On Welcome to Night Vale and Selected Shorts

Last night I was lucky enough to see the Welcome to Night Vale takeover of WNYC’s Selected Shorts, in which Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor shared some of their podcast’s literary influences—poems, short stories, and plays performed by actors and friends of Night Vale. It was a fascinating exercise, like tracing Night Vale’s family tree back through immediate ancestors like the New York Neo-Futurists to stylistic forbearers like Shirley Jackson, and less generic (though what is genre, anyway?) and more thematic cousins like Tony Kushner and John Darnielle.

The pieces highlighted—and curated by Fink and Cranor with thoughtful introductions—were beautiful, and I left with lots of new items for the to-read list. But even more than that I was inspired by the idea of being mindful of one’s influences. I’ve never been as thoroughly, specifically conscious as Fink and Cranor of the cloud (glow cloud?) of others’ work that informs mine. I’ve been jotting on a Post-It this morning, trying to sketch out the basics. Teachers (Tina May Hall, Jennine Capo Crucet, Elizabeth Stucky-French); history and science enthusiasts (Tolstoy, David Mitchell, Andrea Barrett); fictional biographers (Barrett again [she comes up in nearly every category], Kevin Moffett, Chris Bachelder); Masters of linked narratives (Jennifer Egan, Mitchell, Barrett); writers of place (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paul Harding, Karen Russell); geniuses of growing original work from seeds of fannish tribute (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dave Malloy, John Darnielle); those giving voice to marginalized identities (Alison Bechdel, Miranda, Tiphanie Yanique); The Russians; the school of Southern Gothic.

This is a sketchy and incomplete start, and completely leaves out film, television, and intangibles—but the exercise itself was already rewarding and energizing, and produced a few surprises I hadn’t thought to link. I’ll try to make a habit of re-mapping a web of influences from time to time, and with each new project. (What are yours?) And I’ll certainly have a new layer to listen for in Welcome to Night Vale.