© 2023
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with actor Steven Duchrow about taking on historical characters. Steven has been performing as the poet Vachel Lindsay for many years, but now he is taking on the character of the poet Carl Sandburg. Where do you start? How do you figure out what has to be in any performance whether it is five minutes long or an hour and a half? Once you have done all the research, how do you turn that immense body of information into a solid and entertaining Chautauqua performance? Steven Dukrow provides several superb recitations of poems by Vachel Lindsay and—of course—performs Sandburg’s most famous poem: Chicago, Hog Butcher of the World.
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the agony and ecstasy of writing a book. Among the topics: Do you do all the research before you start to write or just begin and research as you go along? How do you pace yourself and not burn out? How do you know if the book is any good? What do you do to power through the gumption traps—writer’s block, the distracting dramas of real life, other professional commitments, the days or weeks when you just don’t feel like writing, or conclude that you have nothing important to say? Lindsay’s second book is tentatively titled Making the Presidency, about the administration of the second President John Adams. Clay has authored more than a dozen titles.
  • This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University returns to engage Clay Jenkinson about the plans and purposes of Listening to America. Why the name change on the highly successful Jefferson Hour? What will the new program title enable Clay to explore over the next decade? Did the New Enlightenment Radio Network change the name because Jefferson is now perceived as toxic because of his complicities in slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans? How exactly does Clay intend to "listen" to America? How does this new program emphasis help us think about America as the republic approaches its 250th birthday on July 4, 2026?
  • This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University questions Mr. Jefferson about his formation, about the path he took to national greatness. What were the particular influences of Jefferson's father Peter, a self-made man of the overseer class, and Jefferson's mother Jane Randolph, who belonged to one of the most socially and politically prominent families in Virginia? Why did Jefferson's life veer from the agrarian simplicities of western Virginia and lead him to the writing of the Declaration of Independence and later on to the Presidency of the United States? Might Jefferson have been happy if he had followed the trajectory of his closest friend Dabney Carr, who seemed content with a modest house, a few books, an amiable spouse, and a simple Virginia diet?
  • This week on Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson, Clay's conversation with his regular guest Professor Lindsay Chervinsky about Ten Historical Counterfactuals. Historians are warned never to indulge in what if history, but we cannot help it, it just such fun. What if the British had won the Revolutionary War? What if Alexander Hamilton had become the President of the United States? What if Jefferson had never owned an enslaved person? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated on November 22, 1963? What if Adolf Hitler had gotten an atomic bomb for use at Moscow or Stalingrad? If some of the pivotal moments in world history had gone the other way, how might things be different?
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson’s interview with David Nicandri in the aftermath of the disaster of the submersible Titan in the north Atlantic. Nicandi reflects on the spirit of exploration, the risks taken by those who would go where no man has gone before. Were the five men who died when the submersible imploded just billionaire tourists or adventurers in the spirit of Lewis and Clark and Captain James Cook? How can we make sense of the continuing lure of the Titanic? Where does undersea tourism go from here?
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with his cinephile friend Niles Schwartz of Minneapolis about the summer blockbuster film Oppenheimer. People are already saying it is one of the great films in recent decades, a certain classic like The Sound of Music, Dr. Strangelove, the Deer Hunter, and Citizen Kane. Clay asked Niles to forget about history and the character of Robert Oppenheimer, but simply to respond to the film as film: cinematography, editing, direction, the acting, the score. Niles agreed that Robert Downey, Jr., is headed for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Niles Schwartz is a tough critic, but he loved this film.
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson interviews Bruce Ledewitz, the author of The Universe is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life. Since Nietzsche's famous pronouncement that "God is dead," Euro-American culture has become profoundly secular--and it shows, according to Ledewitz. Without the great tradition of Christian culture, America has descended into radical individualism without any moral anchor for public or private behavior. Ledewitz rejects the Enlightenment's belief that secular culture is a sufficient restraining mechanism for humans who are, in the Enlightenment's formulation, capable of considerable perfectibility. Jefferson's belief in a "moral sense" is not enough to give American culture meaning or restraint. Ledewitz sees little hope for a restoration of a morally grounded American society.
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Listening to America’s Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri after viewing the blockbuster film Oppenheimer. How close did the film stay to the historical record? Was the characterization of Oppenheimer both accurate and compelling? Why does Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) play so large a role in the film? Will the film be remembered in Hollywood history? Why is the film rated R? Is Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Edward Teller an allusion to Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove? Do the four narrative strands of the film hold together? What is the significance of the argument of the film that, once you create nuclear devices, they are sure to be used in the next existential world crisis?
  • This week, Clay Jenkinson's interview with the Thoreau of Great Salt Lake, Scott Baxter, about the possibility that the lake will die well before it dries up entirely. Baxter has spent decades monitoring the lake as its levels diminish thanks to over-allocation and more recently the prolonged drought in the American West. With his future son-in-law, Baxter circumnavigated the lake several years ago. The toxic dust that is exposed by declining lake levels represents a respiratory problem for the citizens of the Wasatch Front in Utah. That dust finds its way to the snowfields in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, damaging the ski industry and causing the snowpack to melt sooner than ever before. This interview is part of Listening to America's Water in the West initiative.