“Writing does give me a great deal of a sense of purpose,” writer R.O. Kwon said in a recent interview with American Masters. “So much so that if I go a day or, God forbid, a week or any longer without writing fiction, I feel that I am losing my sense of purpose. I can actually sort of feel like parts of myself dying inside is what it feels like.”
This gem is one example of many to be mined from the fourth season of the American Masters Podcast. Released bi-weekly, the series focuses on the origin stories of artists and cultural figures, including Kwon, Chris Gethard, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Lee Grant, Ethan Hawke, Lynn Nottage, Joy Harjo and the musical duo Tegan and Sara.
Here are snippets of what our friends at American Masters have to say about some of the episodes found in this current season. You can find the podcast on the American Masters website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music and more.
Music duo Tegan and Sara
Pop icons and twins Tegan and Sara look back at their early days during the height of grunge and rave culture in their new, best-selling memoir, “High School,” and companion album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You.” The duo discuss the book’s honest account of the drugs, music and relationships they each explored in their formative years, and how they crafted a new album from recently discovered high school demo tapes.
Comedian Chris Gethard
A confessional-style comic, Chris Gethard is unafraid to mine his past. On the American Masters Podcast, he talks about cramming the entire set of his TV show, “The Chris Gethard Show,” into the back of his car’s trunk and how he pulls off hour-long phone calls with strangers every week on his podcast, “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.” Amidst a tumultuous cultural change, Gethard also discusses the current state of comedy and his comedy special, “Career Suicide,” which chronicles his history with depression and anxiety.
Author R.O. Kwon
Best-selling author R.O. Kwon writes with an empathy that can attract religious and non-religious readers alike. On the American Masters Podcast, Kwon talks about her debut novel, “The Incendiaries” — a fierce story that deals with faith, loss and fanaticism — and describes how her own loss of faith in high school, and the grief that followed, led to this bold new work.
Playwright and actor Tarell Alvin McCraney
Academy Award-winning writer and actor Tarell Alvin McCraney sits down with American Masters executive producer Michael Kantor in a candid conversation about his semi-autobiographical play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” and the Academy Award-winning film “Moonlight” that followed. He discusses the centrality of Florida to his work and the importance of building a sense of community above all else. McCraney’s recent work includes the TV series “David Makes Man” on the OWN Network, the Broadway play “Choir Boy” and a run of shows as part of the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
Actress Lee Grant
Academy Award-winning actress Lee Grant (“Shampoo,” “In The Heat of the Night,” “Valley of the Dolls”) sits down with American Masters creator Susan Lacy for an in-depth conversation about her upbringing, surviving years on the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era and her career as an actress and documentary filmmaker. Grant also describes how key moments of difficulty in her life emboldened her toward new heights.
Actor Ethan Hawke
Actor, writer and director Ethan Hawke (“Before Sunrise,” “Training Day,” “First Reformed,” “Boyhood”) talks with his close friend and fellow actor Josh Hamilton about formative projects from Hawke’s career, reflecting on his own origin story and musing on how one can prioritize life goals and discover meaning through artistic pursuits. Hawke and Hamilton also discuss Malaparte, the theater company they co-founded in the 1990s to stage their own independent productions.
Playwright Lynn Nottage
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage talks about the origin of her Broadway play “Sweat” and the time she spent developing the story through her conversations with working class residents in Reading, Pennsylvania. Her focus on the struggles of this deindustrialized Rust Belt town predicted a national conversation around identity, race and economy that remains a focal point of political discussion today.
Poet Joy Harjo
In 2019, Joy Harjo became the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. She joins the American Masters Podcast from her hometown Tulsa, Oklahoma to talk about the responsibilities that come with this honor and the importance of representing rich Native American storytelling traditions. She talks about the transcendent nature of language, our human origins as storytellers, our innate connection to the Earth and lessons she learned from one of her inspirations, writer N. Scott Momaday.
Top Image: American Masters Podcast season four.