Vassar Today

Gretchen Gerzina Talks Books on NPR

By Jessica Winum

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina’s first adult library card was awarded to her after so much hassle that she decided she would read every book on the shelves in order to prove that she deserved it. She was in elementary school at the time. The young reader soon realized her mission was impossible. But Gerzina has since parlayed her passion for books into a career as professor of English (she also now directs Vassar’s Africana Studies Program) and host of a popular radio program that can be heard around the world on National Public Radio–The Book Show, produced by WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany, New York.

Millions of people tune in to 59 public radio stations, Armed Forces radio, and the Internet each week to eavesdrop on Gerzina’s conversations with authors of cultural studies, serious literary fiction, and literary biography and memoirs, such as Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates, Anita Shreve, and Michael Downing. Recently, Gerzina earned an honorable mention from the National Communicator Awards, a radio industry awards program, for her conversation with writer Jamaica Kincaid about the author’s latest work, My Garden (Book).

"I think people like to hear it from the horse’s mouth," says Gerzina when asked why the show is so popular. "I think listeners love hearing people talk about their work, and I think the writers enjoy it because they can tell that I’ve read the book."

Gerzina hand picks the books she discusses from among hundreds that are sent to WAMC’s station each week; she then carefully prepares questions that will get the authors to think about their work in new and different ways.

"Writers always think they know what they’ve done when they’ve written a book. And then they realize it came unconsciously and that they hadn’t thought about it. So I really hope to find the moment where they stop and say, ‘Wow. What was I doing?’ "

Her interviewing success and the recognition from the Communicator Awards is exciting for Gerzina, who didn’t have any formal training in broadcasting before she began doing The Book Show almost three years ago. But teaching, she says, prepared her wonderfully.

"I think that’s why I am able to come up with questions [for the authors]–I am so used to being in the classroom and coming up with provocative questions for my students–to get them to think." You can listen to The Book Show online at