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Listening To America with Clay Jenkinson
Sundays at 11am on FM-1 and FM-3

After more than two decades of devoting 52 programs per year to the life and achievement of Thomas Jefferson, Clay Jenkinson is ready to widen the lens. He has wanted all of his life to head out on the open road, to "light out for the territories before it's too late," to explore when John Steinbeck called "this monster country."

So welcome to Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson. The public radio program and podcast—which is distributed nationally by Prairie Public— will exhibit more continuity than change. Mr. Jefferson will still make regular appearances to articulate his vision of an agrarian, libertarian republic. So, too, will his regular, esteemed guests. They will explore other periods of American history and wrestle with some of the opportunities and challenges of our times in ways that Mr. Jefferson would not recognize.

Clay writes, "I want to do my small part in urging us to have a conversation of good will in which we try to find consensus on the history, the meaning, and the purpose of America, warts and all, but not without genuine celebration of all of the many many things that are right with America."

Latest Episodes
  • Clay welcomes regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky for a conversation about the First Amendment, ratified with nine others on December 15, 1792. The First Amendment lists four protected American rights: 1) Freedom of Religion, 2) Freedom of Speech and the Press, 3) Freedom of Assembly, 4) Freedom to Petition the government for redress of grievances. James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights to appease the demands of the American people, who wanted a charter of human rights at the center of the new Constitution. Madison's 45 words are among the most important in human history. What do we mean by the "establishment of religion"? Why did the Founding Fathers feel so strongly about First Amendment rights? Are there limits to freedom of expression, and who gets to decide? How well is the First Amendment holding up in the courts today, and what can we expect in the next few years?
  • Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander of Norfolk State University in Virginia joins Clay Jenkinson to discuss unresolved race issues in the United States. Dr. Newby-Alexander is the author of an important book, Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad. During the 18th and 19th centuries more than 100,000 enslaved people found their way to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad, many of them taking advantage of the myriad of inland waterways in the eastern half of the US. The Underground Railroad was not a single path from southern states to Canada, where slavery was illegal. It was a complex and exceedingly dangerous network of land routes, water passages, safe houses, secret insignia, always just a step or two ahead of the slave catchers and kidnappers who were complicit in the perpetuation of slavery in America.
  • Richard Rhodes, noted historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, returns to Listening to America for another discussion reflecting on America as it approaches its 250th birthday. In this poignant conversation, Mr. Rhodes and Clay discuss gun violence in America. Are humans inherently violent? What is the cause of the dramatic rise in mass shootings in the United States? Assuming that the Second Amendment is unshakable, are there things we can do to prevent or bring down the rate of gun violence in American life? Rhodes’ conclusions are simple and stark. We are not different from other developed countries except in one crucial way.
  • Clay interviews the eminent historian Richard Slotkin about America as it approaches its 250th birthday. Richard Slotkin is an emeritus professor of history at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He is the author of many books, including two groundbreaking studies of violence on the American frontier. His latest book, A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America, attempts to place the current crisis in the basic narratives of American history: the myth of the Founders, frontier myths, the myths surrounding the Civil War and World War II; and the myth of American exceptionalism. As we approach our 250th birthday, can America find a way to craft a new consensus narrative of who we are and where we are headed? Or are we doomed to disintegrate into two or more Americas that see the other side as evil or un-American?
  • Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the penman of the U.S. Constitution, Gouverneur Morris of New York. Morris and Thomas Jefferson knew each other in France but couldn’t really get along. Morris was Alexander Hamilton’s best friend and after the 1804 duel that ended Hamilton’s life, Morris agreed to look after his widow and young children, and he gave a superb eulogy for Hamilton, whom he admitted was a monarchist. We are also joined by novelist Rebecca Flynt, who is finishing up a book about Nancy Randolph, who was involved first in the most notorious sex scandal of the era at a plantation aptly named Bizarre, but later, destitute in New York, drew Gouverneur Morris’ attention first as his housekeeper and then his wife. It’s all intriguing, scandalous, and well, bizarre.
  • Guest host David Horton of Radford University and Clay Jenkinson discuss the origins and varieties of satire. With its roots in the ancient world and particularly Rome, satire exists in two broad categories: genial, bemused satire, identified with the Roman poet Horace; and biting, severe, take-no-prisoners satire best represented by another Roman poet Juvenal. The discussion explores satire in American history; Thomas Jefferson’s humorlessness and his immunity to satire; classical American satirists such as Mark Twain and Will Rogers; and satire of the modern age with Johnny Carson, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and Garrison Keillor. David and Clay reflect on the silo effect and media echo chambers of our time, which have made it nearly impossible for all to meet in some form of the public square to laugh at human foibles and find ways to tolerate each other.
  • Guest Host David Horton of Radford University in Virginia asks Clay for a progress report on his adventure retracing John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” journey. Clay was in Middlebury, Vermont, at the time of the interview, still aglow from his interview with Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini of Middlebury College. Topics include the clunky joys of rural AM radio; whether it matters that not everything in Travels with Charley happened precisely as Steinbeck reports; and what Clay is learning along the way. They discuss the changes in America’s highways between 1960 and today, including the Blue Highways far away from the Interstate Highway System. Clay talks about some of the other pilgrimages he has made so far in the journey: Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Massachusetts; Thoreau’s Walden Pond; and Montauk Point at the end of Long Island where Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders quarantined after their heroics in Cuba.
  • Guest host Russ Eagle and Clay Jenkinson talk about Listening to America’s “Travels with Charley” journey so far. At the time of this conversation, Clay was beginning his third week on the road, recording from Bar Harbor, Maine, just outside Acadia National Park. They discuss Clay’s visit to Sag Harbor, Steinbeck’s home out on the tip of Long Island; and the three-ferry journey from Long Island to New London, Connecticut. Clay recounted some of the side excursions so far, including a trip to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, to Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Massachusetts, and a pilgrimage to Walden Pond, the home of Henry David Thoreau, Clay’s nominee for the writer of America’s most important book.
  • Clay Jenkinson interviews Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Rhodes, the author of 23 books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Topics include Rhodes' path to one of the most productive and acclaimed writing careers in recent American history; the strengths and weaknesses of Christopher Nolan's film Oppenheimer; the time Edward Teller abruptly stopped an interview and asked Rhodes to leave; the current status of the Doomsday Clock that tells us how close we are to nuclear war; and what's next in the illustrious career of the much awarded and universally celebrated author.
  • Clay Jenkinson and special guest host Russ Eagle discuss the first days of Listening to America’s Travels with Charley Tour. Clay reports from a campground near Cedar Rapids, Iowa en route to Sag Harbor out on the end of Long Island, New York, to touch base with Steinbeck’s starting point for his 1960 journey through America. Clay recounts his wrestling match with an uncooperative bike rack, and other details of getting underway on a twenty-week odyssey around the perimeter of the United States. Russ and Clay talk about Steinbeck’s state of mind—and declining health—as he set out in late September 1960, and the ways in which Steinbeck shaped his book Travels with Charley as a literary masterpiece and not just a dry reporting of verifiable road facts. They discuss the place of Travels with Charley in the larger trajectory of Steinbeck’s amazing career, and the places Clay will visit on his way to Long Island.