Recorded on May 30, 2023
I had the pleasure of speaking with David Naimon of Between the Covers, my favourite and most-listened to podcast. In this episode we discuss David’s journey from his career as a health professional to hosting the podcast. He has said that he leads with curiosity, desire and love, and it is clear from his conversations with guests and from our conversation that he makes a caring and thoughtful show. I greatly admire David’s approach and what he’s doing. See the note of praise at the end of the show notes.
I talk about all the reasons why I wanted to have David on the show. We discuss the role of chance and intention in David’s coming to host a literary podcast, and eventually the podcast becoming a full-time occupation.
The Art of Erosion, Alice Oswald is David’s favourite of Oswald’s University of Oxford lectures, and I listened to it before our conversation began.
I ask David about his love of radio, the initial impulse that led sideways into Between the Covers. I can’t help but talk about my own amateur home radio show I taped on my recorder at home.
David talks a little about the Crafting with Ursula series last year, what he’s learned and the creation of new scholarship. He tells us about the motivation behind his decisions on both topics and guests for Crafting with Ursula.
I ask David to take part in a modified social media meme, what are some episodes to get to know Between the Covers.
He picks Jori Graham’s episode because it is an episode about how to be present to one’s own life. I also loved this episode, especially because of her thoughts on the olfactory.
He also names the Words Are My Matter episode with Ursula K. Le Guin.
To get to know David, he suggests the episodes where he talks to elder writers, such as Rosemarie Waldrop, Dionne Brand, Helene Cixous. I mention the Ada Limon episode. I mention how much I enjoy episodes where David and the guest read a work together. He talks about the connections as a way of building a tree, as a generous thing to reveal to show influences.
We discuss David’s preparation for the show. I learned on Creative Mornings, May 2022: https://youtu.be/OnxioH3vueE that David doesn’t give the guests questions in advance.
He reassures guests that the show will be “edited to our best selves.” He does an enormous amount of editing.
I ask about the connection between the show and David’s own writing. He talks about how he has moved from talking primarily about non-experimental narrative fiction in the early days to narrative non-fiction to narrative poetry and initial anxiety about poetry 13 years ago when the show began. The heart of his own interest is in hybrid non-narrative work. He chooses books that he imagines could create great conversations for the show. We talk about how some of the questions are philosophical questions more than about craft, such as questions of empathy or representation. We talk about the through lines, questions that come up again throughout the episodes.
I raise the idea of how people are listening to the podcast and wonder how listeners to the Small Machine Talks listen to this podcast and other podcast. I talk about listening to Between the Covers with Charles. I first heard David on Commonplace with Rachel Zucker. We also listened to Rachel Zucker on Between the Covers. David mentions my doodles while listening to Crafting with Ursula.
I ask David to talk about having other writers ask guests questions. At first David read their questions, but increasingly he asks for audio files.
I find the way David keeps the conversation flowing with open ended questions to be so generative. We discuss the act of listening and listening for survival.
I find out about the connection between listening and childhood on the podcast episode of Mike Sakasegawa’s show Keep the Channel Open, #78, a podcast episode recorded on December 18, 2018
David talks about this in connection to the episode with Victoria Chang. He talks about sharing his writing and how that exposed him to criticism and the possibility of humiliation, evocative of childhood bullying. He gives insight into how and why he crafts questions the way he does-listening as a constructive art.
NOTE OF PRAISE
Between the Covers is a carrier bag podcast—to borrow Le Guin’s concept of the Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction [and not forgetting that it came from Elizabeth Fishers’ Carrier Bag Theory of Human Evolution]. It holds books, and words that bear meanings. It is a gathering place of intricately woven stories, grains of inspiration, whole fields of ideas and words that bloom into lush and rich conversations. It centers works by queer writers, writers of colour, women writers, who are so often erased in the literary canon. It brings translation, horror, science fiction and fantasy out of the periphery. It includes the wild-oat, its husk and seed. Naimon moves from one thoughtful insight to another. Guests will often respond with delight at the connections he draws.
This podcast gets me excited about reading and writing. Through research, gathering and contemplative thinking, David Naimon crafts compelling conversations collaboratively with writers. He gently guides guests and listeners through myriad connections from the work being discussed to microcosms and macrocosms. Naimon is a carrier, much like Laisvė in Lydia Yuknavitch’s book, Thrust, who carries objects and knowledge, backwards and forward through time. Naimon holds space for art and community. Listeners of Between the Covers are rewarded, with fascinating conversations, and space for the imagination. Between the Covers is the work of an attentive and devoted listener, reader, and caring person. It is a warm and welcome home for writers and readers.
In the show notes, I include all the references and links to the various sources that I read to find out more about David. But a few that were especially helpful were Constance Malloy’s three-part interview with David on her blog, the Burning Hearth. Mike Sakasegawa’s interview and panel on the literary craft of the podcast on his podcast, Keep the Channel Open, David and Rachel Zucker’s conversation on the Commonplace podcast, and the Creative Mornings interview on YouTube.
Thanks to David for being on the show, to Charles Earl for processing, to Jennifer Pederson for the intro and outro and to all of you for listening and sharing the episode. Stay tuned for the next episode of the Small Machine Talks.
STORIES, ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS: A LIST OF RESOURCES CONSULTED
INTERVIEWS WITH DAVID NAIMON
Constance Mallow, the Burning Hearth – three-part written interview: David as Writer, David as Interviewer, David with Ursula K. Le Guin, August, 2022
Creative Mornings, May 2022: https://youtu.be/OnxioH3vueE
Mike Sakasegawa, Keep the Channel Open, #108, a panel discussion with Rachel Zucker of Commonplace, Dujie Tahat of The Poet Salon, and David Naimon of Between the Covers, April 2020
David Naimon and Rachel Zucker, Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and other people), Episode 89, The Ladder out of the Hole, December 2020.
Mike Sakasegawa, Keep the Channel Open, #78, a podcast episode recorded on December 18, 2018
Absolom J. Hagg, Interview: David Naimon of Between the Covers, The Masters Review Blog
WRITING BY DAVID NAIMON
Genetic Drift, Story Quarterly, Rutgers-Camden University
Worm Song, Fireside, 2020
Heathen, Orion Magazine, 2020
The Blind Experiment, the Adroit Journal
Let’s Feel the Pain Together, Catapult Magazine, 2017
May Your Memory Be a Blessing, Eco Theo Collective
Ursula K. Le Guin and David Naimon, Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin, Tin House Books, 2018
A Story, Old Pal Magazine, 2019
Always Beginning: Ursula K. Le Guin’s poetry reveals a writer humbled by the craft. Poetry Foundation, 2018 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/148040/always-beginning
Ursula K. Le Guin, Editing to the End. David Naimon on Collaborating with a Literary Legend, Literary Hub, 2018
Ursula K. Le Guin: Dictators are Always Afraid of Poets
On Nature Writing, Technology, and Poetic Form, Literary Hub, 2018
Note that this is not a complete list of David’s interviews and writing, but some of the resources I read in preparation for our conversation.