When Aviya Kushner enrolled in Marilynne Robinson’s Old Testament course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she didn’t recognize the text her teacher and classmates were familiar with. She wasn’t new to the stories they were studying; she had read them many times since she was a young child. But Kushner had read them in Hebrew as part of her Orthodox Jewish schooling, and the translations her Christian classmates knew well sounded nothing like the Hebrew to Kushner. With Robinson’s encouragement, Kushner set out to collect a wide variety of English translations, then compare them with each other and with the Hebrew Bible.
Agatha Christie was the instigator. More specifically, it was the TV adaptation of Triangle at Rhodes, a Hercule Poirot mystery that combined the aspirational attractions of leisure on the Mediterranean, intrigue under parasols, and murder in evening dress. The center of the titular love triangle, when exhausted from lounging too long under hats too enormous, asks the waiter or admirer at hand to be a lamb and fetch her a pink gin. One night, her devoted husband waltzes across the hotel parquet with said cocktail. She downs it, she gasps, she clutches her bejeweled turban with a begloved hand—and voila, murder most foul.
I wish I could say I liked Alexander Hamilton before it was cool. The truth is that I rode the same wave of resurgent popularity that has now given audiences the most creative, compelling, original telling of America’s founding in pop culture memory.
I say pop culture, not high culture, since Hamilton, the hip-hop musical that has taken Broadway by storm since opening in July, is at once a masterpiece of musical theater and a highly entertaining, accessible telling of America’s founding.