Virtual Event: Heather Radke


A Backstory

in conversation with LULU MILLER


December 5, 2022
7:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's Virtual Event Series welcomes HEATHER RADKE—essayist, journalist, and contributing editor and reporter at Radiolab—for a discussion of her new book Butts: A Backstory. She will be joined in conversation by LULU MILLER—cohost of Radiolab and Peabody Award–winning science journalist.

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About Butts: A Backstory

Whether we love them or hate them, think they’re sexy, think they’re strange, consider them too big, too small, or anywhere in between, humans have a complicated relationship with butts. It is a body part unique to humans, critical to our evolution and survival, and yet it has come to signify so much more: sex, desire, comedy, shame. A woman’s butt, in particular, is forever being assessed, criticized, and objectified, from anxious self-examinations trying on jeans in department store dressing rooms to enduring crass remarks while walking down a street or high school hallways. But why? In Butts: A Backstory, reporter, essayist, and RadioLab contributing editor Heather Radke is determined to find out.

Spanning nearly two centuries, this “whip-smart” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) cultural history takes us from the performance halls of 19th-century London to the aerobics studios of the 1980s, the music video set of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and the mountains of Arizona, where every year humans and horses race in a feat of gluteal endurance. Along the way, she meets evolutionary biologists who study how butts first developed; models whose measurements have defined jean sizing for millions of women; and the fitness gurus who created fads like “Buns of Steel.” She also examines the central importance of race through figures like Sarah Bartmann, once known as the “Venus Hottentot,” Josephine Baker, Jennifer Lopez, and other women of color whose butts have been idolized, envied, and despised.

Part deep dive reportage, part personal journey, part cabinet of curiosities, Butts is an entertaining, illuminating, and thoughtful examination of why certain silhouettes come in and out of fashion—and how larger ideas about race, control, liberation, and power affect our most private feelings about ourselves and others.

Praise for Butts: A Backstory

“Heather Radke’s Butts: A Backstory is rigorous, generous, and utterly compelling. The range of its research is thrillingly expansive—from the deep origins of twerk to the sleek silhouettes of Coco Chanel, from the “mono-bum” of the Victorian bustle to the brilliant subversions of drag—allowing Radke a range of fascinating vantage points from which to explore the histories our bodies hold. With humor, intelligence, outrage, and compassion, Radke excavates the social and historical forces that haunt our most ordinary moments. This fiercely intelligent, frequently witty "backstory" is a journey through centuries of history that will transform how you think about the butt, and—quite possibly—how you consider the value of exploring those parts of ourselves we don’t take seriously enough.” ―Leslie Jamison, bestselling author of Make It Scream Make It Burn

“From the first, I have been delighted and deeply informed by Heather Radke's writing. She has a mind like no other. This book contributes not only a great deal to the complicated discussion around women's bodies, it illuminates what unites us all: being human.” ―Hilton Als, author of White Girls

“Juicy and scholarly, Butts is a heck of a ride. At turns troubling, wild, painful, surprising and flat-out fun, Radke’s reporting unearths a set of largely overlooked historical figures with outsized effects on cultural evolutions, from the discovery of the first hominid butt, to the creation of the frightening statues Norm and Norma, to the gruesome tale behind the bustle, these gripping stories work together to elucidate the crushing web of cultural, commercial, and pseudoscientific forces shaping our very private senses of discomfort, envy, and belonging. Her book is teeming with rebels—drag queens and fat activists and twerkers—who flip supremacy the bird and offer another path through. Don’t let the cute cover fool you, inside is a serious feat of reporting and scholarship.” ―Lulu Miller, bestselling author of Why Fish Don't Exist

Heather Radke
Heather Radke

Heather Radke

Heather Radke is an essayist, journalist, and contributing editor and reporter at Radiolab, the Peabody Award­–winning program from WNYC. She has written for publications including The Believer, Longreads, and The Paris Review, and she teaches at Columbia University’s creative writing MFA Program. Before becoming a writer, Heather worked as a curator at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago.

Photo Credit: Andrew Semans

Lulu Miller
Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller is the cohost of Radiolab, host of Terrestrials (a nature podcast for kids), cofounder of NPR’s Invisibilia, and a Peabody Award–winning science journalist. She is the author of the national bestseller, Why Fish Don’t Exist. Her writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Guernica, VQR, Orion, and beyond. She lives with her wife and sons in Chicago. 

Photo Credit: Kristen Finn

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