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2018 Abstracts

Revising History: The Familiar Essay’s Transformation in the Podcast Industry

Miriam Sweeney, Brigham Young University

I plan to research the possibility of using the modern podcast as a medium to publish the familiar essay. Once thought of as a thing of the past, the modern essay permeates American culture more than almost any other format of writing. It can be seen in blog posts, newspaper columns, memoirs, and even social media posts. Although it is not normally advertised in these contexts as an essay, it carries the same exploratory characteristics that shaped social innovations and revolutions throughout the history of the United States. It was used to draw attention to social injustices by activists like James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois. It was used to draw votes by political hopefuls like Theodore Roosevelt. It was even used to define and prescribe aspects of culture— including fashion, literature, media, and food— by magazines such as The New Yorker. Essays have long been influential to the middle class American. Podcasts have been taking advantage of elements of the essay without knowing it for the past several years. Popular shows such as Hidden Brain, This American Life, Invisibilia, and Revisionist History produce episodes that either are essays or contain various essayic elements that provide the same kind of charming, persuasive clout of the essay of previous centuries. In this project, I delve into this as-of-yet unexplored connection between a classic genre and a new, popular medium of delivery. I will test my hypothesis that the principles of an engaging, popular essay are also the principles that make an engaging, popular nonfiction podcast. I will do so by conducting research for, writing, and producing a podcast using essayic traits.