the provocateur associated with Breitbart News.

George Saunders poses for a portrait.

Award-winning author George Saunders joins Forum to talk about his debut novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Set in a graveyard at the outset of the Civil War, the story centers on Abraham Lincoln as he grieves for his son Willie, who died of typhoid was he was eleven years old. “Bardo” refers to the Tibetan concept of purgatory, a state Lincoln finds himself in as he mingles with spirits and tries to make sense of his son’s death. We’ll talk to Saunders about the novel, its Buddhist themes and what inspired it.


For more than 20 years, neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan has treated
patients who have debilitating physical symptoms — such as pain
and seizures — with no identifiable cause. These patients,
O’Sullivan notes, “find themselves trapped in a zone between the
worlds of medicine and psychology, with neither community taking
responsibility.” O’Sullivan joins Forum to talk about her new book
“Is It All in Your Head?,” an exploration of psychosomatic disorders
and their causes.


Zadie Smith’s latest novel “Swing Time” follows the lives of two biracial girls who dream of becoming dancers, though only one has enough talent to succeed. The two take very different paths into adulthood, one becoming a personal assistant to a pop star, while the other slips back into poverty. Smith, whose debut novel “White Teeth” was widely celebrated, joins us to talk about her writing, her own multiracial background and why the results of America’s presidential election resonate so personally for her even though she is English.

Information on Zadie Smith’s Book Passage Appearance


Why do teen movies from the 1980s endure? In his new book “Brat Pack America,” San Francisco-based author Kevin Smokler celebrates films like “The Breakfast Club,” “Back to the Future” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” through interviews with cast members, fun trivia and visits to iconic locations including the Chicago suburbs and Santa Cruz (Santa Carla in “The Lost Boys”). We’ll talk to him about the book, and we want to hear from you: What ’80s teen flick ruled your world?

First-time novelist Yaa Gyasi says she was a voracious reader growing up, and "never turned down a trip to the library."

While traveling to Ghana on a Stanford research fellowship, Yaa Gyasi visited the Cape Coast Castle, where she learned about the role Africans played in perpetuating the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This knowledge became the impetus for her debut novel “Homegoing,” which chronicles the lives of two Ghanaian sisters and their experiences of slavery. We speak with Berkeley-based Gyasi about the novel, which has been named a New York Times notable book for 2016.

Peter Orner

“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become.” So writes author Peter Orner, whose life has always centered around books, both as a writer and as an educator. In his new collection of essays, “Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live,” the San Francisco State Professor combines literary reflections with personal memories, delving into theories on literary giants like Kafka and Chekhov, and also exploring his relationship with his deceased father. Orner joins us in-studio to discuss the connections between literature, life, memory and identity.

Reading About Reading About Reading: On Peter Orner’s ‘Am I Alone Here?’ (KQED Arts)

Door to Hell

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton are on a mission to make you rethink where you travel. Their new book, “Atlas Obscura,” is filled with hidden gems to explore throughout the world, from a Portuguese church decorated with bones and skulls to the sparkling glowworm caves of New Zealand. In this hour of Forum, the three authors, who also run the popular Atlas Obscura website, tell us about unknown wonders worth seeking out. And we want to hear from you: What’s your favorite obscure landmark or place?

Images from “Atlas Obscura”

Door to Hell
Door to Hell (Photo: Alamy Stock Photo/Tim-Whitby)
Fremont Troll
Fremont Troll (Photo: Moonspenders)
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo Glowworm Caves (Photo: Martin Rietze)
Deyrolle Taxidermy
Deyrolle Taxidermy (Photo: Paul Léger)


a woman reads on a bed

It’s time for Forum’s annual holiday books show. Whether it’s a new biography of Eleanor Roosevelt or that best-selling novel you stayed up all night finishing — what was the best book you read in 2016? We’ll also check in with Bay Area bookstores about what books to give your friends and family this year.


Michael’s Suggestions

Suggestions from Karen West of Book Passage

Suggestions from Michael Barnard of Rakestraw Books

Suggestions from Faith Bell of Bell’s Books

Listener Recommendations Mentioned On Air

See More Listener Recommendations on our Facebook page

A statute of the late martial arts icon Bruce Lee is seen in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles June 16, 2013.

It’s no coincidence that the Bay Area has such a thriving martial arts scene. Bruce Lee, one of the sports’ modern masters was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown and returned to the area as a teen. Not long after he came back, Lee transformed martial arts, combining various styles and bringing freedom and self expression to the traditional disciplines. Forum talks about Bruce Lee’s years in the Bay Area and the thriving martial arts scene he helped establish.

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