Lauren Redniss on the Art of Dance

Primary Sources is a podcast where writers and intellectuals talk about some of the greatest influences on their work.
“The discipline and certain ideas from dance have stuck with me and inform more or less everything I’ve done ever since.”

Lauren Redniss is the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant and the author of four remarkable works of visual nonfiction. These genre-defying books combine oral history, visual art, reportage, and archival research to create volumes that look a bit like graphic novels but read like nothing else you’ve ever experienced. Among them is Radioactive, a biography of the scientists Marie and Pierre Curie; Thunder and Lightning, a sprawling exploration of the weather; and Oak Flat, a work of original reportage about an Apache family trying to protect sacred land from a mining company in modern-day Arizona. Her newest project, a children’s book called Time Capsule, has just been released.

When invited to talk about one of her deepest influences, Lauren might have discussed an oral historian she admires, such as Studs Terkel, or a painter to whom she has been compared, such as Paul Klee. Instead, she proposed talking about an entire artistic medium, which she considers to be her greatest source of inspiration: that of dance.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear Lauren discuss the ways in which the multimedia nature of a dance performance has inspired her to create books that readers can experience as events unto themselves. She also talks about how the elements of discipline, pacing, and improvisation—which are all crucial to dance—inform her approach to her own work. And she tells us about how the New York City Ballet became the location of one of the most memorable—and politically transgressive—projects of her career.


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Primary Sources is a co-production of Public Books and Type Media Center. Our show’s executive producer is Caitlin Zaloom, the founding editor of Public Books. Our producer is DJ Cashmere. Our engineer is Jess Engebretson. Special thanks to Kelley Deane McKinney, the publisher and managing editor of Public Books and Taya Grobow, executive director of Type Media Center. Our theme music is “Kitty in the Window,” composed by Podington Bear (Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License).


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Featured image: Lauren Redniss. Photograph by Whitney Chandler.