The new host of NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast counts Donny Hathaway’s voice, 50-minute naps and Otterbein’s Cookies as her essentials.
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B.A. Parker was a film professor in her 20s when she had to rush her students out of the hall so that she could speak with Ira Glass. She was interviewing for a fellowship with his show, “This American Life.”
“They hired me to make stories for them, and I wanted to be a Black lady David Sedaris,” she said. “It still hasn’t fully happened, but there’s hope.”
That led her to produce and co-host New York Magazine’s “The Cut” podcast for a few years, exploring trendy subjects like “Himbo culture” and life at historically Black colleges and universities. This month, the Baltimore native, who first moved to New York to attend Columbia University’s film school, will join NPR’s podcast about race in American society, “Code Switch,” as a host.
“Having my voice and being on a podcast has always been about sharing my position with everyone and making them suffer through it,” she joked. “It’s about discussing something really serious, that makes people scared and angry, and using my goofy smile to say we’re getting through it together.”
On a video call from her apartment in Bed-Stuy, she ran down a varied list of essentials that reflect a Brooklyn podcaster’s creature comforts. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
1. Naps I feel like we totally undervalue naps as adults. I think if we all just took a good 20-minute nap every day, we’d be a lot nicer. This working from home situation has kind of been cushy — I know this is a privilege that I have — but it’s been so draining since 2020, and I’m still working on this whole self-care thing, and I am down for a 2 p.m. nap. You’re supposed to only do either 20 minutes or 50, and I’m a 50-minute napper; 20 minutes doesn’t feel like enough, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to wake up tired anyway.
2. K-Dramas I feel like they’re the closest thing to a modern-day Jane Austen. There’s one I watched recently, called “Start-Up,” where a girl holds a guy’s hand for the first time on the bus, and he turns away because he’s wiping tears from his eyes. And the man is, like, 32. It’s very chaste and lovely and cathartic and, by the eighth episode, you’re just sobbing. All of these shows, their hearts are wide open. I find that very soothing. There’s artifice to the drama of it, obviously, but you just want to hug everybody.
3. A collection of spices from a friend For my birthday this year, my friend sent me this collection of spices from a place in Greenwich Village that has berbere, za‘atar, and all these Moroccan spices. I’m trying to expand my cooking. Working from home, you get tired of trying to cook for yourself. And you get into these bad habits of working until 8 p.m., and then trying to fix a meal? I don’t think so. Now I’m trying to be mindful of that and figuring out how to make lamb meatballs. I’ve been taking pictures of the things I make to send to her and her husband and be like, “I’m trying.”
4. Donny Hathaway I feel like his voice is the truth. There’s this soulful longing that stirs something in me and makes me want to feel. He has a great live version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” where all the old Black people in the venue are really digging it and shouting along. I usually play his live album while I’m trying to cook, it makes me feel like a grown up a little bit. You can feel when he is in his pocket, in a moment where everyone is just feeling, and you’ll hear a bunch of Black ladies screaming, “Yes! Oh my god, yes!”
5. Jeff Bridges in “Fearless” I’ve been in love with Jeff Bridges since I was 9 years old and my dad made me see “White Squall.” “Fearless” is this movie from 1993 about a fairly privileged guy who survives a terrible plane crash, feels like he’s invincible and starts testing those limits. So it’s Bridges and Rosie Perez grieving and trying to understand what it means to be a survivor. I rewatched it in July 2020, when we were all an open wound and dealing with so much loss, and trying to process that. It was a film that I have gone back to to question what it means to survive.
6. Reading like you’re 15 again You know when you were 15 and felt you had all the time in the world to just sit on your folks’ couch and read a bunch of stuff? I’ve decided to do that this summer, even though I do have a job. I like having the liberty to read all the time. Especially with this job, if I have to read, it’s for an interview or something, and it kind of takes the fun out of it. So I bought a bunch of plays and essay collections by bell hooks and Audre Lorde for myself. I’m still highlighting lines, because there are really interesting, edifying things in there, but I want to go back to reading without having questions in mind.
7. Baltimore foods like Otterbein’s Cookies and cream of crab soup Otterbein’s are a local Baltimore cookie that I order when I get homesick. They’re thin and differently flavored. Everyone always talks about Berger’s Cookies, which are also from Baltimore, but don’t get lost in that.
Trying to explain cream of crab soup is telling people that it’s not lobster bisque. It’s much richer. Eat it maybe twice a year or something; don’t attempt to have more because it is rich as hell. It’s the one thing living here that I really get homesick for. You can find a pierogi on any corner, but this soup is an elusive thing.
8. The third row in a movie theater I’m nearsighted. But I still have this childhood notion that if I’m close to the screen, I’ll get the movie faster than the people in the back. And no one wants to sit there. I just saw “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” and didn’t know, going into an 11 p.m. showing at Alamo Drafthouse, that the movie was going to be like that. I laughed, cried. People in the theater also didn’t know it was going to be sad and I heard this one woman go, “Oh, no …” from behind me.
9. Her grandmother’s prayer book Years and years ago, my grandmother gave me this tiny, stapled little blue book, which she got at a funeral home in the 1980s. There’s a prayer for success, a prayer for fear, a prayer for mourning, things like that. I basically grew up kind of sheltered, and with a village behind me, so when I first moved to New York, I would read through it to inspire me to go and raise my hand first in class or something. It’s become this totem that I treasure that gives me some comfort. I’m fairly religious, but not in an anti-science way. I believe in climate change and gay rights and am pro-choice; you know, regular human things.
10. Trying to be more tender I think, as I get older, it becomes more of an effort to be tender with myself and others. With the kind of job that I have, it can be easy to view people as stories, and not as people. So I’m trying to be conscientious of how I help or hurt the world. This came about because I saw the movie “Cane River” at BAM a few years ago, which was made in the early ’80s, but wasn’t released [in the United States] until like four years ago, because the director Horace B. Jenkins had a heart attack right after it was made. The movie is just vibes; it’s Black people holding hands in a field, being tender with each other. If I’d seen my aunts and uncles being that kind of loving and soft with each other back then, it would have changed the direction of what Black cinema looks like.