Andrea Pitzer is the author of the forthcoming nonfiction book The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov

Best Innocence Story

“The Innocent Man” (Pam Colloff, Texas Monthly)

What if you were convicted of murdering your wife, and you didn’t do it? What if, after decades in prison, you learned that the prosecution had held proof of your innocence but never let it see the light of day? Lone Star State treasure Pam Colloff once again uses restraint to powerful advantage as she indicts Texas justice.

The last time he had seen her was on the morning of August 13, 1986, the day after his thirty-second birthday. He had glanced at her as she lay in bed, asleep, before he left for work around five-thirty. He returned home that afternoon to find the house cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. Six weeks later, he was arrested for her murder. He had no criminal record, no history of violence, and no obvious motive, but the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, failing to pursue other leads, had zeroed in on him from the start. Although no physical evidence tied him to the crime, he was charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors argued that he had become so enraged with Christine for not wanting to have sex with him on the night of his birthday that he had bludgeoned her to death. When the guilty verdict was read, Michael’s legs buckled beneath him. District attorney Ken Anderson told reporters afterward, “Life in prison is a lot better than he deserves.”

Best Southern Gothic Nonfiction

“Vietnam vet’s 300-pound emotional support pet — a pig — divides Largo neighborhood” (Will Hobson, Tampa Bay Times)

In just over 1200 words, Will Hobson stages a community drama with all the comedy and horror of a Flannery O’Connor story. Meet Bernie Lodico and his neighbors. You won’t forget them.

“It is our understanding that you have a pot belly pig living in your back yard,” wrote park manager Cliff Wicks on Sept. 26. “This is not allowed. Please place the pig somewhere else.”

Lodico replied with a letter from a psychiatrist at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. Lodico, 59, was a Marine who served in Vietnam. The pig is his “emotional support animal,” the letter explained, a pet protected by federal law.

Best Campaign Season Story

“Fear of a Black President” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)

I can’t come up with another journalist whose insight and ability to think so motivate me to read his work. I know other Longreaders have picked and will pick this piece from two months before the election, but it really has to be included.

Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed.

Best ‘The World Is Not Simple’ Story

“Everyone Is an Immigrant” (Eliza Griswold, Poetry)

In the language of the poet and the conflict journalist that she is, Griswold ponders the business of refugees on the island of Lampedusa.

Luciforo has been driving this bus for more than a year. Before that, he worked for a Christian volunteer group called Misericordia. Workers collected on the dock during refugee season. The name Misericordia is familiar. I realize I heard it last week when I was with fellow Civitella artists touring the Umbrian town of Sansepolcro. There, in the famous Piero della Francesca triptych, a hooded man kneels at the base of the cross. He looks like a hangman, but in fact he’s a member of this group, Misericordia. While they were doing charity work among the sick and dying, they wore black masks to protect against disease, and to protect their identity so they couldn’t be thanked. I imagine Luciforo in his yellow hazmat suit and a hood.

“Luciforo, what have you seen that you can’t forget?” I ask.

“One night, I watched mothers throw their babies into the sea. They popped up like corks,” he says.

Best Story You Thought You Knew But Didn’t

“Did This Man Really Cut Michael Jordan?” (Thomas Lake, Sports Illustrated)

Everyone has heard the story of how Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team by coach Clifton “Pop” Herring. But it turns out we didn’t know the story at all.

We pull up at the ramshackle house and step into a blinding afternoon, 97º, vibrating with the song of cicadas. Pop carries the pizza box in one hand and the bag of King Cobra and cigarettes in the other. We walk toward the picnic table under the spreading oak, where several ragged men cool their heels in the fine gray sand. Collectively they are known as the Oak Tree Boys. They are here morning and night. Some are homeless. One has a wild shock of white hair and another is missing his middle lower teeth, so he seems to have fangs. They have nowhere else to go.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012