Author Archives: admin

Tituss Burgess Says He Plays The Most ‘Everyman’ Character On ‘Kimmy Schmidt’


In the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) gets through heartbreak by making his own version of Beyonce’s Lemonade.

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix


hide caption

toggle caption

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

In the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) gets through heartbreak by making his own version of Beyonce’s Lemonade.

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon is a show-stealing character. Tituss Burgess plays the mostly out-of-work actor who’s black, gay and an endearing friend to the very naive Kimmy Schmidt.

Burgess may share a first name with his over-the-top character, but he says they’re plenty different. Unlike Andromedon, Burgess is a quiet homebody who doesn’t need to be the center of attention. He grew up in small-town Georgia before making his way to Broadway and then TV. It’s a journey that required many leaps of faith, and he credits one woman with giving him the confidence to take those leaps.

“Lena Horne,” he says. “I saw The Wiz when I was in the seventh grade. … The authority with which she sang [‘If You Believe’], watching her telling Dorothy, you know, how exactly to get to where she wants to be, and the way she looked down the barrel of the lens — you could not tell me that this woman was not singing to me. … I would go back and forth to the library and rent The Wiz, and this one piece just was so electric and I felt invincible. I felt, for all intents and purposes, that whatever it was I was going to do, there was absolutely nothing anyone could say or do to stop me. And it has proven true.”

Interview Highlights

On how he bridges the gap between his more subdued personality and his show-stealing characters, including Sebastian in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid and Nicely-Nicely in Broadway’s Guys and Dolls

I am an only child, so I had a great deal of time by myself. I didn’t love being by myself, but that also means a great deal of time sitting back and observing the world. I had a huge family, but believe it or not there are personalities in my family that are far … larger and grandiose than Titus Andromedon. … And I just filed those personalities away. And when I pick up a script, I go, “Oh, I know that person,” or, “I know who that is,” or, “I recognize this sentiment,” or, “I recognize this selfish trait.”

On how he keeps Andromedon grounded through the show’s parody of Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade

However large or into the stratosphere they wrote him, I would find the one thing in the scene that he needed. And then I would go down the rabbit hole of why he needs it. The deeper the well of emotion, the deeper the cut, the deeper the wound, the larger the cry. The harder you fall, the louder the wail, the louder the ouch. So it made perfect sense that this is how he would exorcise his emotionally heartbroken demons.

On how he responds to criticism that Andromedon is feeding the TV stereotype of the flamboyant, gay best friend

They’re not watching the show. Titus Andromedon is more everyman than any other character on that TV show. He’s broke; he doesn’t have money to pay the rent; he can’t keep a job; he gets racially profiled. I mean, so what that he adds a couple of “s”s to the words he says or wears women’s clothes?

But that is what I say to those people, that they are not watching the show. And that if how someone moves about the world on the spectrum of masculinity to femininity is a measure with which the cause or [LGBTQ] characters have either moved forward or regressed — if that’s what they’re basing it on, then what kind of two-dimensional world are they living in? So the question sounds ill-informed already, and I tend to not answer it.

Radio producer Justine Kenin, radio editor Mallory Yu and digital producer Nicole Cohen contributed to this report.

On Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary, Listen To His NPR Debut


Copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, on sale in an Arlington, Virginia bookstore in 2000.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, on sale in an Arlington, Virginia bookstore in 2000.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The first book of the Harry Potter series went on sale in the U.K. 20 years ago today. It offers a convenient excuse to reacquaint yourself with a world before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had heard of muggles, horcruxes or pensieves, before tourists would crowd into London’s Kings Cross railway station simply to peer wistfully at the space between Platforms Nine and Ten.

Here’s the first story NPR ever aired about Harry Potter — a wonderful piece by the late Margot Adler, from All Things Considered in 1998.

Some gems, from that bygone era:

  • “Most people in the U.S. have never heard of Harry Potter. It’s not a title you see in the window at your local Barnes & Noble.”
  • Rowling’s recollection of how Harry came to her while she stared out a train window at some cows.
  • Margot Adler’s uncannily accurate prediction that the word “muggle” will become a Whole Big Thing.
  • A Q and A session in which a kid asks Rowling about her writing, and Rowling reads the Reptile House scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • A quote from a bookstore manager marveling at the fact that they’ve sold “hundreds” of copies.

Video: K-Pop Dance Routines Are A Workout For Body And Brain


Korean pop, or K-pop — a genre that embraces a range of Western and Korean influences — was once known only in East Asia and among the Korean diaspora. But these days, K-pop’s techno beats and its signature synchronized, tightly choreographed dance moves are familiar the world over. You might know K-pop best from “Gangnam Style,” the 2012 monster hit by Psy.

Dancing in the K-pop style is not limited to video trainees and stars, however. In Korean-dominated cities, specialized studios have cropped up to teach all of us how to dance according to K-pop video concepts, be they coquettish, sporty — or in our test case, “manly.”

Joined by NPR Code Switch reporter Kat Chow in the Korean capital of Seoul, I gamely gave this a try while 6 1/2 months pregnant. We thought we were going to a beginners’ class. You’ll see for yourselves how things went down.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Winner Sasha Velour Cut From A Different Fabric


Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1

On Friday night, a new American monarch rose to power beneath a cascade of rose petals, a cracked mask and the ballads of Whitney Houston.

But she didn’t just use the glamour, comedy, acting and lip syncing prowess that fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race have come to expect from America’s Next Drag Superstar. Sasha Velour relies on brains.

An “amateur drag historian”

When the 30-year-old queen is at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., she produces and stars in a monthly drag cabaret event called Nightgowns. She co-founded Velour, a magazine spotlighting lesser-known styles and issues in drag. She received an MFA from the Center for Cartoon Studies and studied political art as a Fulbright Scholar in Moscow.

She also considers herself an “amateur drag historian,” acknowledging there have always been different schools of drag — all competing, warring, pushing the art in new directions.

But for Velour, her style comes from simultaneously paying tribute to the queens who came before her and blocking out any voices that might try to dictate what her drag should be.

“I want to do something that is not just a pastiche of drag that’s come before, but is really authentically me,” she said. “I try to tune out all the drag that’s out there and tap into the drag that I was doing when I was a little kid — when I didn’t even know the word ‘queer’ or that gay people were out there. … Tapping into the things I’ve always loved and building a drag that honors those.”

And now that season nine is a wrap, Velour can officially add being the ninth queen crowned on RuPaul’s Drag Race to her resume — bringing her eclectic, academic and sometimes controversially intellectual brand of drag to the main stage of American queer culture.

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1

“I mean, it’s been one of the biggest things I’ve gotten pushback about, is being an intellectual and what that means,” she said. “I grew up in this house of intellectuals, and for me it wasn’t like a negative thing. And what I’ve discovered is for a lot of people it is. But I think knowing history, liking to talk about ideas — like, I just genuinely like to geek out and go on these intellectual thought journeys. I want to show people it’s not elitist to be a deep thinker.”

Advancing an art form

As reigning queen of the Drag Race empire, Velour said she plans to use her platform — and cash prize of $100,000 — to bring other LGBTQ artists across America into the spotlight. Over the next year, she hopes to take projects like Nightgowns and Velour magazine across the country, showcasing and connecting drag communities from America’s big cities and small towns.

“I just want to be able to get kings and queens and nonbinary performers working together and having discussions about what drag is currently, what it has been and where we can move it to that is truly new,” she said. “I think if we work together and have a conversation, we can really advance the art form.”

Velour also plans to follow in the footsteps of other notable Drag Race alumni by dipping her toes into video production and music — albeit with an noticeably Velourian spin.

“When I was on the show, I said I will never create drag queen music. There’s too much of it and it’s horrible,” she said. “But then they kind of tricked me into [doing] this weird, academic talk-rapping that’s — it’s not for everyone, but the people who love it are really into it.”

The “talk-rapping” she’s referring to, for the record, is in two collaborations with fellow season nine contestants — “C.L.A.T.” and RuPaul’s “Category Is…” remix, which was produced as a challenge on the show.

In one verse, Velour opens with: “Radical, magical, liberal art. Gender is a construct; tear it apart.” Which, for her, is what the art of drag is all about — challenging gender and empowering people to follow their own paths.

“A lot of people still have the idea that drag goes from one end of the gender spectrum to the other end of the gender spectrum, and they expect drag queens to be masculine out of drag and hyper-feminine in drag,” she said. “I think that portrays a lot of binary thinking and ultimately a lot of misogyny. I hope people appreciate that drag always has been more about the blurriness of gender rather than these two extremes.”

“We make ourselves royals”

As Velour watched her victory Friday night as the first queen ever to be crowned on VH1, she had a moment thinking back to her childhood — before she had other LGBTQ people in her life or understood the world of gay culture.

“I imagined scrolling through channels and just discovering [Drag Race] on VH1. This, like, giant theater full of people cheering for queer people in the most glamorous, fabulous costumes — just being emotional, being angry about politics, being truly themselves. And I thought about how powerful that would be, and it was really humbling,” Velour said. “That’s really the message of drag in the end. We make ourselves royals.”

“I hope that speaks to people and reminds them that America is full of scrappy, strange, beautiful people making magic for themselves.”

The third issue of Velour comes out on July 5 and will include the contestants from season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It will also feature discussions on the connection between transgender politics, liberation and the drag community.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Winner Sasha Velour Cut From A Different Fabric


Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1

On Friday night, a new American monarch rose to power beneath a cascade of rose petals, a cracked mask and the ballads of Whitney Houston.

But she didn’t just use the glamour, comedy, acting and lip syncing prowess that fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race have come to expect from America’s Next Drag Superstar. Sasha Velour relies on brains.

An “amateur drag historian”

When the 30-year-old queen is at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., she produces and stars in a monthly drag cabaret event called Nightgowns. She co-founded Velour, a magazine spotlighting lesser-known styles and issues in drag. She received an MFA from the Center for Cartoon Studies and studied political art as a Fulbright Scholar in Moscow.

She also considers herself an “amateur drag historian,” acknowledging there have always been different schools of drag — all competing, warring, pushing the art in new directions.

But for Velour, her style comes from simultaneously paying tribute to the queens who came before her and blocking out any voices that might try to dictate what her drag should be.

“I want to do something that is not just a pastiche of drag that’s come before, but is really authentically me,” she said. “I try to tune out all the drag that’s out there and tap into the drag that I was doing when I was a little kid — when I didn’t even know the word ‘queer’ or that gay people were out there. … Tapping into the things I’ve always loved and building a drag that honors those.”

And now that season nine is a wrap, Velour can officially add being the ninth queen crowned on RuPaul’s Drag Race to her resume — bringing her eclectic, academic and sometimes controversially intellectual brand of drag to the main stage of American queer culture.

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1

“I mean, it’s been one of the biggest things I’ve gotten pushback about, is being an intellectual and what that means,” she said. “I grew up in this house of intellectuals, and for me it wasn’t like a negative thing. And what I’ve discovered is for a lot of people it is. But I think knowing history, liking to talk about ideas — like, I just genuinely like to geek out and go on these intellectual thought journeys. I want to show people it’s not elitist to be a deep thinker.”

Advancing an art form

As reigning queen of the Drag Race empire, Velour said she plans to use her platform — and cash prize of $100,000 — to bring other LGBTQ artists across America into the spotlight. Over the next year, she hopes to take projects like Nightgowns and Velour magazine across the country, showcasing and connecting drag communities from America’s big cities and small towns.

“I just want to be able to get kings and queens and nonbinary performers working together and having discussions about what drag is currently, what it has been and where we can move it to that is truly new,” she said. “I think if we work together and have a conversation, we can really advance the art form.”

Velour also plans to follow in the footsteps of other notable Drag Race alumni by dipping her toes into video production and music — albeit with an noticeably Velourian spin.

“When I was on the show, I said I will never create drag queen music. There’s too much of it and it’s horrible,” she said. “But then they kind of tricked me into [doing] this weird, academic talk-rapping that’s — it’s not for everyone, but the people who love it are really into it.”

The “talk-rapping” she’s referring to, for the record, is in two collaborations with fellow season nine contestants — “C.L.A.T.” and RuPaul’s “Category Is…” remix, which was produced as a challenge on the show.

In one verse, Velour opens with: “Radical, magical, liberal art. Gender is a construct; tear it apart.” Which, for her, is what the art of drag is all about — challenging gender and empowering people to follow their own paths.

“A lot of people still have the idea that drag goes from one end of the gender spectrum to the other end of the gender spectrum, and they expect drag queens to be masculine out of drag and hyper-feminine in drag,” she said. “I think that portrays a lot of binary thinking and ultimately a lot of misogyny. I hope people appreciate that drag always has been more about the blurriness of gender rather than these two extremes.”

“We make ourselves royals”

As Velour watched her victory Friday night as the first queen ever to be crowned on VH1, she had a moment thinking back to her childhood — before she had other LGBTQ people in her life or understood the world of gay culture.

“I imagined scrolling through channels and just discovering [Drag Race] on VH1. This, like, giant theater full of people cheering for queer people in the most glamorous, fabulous costumes — just being emotional, being angry about politics, being truly themselves. And I thought about how powerful that would be, and it was really humbling,” Velour said. “That’s really the message of drag in the end. We make ourselves royals.”

“I hope that speaks to people and reminds them that America is full of scrappy, strange, beautiful people making magic for themselves.”

The third issue of Velour comes out on July 5 and will include the contestants from season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It will also feature discussions on the connection between transgender politics, liberation and the drag community.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Winner Sasha Velour Cut From A Different Fabric


Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour, a Brooklyn drag queen known for her avant-garde style and performance, is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.

Courtesy of VH1

On Friday night, a new American monarch rose to power beneath a cascade of rose petals, a cracked mask and the ballads of Whitney Houston.

But she didn’t just use the glamour, comedy, acting and lip syncing prowess that fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race have come to expect from America’s Next Drag Superstar. Sasha Velour relies on brains.

An “amateur drag historian”

When the 30-year-old queen is at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., she produces and stars in a monthly drag cabaret event called Nightgowns. She co-founded Velour, a magazine spotlighting lesser-known styles and issues in drag. She received an MFA from the Center for Cartoon Studies and studied political art as a Fulbright Scholar in Moscow.

She also considers herself an “amateur drag historian,” acknowledging there have always been different schools of drag — all competing, warring, pushing the art in new directions.

But for Velour, her style comes from simultaneously paying tribute to the queens who came before her and blocking out any voices that might try to dictate what her drag should be.

“I want to do something that is not just a pastiche of drag that’s come before, but is really authentically me,” she said. “I try to tune out all the drag that’s out there and tap into the drag that I was doing when I was a little kid — when I didn’t even know the word ‘queer’ or that gay people were out there. … Tapping into the things I’ve always loved and building a drag that honors those.”

And now that season nine is a wrap, Velour can officially add being the ninth queen crowned on RuPaul’s Drag Race to her resume — bringing her eclectic, academic and sometimes controversially intellectual brand of drag to the main stage of American queer culture.

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of VH1

Sasha Velour competed against 13 other drag queens in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race to snatch the crown and a prize of $100,000.

Courtesy of VH1

“I mean, it’s been one of the biggest things I’ve gotten pushback about, is being an intellectual and what that means,” she said. “I grew up in this house of intellectuals, and for me it wasn’t like a negative thing. And what I’ve discovered is for a lot of people it is. But I think knowing history, liking to talk about ideas — like, I just genuinely like to geek out and go on these intellectual thought journeys. I want to show people it’s not elitist to be a deep thinker.”

Advancing an art form

As reigning queen of the Drag Race empire, Velour said she plans to use her platform — and cash prize of $100,000 — to bring other LGBTQ artists across America into the spotlight. Over the next year, she hopes to take projects like Nightgowns and Velour magazine across the country, showcasing and connecting drag communities from America’s big cities and small towns.

“I just want to be able to get kings and queens and nonbinary performers working together and having discussions about what drag is currently, what it has been and where we can move it to that is truly new,” she said. “I think if we work together and have a conversation, we can really advance the art form.”

Velour also plans to follow in the footsteps of other notable Drag Race alumni by dipping her toes into video production and music — albeit with an noticeably Velourian spin.

“When I was on the show, I said I will never create drag queen music. There’s too much of it and it’s horrible,” she said. “But then they kind of tricked me into [doing] this weird, academic talk-rapping that’s — it’s not for everyone, but the people who love it are really into it.”

The “talk-rapping” she’s referring to, for the record, is in two collaborations with fellow season nine contestants — “C.L.A.T.” and RuPaul’s “Category Is…” remix, which was produced as a challenge on the show.

In one verse, Velour opens with: “Radical, magical, liberal art. Gender is a construct; tear it apart.” Which, for her, is what the art of drag is all about — challenging gender and empowering people to follow their own paths.

“A lot of people still have the idea that drag goes from one end of the gender spectrum to the other end of the gender spectrum, and they expect drag queens to be masculine out of drag and hyper-feminine in drag,” she said. “I think that portrays a lot of binary thinking and ultimately a lot of misogyny. I hope people appreciate that drag always has been more about the blurriness of gender rather than these two extremes.”

“We make ourselves royals”

As Velour watched her victory Friday night as the first queen ever to be crowned on VH1, she had a moment thinking back to her childhood — before she had other LGBTQ people in her life or understood the world of gay culture.

“I imagined scrolling through channels and just discovering [Drag Race] on VH1. This, like, giant theater full of people cheering for queer people in the most glamorous, fabulous costumes — just being emotional, being angry about politics, being truly themselves. And I thought about how powerful that would be, and it was really humbling,” Velour said. “That’s really the message of drag in the end. We make ourselves royals.”

“I hope that speaks to people and reminds them that America is full of scrappy, strange, beautiful people making magic for themselves.”

The third issue of Velour comes out on July 5 and will include the contestants from season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It will also feature discussions on the connection between transgender politics, liberation and the drag community.

A New Delhi Family Learns To Navigate Wealth After A ‘Windfall’


In the novel The Windfall, a newly minted tech millionaire buys a big fancy house, a flashy car and leaves his middle-class life behind to rub elbows with the superrich. What follows is a delightful comedy of errors where he and his family navigate the unexpected pressures and pleasures of newfound wealth in modern India.

The book is set in New Delhi and it follows the Jha family from the mid-1990s to present day. Author Diksha Basu says, “I myself grew up in New Delhi in the ’90s and I saw the explosion of wealth all around me. And it was hard to ignore and that’s what led to this novel.”

Interview Highlights

On how the Jhas become superrich

The Jha family start off … just an average middle-class, middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jha. Their son, Rupak, is doing an M.B.A. in America and Mr. Jha suddenly comes into a large windfall of money. He sells a website — it’s not money that comes from winning the lottery. He has worked hard in order to earn this money, but it comes in one lump sum as opposed to an accumulated income over a lifetime of work. So he gets this large windfall of money and decides to move him and his wife from their middle-class neighborhood to the flashy suburb of Gurgaon into a mini-mansion of their own.

On how the Jhas’ new neighbors judge the couple for sending their son to study in the U.S.

For these wealthy neighbors, the fact that Rupak … actually has to go and study is seen like something he does out of necessity, not a step toward his own success. It’s looked at with sympathy that the poor fellow has to study in order to make a living for himself, whereas in their home, their son, in his late 20s, doesn’t actually do anything. He plays tennis and flirts with girls and dates different women and doesn’t actually work towards making anything of his own life. And that is a symbol of his parents’ success, the fact that the son will never have to earn.

On Mrs. Ray, a character who ignores what her community expects of her, and the idea that women can never win

She’s a young widow and she is enjoying widowhood, not that she didn’t love her husband. She did. But he passed away, she’s mourned, she’s gotten over it. She’s living her own life. She is not identified by a relationship to a man. There’s no father, no husband, no son. She is living on her own. And within her society, where most of the women are identified as a relationship to a male figure, what she’s doing is looked at with a lot of suspicion and often criticism.

And at the same time what I found while I was writing this book — I had just got engaged and then married. And in my circle — in my urban, elite, Indian, female circle — to get married and to have a child, which I just did, is … sort of looked at as I shouldn’t have chosen those conventional choices. And so I end up having to defend what’s looked at as conventional choices, where someone like Mrs. Ray is having to defend what’s looked at as unconventional choices. … So for her not to have a man in her life is something that she almost has to apologize for; and I felt to be excited to get married was something I felt I had to apologize for. So I think at the end of the day it comes down to, no matter what we do, there’s really no way to just win.

On the complexity of wealth

I don’t think it is as simple as a tagline of how wealth destroys love. I don’t think it does. I think it’s much more complex than that. And I don’t think it’s as simple as, “Oh, look at the poor slum children smiling through their poverty,” which is often how some literature from India is perceived. I don’t think it is black and white. … I think wealth can be destructive just as much as poverty can be destructive. And wealth can be irrelevant, and wealth can also bring a family together in a completely different and unexpected way. If it was as simple as a destructive power of wealth, I think less people would aspire to it. I think all of it is much more complex than that. And my characters fall into seeing that, and seeing that what their expectations were of wealth continuously gets challenged.

Radio producer Ravenna Koenig, radio editor Viet Le and digital producer Nicole Cohen contributed to this story.

An Ancient Curse Awakens In ‘The Suffering Tree’


A family curse, a resurrection, and a vengeful witch form the Southern Gothic backbone of The Suffering Tree.

Tori’s family fractured when her father died and left them financially adrift, so it seems like a miracle when she, her mother, and her brother inherit an old house in rural Maryland. But they soon discover that the sprawling Slaughter family owns all the land surrounding theirs, and they still believe they have the right to Tori’s new home.

Tori has her own problems. She’s trying to overcome the compulsion to cut herself — the only thing that lets her feel like she’s in control. One night, overwhelmed, she sneaks out to the old cemetery behind the house to escape her mother’s watchful eyes. She cuts too deep, and when her blood falls onto the earth beneath the cemetery’s ancient tree, it awakens a curse, bringing back a boy who’s lain dead for centuries.

That boy is Nathaniel Bishop, an indentured servant who served the Slaughter family until they murdered him. Now his fate is entwined with theirs, thanks to the girl he loved, a witch named Emmeline, who set a spell to bring him back. With his help, Tori begins to unravel the mystery of the Slaughter family, the curse that follows them, and her own connection to it.

An ancient family curse cast by a defiant witch is pretty much a guaranteed win for me. It’s a timeless premise for this kind of mystery, allowing the brutalities of the past to explain the dysfunctions of the present. The Suffering Tree does not disappoint in this regard, deftly twining historical narrative with Tori’s journey of self-discovery, creating a stark atmosphere ripe with distrust and unease.

Fans of the “man out of time” trope will find a lot to like in Nathaniel, who broods his way reluctantly into the modern world and slowly finds a few things worth living for. He doesn’t spend too much time wringing his hands over modernity, and his relationship with Tori has a charmingly morbid sweetness. They are both covered in scars, both physical and emotional, and it’s easy to hope that they will be a balm for each other.

The book makes some effort with LGBTQ representation, and it tackles fairly challenging aspects of mental health. Cosimano’s graphic depictions of cutting feel nuanced, creating a compassionate portrait of Tori’s struggle. It forms the delicate heartbeat at the center of the story, and though it does tempt us to link mental illness and magic, it feels too raw to be anything but painful.

One thing kept bothering me as I read: Nathaniel and Emmeline are white indentured servants. The colonial Slaughters also owned slaves, but we see them only as secondary characters — most notably Ruth, who forms a close relationship with Emmeline. It’s difficult to avoid comparing her experience with that of Nathaniel and Emmeline and feeling that we’re meant to think they’re all in the same terrible situation. But slavery was far more brutal and terrible than indentured servitude, and its ramifications continue to this day.

Dealing with issues of race is unavoidable when writing historical fiction set in America, particularly when it’s in the South. There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling a story about white indentured servants, but I do wish that The Suffering Tree had tackled issues of race more directly, perhaps with more racial diversity in its modern setting. If we’re talking about history’s legacy of violence, we can’t sweep slavery and its lasting impact to the sidelines.

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can be found discussing folklore and pop culture on the Fakelore Podcast.

‘But Seriously,’ Tennis Great John McEnroe Says He’s Seeking ‘Inner Peace’


John McEnroe reacts during a Men’s Legends match against Jim Courier at the Connecticut Open in August 2015.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

John McEnroe reacts during a Men’s Legends match against Jim Courier at the Connecticut Open in August 2015.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, tennis great John McEnroe triumphed three times at Wimbledon and four times at the U.S. Open. But all his achievements on the court did not prepare him for life off of it. After his professional career ended, he dabbled as a talk show host and as an art collector and appeared in movies and TV shows.

Above all, McEnroe wanted to be a rock guitarist in his wife’s band, but, he admits: “That was not going to happen.”

His wife, singer Patty Smyth, told him, “I want to play mixed doubles with you at Wimbledon.” To which he replied, “Well, you don’t play tennis.”

And she said, “Exactly.”

During his tennis career, McEnroe became known for outbursts on the court when he thought umpires had missed a call. In one classic exchange, he yelled at an official, “You cannot be serious! That ball was on the line!”

That line has followed him for decades. “If a day goes by where I don’t hear that at least a couple times, it’s a miracle,” McEnroe says. So he has decided to embrace it: His first memoir was called You Cannot Be Serious, and his new memoir is called But Seriously.

Interview Highlights

On not taking himself too seriously

Believe it or not, I didn’t take myself too seriously back then. … Even though I’m extremely disappointed that the last seven years of my career I didn’t play as well as I thought I was, or get better, or keep improving, I didn’t want to quit tennis at 26 or 27.

On reinventing himself after his pro career ended

I was actually going through what turned out to be a separation and divorce from my first wife, [actress Tatum O’Neal], so I was unable to really think about anything else. We had three kids together and my head was all over the place and I couldn’t even think about … the transition that I was anticipating I was going to be making. …

I was sort of lost, but was open enough to experiment … so that I can find myself again, which isn’t easy when you’ve peaked in your career at 26 years old.

On why there aren’t more great male American tennis players right now

There’s a lot of reasons, but the biggest one to me is the cost of it: the cost of play, the cost to train, the cost to get a court. All of this factors into the difficulty of getting a champion. The truth is … the game has become more athletic than ever, and quicker, you need to be more athletic, and our best athletes mainly are playing in basketball or football. …

If you take a court the size of a tennis court and you decide you want to use it for a soccer field, say, you could fit a lot more kids. … When you talk about schools, they say: Well, it’s better if we put a little soccer field in there and we get 20 kids running around kicking a ball. … Whereas tennis doesn’t come as easily.

On calling Serena Williams the best female tennis player in the world

Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.

Garcia-Navarro: You think so?

McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she’s so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke ’cause she’s been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story.

Garcia-Navarro: Many people over the years, including, we should mention Donald Trump, the President, wanted you to play her, and you seemed to have at least thought about it.

McEnroe: Well I’ve thought about it. I didn’t really want to do it, personally. I don’t know, people always seemed — I would say why don’t they go ask Roger Federer? Or someone, you know they added the old fart that’s you know 25 years over the hill. And I think I can still play and I think I could still — I mean my kids don’t think I can beat her anymore. Maybe I should get her now because she’s pregnant, but the truth is that I think that sometimes —I don’t know why in tennis, I get it’s that one battle of the sexes when Bobby Riggs played Billy Jean.

Garcia-Navarro: Billy Jean one of the most famous, iconic and most watched, I think tennis matches at the time.

McEnroe: Yeah, it was no question. I think there was the most, the biggest attendance at the Houston Astrodome, and it was great that Billy Jean did that but…OK, but that doesn’t mean, talk about other sports. If you go look at the times, for example, of the world’s fastest females — and you know maybe it will change! You know my daughter, one the things she says is ‘You’re a feminist, Dad.’ OK. I started with two boys, I got four girls now and I’m all for it and I’m trying to just get with it and figure it out.

Garcia-Navarro: So, you’re a feminist.

McEnroe: Maybe at some point a women’s tennis player can be better than anybody. I just haven’t seen it in any other sport, and I haven’t seen it in tennis. I suppose anything’s possible at some stage.

Garcia-Navarro: You really think at 60, you could possibly beat Serena Williams? Maybe pregnant.

McEnroe: The way you put that makes me think that you have your doubts.

Garcia-Navarro: Far be it from me to question you Mr. McEnroe.

McEnroe: Well, you know, my kids do, so feel free to. But there’s people that because of course as you get older — I’m not sure how athletic you are and how often you get out in whatever sport it is, but I have kept at it regularly. I’ve done it sort of doing this playing some other guys close to my age even though they keep getting younger and younger. Obviously, if I was going to do something like that, I would train very seriously for that to make sure my body was at, like, the peak it could be. Absolutely — to try and be as ready as I possibly could, but I bring things to the table, certainly until recently. I may be way past it, but I can still bring a few things to the table and so that’s why I guess people still find it interesting to even talk about.

On where to go from here

I need to make sure that I enjoy the upcoming 10 — hopefully 20 — years of my life and just appreciate the ride that it’s been, and be able to continue to … find that inner peace, in a way, because that’s difficult for me. I grew up a perfectionist getting pushed, pushed, pushed a lot. … Especially when my dad passed away a few months ago, I said, Wait a second, you’ve got to just take a step back here and smell the roses a little bit more. That would be my Number One goal moving ahead.

Radio producer Peter Breslow, radio editor Stacey Samuel and Web producer Beth Novey contributed to this story.