The Write Up: George Saunders

In this episode of The Write Up, Owen talks to George Saunders about craft, ecstatic empathy, and the afterlife in his new novel Lincoln in the Bardo.


George Saunders is an award winning and New York Times bestselling author of essays, short stories, novellas, and children’s books. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, GQ, Harper’s, and McSweeny’s. His vast literary achievements include multiple National Magazine Awards, A McArthur and a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bram Stoker Award, and a National Book Award.

In this interview during the Texas leg of his book tour, Saunders talks about his ever-present mental editor that drives him to refine his work. When referring to his recent essay on process, he talks about the connection he has to his readers.

In his constant drive to sound “less lame” he builds a faith-based relationship with his imagined readers. He promises them his best work and trusts that they will unfold themselves, tap into their empathy, and join him in his story.

The idea for this novel came some twenty years ago when he heard a story about Lincoln’s grief over losing his son. During his presidency, it was said that Lincoln would frequently venture into the graveyard and into the crypt where his son’s body was to hold him. From this anecdote he could see the outline of a story that would, eventually, become Lincoln in The Bardo.

Saunders was well known as a short story writer for some time before this new novel. When speaking about writing a longer work, he says he was at first unsure. But his skills in crafting short fiction translated into novel writing more easily than he originally imagined. Saunders described it as if he had spent years building small tents and then a large tent arrived. The material was greater and more complex but it was all based on the same principles.

In writing a larger story he found that not only that not only that he could combine several small structures to make a large one, but that there was room for new beauty and complexity in the places where the smaller pieces came together.

Saunders is well known for his essays, often going out of his way to put himself into situations with people he might not run across otherwise. He’s covered Trump rallies and once lived in a homeless encampment, which might have directly affected his most recent novel.

Saunders noticed that all the people living there had a very specific story. Always some variation on the theme of ‘I’m not supposed to be here’. Seeing how circumstance and tragedy could reduce personal narratives to a narrow monologue directly influenced the characters in his novel. The residents of the graveyard are ghosts stuck in an in-between place who tell their stories. Their voices illuminate pockets of experience and lives lived that weave around the main story.  

Saunders speaks simply and elegantly, both in this interview, and in his work. It’s impossible to not be inspired as he talks about topics ranging from ethics and spirituality to one of his characters’ supernaturally persistent erection.

Lincoln in The Bardo is Saunders’ first novel and, according to Owen, is “the best text about ethics and empathy, ever, including all religious texts and all the classics.”

-Felix Morgan



Picture Taking

You might think that cell phones make everything worse. We can’t remember phone numbers anymore, we are addicted to checking texts and emails, and we end up taking thousands of crappy pictures each month. What good can ever come of this?

As Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke discuss in this episode of Two Guys on Your Head, it’s not all bad. We may actually be remembering more moments because of the photos we’re taking and the way we’re engaging with the world through our phones. But then again, there is more to any story, and the jury is still out on this one.


Nutritionism: Aya Kimura (Ep. 25)

James Baldwin said, “the purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” When considering this sentiment in relationship to “nutritionism” one might look at Aya Kimura‘s book, Hidden Hunger: Gender and the Politics of Smarter Foods, as a work of “art” as she explores the questions that remain after the “experts” answer problems of micronutrient deficiencies with the science of fortification and biofortification.

In the latest edition of The Secret Ingredient, Raj Patel, Tom Philpott and Rebecca McInroy talk with Kimura about food and culture, market forces, and what is lost when the “western savior comes in to rescue the global south.”


When we think of all the things we’re sold to reduce stress in our lives, the one that will actually work is free-breathing. So why don’t we utilize our ability to change our physiology through slowing down and taking deep breaths more often?

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about breathing and the brain.

This Song: Vickie Howell

Vickie Howell has been bringing knitting to the people since the early days of the internet. Hear how her roots in the DIY SoCal punk scene watching bands like Pennywise, Social Distortion and Bad Religion influenced her work with Austin Craft Mafia and continues to inspire her as she embarks on her new project — “The Knit Show with Vickie Howell.”

Check out the Kickstarter Campaign for “The Knit Show With Vickie Howell.”

Check out Vickie Howell’s Sweater Themed Playlist!

Listen to Songs from Episode 76 of This Song


Have you ever caught sight of a celebrity or someone you consider to be a “star” and, even though you are a completely intelligent, interesting, and charismatic person, you turn to mush when you say hello to them?

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about the evolution behind our weird interactions with celebrities, and the psychology of being starstruck.

V&B – Postcards From the Great Divide

Taking a quote from former US speaker of the house Tip O’Neil, we ask if “all politics is local” why were pollsters, politicians, analysts, pundits, and practically everyone surprised by the election of Donald Trump? What part was not understood? The “politics” or the “local”? Here with me to screen parts of the PBS series “Postcards From The Great Divide” and talk about the role of small town

In this edition of Views and Brews, hosted by Rebecca McInroy, we explore the PBS series “Postcards From The Great Divide” and talk about the role of small town America in politics today with filmmaker and lecturer in Radio, TV, and film at The University of Texas at Austin, Miguel Alvarez; Chair of The Department of Radio-TV and Film at UT and documentarian Paul Stekler; and political analyst, strategist and consultant Matthew Dowd.

12th & Chicon: Live Broadcast Wrap-up

In October, KUT embarked on a project to tell the story of a neighborhood in transition: the area around 12th and Chicon streets in East Austin. Decades ago, it was a center of black life in the city, but over the past few years, the forces of gentrification have taken hold. We opened a bureau there to maintain a presence in the neighborhood and allow residents to see KUT reporters on a daily basis and help us determine the stories that needed to be told.

Reading Minds

Psychics have something going on, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. In this episode of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about why we think people can read our minds, why they can’t, and how we can have better interactions by recognizing what we need and asking for what we want.

This Song: Sunflower Bean

Inspiration can come from anywhere.  For Brooklyn-based Sunflower Bean the source of that inspiration spans four decades:  Brian Wilson (“He’s as good as Mozart”), Devo (“The perfect band”), Beach Fossils (“The punk home-recording CD), and Tonstartssbanht (“It’s impossible to describe”) all help to form this band’s direction and sound.  Hear the band tell Elizabeth tales of musical discovery, club scenes with a social conscience, what makes a perfect combination of art and commerce, and the attraction of listening to a musical genius’ decent into darkness.

Subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher to get the new episodes of  This Song delivered to you as soon as they come out.

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Check out Sunflower Bean’s Studio 1A performance on VuHaus

Listen to Sunflower Bean’s Studio 1A performance

Download the live version of Sunflower Bean’s “Come On” as part of our Song of the Day Feature


Listen to songs from Episode 49 of This Song

This Song: SOAK // Burgess Meredith

Bridie Monds-Watson, aka SOAK, first heard Pink Floyd when she was in the womb (her parents soothed her with the whale songs of their epic “Echoes”) but only after rummaging through her family’s records did she rediscover the bands LP “Meddle.”  Hear her tell how the track “Fearless” helped influence her songwriting and allowed her to envision how expansive recording and production could be.

Then songwriting duo Josh King and Jesse Hester from the Austin band Burgess Meredith explore the depth and breadth of their Beatlemania.  Josh describes the magic of the very first pre-Beatles recording that John, Paul, and George made as the Quarrymen. Then Jesse talks about how  “Yesterday’s” timeless, sweet sadness has helped him understand the purpose of songwriting.

Subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher to get the new episodes of  This Song delivered to you as soon as they come out.

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Listen to Burgess Meredith’s Studio 1A performance

Listen to Songs from Episode 48 of This Song

This Song: BØRNS // Calliope Musicals

It’s ELO Mania on This Song!

First is BØRNS who first discovered ELO as a kid and returned to the group’s not-so-simple chord changes as an adult.  He talks to Elizabeth about “Turn To Stone,” Jeff Lynn’s writing style, guilty pleasures and how he approaches the songwriting process.

Next up is Carrie Fussell and Josh Bickley from Austin’s own Calliope Musicals.  Carrie picks “Tightrope” as her song but quickly gushes about the entire ELO album “A New World Record” and how it guided her through her tough times and helped develop a new artistic direction for the band. Then the band’s co-founder and drummer Josh Bickley explains how the lyrics of a very non drum centric Blind Melon song won over his very drum centric heart.

Watch Børns perform Live in Studio 1A on VuHaus

Listen to the full Børns session from Studio 1A

Watch the Børns session on Facebook Live (scroll down to June 7th!)

Watch Calliope Musicals reform Live from Studio 1A on Vuhaus

Watch Calliope Musicals perform an acoustic version of  “Dreams” backstage at ACLfest on VuHaus

Subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher to get the new episodes of  This Song delivered to you as soon as they come out.

Listen to Songs from Episode 44 of This Song

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This Song: Eric Owen of Black Pistol Fire // Modern Outsider Records

Black Pistol Fire Drummer Eric Owen likes the simple grooves but he didn’t know it until he heard Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Hear about this revelation and how the song lead him to finally learn to play the drums. Then the owners of Austin’s Modern Outsider Records, Erin and Chip Adams, talk about how Suede’s “Heroine” and The Cure’s “Close to Me” set them, in their own ways, on a course to loving songs that were off the beaten path, record collecting and finally starting their own record label.

Listen to Black Pistol Fire’s MyKUTX Guest DJ Set

Listen to Black Pistol Fire’s Studio 1A Performance

Watch Black Pistol Fire Perform “Bad Blood” on VuHaus

Listen to Erin and Chip Adams’ My KUTX Guest DJ Set

Check out Modern Outsider Records

Subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher to get the new episodes of  This Song delivered to you as soon as they come out.

The Write Up: Juliana Barbassa

In this episode of The Write Up, we talk with prizewinning journalist and nonfiction writer Juliana Barbassa about her book Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink depicting the beauty, crime, pressures, and violent paradoxes shaping Brazil’s most vibrant city.

Juliana Barbassa has lived and written all over the world. Born in Brazil, she has lived in Iraq, Spain, Malta, Libya, France, and the United States. As a journalist, her ability to dive in and find the human face in the most desperate of stories won her acclaim including the Katie Journalism Award, the emerging journalist of the year by the U.S.-based National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the John L. Dougherty award by the Associated Press Managing Editors.

In 2003, Barbassa joined the Associated Press and returned to her home country of Brazil to be the Rio de Janeiro correspondent. There she found a city in the midst of massive growth and explosive change. Poverty and crime still plagued much of the city, but Rio was also enjoying an influx of new business and international attention. This attention increased when Rio won the hosting honors of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Rio now feels the pressure to grow into the ideal Brazilian city, at least in appearance, at an accelerated pace.


Barbassa’s book is not one of dry economics or global public relations. Instead Barbassa shares the narrative of a city and its people in the midst of radical transformation. She zooms in on the people and places that give Rio its complex character. We meet criminals and prostitutes, shopkeepers and mothers, police officers and children. Barbassa’s journalistic instincts drive her into heart of the story, often putting herself in mortal danger as police stand off with drug lords or raze impoverished neighborhoods to the ground.

Her own story of returning to Brazil and experiencing the tension pulling at Rio firsthand gives the book a memoiric thread. Her intense feelings for the city serve to enliven her excellent research.

On the Write Up we discuss her thirst for stories as a journalist, her willingness to investigate the darker narratives, and her struggle to care for herself, both physically and psychologically, while reporting on violence and brutality.

She also gives us insight as to how her life and career led her all over the world and eventually back to Brazil. And how her growing desire to explore the strange contradictions of Rio led to writing this book.

When talking with Barbassa, you sense the conflicting feelings she has for Rio. There’s a real love as she describes the smells and sights, and unflinching honesty as she chronicles the hardships of the disenfranchised city. She highlights the extremes of this incredible city where natural beauty and corruption both thrive. It is her ability to love the city as a local while also maintaining the critical distance of an investigator that gives this book such depth.

Ada Calhoun

Writer Ada Calhoun discusses her new book, “St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street,” with host Owen Egerton.