"The American Scholar" Magazine: A Discussion with Stephanie Bastek


Stephanie Bastek has been with The American Scholar for 10 years, where she is now senior editor. She hosts and produces the magazine’s Smarty Pants podcast, with has just returned with a new miniseries called “Exploding the Canon” about the student protests at her alma mater, Reed College, over the mandatory freshmen humanities course eight years ago.

The American Scholar plays a unique role in the literary-journalism realm: its writings often offer a response to newsworthy events but may do through an interdisciplinary approach that weaves in history or literature, for example, and aims to be far-ranging and reflective. In this episode, the first essay we focus on is Hugh Martin’s “Shooting a Dog” from the Winter 2024 issue. Set in Iraq, it invokes a parallel to George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” set in what was then called Burma. In each case, the supposedly superior Westerner fears being seen as a fool by those he lords over. Similar tensions involving masculine pride, patriotism, and more, surface here. A second essay being covered is “The Lives of Bryan” by Jennifer Sinor from the Summer 2023 issue. The author’s brother has had four previous brushes with death, before a heart attack ends his life. A distraught father’s insistence that what Bryan has hoarded in his mobile equates to “throwing away a piece of your brother,” brings up issues of loss, transience, and the uncertain vagaries we all try to navigate as best we can. “An Outrage Sacred to the Gods” by Greg Afinogenov from the Winter 2024 issue explores his father’s death, and the role of alcoholism as a death wish that the author struggles to overcome in his own life. With “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Patricia Hampl from the Spring 2023 issue, being an outsider is front and center. Hampl has made a pilgrimage to visit a close associate of the writer Katherine Mansfield, only to be rebuffed, leading to a more fruitful connection with her guide for the occasion, an editor whose “pure homosexual” accent places him, like his American visitor, outside England’s class structure.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the author of ten books and leads Sensory Logic, Inc.

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Dan Hill

Dan Hill, PhD, is the author of ten books and leads Sensory Logic, Inc. To check out his related “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” blog, visit this site.

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