Meet Miwa Messer, Host of Poured Over: The Barnes & Noble Podcast to Find Out What Episodes You Should Be Listening To This National Podcast Day
Poured Over: The Barnes & Noble Podcast kicked off on June 1, 2021 with Maggie O’Farrell on her sublime novel, Hamnet, celebrated our 100th episode with none other than Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan and her latest, The Candy House, and kicked off an incredible fall season with 2021 Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah on Afterlives and Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan on Lessons, among other notable voices — some with Pulitzers or National Book Awards or Booker Prizes and Macarthur Genius Grants.
It’s been a wild year and a few months (including a very nice shout out for the show from Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point, for the show in her By the Book interview in The New York Times Book Review), so for International Podcast Day, Brittany Bunzey of B&N Reads turned the tables on Poured Over’s Executive Producer & Host, Miwa Messer. (Oh, and all of the links in this article will lead you to embedded episodes of the show that you can stream at your convenience, though we hope you’ll follow the show on your favorite podcast app.)
BB: Miwa, how did we get here?
MM: True story: I left a fancy college with a fancy degree and instead of doing what was expected of me, I went to work in a bookstore in Boston. Those Powers That Be sent me to Chicago, where I spent a couple of years learning everything I could about bookselling. I came back to NYC to be a publicist at Grove/Atlantic and, from there, landed at B&N, where I produced in-store events, rebuilt the Discover Great New Writers program and our social media strategy … and that was before I created/launched/produced/hosted (and even edited the audio for) Poured Over. That’s all a long-winded way of saying I am, and always have been, a bookseller.
BB: Whoa. Who are you as a reader?
MM: I read for language and voice first, then story and character — and I don’t necessarily need to like the characters I’m reading about. I read insanely fast and retain what I read, and I’m not sure we could pull off 2-3 episodes per week without it. I’m always reading for the show, which includes reading coverage of books and authors and publishing in traditional media — I subscribe to the NYT, LAT and WaPo — and on social media. I also spend tons of time talking to other readers inside and outside of the industry about books and authors, what they’re watching, what they’re worried about day-to-day, and more. Equally important: I’m curious and I love to listen to writers riff on their work and the world. My show scripts/research run anywhere from 20 to 50 to 100+ pages, single spaced, and I probably use one-tenth to one-third of that in my interviews for Poured Over.
BB: Wait, how many books do you read a week/month/year?
MM: Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve never kept a notebook of the books I’ve read, and I don’t force myself to finish books I’m not grooving on. I still gravitate towards emerging talent (that doesn’t always mean debuts, BTW) and yeah, I have a pretty significant TBR, mostly made up of NYRB classics and books I’m not covering on the show.
BB: So, what have you learned since you launched the show?
MM: I made a show that I wanted to listen to, and I knew other readers would come to it because it’s a show where writers own the floor. I’ll set things up and ask a ton of questions — and then get out of the way. I’ve always said it’s my job as a bookseller to hold the door open while others walk through, and listeners can see that writ large in the lineup of authors we’ve hosted since our 6/1/21 launch. We started adding video editions of many episodes of Poured Over episodes to B&N’s YouTube channel to mark our first anniversary in June 2022; I have to say that I had no idea that plenty of podcast lovers like to watch podcasts instead of listen, but here we are, and YouTube features closed-captioning. (We’ve also added full transcripts to each individual episode page.) We also have a very fun, segment called TBR Topoff that comes from booksellers at our Westchester, OH store (with River Crossing joining the fun later this fall) tying backlist book recommendations to the current show’s interview.
Our booksellers across the country LOVE the show; they’re building store displays and featuring the show on their local social media channels and talking it up in their communities. Some of the comments I hear most often from listeners are “I love the intimacy of these conversations” and “I learn so much about writing” and “I just bought the book!” (Feel free to drop your comments and questions to me at PouredOverPod at bn dot com).
Asking me to pick a favorite episode of Poured Over is like asking me to pick a favorite book, which is something I don’t like to do, because there’s always something new for me to fall utterly, impossibly in love with. But if you’re looking for a cheat sheet, here are a few episodes that listeners have told me are their favorites:
- Clint Smith on How the Word is Passed
- Alix Harrow on Once and Future Witches
- Michele Zauner on Crying in H-Mart
- Marlon James on Moon Witch, Spider King
- Andrea Elliott on Invisible Child
- Tara Westover on Educated
- Julie Otsuka on The Swimmers
- Debbie Millman on Why Design Matters
- Honorée Fanonne Jeffers on The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
- Emily St. John Mandel on Sea of Tranquility
- Isaac Fitzgerald on Dirtbag, Massachusetts
- Anthony Marra on Mercury Pictures Presents
- U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón on The Hurting Kind
- Saeed Jones on Alive at the End of the World
Coming this fall on Poured Over: Celeste Ng, Patti Smith, Nick Hornby, George Saunders, Siddhartha Mukerjee, Jane Smiley and many more writers we love. New episodes of Poured Over land every Tuesday and Thursday, with the occasional Saturday show, and can be heard on www.bn.com/PouredOverPod or your favorite podcast app.