“There she blows!” The man’s voice carries over the roar of wind and the deep, even rumble of an incoming storm.
“Ah, it’s a beauty!” he says. “Yessir, we have tornado!”
The man doesn’t sound fearful. He sounds in awe — full of respect and joy in the presence of one of nature’s most formidable phenomena.
J. Bradley Minnick and Mary Ellen Kubit hope listeners feel a little of that awe, too. They are the creators of the “Arts and Letters” podcast, and this is the opening of an episode about a book by Texas-based journalist Brantley Hargrove about a legendary storm chaser.
To tell the story, and to allow the audience to explore its angles, Minnick and Kubit created the episode using a combination of archival recordings, author interview, literary readings, and original music and sound effects. The result is an immersive and captivating audio experience.
These multimedia elements form every edition of “Arts and Letters,” which is funded, in part, by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and celebrates the often overlooked richness of thought, art and life in the American South.
Minnick (A&S ’85, EDUC ’93G ’02G) and Kubit (A&S ’94, ’97G), who are married, are both northern transplants in the region they now call home. When they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, for work—he’s an associate English professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and she’s a visiting lecturer at the University of Central Arkansas — the two relished exploring the Southern city’s thriving arts and music scene. As they encountered scholars, artists, musicians, actors and writers previously unknown to them, they thought about how national media outlets tend to overemphasize the coasts, missing diverse, complex stories worth telling from places like Little Rock — and the Ozark Mountains, the Alabama marshes and the Mississippi Delta.
So, they decided to share those stories themselves.
“We wanted to reimagine this notion of public humanities and how the average person could engage in intellectual work in a very direct, accessible way,” Kubit explains, “especially with a focus on authentic Southern voices.”
Fortunately, the couple have been honing their storytelling chops since their graduate school days at Pitt — Minnick at the School of Education and Kubit in the English department’s Writing Program. Many of their Pitt-acquired skills apply to their podcasting work, such as developing a story’s structure or considering the audience’s digital storytelling experience.
With Minnick as executive producer and host and Kubit as producer and story editor, “Arts and Letters” has amassed a library of more than 90 episodes, with topics that vary from the often misjudged alligator gar fish to Freudian explorations of dreams and the unconscious. They have also garnered a dedicated audience who tunes in via Little Rock’s local NPR station or anywhere in the world, through podcast hosting sites.
“It’s also a teaching show,” Minnick emphasizes. “It educates, it entertains and it provokes.”
For the past three years, the couple have commissioned local musicians to write music for each new episode — another way that each edition of “Arts and Letters” is its own artistic creation, with Minnick and Kubit applying the same passion and dedication that fuel those they feature.
Cover image: J. Bradley Minnick and Mary Ellen Kubit in the studio at 89.1FM KUAR
This story was posted on January 7, 2022. It is from Pitt Magazine’s Winter ’21-’22 issue, which will be mailed in January 2022.