Artists Respond to 9/11: Studio 360's List

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Countless artists in the past decade, from novelists to comic book illustrators to documentary theater directors, have grappled with the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror.  Studio 360 listeners contributed suggestions for the most powerful works of art about the attacks and their aftermath.  What follows is a curated list of crucial works, by no means complete or definitive, that help us make sense of what happened a decade ago. 





"The Rising" (2002) - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen's 2002 album of the same name reflects on the 9/11 attacks.




"Jesus, Etc." (2002) - Wilco

Although written before 9/11/01, Wilco's song (from the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) is shockingly prescient: "Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad sad songs..."



"Fiery Crash" (2007) - Andrew Bird

Fear of airplane travel was common before 9/11, but perhaps no-one could have written a rock song of this intensity about that fear except in the aftermath. (From the album Armchair Apocrypha.) 



Listener pick:
"The Hands that Built America" (2002) - U2
Featured on Studio 360 September 2, 2011

Scot Terban from Manchester, Connecticut writes "the whole song speaks to the diversity and resiliency of NY and its history as the island at the center of the world. For me, the line 'It's early fall, there's a cloud on the New York skyline / Innocence, dragged across a yellow line' is visceral because I was there working at the pit post 9/11." (The song appears on the Gangs of New York soundtrack.)





WTC 9/11 (2011) - Steve Reich
Featured on Studio 360 September 9, 2011

Reich's work, featured on this week's show, is part music composition, part documentary.  We hear air traffic controllers and firefighters from that day, and Reich's friends recalling it afterwards.


Live in New York (2001) - Laurie Anderson

Anderson's concert took place just a week after the 9/11 attacks.  You can almost feel the audience gasp when she sings "O Superman," written in 1981: "Here come the planes / They're American planes made in America..."


Listener pick:
On the Transmigration of Souls (2002) - John Adams

John Emmons from Oakland, California, calls the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece "haunting, moving, a testament to life and loss that has universal resonances." In a 2002 interview Adams explained, "I want to avoid words like 'requiem' or 'memorial' when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn't share. If pressed, I'd probably call the piece a 'memory space.' It's a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical event - in this case to 9/11 - is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event."





Let the Great World Spin (2009) - Colum McCann

McCann's New York novel, winner of the 2009 National Book Award, includes as one of its central events Philippe Petit's death-defying tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.



Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey  (2002) - Maira Kalman
Featured on Studio 360 September 9, 2011

How do we explain 9/11 to children?  Maira Kalman visited Studio 360 this week to talk about her children's book, which tells the story of an old fireboat that came to the aid of the NYFD in combating the WTC blaze.


Pride of Baghdad (2006) - Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
Featured on Studio 360 November 17, 2006

This graphic novel tells of four African lions that escaped when the Baghdad Zoo was bombed by American planes in 2003.



The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) - Mohsin Hamid
Featured on Studio 360 September 9, 2011

Mohsin Hamid's disturbing novel explores the effect of 9/11 on Muslims; his Pakistani-American protagonist, though successful in America, becomes sympathetic to the terrorist attack.


Listener pick:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
(2005) - Jonathan Safran Foer
Featured on Studio 360 September 7, 2006 

A favorite among our listeners, Foer's book addresses the effect of 9/11 on nine-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Centers.  Sneakers writes, "I've read a lot of good books, but not very many that compelled me to contact the author when I was done.... it was beautiful, sad, touching and yet, funny. If you haven't read it, you should."





Open Shutters (2003) - Mary Jo Salter

Salter explores tragedy, and the 9/11 attacks in particular, in this collection.




"I Saw You Walking" (2007) - Deborah Garrison

Written immediately after the attack, Garrison's poem describes an encounter with a refugee from the destruction of the towers, a well-dressed man covered in ash. (From the collection The Second Child.)



"Photograph from September 11” (2005) - Wislawa Szymborska

The photograph Szymborska saw is of people jumping from the burning buildings.  Imagining nothing, she describes the millisecond of life frozen in the image. (From the collection Monologue of a Dog.)


"The Towers" (2008) - Yusef Komunyakaa

The poet grapples with his, and our, inability to comprehend an event as shattering as 9/11. (From the collection Warhorses: Poems.)



Listener pick:
“9/11 Out of the Blue” (2006) - Simon Armitage
Featured on Studio 360 September 2, 2011

Claudia Chadwick of Seymour, Connecticut, who lost her cousin in one of the towers, calls Rufus Sewell's reading of Armitage's poem “the best and most moving poem I know of dealing with 9/11.”





Black Watch (2007) - Gregory Burke
Featured on Studio 360 October 31, 2008

In 2004, a regiment of Scottish soldiers known as the Black Watch was sent to fight in the Iraq War.  Gregory Burke based his play on conversations with soldiers who returned from the war.


The Domestic Crusaders (2005) - Wajahat Ali
Featured on Studio 360 March 11, 2011

Ali's The Domestic Crusaders is a post-9/11 family drama.  As Ali told Kurt Andersen, "It's about a family that happens to be American, happens to be Muslim, and happens to have Pakistani origins.  If I've done my job, it's a universal story."


Listener pick:
Love Unpunished (2006) - Pig Iron Theatre Company

Liza Hawley from Philadelphia was moved by this play, set in the evacuation stairway of one of the World Trade Center towers.  The show "personalized the fear and bravery of people escaping the towers," she writes. "It was incredibly moving and subtle and beautiful."





United 93 (2006) - Paul Greengrass
Featured on Studio 360 September 7, 2006

Greengrass's film is a real-time, dramatic narrative of what took place on board United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to seize control from the hijackers.  Our knowledge of the outcome does nothing to lessen the heart-stopping tension of the film.


Listener pick:
25th Hour (2002) - Spike Lee

Lee's film is about a convicted New York drug dealer re-evaluating his life before he begins a seven-year jail sentence.  Brooklynite Sid Solomon says the film was filled with "stark reminders … that these New York characters are living, struggling, existing in a new world, one that is immeasurably changed, but continuing to move just as quickly and harshly and beautifully as it always had and always will."





Rescue Me (2004-2011) - Denis Leary and Peter Tolan

Denis Leary plays a firefighter who lost several members of his crew during the WTC rescue effort.  In the years that follow, he struggles to suppress flashbacks, his alcoholism, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in the hopes of living a normal life.


24 (2001-2010) - Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran

24 aired its first episode in November 2001, and quickly adapted to reflect the concerns of the post-9/11 world, including fears of terrorism and government endorsement of torture.



Listener pick:
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) - Ronald D. Moore and David Eick
Featured on Studio 360 February 23, 2007

Megan from Albuquerque calls Battlestar "an amazing way of exploring the challenges our society faced after 9/11.... Should we sacrifice our civil liberties in order to remain safe? Were these just niceties that had no place in a time of war? Or were they the very essence of our society that we should protect more fiercely than ever in the face of assault?"





Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (2006) - Joel Meyerowitz
Featured on Studio 360 September 7, 2006

For 9 months after the 9/11 attacks, Meyerowitz documented the Ground Zero cleanup and recovery efforts in a series of moving, intensely colored photographs, as shocking in their sublime beauty as in the destruction they depict.


Tribute in Light (2002-present) - Creative Time

This art installation of two columns of light, emitting from right next to the WTC site, has become an annual memorial to the tragedy.



The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (2006) - Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

This interpretation of the government's report as a comic-book makes the official document into riveting storytelling, without hyperbole or exploitation.




9/11 Memorial (2011) - Michael Arad
Featured on Studio 360 September 9, 2011

Designer and architect Michael Arad's original vision of two never-filling voids in the Hudson River has become realized as two pools in the footprints of the towers.  Kurt Andersen visited the site with Arad just a few weeks before its opening.


Listener pick:
New Yorker cover: 9/11/01 (2001) - Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman's cover for the September 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker resonated with listener Robin Dreyer from Burnsville, North Carolina: "What seemed to be an all-black cover revealed, on closer inspection, the silhouettes of the towers — it packed an astonishing emotional punch."


New York magazine's "Collected Works" 9/11 art infographic