Curiosity Fueled The Brain: Washingtonians Talk Books and Podcasts
April 10, 2020 @ 10:00am
Curiosity is a quality pertaining to a person’s knack for inquisitive thinking when it comes to exploration, investigation and learning. This is most notable in the children in your life who constantly ask, “Why?” However, stoking this fire isn’t limited to people under the age of 18. In fact, a person’s penchant for investigation is something that should never be extinguished, regardless of status or accomplishment.
A world without curiosity is at risk of being dull and mundane, a series of routines where you go about your business, rinse and repeat. This is even more imperative now, as we’ve all been tasked with keeping ourselves indoors in a (mostly) nationwide effort to flatten the curve caused by Covid-19. Luckily, there are two mediums that lend themselves especially well to digestible forms of learning: podcasts and books.
We reached out to a few creative Washingtonians to ask them about their relationships with podcasts and books, and how they use these resources to spark their inquisitive fires.
Feed The Minds Of Locals
Melissa L. Jones of Full Service Radio’s “Edible Activist”
District Fray: How did your own curiosity in the food industry spark “Edible Activist?”
Melissa L. Jones: It’s birthed from my main media platform, FoodTalksNColor, where we’re amplifying the communities of color and showcasing how we’re reimagining ourselves on the land. I didn’t think of doing a podcast at all. I had no experience.
For people who don’t know, how do you blend the title words? How do you strike that balance?
Food intersects with a ton of things. You can’t talk about healing without talking about food and vice versa. You can’t talk about food without talking about the equity and wage gap. It opens itself up to other topics. It’s very diverse. For me, I’m on this mission to highlight as many of our voices as possible. And yes, agriculture is at the core, but it intersects with many things.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from listeners?
It has been overwhelming, and I have a heartfelt gratitude. I started FoodTalks without a background in agriculture.
Do you listen to podcasts?
I listen to a variety of podcasts, and it depends on my posture at that time. Right now, everything is about wealth building for black families. Literally, I’m listening to “Earn Your Leisure” episode after episode. They have an amazing podcast where they discuss the fundamentals on how black people should build wealth. That’s been my go-to for the past month or so.
What kind of books do you read to spark curiosity, not necessarily about food but about any topic?
Any book based on healing the body, and the mind healing the body. Those are the topics of books I gravitate to. I read tons of articles too. I love Medium, it’s a wild card. It can be anything from religion to sex, whatever. I just pick things that pique my interest.
Why do you think podcasting has been such an effective medium for your particular subject matter?
I’ve always had relationship building skills, and having relatable, easy conversations that anyone can follow is what’s made this podcast successful. Once you remove jargon and politics – though policy is important – and have a conversation, it’s digestible. I’m part of the audience in a lot of these cases. I’m learning from asking questions in addition to just being able to have people in and share perspectives. It’s not boring, it’s fun. We talk about culture, music. It’s very relaxing.
“The Beauty Archeo”
NPR’s “Dear Sugars”
WAMU’s “Dish City”
“Earn Your Leisure”
NPR’s “Fresh Air”
“The Inner Loop Radio”
“No Film School”
NPR’s “Short Wave”
Curiosities About Creation + Curation
Chris Maier, Founder of Little Salon
How often do you frequent podcasts to spark your curiosity?
Chris Maier: For me, it comes in waves. I’ll listen to things that inspire me and I’ll dive in. I love longform storytelling and narrative pieces. I often find myself listening to podcasts about makers. I like to get behind the scenes and see how people are creating. There’s one called “Song Exploder,” which explains how people put together songs from a technical standpoint and how they arrived at that place lyrically. I love film and I find myself returning to “No Film School” a lot.
As an entrepreneur, do you read busines or advice books?
I’ve probably read a business book in the past month. They can be dry, but the thing that’s great about them is I can distill them down to a few observations of truth. I read them a lot differently than I read a novel or poetry or short stories.
Do you take any inspiration in curation and running your creative agency from any particular podcasts or books?
I guess I do in the sense that all of those mediums are vessels for communication. The book is an experience and a podcast is an experience, and we have to think about how we enter into that story. How do we want to move around in that story, and how are we going to send you off into the night but wanting to come back for more?
You’re someone I consider extremely plugged into the cultural beat of the city. Are there any local podcasts that you’ve enjoyed in the past few months?
Yeah, there’s so many. That talent stretches across the city. Nathan Hill has a great podcast about design and the environments we live in [called “Design Intercourse”]. “The Inner Loop Radio” is a great podcast that ties into the local literary scene and asks larger questions about literature.
You have authors speak at Little Salon regularly. Who are some D.C. authors people should be aware of?
We’re so lucky to have so much great literary talent. Rion [Amilcar] Scott is a great author. You should read the tremendous The World Doesn’t Require You. Even though I’m not a young adult, I’ve been working my way through Jason Reynolds’ books. He’s a singular talent in this city and he’s also one of the truly genuine people in the creative scene. It’s great to see someone who’s creating national book award-caliber work in this city. I saw Amber Sparks [speak]. She’s a magical realist writer who just had a new book [And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges] come out. Her work will send your imagination into some interesting and magical places.
Digestible Doses Of Friendly Advice
Meghan keane, Managing Producer of NPR’s “Life Kit”
How does the team behind NPR’s “Life Kit” establish what kind of stories are helpful for listeners and when?
Meghan Keane: The easy part about “Life Kit” is coming up with topics to cover, since most of them are universal. We all bring challenges or triumphs about personal finance, health and parenting to our meetings. We are also thinking about what times of year people are seeking out certain kinds of advice and plan ahead. For example, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day is coming up, so we’ve been planning advice about how to be more green for months.
What was the initial inspiration behind the format? Why is this kind of information digestible in a podcast format, and how does it compare to advice books?
The initial inspiration comes from NPR’s mission statement to create a more informed public. The idea of “Life Kit” is to take all that reported knowledge and give people informed, actionable tips. There’s no shortage of self-help books out there, but I think people respond positively to “Life Kit” because they see us as a trusted friend who has great advice. There’s something about the sound of a person’s voice you trust saying, “You can do this!”
What kind of role does the audience play in topic selection?
We’re always thinking about what our audience is interested in. Often, we get notes saying, “Hey, I loved XYZ episode! You should drill more into this specific arena within that topic.” Those are encouraging because it shows listeners are hungry for comprehensive advice, and gives us ideas for future episodes. Sometimes, we think we know how we’re going to cover an episode, but when we talk to our listeners, it sheds light on what we were missing.
What topics do you gravitate toward as a listener?
I think our friends at “Short Wave” are doing a great job covering health advice along with their broader science reporting. I’m a fan of straight-up advice shows, so podcasts “Dear Sugars” or “Love Letters” are good bets. I also think shows like “Invisibilia” and “Throughline,” while not advice, do offer interesting perspectives about life and give a nice context about how to move through the world.
Are there any topics you have coming up that you’re particularly excited about?
We’re doing an episode about how to think through if you want kids or not. I think it’s a huge decision that weighs on people, and a practical guide might make it a little less intense. We’re also starting to do more practical advice in the realm of culture, including an episode about how to appreciate poetry. I need that episode.
Do you have any local to D.C. podcast/book recommendations for people?
I really like “Dish City” from WAMU. It’s a great dive into the food scene and its history in D.C., which I think gets sadly overlooked.
And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges
by Amber Sparks
In The Dream House: A Memoir
by Carmen Marcia Machado
Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
by Cynthia Carr
by Patti Smith
by Keith Richards
A People’s Future of the United States
by Charlie Jane Anders, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Charles Yu
The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories
by Rion Amilcar Scott
You Can Heal Your Life
by Louise Hay
Discourse on Perspective + Diversity
Josef Palermo, Artist, Producer + Arts Organizer
What books help and inspire you as an artist?
Josef Palermo: I’m actually really interested in memoirs and biographies. One of my favorites is Fire in the Belly by Cynthia Carr, a biography of an artist from New York’s Lower East Side. I also read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, and another I’ve read is Keith Richards’ autobiography Life. I think what draws me to these types of books is getting a sense of how these artists translate their life experiences into their art. You get great insight into the creative process.
Do you look for similar inspiration in podcasts?
There’s a podcast done by the Arts Administrators of Color Network, a group of artists that don’t identify as white. They do a podcast called “Art Accordingly,” which talks about a lot of different topics related to issues for people who are not white in the art world. A colleague of mine turned me onto it.
Does that one help you with your own work on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Yeah, it’s definitely something I listen to for professional development. My role on the Arts Commission is to advocate for equity so I feel it translates to my work.
What other topics do you gravitate toward within those mediums?
I’m really into speculative fiction. It’s all about envisioned, near-future scenarios. There’s a collected stories book titled A People’s Future of the United States about what the near future could look like in the United States, all speculative takes on the future. That definitely occupies a lot of my mental space.
As an integral member of the D.C. arts community, have you noticed the uptick in locally produced podcasts? It feels like it’s definitely at an all-time high.
Absolutely. The LINE Hotel has a podcast network called Full Service Radio. That’s definitely something that’s come out of our creative communities: leveraging podcasts. My friend Pussy Noir, a well-known queer nightlife performer, [has a great] podcast, “The Beatuy Archeo.” They look into how fashion has had an impact on history.
Listen to “Edible Activist” at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio.
Learn more about Little Salon at www.littlesalondc.com.
For more information about “Life Kit,” visit www.npr.org/lifekit.
For more on Palermo and his work, visit www.josefpalermo.com.