This week we’re kicking off our new seasonal series, The Winter of Wayback, in which we’ll choose a year, read a prize-winning story or essay from that year, and discuss the year’s pop cultural offerings–movies, music, books, whatever might help us put the story into cultural context (or just entertain our listeners, and us). For the inaugural week we’ve traveled back to 1977, the year of Mike’s birth, to read a story by Ella Leffland called “Last Courtesies” (the story was originally published in Harper’s, and was one of two stories to win an O. Henry Award for 1977).
We also talk about 1977’s rich–and quite diverse–musical offerings, which include albums by Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac, Television, Styx, Foreigner, The Sex Pistols, Jimmy Buffett, and many, many more. For a sense of the year in music, you can check out Robert Christgau’s Pazz and Jop Critics Poll from the Village Voice (scroll down to the bottom of the page for a link to Christgau’s explanatory essay).
After winning the O’Henry, Leffland went on to publish several well-reviewed books, though she’s far from a household name, even in literary circles. Many reviewers talk about her “traditional,” even “old-fashioned” style, and she’s been described by some as a “writer’s writer.”
One thing we’re interested in as we jump back to years past is to what degree our story picks reflect the times in which they’re published. At first we didn’t think this story would, but in the end we conclude that Leffland’s piece does, in fact, reflect many of the anxieties of 1977.
Speaking of 1977’s anxieties, here’s a link to the documentary NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell, which is a pretty great peek into that year’s music and cultural scene in New York: CBGBs, Studio 54, Afrika Bambaata, and the summer blackout.
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