When is the last time you read a short story? Novelist Zadie Smith recently turned to short fiction, publishing her first collection of short stories last month. Is the popularity of the medium on the rise? Why are Smith and other authors turning to short stories?

We discuss those questions with local short story writers and publishers, who share trends in the industry. In studio:

Jeff Spevak/WXXI News

Leave your digital devices at the door. At last weekend’s Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair, old-school technology was on display. The printing press.

The Main Street Armory was a creepily appropriate setting for the people who love old books. To see the books, hold them, smell them, own them and, I suspect, sleep with them.

“Where did you get the braille Playboy?” I ask Dennis Seekins. I figure he found it under a bed.

“At an estate sale!”

Why do we need diverse books – books written by diverse authors that feature diverse characters?

The question is the focus of an upcoming panel hosted by the Henrietta Public Library. We preview that panel with local authors and a representative from the organization We Need Diverse Books. They help us understand the value and impact of reading diverse books (especially for children), and we explore the current literary landscape. Our guests:

During the season premiere of the PBS Kids’ show “Arthur,” Arthur’s teacher, Mr. Ratburn, got married. The episode, “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” featured the wedding of Mr. Ratburn and his partner, Patrick. The show is the latest in a series of children’s television programs and books to highlight diverse characters and inclusive storylines.

This hour, we discuss the value of inclusion on screen and in print – as well as behind the scenes – and the learning goals for children. Our guests:

  • Lesli Rotenberg, chief programming executive and general manager for children’s media and education at PBS
  • Cara Rager, manager of educational training and family engagement at WXXI Education
  • Leslie C. Youngblood, author of “Love Like Sky”
  • Ed Popil (Mrs. Kasha Davis), local drag performer and children's book author

George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” was published 70 years ago this week. In a recent piece for the “New Yorker,” Louis Menand writes that unlike other books with similar themes, “1984” has remarkable staying power – “an amazing run as a work of political prophecy” – as it looked at a world 35 years into the future. In 2017, the novel saw a surge in sales and rose to the top of the Amazon best-seller list.

This hour, we sit down with fiction writers and creative writing teachers to discuss why the book’s success continues, and what a dystopian novel written today might predict for a future 35 years from now. Our guests:

Writers & Books has a new executive director. Alison Meyers is a poet and fiction writer who previously led literary non-profit organizations in New York City and Connecticut. She joins Writers & Books in time for the 2019 Ladder Literary Conference, which connects aspiring writers with agents, fellow authors, and publishers.

This hour, Meyers shares her vision for the future of Writers & Books, and we talk to local authors and Ladder participants about Rochester’s role as a literary community, and how literature can shape and respond to politics and societal issues. Our guests:

  • Alison Meyers, executive director of Writers & Books
  • Alex Sanchez, local writer and panelist at the Ladder Literary Conference
  • CaTyra Polland, local writer and panelist at the Ladder Literary Conference
  • Mira Jacob, author and panelist at the Ladder Literary Conference

Investigative journalist Omar El Akkad has written a remarkable novel, "American War." It's a look that this country in the near future, as it fights a second civil war – one waged over the use of fossil fuels.

The book has been selected by Writers & Books for this year's Rochester Reads program. El Akkad joins us in studio for the hour. Our guests:

  • Omar El Akkad, author of “American War”
  • Karen van Meenen, coordinator of the Rochester Reads and Debut Novel Series programs at Writers & Books

How many books should you have? Organizational expert and Netflix sensation Marie Kondo says she keeps her collection to about 30 volumes at one time. She says it’s a number that works for her, and that the books you decide to keep should bring you joy.

Our guests discuss why many people value books as objects – for intellectual or sentimental reasons – and why it can be so difficult to let them go. In studio:

A new Harry Potter exhibit is opening in New York City, and we ask the question, will there ever be another book series like Harry Potter? The first book came out before the internet was a regular time-suck in American households; it also came out just as Facebook was taking off.

Can a young adult book series be as successful, given all the new distractions with technology? Our guests -- all Harry Potter super fans -- discuss it:

  • Jackie McGriff, owner of Jackie Photography
  • Chris Fanning, director of communications for Writers & Books, and associate producer of the Rochester Fringe Festival
  • Josiah Ball, Harry Potter fan
  • Adrienne Pettinelli, director of the Henrietta Public Library

We continue an annual Connections tradition by talking to community leaders about their favorite books of the year. We also get insight into how they think, what they read, and why. Our guests:

  • Mark Brummitt, professor of Hebrew bible interpretation at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (“Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home” by Lucinda Hawksley and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley)
  • Penny Sterling, storyteller (“Anansi Boys“ by Neil Gaiman; “In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox” by Carol Burnett; and “So, Anyway…” by John Cleese)
  • Sareer Fazili, local attorney, and immediate past president of the Islamic Center of Rochester (“The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” and “Liar’s Poker: Rising through the Wreckage on Wall Street” by Michael Lewis)
  • Chris Fanning, director of communications for Writers & Books, and associate producer of the Rochester Fringe Festival (“Boy Erased” by Garrard Conley)
  • Meaghan de Chateauvieux, president and CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center (“Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann)
  • Kyle Semmel, writer and former director of Writers & Books (“Insurrections“ by Rion Amilcar Scott) 
  • Barry Strauber, professor of advertising in the School of Communication at RIT (“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen)
  • Reverend Judy Davis, commissioner-elect of the Rochester City School Board and member of the steering committee for the Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action (“Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections from an Angry White Male” by Tim Wise)
  • Julia Figueras, music director and midday host of WXXI’s Classical 91.5 (“Educated“ by Tara Westover)