Virginia Prescott

Host, Word of Mouth

Virginia Prescott invites listeners to take a break from breaking news and explore a world of under-reported stories on New Hampshire Public Radio as the host of Word of Mouth, a daily radio program and podcast. Prior to joining NHPR, she was editor, producer, and director for NPR programs On Point and Here & Now, and directed interactive media for New York Public Radio.

Throughout her radio career, Virginia has worked to build sustainable independent radio in the developing world and has trained journalists in post-conflict zones from Sierra Leone to the Balkans. She has been honored for her contributions with a Gracie award for her work on Word of Mouth, a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, and was a member of the Peabody Award-winning production team for Jazz from Lincoln Center with Ed Bradley. Virginia loves working in public radio, but regrets that so many good outfits go unnoticed.

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Credit Dr. Seuss Collection in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at UCSD / bit.ly/1DQg5PW

While you’re probably familiar with The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs & Ham, and the dozens of other world-famous Seuss books, there is one chapter of Geisel’s professional history that remains relatively unknown.  Before he was world famous for his children’s books, Dr. Seuss employed his rich imagination and skillful illustrations for another purpose- convincing Americans to go to war.

Paul Burnett and Clint McMahon via Flickr Creative Commons

Wherever you live, whatever you’re into, human beings respond to music. Brain researchers have found that listening to music not only makes you feel good – it alters your brain physiologically. To find out more we, talked to Dr. Robert Zatorre,  Neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University.

Virginia Prescott / NHPR

It was a sparkling fall day with trees ablaze in Francestown, New Hampshire.

Senior Producer, Maureen McMurray and I, met historian Eric Stanway on the town green in Francestown just as the bells of the white clapboard community church pealed noon. From there we then followed him to a small beach at Haunted Pond; a lovely, shallow pond rimmed with summer cottages, birches and pines -- the picture of serenity despite the number of people who met their ends there. Listen to the spooky story below.

Valters Krontals via flickr Creative Commons

After Virginia’s conversation with Slate senior editor Dan Kois about all things cool, we thought it would be helpful to quiz Dan on what is cool and what is not. Without further ado, we present Word of Mouth’s “Cool vs. Uncool Quiz” with our host Virginia Prescott.

Leo Reynolds via Flickr Creative Commons

The search for “cool” has been a quintessential cultural quest for decades: we all want to be cool, but by definition only a select few will ever achieve it, and only for an instant. So what is “cool,” anyway, and why are we so fascinated by the people who make cool? Here to answer that question is Dan Kois. He's Senior Editor at Slate, which is doing a month-long series on the nature of cool. 

Sierra Leone is one of many places I traveled to throughout my career of making radio and sound and stories, and one of the topics of a talk I’m giving at Next Stage in Putney, Vermont on Monday, March 31. The talk is called “Listening Beneath the Noise”.  Whether in post-conflict zones in West Africa and the Balkans, working with kids in America’s urban environment, or discovering new ideas here on Word of Mouth, I’ve come to consider listening to be a kind of lifeline.

New Orleans Mardi Gras tunes get rolled out like Christmas Carols. You may welcome them as harbingers of the rituals and reverie to come, but by the time Fat Tuesday rolls around, you may not be able to stomach another rendition of "They All Ask'd for You."

Even though it’s Carnival time, I summoned enough discipline to choose 10 (with a little stretching that comes with the local custom of Lagniappe, or a little bit extra) of my most tried and true Mardi Gras favorites -- in no particular order. They span a few of the eras, genres and populations that make New Orleans such a beautiful mess. These are the songs I turned to, long before I could watch Second Line parades on the internet or Treme on HBO, when I found myself marooned from Mardi Gras. These may not all be strictly Mardi Gras songs, but listening to them instantly connects me to the chaos of Carnival. 

Photo by David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with B.J. Novak, recorded live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth.

Best known for his role as “Ryan the Temp” on The Office, Novak talks with us about his debut collection of short stories One More Thing which he thinks is even more revealing than a memoir.

We’ll also get his take on his rising fame, and the not-so-heavy burden of being a celebrity author.

The Many Voices Of Meryl Streep

Feb 20, 2014
Movies in LA via flickr Creative Commons

Ladies and gentleman, the many voices of Meryl Streep.

Over her decades long career of incomparable success, Meryl has given us Irish-American, Italian, Danish, Polish, Australian and, of course, Julia Childs. Each accent is as unique (funny, quirky, intense, etc.) as the characters she creates.

Do you have a favorite Streep accent or character? Share it on Facebook

The Perps Worst Nightmare via flickr Creative Commons

In an effort to explore our cultural relationship with computer technology, artist Jeff Thompson watched 20 years worth of Law & Order – a total of 456 episodes – and documented when computers were used and how.  The project was commissioned by the arts and technology organization Rhizome.

German Poo-Caamano via flickr Creative Commons

The National Book Critic's Circle Awards are upon us and joining us to discuss the nominees are:

Michele Filgate is events coordinator at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. She’s also a writer and critic.

Eric Banks is a board member and past president of the NBCC. He’s the former editor of Bookforum and Artforum and the director of the NY Institute for the Humanities.

See below for the complete list of nominees that Michele and Eric discussed during the segment.

Photo(s) by David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, recorded live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Justice Sotomayor sat down with Virginia Prescott to discuss her memoir, My Beloved World. She's not permitted to comment on current cases, which gave Virginia plenty of time to discuss Justice Sotomayor's childhood in the Bronx, what it was like to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium and counseling a Sesame Street character, Abby Cadabby on possible career choices.

Alyssa L. Miller via flickr Creative Commons

The telling of the scary story is as old as the campfire. Now, they’ve made the jump from summer camp and slumber parties to the web. The internet’s hunger for new, sharable content has sped up production of scary stories and urban legends. A bewildering number of web-forums, messages boards, and specialty websites are dedicated to sharing stories that have been passed around so often that no one knows where they came from, and which maybe, possibly, could be true. The genre is called “creepypasta,” a silly-seeming name for some of the scariest stuff on the web. Our guest Will Wiles, wrote about "creepypasta," a genre he calls the folk literature of the web.


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In his Washington Post review of Lee Billings book, Five Billion Years of Solitude, astronomer Mike Brown compressed the age of the earth into a human lifetime.

Sara Plourde

The statistics are grim. Since the late 1970s, incomes for the top 1% of Americans have quadrupled, while real wages for the bottom half of the workforce have stagnated. Just this week, Oxfam International reported that the 85 richest people on earth, now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population. So what does this all mean for the American ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? In his latest book Who Stole the American Dream?  Hedrick Smith chronicles the dismantling of America’s middle class over four decades. Smith is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and the author of many books, including The New Russians, and Rethinking America.

via promiselandbook.com

Three weeks into the New Year, sticking to that resolution to exercise more or stop eating sugar or drink less may feel a little extreme. So, what do you do? Shrug your shoulders and reach for another cupcake? Log onto veganlife.com? Head for the bookstore to find somebody, anybody, who can guide us to be fitter, happier, radiant human beings? From the meditations of Marcus Aurelius to Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac,”  people have been reaching for advice on how to be more fully actualized since long before being self-actualized was a term. The writer Jessica Lamb-Shapiro set out to explore the 11-billion dollar industry of self-improvement books, seminars, and coaching to figure out why people follow them so devoutly--if they work--and what happens when they don’t. She’s written a memoir called, Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture.

Sara Plourde

This is “Rethink 2014”, presenting ways of challenging our habits and assumptions and the status quo. Today: paying for creative content. It’s the axiom of the era: you can find anything on the internet--for free!  The challenge has been figuring out how artists, writers, musicians and content makers get paid for their work. Take the music streaming service Spotify. Sure, users can discover new artists and find a lot of great music, but Spotify is under fire for failing to compensate the artists who make that music. In an opinion piece for the The Guardian last October, David Byrne wrote, “If artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they'll be out of work within a year.” Maybe the big-name musicians have it wrong. We bring you the story of an unknown songwriter who is raking in the Spotify royalty checks, one song at a time. PJ Vogt of On The Media’s new TLDR podcast and blog, has the story.

Matt Romack Photography via Flickr Creative Commons

For centuries, marriage functioned as a political, practical, and economical union, depending on your station in life. For the aristocrats, a good marriage secured fortunes and position. For common folk, it meant having enough kids to work a farm. It is only in the last 100 years or so that the idea of a passionate marriage took hold of the popular imagination. Today, most of us are less worried about basic survival and can focus more on what we desire in a union. Usually a healthy, dynamic, secure, relationship that is predictable, but not when it comes to sex, which people want to be anything but staid and predicable. Our guest is Esther Perel, she's based her career on how to unite those conflicting desires. She’s a psychologist, sex therapist and author who specializes in couples and sexuality. Her TED talk (watch it below) on “The Secret to Desire in a Long-term Relationship” has over 2 million views. Her bestselling book is called “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.

Is Sochi Safe?

Jan 21, 2014
©Thomas Dworzak National Geographic

While landing the 2014 Winter Olympic games was a crowning political achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin, preparations for the Sochi games have not been so triumphant. With just three weeks until opening ceremonies, security officials are actively chasing down members of a terrorist group that has publicly threatened to disrupt the games. The seaside resort town of Sochi and neighboring sites of Olympic events have a long history of anti-government friction. Only a day’s drive from Chechnya, the region borders recently disputed territory with Georgia and was the site of an alleged genocide perpetrated by Russian Tsars in the 19th century. Our guest is writer Brett Forrest, he examined the landscape and geopolitics of the upcoming 2014 games in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.

Wikicommons

Imagine this: a family of six, living for more than 40 years in an isolated tiny cabin on the vast Siberian Taiga. If this were the 19th century, it might not be so far-fetched. But, it was 1978 when four geologists prospecting for iron discovered the Lykovs. Patriarch Karp Lykov and his wife, Akulina, fled the Soviet purges of the 1930s and headed for the forest where they raised their children, completely unaware of WWII, the moon landing, the cold war, or the advent of television.

Hanibaael via Flickr Creative Commons

Fifty years ago this month President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed a nearly $950-million anti-poverty bill into law, creating Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Economic Opportunity Act. President Johnson envisioned a wealthy country where no child would go unfed or unschooled.  Five decades on, the official poverty rate has dropped, but childhood poverty is on the rise, as is income inequality. With no victory to declare, is it time for another war on poverty? Our guest is Angela Glover Blackwell. She responded to that question in New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series. She is founder and CEO of Policy Link, a national research and action institute which works to improve access and opportunity for people of color and residents of low-income community. 

Archives de la Ville de Montréal via Flickr Creative Commons

On August 28th, 1963, minutes before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his landmark 'I Have a Dream' speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson electrified and moved the crowd with took to the stage and sang two traditional  spirituals. Our guest, Jonathan Rieder says her performance wasn’t intended only to evoke an emotional response, but also, to connect the struggle for civil rights to the fight to abolish slavery more than a century before. Jonathan’s article in The New Yorker,  called “Songs of the Slaves: The Music of M.L.K’s ‘I Have a Dream’" details how traditional black music fueled Dr. King’s ground-breaking  speech.

Taylor Quimby

Like a good music festival, Word of Mouth's Saturday broadcast satisfies your tastes, but also challenges them.  We've got some headliners that you really look forward to hearing - and some unexpected rookies that you might have missed if we didn't put them in the lineup.  And even better, you'll never have to wait in line for a Porta-potty.  So pop in your earbuds or turn up the woofer - here's what's coming up:

  • Rethinking Catholicism:  As part of our month-long series "Rethink 2014", we talk with Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine, America, about whether Pope Francis is ushering in a new era for the Catholic Church.
  • From Rocker To Raffi: a conversation with Chris Ballew, frontman for The Presidents of The United States of America, about making children's music under the alias "Caspar Babypants".
Sara Plourde

The centers for disease control and prevention recently reported that doctors don’t adequately warn patients about the dangers of drinking. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said, “there are at least 38 million Americans who have problems with alcohol. For every alcoholic, there are six people who drink too much to the point where it adversely affects their lives”. Our guest is Lance Brendan Young, he argues the problem doesn’t begin in the doctor’s office, but dates back to 1849 when the term “alcoholism” was first described as a chronic, relapsing disease. Lance is assistant professor of communication at Western Illinois University and has researched and written extensively on the language used to frame alcohol abuse. He doesn’t think the condition should be treated as a disease 

Johnhenryf via Flickr Creative Commons

In the words of author Stephen Amidon, “no other figure is the focus of so much passion, controversy, expectation, and disappointment…” regardless of whether it is football or soccer, figure-skating or hockey, watching the world’s top athletes borders on hypnotic… and sometimes stands as proof of our ability to exceed physical human limitations and become something like the gods. That’s the name of long-time sports-lover and novelist Stephen Amidon’s new cultural history of the athlete, detailing sport from the first Olympic Games, to the rise of Lebron James.

Sara Plourde

Since its inception in 1984, the annual TED conference has grown to attract the likes like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and many other big-name speakers . Today, TED talks routinely go viral across social media platforms, and the concept has multiplied into countless international TED Global and regional TEDx events, and even spawned an NPR program, the TED-radio hour.  Despite that undeniable success, our guest Benjamin Bratton spoke at a recent San Diego TEDx event and dared to ask whether the ideas presented at TED really are worth spreading.

via npr.org

The idea of writing a book about writers who drank too much sounds a little like shooting fish in a barrel. The relationship between addiction and creativity remains somewhat mythic…and frequently mimicked. Remarkably talented writers and champion boozers like John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams drank through successes and failures and kept going even as their creativity crumbled and their lives circled the drain. 

Olivia Laing traveled across the U.S. to follow the paths of six famous literary alcoholics, two of whom ended up suicides, the others dead by middle age. Her new book is called “The Trip to Echo Spring”.

Sara Plourde

After years of isolationism, the U.S. rose in the 20th century to become the world’s sole superpower. Today, economic growth is slow, unemployment and income inequality are rising, and political impasses have ground policy initiatives to a halt. America’s status in global manufacturing, education, and innovation is slipping. Many economists project that China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. It all sounds pretty bleak…but economist Charles Kenny paints a much rosier picture. In his book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West he argues that Americans should stop worrying and learn to love the decline.

courtesy of lapovertydept.org

Los Angeles’ skid row has the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people. For nearly 30 years, this nexus of impoverished shelters and cardboard boxes has also been home to the Los Angeles Poverty Department, an arts and performing arts group comprised of people who live and work on skid row. The other LAPD makes theater about experiences common to people living in poverty – like addiction, incarceration, and the psychology of victimization – for stages all over the world. Their play “Hospital” follows the dysfunction of the American health care system, and is being performed at the Hopkins Center for the Arts on January 17th and 18thJohn Malpede is Founding Artistic Director, and Kevin Michael Key is a performer and Community Coordinator for the group.

Sara Plourde

Scarcity is a kind of great equalizer. Whether it be less sleep, security, time, food, money or whatever a person needs, scarcity hijacks the mind, diminishes intelligence, and lowers resistance to temptation. Eldar Shafir, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton set out to find evidence for what happens to our minds when we have too little – and how scarcity shapes our choices and behaviors.  He's coauthor of the new book is Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

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