“How about we start a podcast?”
In the summer of 2020, Ayanni Cooper, a member of my Ph.D. cohort at the University of Florida, asked me this question. Like many other people, the early days of the pandemic left us feeling lonely and adrift. And, since research in the field of English is often an individual endeavor, working on our dissertations only exacerbated our feelings of isolation. By starting a podcast, we thought, we could stay better connected with each other and maybe even connect with other people.
The next question on the docket was what, exactly, our podcast should be about. What topics could grab the attention of both us and our potential audience? And what format would be different enough to provide a break from our dissertations, but specific enough to draw on the knowledge we’ve gained throughout graduate school?
We quickly decided that a roundtable, discussion-style podcast suited our individual styles. We both tend to make a few too many jokes in our academic writing, so the informality of a conversation rather than something scripted would allow us the space to let loose while we recorded. Next, we considered the overlaps in our research. Although Ayanni studies comics and animation and I study children’s and young adult literature, an expertise that I began to develop in the English graduate program at K-State, we both look at topics related to sex and sexuality. When we considered the conversations we were already having about the media we consumed, taking a more extended look at the ways that sex and romance function across pop culture seemed like the obvious choice.
Thus, Sex. Love. Literature.—or SLL for short—was born.
While there are a lot of pop culture podcasts out there, we set ourselves apart by leaning into our academic expertise and having fun while doing it—that is, we balance our analysis with being thirsty on main. We look at a diverse body of pop-culture works, from indie films and young adult novels to Korean television and graphic memoirs. Think of our show as “your favorite book club with a little extra spice.” Our goal is for our listeners come away with a better understanding of the reasons why and the ways that depictions of sex and romance in pop culture matter.
Over our first year, we’ve learned a lot about podcasting as we’ve experimented with tone, form, and style. Sometimes, like in our Bridgerton episode, we let loose and have more fun. Over the course of 82 minutes, we spend just as much time thirsting after the Duke as we do pulling apart the sticky implications of their diverse casting choices on their alternate version of history. Other times, as in our discussion of the film Promising Young Woman, we fall back more on our academic expertise as we meditate on the successes and failures of this rape revenge narrative, as well as on what the film tells us about the effects of #MeToo on popular culture. And occasionally, we just do an episode on something we really enjoy talking about—like the global phenomenon Crash Landing on You, a Korean drama about a South Korean heiress who crash lands in North Korea in a freak paragliding accident. (It’s extremely delightful, and I highly recommend checking it out…and then giving our episode a listen 😉)
Ayanni and I have also used podcasting to remix the way we present our research to other academics. For the “Let’s Talk About Sex in YA” Conference hosted by the University of Cambridge, we recruited scholar Leah Phillips to take advantage of the virtual conference format to do a “podcast-style” presentation. Since Leah and I proposed related papers when the conference was supposed to be in person (thanks, 2020), we joined forces to discuss how Tamora Pierce figures both in the development of depictions of sex in YA and in our scholarship, with Ayanni moderating. Although virtual conferences have many advantages, the shift to an online format makes interpersonal interactions harder to come by. By turning our presentations into more of a conversation, we recreated some of that in-person feel both for ourselves and our listeners. As a bonus, once the conference concluded, Ayanni and I released the presentation as a special episode of SLL, thus repurposing our conversation for an audience beyond conference attendees.
Ultimately, podcasting has been a great experience for a variety of reasons. It has connected me to people I would never have met otherwise, especially other podcasters. It has changed the way I think about the public humanities and how we can make the work we do in the field of English literature accessible, interesting, and urgent to people outside of the academy. Perhaps most importantly, it has let me have more fun with my research and helped me keep a better grasp on why the questions I ask of children’s and young adult literature matter. Although Ayanni and I may have started the podcast because of the pandemic, I hope this quarantine hobby sticks around.
If you’d like to give Sex. Love. Literature. a listen, you can find our episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your favorite podcasts. You can also join the conversation by following us @SexLoveLit on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and my account @corinne_kathryn on Twitter. Happy listening!
— Corinne Matthews (MA ’17)