All ears for literature

Amrita V Nair | Updated on November 09, 2018 Published on November 09, 2018

As good as the real thing: The podcasts allow you to catch up on the reading you meant to do but never got around to   -  ISTOCK.COM

A pick of some of the finest podcasts dedicated to literature and the art of writing. Tune in

Whether it’s a dreary daily commute, a long-haul flight, or a round of spring cleaning that has been put off till autumn, podcasts are a great way to cut through the boredom of the mundane while also learning more about the world. Digital audio files that can be downloaded or streamed from the internet to a computer or mobile device, podcasts are usually in the form of a series and one can subscribe to them to get new instalments. They are devoted to everything from stationery (The Pen Addict Podcast) to space (Are We There Yet?). Since most podcasts are created by self-confessed nerds, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a bewildering array devoted to literature and writing. Here are some great starters for the uninitiated.

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile from the Harvard Divinity School co-host this podcast, which takes a somewhat radical idea and runs with it to epiphanic effect. They approach the beloved Harry Potter series as a sacred text that deserves careful contemplation, using tools from theology. Each episode discusses one chapter (in sequence), examining it through the lens of a philosophical or moral construct such as hope or duty. This might make it sound somewhat esoteric and new-agey, but the end-product is truly special and accessible to all. The hosts are engaging and empathetic, and their hopeful approach to the text renders each episode as comforting as a hot mug of butterbeer on a cold evening. Start at: Commitment: The Boy Who Lived (Book 1, Chapter 1) — not only because the book is read in the order of the chapters, but also because it includes a wonderful primer about the hosts’ approach to the books. Listen at

The New Yorker Podcasts (Fiction, Poetry, and The Writer’s Voice)

The New Yorker, the iconic American magazine, produces three different literary podcasts. The Writer’s Voice and New Yorker Fiction are both hosted by Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor. Each episode of The Writer’s Voice has readings by writers whose fiction has been published in the latest issue of the magazine. Fiction podcast, on the other hand, has a writer pick a story (written by another) from the magazine’s archives, read it aloud, and discuss the work, its author, and their impact. The Poetry podcast, hosted by the magazine’s poetry editor Kevin Young, follows a similar format. All three are perfect for times when life gets too hectic and you’re feeling guilty that your reading has fallen by the wayside. Start at: Jonas Hassen Khemiri Reads “As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died” from The Writer’s Voice. It is one of my favourites, where the first-person narrative lights up in the author’s own voice. Listen at


Hosts Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting describe this as a podcast about the books you have been meaning to read. It’s like listening in as a book club discusses titles from your mounting unread pile, minus the guilt. Each episode is devoted to one book — the plot, themes and cultural impact, as well as interesting biographical details about the author. Overdue has discussed genres from Young Adult novels to Greek epics, and the episodes are invariably witty and informative. Start at: Episode 132, a thought-provoking discussion of George Orwell’s 1984and its continued relevance. Also available at are the hosts’ hand-picked 20-odd episodes for first-time listeners.

LeVar Burton Reads

American actor and presenter LeVar Burton hosted PBS’s television programme Reading Rainbow, aimed at encouraging children to read, for over 20 years. In his podcast LeVar Burton Reads, he shares with adults his love of literature by reading aloud his favourite short stories in his famously soothing voice. It also makes for fantastic bedtime listening. Start at: Episode 7: ‘Chivalry’ by Neil Gaiman. The story lends itself perfectly to Burton’s voice. Listen at

Writing Excuses

This is a masterclass for aspiring fiction writers, hosted by established authors, including the wildly successful Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series). The episodes are short and succinct, in keeping with the podcast’s tagline “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” Each episode centres around a writing-related topic such as literary techniques or tips for commercial success. About halfway in, one of the hosts talks about a ‘book of the week’ that exemplifies the technique or topic under discussion. At the end of every episode, listeners are given a writing prompt as homework, also based on the techniques discussed. From the problem of cultural appropriation to the craft of non-linear storytelling, this podcast is a great substitute for that MFA in creative writing that you rue your inability to afford. Start at: Writing Excuses 5.27: Perseverance, with Sherrilyn Kenyon — for, as almost every budding author would know, writing through the rejection letters is perhaps the hardest part of the process, and hearing established authors talk about how they kept going despite the rejection is uplifting. Listen at

Amrita V Nair is a freelance writer and public policy specialist

Published on November 09, 2018

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