Talking with the authors of your favorite books sounds like a fantasy for many. For Kara Oakleaf and Suzy Rigdon, hosts of the Fall for the Book podcast, it’s a reality. Produced by George Mason University’s Watershed Lit, a center for literary engagement, the show features conversations with published authors.
The podcast is in partnership with Fall for the Book, an independent nonprofit based at George Mason that sponsors the annual Fall for the Book Festival. Oakleaf and Rigdon, who are graduates of George Mason’s MFA program in creative writing and teach there, work on the festival. They created the podcast as a spin-off of the festival in 2018 and have been finding success — and fun — with it ever since.
How did the podcast begin?
Suzy Rigdon: It was originally called Mason Out Loud — that was the creative writing department’s podcast where they had students and faculty reading their works. We thought, “Hey, this might be a really cool opportunity for the festival.”
How do you choose which authors to have as guests?
Rigdon: When the English department went online during COVID, that was the impetus for us to branch out and host a lot of other writers who weren’t going to be coming to George Mason otherwise. It gave us the opportunity to talk to writers all around the country. Often we found these writers [because they] submitted to the festival … This [podcast] gave us the opportunity to have hundreds of people listen to their conversation.
Who do you hope is listening to these episodest?
Rigdon: A lot of the time, Kara and I are asking craft questions, so people working on their writing [and] people who just love reading, who love hearing authors talk about their careers, talk about their process, talk about their content. My goal is to humanize the writer and say look, this is a process, it doesn’t come out perfect the first time, there’s revision, there’s change.
Who are a few of your most memorable guests?
Rigdon: Ilya Kaminsky … Deaf Republic is one of the poetry collections that can make me cry every time I read it — it’s so powerful. And Chloe Benjamin, she wrote The Immortalists, another book that I think is just absolutely life-changing.
Kara Oakleaf: A couple of my favorite guests were Rebecca Makkai, Jamel Brinkley, and Karen Russell. These were all writers I taught in class as well, and talking to those writers to get a kind of behind-the-scenes look at their work is always really inspiring.
What’s your favorite part of hosting?
Rigdon: Selfishly, I get to talk one-on-one with authors who I really admire. I can ask them what I want to ask, whatever my burning question is I can ask them — it’s just a lot of fun.
Oakleaf: Just talking with the writers — we get a lot of opportunities to hear from writers at events, but the conversation format is so much more intimate. The conversation can be more fluid and go in more unexpected directions than a more planned-out festival event.
The Fall for the Book Festival will be held Oct. 12–15. The Fall for the Book podcast can be found on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.