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Marfa Public Radio launches new podcast “Marfa for Beginners”

The logo for “Marfa for Beginners.”
Mishka Westell
The logo for “Marfa for Beginners.”

A new podcast from Marfa Public Radio aims to explore the lesser-told stories of the small town of Marfa, a place often written about, but also too often reduced to repeat narratives about minimalist art and other trendy stereotypes.

“Marfa for Beginners” is described as a “tourism podcast for locals” - and features stories that flip the usual Marfa narrative on its head and digs into what it’s really like to live in rural Far West Texas.

Marfa Public Radio spoke with Elise Pepple, the station’s executive director, about the launch of the show.

Interview Highlights

On the inspiration for the show

Pepple said she began forming the idea for the podcast when she first arrived in Marfa years ago to begin her role as the station’s top executive. At the time, she said, there was a TV show being filmed in the town, and multiple articles about Marfa were being written.

“It made me think about narratives in Marfa, and which ones get told, and which ones don’t,” she said. “This idea has been in the works since then, to kind of look at different stories about Marfa that don’t show up when, maybe, you read an article in Vogue.”

On one of the podcast’s standout characters

When it comes to stories that break the trend of describing Marfa as a glitzy, trendy tourist destination, Pepple said the podcast’s first episode stands out as exemplary.

“It’s about the visitation of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” she said, referring to the time in the 1990s residents reported seeing an apparition of the Catholic figure on a pecan tree. “If there is this kind of repetitive story of Marfa, what’s a way to kind of amplify different versions of that story?”

On the idea of the show as a “tourism podcast for locals”

Pepple said she came up with the idea of the show as a “tourism podcast for locals” as “a kind of joke” because the show is simultaneously aimed at two audiences.

“It’s for our neighbors, it’s for people who live in Marfa and the Big Bend and West Texas,” she said. “And then certainly, to call it a tourism podcast is thinking about all the people who pass through Marfa, and wanting to kind of share or expand some of the narratives that somebody passing through town would hear.”

On what she hopes anyone listening to the show will take away from it

Pepple said she hopes that the podcast will encourage listeners to “start thinking about other people who are important to this story” of Marfa.

“Hopefully what people come away with is just thinking about the place a little differently, and the people that are important in Marfa,” she said.

On the longer-term goals for Marfa Public Radio Studios, the station’s new podcast and special projects wing

Marfa for Beginners is the first podcast offering from the recently launched Marfa Public Radio Studios wing of the station, which Pepple described as an effort aimed at exploring how the station can be a “space for creativity, and for telling stories that may function outside the reporting scope.”

Other projects in the works from Marfa Public Radio Studios include a podcast on reproductive health care issues being developed in collaboration with the station’s newsroom.

“It looks at the challenges or realities people face in terms of having a kid, or not having a kid, in West Texas,” Pepple said.

That project should be released this fall, she said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.