A New Podcast Series by Ph.D. Candidates Jess Engebretson and Milan Terlunen

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ph.D. candidates Jess Engebretson and Milan Terlunen have spent the past year creating a new podcast series to share ideas developed by literary scholars with listeners outside of the classroom. Despite the explosion of new podcasts hosted by academics—from Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds’ Philosophy Bites to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s astronomy show, StarTalk— Engebretson and Terlunen point out that there are few platforms for literary scholars. Given that void, Terlunen started to wonder whether a similar format could be made for literary studies. At Columbia, his acquaintance with Engebretson was advantageous, as she herself worked as a producer on BackStory, a podcast based at the University of Virginia and hosted by three historians. In 2017, Engebretson and Terlunen produced ten full episodes (several are already available here) and plan to release them throughout the year.

“Curious readers of all kinds” are the target audience of How To Read, Engebretson says, which includes “graduate students or professors, people’s whose job it is to study literature, but also your aunt.” Terlunen, the host, seeks to play an educated layman, not an expert, “so that listeners have a stand-in asking questions on their behalf,” he says. Jargon is kept at a minimum and Terlunen will always ask his guests to translate any technical terms into everyday language. “You don't need to know what an ‘analeptic prolepsis’ is, but you can understand the idea of a flashback within a flash-forward, for example,” Terlunen explains.

What separates How to Read from other literary podcasts is a willingness to take on complex, often theoretical issues in a relatively short, fifteen minute episode. And whereas many literary podcasts are dedicated to close-reading a particular text, How to Read is more methodological, more concerned with the ways of understanding a text rather than offering a detailed interpretations of a given book. “We want people to listen to an episode and then actually come away from it with tools that they might apply to whatever they’re reading,” Engebretson says. So far, topics have included the study of social networks in novels, literary studies and the role of description, and famous opening sentences.