© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Mind-Boggling Story Of Our Arcane And Convoluted 'Primary Politics'


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I've been doing my best to follow the primaries and caucuses, and, I confess, I am so confused about how this process works - why each state and each party has its own system and why the rules for some of the contests like the caucuses are so complicated you need to be an insider to understand them. But my guest, Elaine Kamarck, can explain primary politics. In fact, "Primary Politics" is the title of her book. Kamarck is on the faculty of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and she's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where she directs the Center for Effective Public Management. One of the things she'll explain is superdelegates. She was on the Democratic Party rules commission that created them and is a Hillary Clinton superdelegate.

Elaine Kamarck, welcome to FRESH AIR. It seems to me in the primary process that every person's vote is not equal. The voters in one state, for instance New Hampshire and Iowa, seem to count more than voters in states with later primaries. Voters in caucuses have a different kind of vote than voters in primaries. Rules vary from state to state. Why isn't this kind of unequal vote unconstitutional?

ELAINE KAMARCK: It's not unconstitutional, Terry, because the system is determined by political parties. Political parties are voluntary organizations under the Constitution, and they're covered by the First Amendment's freedom of association. No one forces you to register as a Democrat or a Republican. You can vote in the general election as an independent. You can join the Constitution Party or the Green Party. In other words, political parties are a kind of funny entity. They are neither fish nor fowl. They're somewhat public because we have primaries, and in some states, the state government funds the primaries. On the other hand, ultimately, political parties, according to the Supreme Court, are basically semipublic or even private organizations and they can nominate their candidates as they please. And the only real intervention the Supreme Court has made in this is to say you can't violate somebody's civil rights in the process. But in terms of making up your own rules of how you do things, the courts have given political parties pretty much free range. So this is controlled by parties, not by law.

GROSS: Here's something else I find really perplexing about our nominating system. In the caucuses, your vote is public. I mean, we have this principle of, like, your vote is private, but you can be on camera during the caucus. And...


GROSS: ...What about peer pressure? What about somebody kind of like pressuring or embarrassing you into voting a certain way? I mean, aren't we not supposed to trust that? Isn't that why the vote is private?

KAMARCK: Yes, that is. And that's of course one of the issues that comes up every four years about caucuses. Caucuses are kind of a vestige of the old nominating system, and I think to understand caucuses you have to go back to before 1972. For most of American history from really 1832 all the way up to 1968, we nominated presidents in essentially what was a closed-party run system where people would gather at the precinct level - these were, like, neighborhood meetings. They would send delegates to the county conventions, they would send delegates to the state conventions, and at the state conventions, they would send delegates to the national convention. This was done as part and parcel of conducting the business of the political party, and every state did it differently, every state had its own rules. And what we find now is that only about a quarter of the convention delegates in each party are elected in the caucus system, and for exactly the reason you said. The caucus system doesn't quite work with the way we think of voting these days, and yet the caucus system was essentially the system that was used for well over a hundred years in American politics.

GROSS: So the delegates originated during the period when basically party leaders chose delegates and the delegates went to the convention. Why are there delegates now? Why are we voting for delegates and not voting directly for the candidate? When we go to the poll to vote, we seem to be voting for the candidate but we're not really.

KAMARCK: No, you're not really. You're voting for that candidate to get awarded some delegates, but the delegates do turn out to be real-life people and real-life people get to the convention, circumstances change and they may change. We vote for delegates because, again, this is a vestige of the system that we used for over a hundred years where parties constitute themselves with their duly elected representatives to pick the nominee, and the public portion of this is really relatively new. We had primaries in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century but nobody paid any attention to them. They were not binding on delegates. It is only after 1968 that there was a legal relationship - and this was done in party rules mostly - between the results of the primaries and the selection of delegates to the convention.

GROSS: Why was 1968 a turning point in the Democratic approach to primary politics?

KAMARCK: In 1968, the Democratic Party was the site of a significant anti-war movement. That movement coincided with the women's movement, with civil rights movements, with a feeling that American politics needed to be more inclusive. And the anti-war protesters found that they could not win delegates to the '68 convention. Even when their candidates - in that case, Gene McCarthy - were doing fairly well, they were cut out of the convention and cut out of delegate slots because the process for electing delegates did not depend on primaries. It wasn't a very open process. And so the significant anti-war movement was really cut out of the '68 convention and, as we saw, they were in the streets rioting during the '68 convention. After that, the party said, all right, we have to do something about this, we have to open up a little bit more than we've been. And they created something called the McGovern-Fraser Commission, and the rules from that commission fundamentally reshaped the nominating system not just for the Democrats but for the Republicans as well.

GROSS: What are a delegate's responsibilities and what is their loyalty to the voter who elected them? And what is their loyalty to, like, their own conscience and what they think they should do once they get to the convention?

KAMARCK: Ninety-nine percent of the time, the delegates simply go to the convention and they vote for whoever they were supposed to vote for according to the results of the state. There are, however, exceptions. You could have a candidate incapacitated between the end of the primaries and the convention. You could have a candidate that you find out something unusual about, something that maybe doesn't make them as strong a candidate as you the voter thought they were back in the winter when you voted for them. There's all sorts of things that could happen, but it is not a decision that the delegates would take lightly, you know? They'd have to really - to leave the presidential candidate they voted for, they'd have to have a good reason and be able to go home and say to the voters in their state, I had a good reason for changing my vote.

GROSS: Now, we will talk about a brokered convention and what that would mean, but first I want to talk with you about superdelegates. It turns out you were on the commission that created superdelegates. You've served as a superdelegate. You're still serving as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton so you know how this process works. Like, what is - why were superdelegates created?

KAMARCK: When the process of nominating candidates moved to - on the Democratic side - moved to a completely open process where anybody who wanted to run for delegate could go to a county convention, bring a lot of friends and run for delegate. When that happened, it was - it had its positive aspects. We really opened up the Democratic Party. But at the highly contested 1980 convention between President Carter and Ted Kennedy, there was a lot of uncertainty and chaos, and one of the things people realized was that the leaders of the party - the governors, the senators and the Congressmen who also run on the same ticket as the presidential nominee were not there. They were not on the floor of the convention helping to lead and shape and discuss the future of the party. So in 1982, the Hunt Commission was formed, and what the Hunt Commission decided was that they needed to get these people back into the convention but under the new rules...

GROSS: In other words, to give party leadership a say in what was going on?

KAMARCK: Yeah, they needed to give the party leaders a say because under the new rules, a member of Congress was not going to go into a district convention and run against his constituents, right? It was just not something politically they were going to do. So in order to get them there, you basically made them automatic delegates to the convention, and in the years since 1984, they have never - and this I think is important - they have never changed the outcome of the public portion of the process. They have always gone along - whoever had the most delegates elected in primaries going into the convention, that's also where the superdelegates went.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the primaries. My guest is Elaine Kamarck. She teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where she directs its center for Effective Public Management, and she's the author of the book "Primary Politics." We'll be back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're talking about primary politics, which is the title of the new book by my guest Elaine Kamarck. She teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of government.

She's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and she's been a superdelegate. And she was on the commission that helped create superdelegates in the Democratic Party. Because of the superdelegates, you can virtually lose a primary in a state but walk away with more delegates.

KAMARCK: Yeah, but that's kind of unusual. I mean, you'd have to - it has to be a kind of small - first, a small state. It has to be a small but very, very Democratic state, OK? I mean, that's - that's kind of a difficult scenario. I'm sure it could happen, but that's sort of a difficult scenario.

The superdelegates in the Democratic Party are about 12 percent of the convention. In the Republican Party, all the Republican National Committee people are superdelegates. And they're, I think, 5 or 6 percent of the convention. So the Republicans have superdelegates, too. They're just smaller - a smaller number.

One of the things to kind of remember is that prior to 1968, every single nominating convention we had was composed of superdelegates. In other words, people got to go to the convention by virtue of their role in some leadership capacity, even if it was, you know, a county chairman.

People got to go to the convention because of their role in the party. And this business of superdelegates is, again, a kind of reflection of the fact that this is a funny system because it's still a system that in the end is run by the political parties, not by the public.

GROSS: But the candidate convinces a superdelegate to side with them, right? I mean, the...

KAMARCK: Yeah, but remember...

GROSS: They're not neutral in this.

KAMARCK: No, they're not. Sometimes they stay neutral to the end. Sometimes they shift. In 2008, Hillary Clinton started out with most of the superdelegates. And as Obama won primaries and picked up public delegates, the superdelegates started to shift to Obama. And in the end, all the superdelegates voted for Obama. So, you know, the superdelegates simply are not bound by their state results. That doesn't mean that they don't pay attention to their state results.

I mean, if you're a member of Congress and one candidate wins your congressional district overwhelmingly, you better have a good reason to go to the convention and vote for the candidate who lost your district 'cause some of your voters are going to say, huh, what are you doing?

GROSS: In 1984, you were Democrat Walter Mondale's director for delegate selection when he was running. And I'd like you to describe the process for delegate selection. How does that work? How do you become a delegate?

KAMARCK: Well, there's two different stages. So one - the stage we are in now frankly is the stage where a state decides, either through a caucus system or more usually through a primary system, how they're going to award delegates to presidential candidates. So when you see these delegate counts now in the newspaper - you know, Trump has so many, Hillary has so many - those are largely numbers without people (laughter) OK? They're just allocations.

Beginning now, but really intensifying in April, May and June, states will have a variety of different systems. The most common one is that the Republicans and the Democrats will hold a congressional district convention. And people who want to be delegate will file with the party 'cause remember this is a party process. They'll file with the party and then they will go to the congressional district convention, bring in as many of their friends as they possibly can and there's another vote which will determine which delegates actually get to go. And then there will be state conventions or state executive committee meetings. And they will elect another group of delegates called at-large delegates. So it's like - it's like there's the - first, there's the big election, the primary. And then there's a whole series of small party-run elections that actually elect the people who fill those delegate slots.

GROSS: Does the primary system make any sense to you at all?

KAMARCK: Well (laughter) it does...

GROSS: I mean, seriously, it's just so arcane and so complicated. I believe very, very few people understand it. We're not directly voting for a candidate. We don't know who the delegates are going to be. They're selected after we've voted for a candidate.

KAMARCK: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: You know, it just seems, like, messy, confusing and very indirect.

KAMARCK: Well, it's because it is a hybrid system, you see? It's a system that still has the same aspects that it had for over a hundred years here it was a completely - or basically almost completely closed system that was run only by the party. And then after the Democrats reformed their rules between 1968 and 1972, the Democratic reforms were geared towards opening up participation in the party. And what happened then was that lots of states decided to hold primaries, not caucuses, because it was easier and that you would have more participation. And those primaries became binding.

You see, in the old days, you could win a primary and the state party would select delegates committed to somebody else. The classic example there is 1952 when Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee won almost every single primary. He went into the 1952 convention and the delegates selected Adlai Stevenson to be their standardbearer.

That wouldn't happen today. Nobody would sweep the primaries and then give the convention - the convention turn around and give it to somebody else unless there were kind of extraordinary circumstances. But the system now is a hybrid, which has a lot of aspects of the old-fashioned system. If we were starting from scratch, yeah, we'd probably have a different system (laughter) but this evolves from history.

GROSS: So we've talked about how complicated the rules of the conventions are. Who is it who knows these rules? Like, who's the umpire?

KAMARCK: (Laughter) Well, the lawyers and the Office of the Secretary at the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee know about these rules in great detail. In addition, the members of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee from each state are usually pretty fluent with these rules.

And of course the members of the rules committees of the two parties are very, very familiar because they write these rules. They discuss them in between, you know, election years. They know a great deal about these rules.

GROSS: My guest is Elaine Kamarck, author of the new book "Primary Politics." After a short break, we'll talk about brokered conventions and about the possibility of the Republicans having one. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Elaine Kamarck, author of the book, "Primary Politics," which explains how the presidential nomination process became the messy, complicated set of rules that differ from state to state and party to party. One of the questions this year is, will the Republican convention be a brokered convention? Donald Trump's win last night in Arizona, giving him 58 more delegates, increases his chances of getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to get the nomination on the first ballot. I asked Kamarck about what could tip the Republicans into a brokered convention.

KAMARCK: What would tip it over would be moving from a first ballot to a second ballot. That's one way you get to a brokered convention.

GROSS: In the first ballot, you vote who you're assigned, and the second ballot you're freed up to vote any way you want?

KAMARCK: That's exactly right, in both parties. The first ballot, the presumption is - and in some cases, the legal requirement is - that you have to vote for the person that you - that won your primary.

GROSS: And we're talking about delegates.

KAMARCK: And we're talking about delegates. That's exactly right. The delegates have to vote for whoever won their district or their state, whatever the rule is. And if nobody has the magic number on the first ballot, there goes to be a second ballot. And in between the first ballot and the second ballot, we will have something called brokers. Brokers, in the old days, used to be these very powerful party bosses who literally controlled the delegates. Now, people have said to me, well, Elaine in this instance, in this day and age, there are no brokers. That's not quite true.

If you have a governor in your state who's on the floor of the convention with you and you get to a second ballot, that governor has got a lot at stake in the well-being of his or her party. That governor - she's going to be talking to other governors. They're going to be talking to the state party chairman. They're going to start - they're going to talk to the delegation members and leaders. There will be brokers at a brokered convention. They may not be quite as powerful as they were in the old days. But they will still be important to the process. So one way it happens is that between the first ballot and the second ballot and the third and fourth, if you need them, there's - there are people trying to make deals with each other about who the nominee should be.

The second way you get to one is really - is different but also very likely in this day and age. The first vote you have is a credentials vote, which determines who is eligible to vote. And the second vote is the rules vote, under which the convention decides - here's the rules that we're going to abide by. Now, there's a draft of those rules in the Republican Party. There's a draft in the Democratic Party. But frankly, all of that could change in the weeks before the convention because the convention rules committee will meet and propose a set of rules to the full convention. On Monday night of the Republican convention, you could have a rules vote that tested Donald Trump's strength.

GROSS: How would that work?

KAMARCK: Well, suppose the rules vote was a vote to repeal Rule 16 of the Republican rules, which basically says that candidates - that delegates need to vote for the, you know, need to represent the winner of their state - OK? - in the primaries. Suppose there was a minority report out of the convention rules committee or suppose the rules committee itself said, we would like to delete Rule 16. If they - the convention voted to delete Rule 16, odds are that would indicate that there were a lot of Donald Trump delegates who actually would prefer to be unbound and perhaps vote for somebody else.

And that would be perceived as a test vote for Trump's strength going into the Wednesday night balloting. So it could be that. It could be Rule 16. It could be Rule 40. I mean, there's a whole variety of Republican draft rules. The important thing for everybody to understand is that those rules, in both parties, are only draft rules until the convention, on the first night, at the opening of the convention, actually approves the rules. Usually, this is such a, you know, boring non-entity of an issue that the television networks don't even tune in until after it's happened, OK? It's usually something you don't even see on TV anymore. But when it is significant, we will see it. And it will be covered. And it'll be quite dramatic as well.

GROSS: There are leaders in the Republican Party that do not want Donald Trump as the presidential candidate. So if the party wanted to sabotage Trump's chances of getting the nomination, what could it do?

KAMARCK: Oh, it could do anything. I mean, it could free itself from the binding rules. There are already Republican National Committee people - Curly Haugland from North Dakota, some other people I read about today. Already, Republican National Committeemen who are saying the convention is the ultimate authority. We can do whatever we want to do. And that, is in fact, legally true. The conventions can do whatever they want to do. There's - the political reality, though, is that if you in fact, - if, in fact, Donald Trump wins lots of delegates and then some of those delegates decide he's not a very good candidate, you've got to have a good reason, all right? There has to be a good reason.

And one of the most likely ways this could happen is that information emerges between now and the Cleveland convention that makes people think he would be a very weak top of the ticket. Let me give you an example of how this could have happened on the Democratic side in 2008. If you remember, when we went into that race, Senator John Edwards from North Carolina was a very strong candidate. He had been the vice presidential nominee four years before every - very attractive candidate. As it turned out, Edwards kind of got lost in the Hillary and Obama race and didn't accumulate many delegates. But let's rerun that and assume that Edwards was coming out of June with a lot of delegates - even the majority.

Well, what we learned later that summer is that during the - that period of time in the primaries, John Edwards was carrying on a torrid affair with a woman who wasn't his wife, who was pregnant with his child. There were allegations of improper use of campaign funds to hush up the affair. It was a mess, OK? John Edwards was in a mess as we now know. Imagine if he had been the nominee. That mess would've come out much earlier than it did. It would've come out before the convention.

And you can certainly imagine John Edwards' delegates saying to themselves and to their voters back home look, we thought he was a good idea, but we didn't know all of this stuff. And now we don't think he's a good idea. So there's two things to think about here. There's the legal path to unseating a front-running candidate, and there's the political path. You can always make the legal path work if the political rationale is powerful enough.

GROSS: So say Donald Trump does not win on the first round at the Republican convention. It turns into a brokered convention. Like, who are the options for candidates after that? Say Ted Cruz is number two, but he hasn't reached, you know, the threshold of 1,237 delegate votes. Is he - does he necessarily become the next option? Can an outside person who hasn't even been on any of the primary ballots come in? How does that work?

KAMARCK: We don't really know, OK? But there's a couple scenarios. One option is that Trump delegates could move to Ted Cruz. And Kasich delegates and Rubio delegates could move to Cruz and give him a first ballot. I would guess that there's the potential for a deal between Cruz and Kasich, where Cruz becomes the nominee and Kasich becomes the vice presidential nominee. You could always see that happening.

And that happened frequently in the past in brokered conventions. The vice presidency was sort of the, you know, almost-won booby prize. So there's one. If, in fact, you move to a second ballot and none of the people who ran for president is - looks like they're getting enough delegates, you could then see a scenario where the convention takes a pause. And somebody else's name gets put in nomination - maybe Mitt Romney, maybe Paul Ryan the speaker of the House. There's - maybe an outsider. I think it is more likely that an insider gets it. But you could see a scenario where an outsider does as well.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Elaine Kamarck. She's the author of the new book, "Primary Politics." She's on the faculty of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Lets take a short break. Then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about primary politics, which happens to be the subject of Elaine Kamarck's new book. She teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and directs its Center for Affective Public Management and she's also been a superdelegate, and not only that, she was on the commission that created superdelegates for the Democratic primary.

So let's get to another thing that is just really kind of baffling about the primary system, and that is the order that the primaries happen in. You know, you could argue that it would make most sense to have all the primaries on one day therefore everybody's vote would be more equal. At the same time, you understand why, you know, candidates want to have a longer primary process so that they can gain momentum and more voters can see who, you know, they are. There's a winnowing out process. But really it goes on for so long, and the early states seem to have so much more sway than the later states do. So there have been a lot of proposals for how to reform the order of voting in the primaries and none of them have gotten very far.

KAMARCK: No. (Laughter).

GROSS: It seems that there's so much dissatisfaction with the system. It's a very expensive system. So why have all the attempts to change that order of voting and the length of the primary system, why have all those attempts just failed?

KAMARCK: Well, the number to remember is 153. There are 153 separate powerful actors involved in the creation of the presidential nominating system. There are 50 state legislatures. They set primary dates and appropriate money to run primaries. There are 50 state Democratic Parties that have their own ideas about how they should pick delegates. There are 50 Republican state parties that have their own ideas about how to pick delegates and award delegates. There is the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the U.S. Congress. In this kind of mess of different bodies with different ideas, it would be really short of a miracle if everybody just settled on one system. And nobody ever has. So we have this kind of hodgepodge of a system. The only way you probably get out of that is if Congress decided to legislate a system. And even there, you've got a problem. It is questionable whether or not Congress has the constitutional authority to dictate a nominating system for political parties, which are - as far as the Supreme Court has said - political parties are organizations covered by the First Amendment's freedom of association. So it's not clear even constitutionally whether or not the Congress could dictate, say, a national primary.

GROSS: There are several differences between the Democratic and the Republican way of running primaries. One of the differences is that all the states for the Democrats are proportional in terms of allotting delegates, whereas in the Republican primaries some states are winner take all. What's the underlying difference in philosophy behind those two different approaches?

KAMARCK: The Democrats have seen this proportionality as a way to protect minority candidates and make sure that everybody had a voice in the Democratic system. So you get two different kind of incentives. On the Republican side, the system tends to reward winners over losers. On the Democratic side, ironically, it tends to reward losers over winners.

GROSS: How does it prefer losers over winners?

KAMARCK: Well, because the winner has to win by a substantial margin to get the extra delegate in an even-numbered district. So say you've got four delegates to be elected from one of your suburban Philadelphia districts, right? In a close race between two candidates, they'll simply split the delegates two and two, right? So you get no extra bonus for winning, you just get a two-two split. A neighboring district might have five delegates. In a close race, it'd be a three-two split. But in those even-numbered districts, the splitting of the delegates means that it really does help losers even if they are not winning states. So no wonder Bernie Sanders is going to stick it out in this race as long as he can - 'cause he is accumulating delegates even though Hillary Clinton has a delegate lead.

GROSS: Do you ever yearn for the days of the, you know, proverbial smoke-filled room where the party leaders basically chose (laughter) who...

KAMARCK: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Who the candidate was going to be?

KAMARCK: Well, I think that - I mean, I do because I think if you had a smoke-filled room that would let you and me into it, OK - in other words, women -and let people of color into the smoke-filled room, in other words a little bit fairer smoke-filled rooms than the old ones. We lost something when we lost the smoke-filled room. What we lost was a test of a potential president's ability to negotiate among equals in the political system because that's really what the old system did. It tested the ability for a young Jack Kennedy to sit down with Governor Lawrence of Pennsylvania and say, here's why I should be president, and governor Lawrence had to sort of ponder that and wonder if this young man was ready to be president. We lost that. Now what we have is the most telegenic, the most entertaining, the silver-tongued candidates win primaries and that's it.

GROSS: Elaine Kamarck, thank you so much for talking with us.

KAMARCK: Well, thank you Terry, it's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Elaine Kamarck is the author of the book "Primary Politics." She's on the faculty of Harvard 's Kennedy School of Government. She's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and she's a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton.

We learned that Malik Taylor, the rapper known as Phife Dawg of the seminal hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, died today at the age of 45. He had health issues for years due to diabetes. Phife Dawg, along with childhood friends Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White started the group in the '80s. Here's Phife Dawg doing the first verse on the track "Scenario" from the 1991 album "The Low End Theory."


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Here we go, yo. Here we go, yo. So what's, so what's the, what's the scenario? Here we go, yo. Here we go, yo. So what's, so what's the, what's the scenario? Ay yo, Bo knows this and Bo knows that, but Bo don't know jack 'cause Bo can't rap. Well, what do you know? The Di-Dawg is first up to bat, no batteries included and no strings attached. No holds barred. No time for move fakin'. Gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon. Brothers front, they say the Tribe can't flow, but we've been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe. So sleep if you want, NyQuil will help you get your Z's, troop, but here's the real scoop. I'm all that and then some, short, dark and handsome. [Expletive] inside your eye to show you where I come from. I'm vexed, fuming. I've had it up to here. My days of paying dues are over, acknowledge me as in there. Yeah. Head for a border, go get a taco. Watch me wreck it from the jump street, meaning from the get-go. Sit back, relax and let yourself go. Don't sweat what you heard, but act like you know. Yes, yes, y'all. Yes, y'all. Who got the vibe? It's the Tribe, y'all. Tribe, y'all. Real, y'all. Live, y'all. Inside, outside, come around. Who's that? Brown. Some may, I say, call me Charlie. The word is the herb and I'm deep like Bob Marley. Lay back on the payback...

GROSS: After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review a new collection of short stories that she describes as irradiated with supernatural energy. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!