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It was over a year ago that I began to hear off-the-charts recommendations from trusted booksellers about a novel called American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. The novel's circle of admirers has since swelled to include the likes of Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, John Grisham and Julia Alvarez.

Such a disparate line-up of blurbs signals what an unusual creature American Dirt is: It's a literary novel, to be sure, with nuanced character development and arresting language; yet, its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The American South in the post-Reconstruction era was a land of broken promises and brutal oppression for African Americans, as white leaders stripped former slaves of many of the civil and voting rights they'd won after the Civil War. But in the 1890s, the port city of Wilmington, N.C., was an exception. It had a thriving black middle class, a large black electorate and a local government that included black aldermen, police officers and magistrates.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. Jazz musician Jack Sheldon died last month at age 88. As a big-band and recording soloist on trumpet, he was featured with Sinatra, Bennett, Goodman, Basie and Gillespie. His bandmates have included Chet Baker, Art Pepper and Zoot Sims. For listeners of a certain age, Jack Sheldon may be even more familiar for singing one of the bounciest and most memorable songs from "Schoolhouse Rock!".

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK!")

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

If I had to make a list of the most important figures in pop culture over the last half-century, I would put Stephen King near the top. Since publishing his first novel, Carrie, in 1974, the 72-year-old writer has been a literary juggernaut whose books have spawned more than 20 TV shows and more than 40 movies. Still going strong, King is best known for tapping into and exploring that most primal of emotions — fear.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Jean Stafford. Generally speaking, it's one of those literary names that readers might find sort-of familiar, without quite knowing why.

That wouldn't have been the case in Stafford's heyday, during the 1940s and 50s. Back then, Stafford's short stories were published in prestigious venues like the Partisan Review and The New Yorker. A collected edition of those stories even won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1970.

Today President Trump is the face of the Republican Party, but as recently as 2011, Trump donated $5,000 to Democrat Kamala Harris' campaign to become California's attorney general. American Oligarchs author Andrea Bernstein says Trump's donation history is indicative of a practice he learned from his father, Fred Trump.

Editor's note: This interview contains a homophobic slur.

Author Peggy Orenstein knows that talking to your son about sex isn't easy: "I know for a lot of parents, you would rather poke yourself in the eye with a fork than speak directly to your son about sex — and probably he would rather poke himself in the eye with a fork as well," she says.

But we don't have "the luxury" to continue avoiding this conversation, she says. "If we don't talk to our kids, the media is going to educate them for us, and we are not going to love the result."

There are two main theories about how the commercial broadcast networks can continue to compete against the onslaught of such streaming video operations as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney+. One is to attack them directly by offering the same sort of unusual and imaginative programming. The other is to retreat — and offer familiar comfort food, like police procedurals.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Director Todd Phillips is fascinated by what he calls "left-footed characters" — people who are "out of step with the world." His most recent film, Joker, is an origin story — of sorts — for the villain in the Batman series.

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