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Literary podcasts: Modern aural tradition

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By Doug Hare EBS Staff

The spoken word and the written word are not as distinct as one might imagine. Most of our great epic poems, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” “The Aeneid,” “Beowulf,” were meant to be recited and heard. The aural quality of the spoken word is more primordial than words on a page.

Occasionally, I listen to books on tape, or actually I listen to them on an app called Audible. But I still prefer the old-fashioned way. There’s something about being able to read at your own pace, the tactile satisfaction of turning the page, the ability to re-read sentences and passages, or maybe just being able to throw the book itself on the shelf—like a trophy hunter mounting horns to his wall. 

Let me walk that claim back. Sometimes a good book being read by a talented narrator using different character voices, intonations and timbres can make a road trip go by effortlessly. Without the need to focus on the letters of the page, the mind is unencumbered, the imagination freer to wonder, unhindered by any task besides listening, and perhaps staying in your lane.

Not only have I been listening to books, but there are also a few literary podcasts in our region that continue to impress me and keep me informed about the best writers in our region. Montana Public Radio has two programs that are stellar: “The Write Question” and “Reflections West” are weekly podcasts that delve into the thoughts of writers and scholars of the American West. 

“Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers” has only a few podcasts, but they are all fascinating, in-depth interviews with some up-and-coming writers. Wyoming Public Radio, in collaboration with the MFA program at the University of Wyoming, just started a podcast called “Spoken Words” that has plenty of potential.

But if you’re going to listen to just one literary podcast produced west of the 98th meridian, download a few episodes of “The Last Best Stories.” Produced by Jule Banville, a professor at the University of Montana School of Journalism where she teaches audio storytelling, these podcasts always seem to be of superior quality. The first one I listened to, about the town of Pray, Montana, being for sale for a half million dollars got me hooked. At around 20 minutes for each episode, they are easily consumable and always captivating.

People like to say that Montana is a small town with long roads. Well, it just so happens that those long roads are the perfect place to listen to podcasts and learn more about this small town we call home. Whether “The Last Best Stories” is discussing historical Montana and modern-day Montana, here is proof that the art of storytelling is alive and well in the Treasure State, and you don’t need to crack a book to hear tales worth listening to.

Doug Hare is the Distribution Director for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.

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