Out Laws

Sunday, November 24, 2002

We look at people living outside the law – both voluntarily and involuntarily. Host Dean Olsher explores the messy legal terrain confronting gay couples who want the privileges of a “divorce,” and talks to local historians about female criminals on the Lower East Side in the 19th century. Sound artist Miranda July introduces a new crime genre – the Independent Crime Crime Crime Crime Crime. Plus, radio producer Ken Hom on growing up under the influence of Chinese Opera.

Same Sex… Divorce?

The struggle for legal recognition of long-term, committed homosexual relationships has been going on for a long time. But it’s only in the last few years that gay men and women have begun to take on another hurdle – the right to a divorce, or at least the legal protections that divorce law provides. Host Dean Olsher speaks with clients and lawyers now attempting to navigate this uncharted terrain. Produced by Michael Kavanagh.

Walkman Busting

So a guy walks up to you on the street, and asks you what what’s playing on your Walkman. You tell him. But he’s not through with you. Now he says he wants to listen too and before you know it, he’s plugged in a mini-disc and started recording. Gideon D’Archangelo invented what he calls “Walkman busting,” and today we plug into HIS player, to find out what he’s heard on the street.

Chinatown Blues

When Ken Hom was growing up in New York City’s Chinatown, his mother used to drag him to Chinese Opera films at the Sun Sing Theater. He hated them. Years later he revisits his neighborhood and his mother’s attachment to those Sunday movie-going excursions.

The Spoiled and Arbitrary Princess and the Candid General

Excerpts from the Chinese opera performed by Wai Wah Lo and Ying Ying Zhu, formerly of the Guangzhou Opera Company. They now live and perform in New York City. They were recorded last weekend at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, in New York’s Chinatown.

Queen of Fences

As Hollywood prepares to celebrate the street gangs of mid-19th century New York, we turn to a lesser-known law-breaker. Her name was Fredericka Mandelbaum (pictured right), also known as “Marm,” and for nearly 25 years she ran an extensive fencing operation – moving stolen goods from thieves to buyers – on the Lower East Side. Host Dean Olsher unpacks the history of this well-respected criminal with the help of historians Rona Holub and Luc Sante. Produced by Julie Subrin

Let’s Now Praise Female Outlaws

Fredericka Mandelbaum wasn’t the only woman making trouble in the mid-19th century. Woody Guthrie wrote this ballad in honor of Belle Starr, who ran a den of thieves in Oklahoma’s “Indian Territory” during those years. Performed here by Pete Seeger and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

Independent Crime Crime Crime Crime Crime

Writer/performer Miranda July dreams up an entirely new genre: The Independent Crime Crime Crime Crime Crime. It's not the sort of thing you see on TV. July’s monologue was commissioned by The Next Big Thing, with music by Curtis Knapp. Recorded and mixed by Tim Renner.

Five Sounds in Search of an Author

Next Big Thing contest judge Jesse Green returns to choose a winner from this month's entries.


The poems in Kentucky-based poet Nikky Finney’s newest collection, The World Is Round (January 2003, InnerLight Publishing), examine intimacy in all its disguises. Here, a short one about going (and leaving) home - in honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday that often prompts those kinds of journeys.

WNYC archives id: 30335

Hosted by:

Dean Olsher

Produced by:

Emily Botein


Gideon D'Archangelo, Jack Elliott, Jesse Green, Rona Holub, Ken Hom, Miranda July, Michael Kavanagh, Curtis Knapp, Wai Wah Lo, Tim Renner, Luc Sante, Pete Seeger, Julie Subrin and Ying Ying Zhu


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About The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is Public Radio International's weekly radio features magazine. Produced by WNYC, New York Public Radio, The Next Big Thing may actually resemble a city or town near you: listeners find it a fascinating place to visit, full of little-known street corners, compelling stories, lively music, and original comedy.

The Next Big Thing is full of unusual sounds and memorable voices. It's a show in which well-known artists like Stanley Tucci and Suzanne Vega casually rub shoulders with subway strap hangers, park bench philosophers, street-corner humorists, and kids on the local basketball court.

On The Next Big Thing, creator and host Dean Olsher collaborates with some of America's most talented writers, humorists, and musicians. Regular contributors include: Meg Wolitzer, Henry Alford, Miranda July, Jesse Green, Jonathan Ames and Matt Power. In addition to soliciting stories from these great writers and reporters, Olsher also commissions original plays, music and soundscapes for his beloved medium, radio, creating an aural environment unique to The Next Big Thing.

Olsher's team of producers is inspired to seek out unusual, offbeat and sometimes quietly affecting subjects: they may ride along with former prisoners who bring puppies to those still behind bars; risk life and limb on homemade roller coasters; listen in as a young man attempts to cure his stutter; and track down an illegal immigrant facing deportation after 9/11 despite the successful, middle-class life he's made for himself in the U.S.

The program's variety is designed to appeal to the broad interests of its public radio audience. Listeners on 90 public radio stations nationwide have heard actor Ethan Hawke in a play written for the show by novelist Rick Moody. Humorists Jonathan Katz, Mark O'Donnell, David Rakoff, and Janeane Garofalo have lent their talents to satire and improv comedy, but the show is also home to sonically-enhanced serious fiction from writers like Richard Ford and poetry from Poet Laureate Billy Collins, among others. The result is a sound-rich, intimate, frequently funny, and always engaging radio show.

Says Olsher, "In many ways, The Next Big Thing is a way of paying homage to radio itself. It's about tickling that part of the mind that only radio can reach, using all the forms at which the medium excels: literary journalism, one-on-one interviews, interpretive essays, comedy, drama, and music. It's about personality, ideas, companionship, and speaking to the heart and soul through the eyes and ears of interesting, unusual people."

Olsher began his career in broadcasting at the age of 14, as a freshman at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, NJ. After being awarded a Bachelor of Arts at Simon's Rock College, he studied and worked in Chapel Hill, NC, before joining NPR in 1987 as a cultural reporter. At NPR, he defined his beat broadly, from the grand ("Major American Poets Gather at the White House") to the grandly absurd ("Lorena Bobbitt Found Not Guilty"), landing at WNYC in 1999 to create something new - The Next Big Thing


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