Monthly Archives: November 2001

Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham sings from his perch at Harpers Magazine, songs that celebrate and criticize America. For 25 years, politics and culture have come under the editor-in-chief’s critique, and just in August of this year, he again played canary in the coal mine. Lapham wrote that the United States was a democracy gone soft and flabby, a country blind to history, and drunk on superlatives. The biggest, baddest, richest, fastest nation of them all. But then came September 11th, and old notions of American exceptionalism and invulnerability crumbled.

Lapham’s current tune: forget about an American jihad against terrorism, its time for an American jihad for democracy.


Lewis Lapham, editor, Harper’s Magazine

John Edgar Wideman

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Ten weeks since the aircraft hit the buildings, 70 days, and through all that time, all the funerals and all the names, and now, far away, all the bombs and all the funerals and all the nameless. We have so much information, and still so little understanding. The writer John Edgar Wideman has spent a lifetime trying to understand the gaps that separate people. He writes about basketball and brothers, about blood and race.

He writes about how we understand each other and how we don’t. “At the gate” writes Wideman, “there’s a quiet moment when the horrors of the past are also the road, the only road, our road, our intimate history, our loves and losses bringing us to this moment, a moment when we can decide to go forward or not.”


John Edgar Wideman, author of “Hoop Roots”

Wendy Wasserstein

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Laughter isn’t what it used to be. It’s little wonder. With so many gut-wrenching moments since September 11th, the latest of which came just yesterday, there’s been little left over for the belly laugh. Suddenly everyone from class clowns to late night comics had less to say. Irony lost its appeal. So did the wry, subtle barbs of wickedly delicious, sinfully indulgent dinner party chatter. America just wasn’t in the mood. Then something surprising happened. The in-your-face, yuk-it-up chuckles that were once the exclusive domain of the silly have become the new palliative. And thank goodness.

Our Tuesday Transformation series continues. This time, a conversation with Pulitzer prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein about humor’s burden against tragedy’s backdrop.


Wendy Wasserstein, pulitzer prize-winning and Tony award-winning playwright, with her play “The Heidi Chronicles,” and author of “Shiksa Goddess

How I spent My Forties”

and Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor at The New Yorker.

Plane Crashes in Queens – Part II

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Two months and one day later…another plane crash in New York. Veterans Day parades around the nation fall silent. An already jittery American people invariably thinks the worst. But what to think?


Jessica Stern, faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Bob Oakes, host, Morning Edition

Dr. Judith Herman, professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard Medical school

Jeff Taliaffero, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tufts University.

V.S. Naipaul

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V.S. Naipaul, according to one recent review, is a writer “endlessly showing an unclosable wound.” From that metaphorical wound have flowed half a century of stories, comic, tragic, real and imagined. When the Nobel Prize Committee called Naipaul’s number last month, he was at his home in the English countryside. But alive in the committee’s mind were Naipaul’s depictions of his native Trinidad, his stories of a struggling Third World writer in the fickle First World.

His narratives of America, Africa, India and the places in-between. And it’s that in-between, where identity is confusion, where Empire and its victims loom large, that Naipaul continues to explore and explain.


V.S. Naipaul, author of more than twenty books, most recently the novel “Half a Life,” and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Karen Armstrong

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Someone once called her the “runaway nun.” Karen Armstrong did abandon the Roman Catholic Society of the Holy Child Jesus in 1969 and went on to a career in academe and a period as a non-believer. Now she calls herself a “freelance monotheist,” and she’s one of the most prolific and popular writers on world religions. Her books tackle topics of breathtaking magnitude. In “A History of God,” she looks at the links that bind Judaism, Christianity and Islam, concluding that religion is a human impulse, an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to.

Today, as part of our series on “Terror and the Transformation of America,” a conversation with Karen Armstrong on morality, mortality and transcendence


Karen Armstrong, author.