Elena curates a biweekly newsletter about audio fiction, Audio Dramatic, covers the audio fiction podcast beat for The Bello Collective, and is a contributor to The AV Club’s Podmass, among others. When they’re not filling their ears with podcasts, they’re studying non-native English speakers’ comprehension of the Miranda warning and other socio-forensic linguistic topics. Follow them on Twitter here. Headshot artwork by Charlie Donovann.
Escapism: Alternate Realities, Other Worlds, and Secret Histories
I spend a lot of time online shouting about the state of the world and how art, especially fiction, can push, catalyze, and incentivize change. Sometimes I get a surprising amount of pushback, sometimes so much that it results in an entire article about creating art during a time of crisis. This list, in complement with that, will help you escape from this reality for a little while in all kinds of different ways.
This family-friendly podcast taps into the storyteller of youth and nostalgia, the kind from books like The Neverending Story, and follows the journeys of various children during their magical encounters with a magical book. Morgan Givens has incredible range, performing all of the very distinct voices and entrancing songs himself and breathing colorful life into stories created to empower, uplift, and center Black and brown children.
When the Ventura twins get the chance to travel back in time, there’s a catch: they’re going back to witness and remember the history of Puerto Rico, and they can’t change it. This is a heart-warming and hopeful young adult fiction full of adventure, history, love, and growth in the face of adversity.
Stephanie St. Clair was the queen of Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of her. She ran highly successful numbers games out of Harlem before turning to full-time political reform, and never came under the control of the Mafia. Harlem Queen celebrates her, as well as other Black intellectuals, artists, and businesspeople who have gone unknown and silenced, in a gem of a historical fiction podcast.
This is an anthology about the end of the world; bear with me here. Zero Hours considers all kinds of versions of the end of the world and what that might look like throughout history, presented as alternately hilarious, fraught, and curious dialogues between people on opposing sides. Zero Hours pulls no punches, but importantly, these are stories that are about hope; about how the apocalypse may not be as close or as all-encompassing as you think, and about the importance of human kindness and connection.
Imagine a Boston where the Red Line train secedes and becomes its own city, with all its inherited fears and new triumphs. Greater Boston is a slipstream view of reality, like looking at a Boston on the other side of a looking-glass, one that embraces absurdity and oddness without shirking or minimizing the pervasive nature of trauma, racism, and economic inequality. What’s impressive is how deftly and emotionally Greater Boston handles those topics, providing cathartic release as well as levity and mystery.
Who doesn’t love a solution to a problem? While I can’t promise Loaf and Janet will give you a solution that seems promising, I can promise that you will cackle through this futuristic sci-fi radio-based version of a “Dear Abby” column. The slanted, sarcastic commentary on familiar problems always slides in cautiously, because the primary goal here is to make you laugh at this wildly ridiculous future, where everything and no one at all has changed.
William Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” was the sexual, vivacious recipient of a large chunk of his sonnets, and has been the focus of scholarly speculation. Lady Lucy considers the point of Black Luce, a woman who ran a popular brothel in Clerkenwell, and follows her story as she must deal with fighting the Church that wants to shut her down, her friend’s abusive husbands (and their murders), and the annoyance of good ol’ Will Shakespeare.
What secrets might hide within the natural world you haven’t explored, that’s scared you, that’s seemed uninspiring at first? The Cryptonaturalist is a friendly, enchanting, deep South David Attenborough for the odd and unusual flora and fauna like Orbital Kingfishers and the Sassafras Grove.
A magical realist horror infused with a light at the end of the tunnel, Point Mystic is the town that is not on any map, but everyone who needs to be there will find their way eventually. Point Mystic is a curious and cathartic fiction, one that is built both from scripts and improvised conversations, some of them with real authors playing themself or a version thereof, building the town and atmosphere of Point Mystic together from the diverse experiences of all its peoples.
The crew on this planet has been selected to build a future, to build a life and hope on a new and distant planet for the people who are waiting, cryogenically frozen in their ship. The Nameless Planet has a lot of promise and is flush to the brim with hope in the shape of this other world we can reach and fill with our love and our stories while we are gentle with each other and ourselves.