January 31, 2021
Veteran reporter Nancy Rommelmann is based in New York City these days, but she was a longtime resident of Portland, Oregon who knows the city—and its people, politics, and assorted proclivities—with a unique combination of intimacy and objectivity. As the city erupted into protests last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Nancy returned to Portland and began covering the action for Reason Magazine. This conversation is divided into two parts. In the first part, recorded in late December, Nancy focuses on Portland and helps define the boundaries between leftist so-called antifacist groups like Antifa, anarchist movements like Black bloc, and the peaceful protestors whose efforts are sometimes overshadowed by extremists. In the second part, recorded after the January 6 siege at the Capitol and the subsequent inauguration of President Biden, she talks about some of the differences between the Capitol protestors and the ones she’s reported on in Portland.
Nancy Rommelmann is a journalist whose work appears in Reason, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other publications. Her latest book is To The Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder. Find her at nancyromm.com, follow on Twitter @nancyromm and Substack. She lives in New York City.
January 24, 2021
Bruce Wagner, a successful Hollywood screenwriter and the author of twelve novels, has been a beloved literary figure for decades, especially in his home city of Los Angeles. His most recent novel, The Marvel Universe, was enthusiastically acquired by a small press until, he says, the publisher objected to certain “problematic” language, specifically the word “fat,” which a character uses to describe herself. This led Bruce to release the book into the public domain by making it available on his website for free. In this conversation, Bruce talks about how a public domain release differs from self-publishing, how sensitivity readers are setting the tone for much of the culture now, and what this means for artists who are drawn to the more monstrous qualities of the human condition.
Bruce Wagner is the author of twelve novels, including Dead Stars
, I’m Losing You
, and I’ll Let You Go
. His latest novel, The Marvel Universe
, is available for free at brucewagner.la
. He is also the creator of the television series Wild Palms
January 17, 2021
Podcaster and journalist Katie Herzog returns to the podcast to discuss her article Where Have All The Lesbians Gone?, which talked about a trend she’s observed wherein many of her lesbian friends are now identifying as transgender or nonbinary. She explains how she sees the nonbinary identity as a "regressive trend” because it ultimately puts limits on gender expression even as it purports to do the opposite. She also talks about the woman who coined the phrase “the future is female,” the recent announcement that the actor once known as Ellen Page now identifies as male, and (not unrelatedly) her former career as a professional whitewater kayaker.
An extended version of this interview, along with a longform version of Katie’s article, is available on the podcast’s Patreon page at Patreon.com/theunspeakable.
Katie Herzog is the co-host, with Jesse Singal, of the podcast Blocked and Reported. She is a former writer for Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper, The Stranger.
January 3, 2021
After two years on the Bloggingheads platform, journalists and cultural critics Kat Rosenfield and Phoebe Maltz Bovy are taking their popular podcast, Feminine Chaos, independent. In this conversation with Meghan, they share their views on some of contemporary feminism’s most pressing concerns, including the purity policing of white women, the new stigmatization of straightness and the importance of preserving “you guys” as a term of address. They also do a deep dive into the identity category known as “demisexual” and ask if this designation is worthy of special dispensation.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy writes for publications including The Globe and Mail and The Washington Post and is the author of the 2017 book The Perils of “Privilege.
Kat Rosenfield is a culture writer and novelist. Her next book No One Will Miss Her, will be published by William Morrow in 2021.
November 15, 2020
In this very special edition of The Unspeakable Podcast, Meghan departs from the interview format and speaks directly to listeners. Reflecting on the current moment as well as on the election four years ago, she talks about how writing her last book inspired her to create the podcast and also how after 25 years of writing "think pieces” she literally doesn’t know what to think anymore. She also talks about how social media has turned “ambient perception” into a substitute for empirical reality and posits that the best antidote to cancel culture is to stop obsessing about it and have faith in the intelligence of audiences.
She also announces that the podcast will be on a brief hiatus until the first of the year. But it will be back!
November 8, 2020
Bestselling author William Deresiewicz’s new book, The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, paints a grim picture of the state of the arts—at least as far as actual artists are concerned. For all the talk about how it’s never been easier to be creative, the truth is that it’s never been more difficult to do so professionally. In this conversation, Deresiewicz relays what he learned from interviews with more than one hundred working artists, how the digital economy has obliterated the creative economy, and what he portends for the future of his own career.
William Deresiewicz is an award-winning essayist and critic, a frequent speaker at colleges and other venues, and a former professor of English at Yale. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, the Nation, the New Republic, and many other publications. He is the recipient of a National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in reviewing and is the New York Times bestselling author of Excellent Sheep, The Death of the Artist, and A Jane Austen Education.
November 1, 2020
Sigrid Nunez is the author of seven novels and a memoir. Sigrid’s 2018 novel, The Friend, won The National Book Award for fiction and became a bestseller. That book featured a unnamed narrator caring for the dog of a close friend who had committed suicide. This fall she has a new novel out, What Are You Going Through? It’s also about a friendship, this time between the narrator and an old acquaintance who’s facing terminal cancer and has asked the narrator to be with her as she lives her final days before taking drugs to end her own life. Sigrid spoke with Meghan about this work as well as her past work, not only The Friend but also Salvation City, a novel she published a decade ago about a global flu pandemic. She also talked about her relationship with the late Susan Sontag, with whom she lived while in a relationship with Sontag’s son and who was the subject of her 2014 memoir, Sempre Susan.
Sigrid Nunez is the author of the novels Salvation City, The Last of Her Kind, A Feather on the Breath of God, For Rouenna, and the National Book Award-winning The Friend, among others. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. She has been the recipient of several awards, including a Whiting Award, the Rome Prize in Literature, and a Berlin Prize Fellowship. She lives in New York City.
October 25, 2020
Merrill Markoe is an Emmy award winning television writer and celebrated humorist. She’s worked on shows ranging from Sex and The City to Moonlighting but is probably best known for her association with The David Letterman Show, where she was the head writer from the show’s inception in 1981 until the late 1980s. She’s also the author of nine books, including the brand new graphic memoir We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe. Here, Merrill draws from an enormous cache of diaries she kept from approximately the fourth grade through her first year of college. In this conversation, Merrill talks about the book, about growing up female and funny, about harnessing that funniness into a career, and about working with—and being the longtime girlfriend of—David Letterman. She also talks about what it’s like to pursue comedy in this era of heightened sensitivities and why it’s a myth that you’re not allowed to be funny anymore.
Merrill Markoe was recently awarded the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement. Her new book, We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe, is just out from Algonquin Books.
October 18, 2020
Australian broadcaster Josh Szeps is known for his fiercely intelligent and at-times wickedly funny approach to interviews and news analysis. A founding producer and host of the award-winning Huffpost Live, he can currently be heard on ABC Radio Sydney and, during his time in New York, hosted a live show-turned-podcast called #WeThePeople LIVE. Last summer, Josh launched Uncomfortable Conversations, an interview podcast virtually indistinguishable from this one other than the host being Australian and slightly younger and more famous. Josh spoke with Meghan about why podcasts like theirs are so desperately needed in these dark times and how the fate of the world of ideas rests on their shoulders. They also talked about the pronunciation of Meghan’s name, why Alec Baldwin’s calling a paparazzo a “c_sucker” was not an expression of homophobia, when they stopped feeling young and precocious, and what makes Josh a “fox” rather than a “hedgehog.”
Josh Szeps is the host of the new podcast Uncomfortable Conversations and can be heard on ABC Radio Sydney. He lives in Sydney with his husband and twin toddlers.
October 12, 2020
Leon Wieseltier, who was for decades the literary editor of The New Republic, is a legendary cultural and media figure. But in 2017, just as he was set to launch a new publication, he was accused of #MeToo transgressions and his professional connections were severed almost overnight. After three years out of the public eye, Leon has reemerged with a new quarterly journal called Liberties, which aims to be “slower, longer and deeper” than just about anything else around. In this conversation, Leon talks with Meghan about his hopes for the magazine, his frustrations with political and cultural discourse today, and the fallout and lessons from the #MeToo allegations made against him. They also talk about sexual dynamics in mentor relationships, the virtues of the Louis CK film Pootie Tang, and why Leon wishes he could list “intellectual” on his passport as his occupation.
Leon Wieseltier is the editor of Liberties - a Journal of Culture and Politics. From 1983 to 2014, he was the literary editor of The New Republic.