Monthly Archives: September 2013

Reading List: The Political Mistress


From Monica to the D.C. Madam, some of my all-time favorite stories on politics, sex and power:

1. ‘The Gary Hart Story: How It Happened,’ by Jim McGee, Tom Fiedler and James Savage (The Miami Herald, May 10, 1987) and ‘The Gary Hart Story: Part Two’

Gary Hart was frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when rumors of an extramarital affair began to swirl. He responded to the rumors with a strong denial and a dare: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.” Unfortunately for him, the Miami Herald had already been doing just that. Their intrepid reporting not only uncovered an affair between the senator and a 29 year-old model, but also rewrote the rules of political reporting.

Bonus: “Those Aren’t Rumors” (Dick Polman, Smithsonian Magazine 2008) on how the Gary Hart affair changed the political reporting game.

2. ‘No Way to Treat a Lady,’ by Vicky Ward (Vanity Fair, May 2008)

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam,” delivered high-end escorts to Beltway elite, until the whole thing came crashing down with a fiery conviction, suicide and media spectacle.

3. ‘Til Death Do Us Part: A New Look at Hitler’s Mistress Eva Braun,’ by Klaus Wiegrefe (Der Spiegel, February 2010)

An evil dictator and a pretty blonde from Munich, whose official title was “private secretary,” and who was famously jealous of the Führer’s dog.

4. ‘The Scandal That Rocked Britain,’ by Clive Irving (Newsweek, April 2013)

One of the great scandals in British political history, the Profumo Affair—which paired then War Secretary John Profumo with a teenaged former showgirl—had it all: sex, drugs, photographs, spies and a proto-Clintonian denial.

5. ‘The Dark Side of Camelot,’ by Kitty Kelley (People Magazine, February 1988)

Judith Exner wasn’t just JFK’s mistress, she was also his conduit to the mob.

6. ‘Clinton and the Women,’ by Marjorie Williams (Vanity Fair, May 1998)

On Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and what the lack of protest reveals about feminism today (or, more accurately, in 1998).

7. ‘Monica Takes Manhattan,’ by Vanessa Grigoriadis (New York Magazine, March 2001)

Of course Vanessa Grigoriadis would write the perfect early-aughts New York magazine piece on Monica Lewinsky’s post-scandal second act as a Manhattan twenty-something.

8. ‘Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster,’ by John Heilemann & Mark Halperin (New York Magazine, January 9, 2010)

“My friends insist you’re John Edwards,” Rielle Hunter said. “I tell them no way—you’re way too handsome.”

Yes, that Game Change excerpt. When was the last time you re-read it?

Are we missing anything? Share your story picks in the comments.

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Reading List: The Writing Life vs. The Blinking Cursor

Emily Perper is a word-writing human for hire. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.

Over the weekend, I attended the annual National Book Festival in Washington D.C. One of the highlights was Tamora Pierce’s presentation. Pierce is a young adult fantasy lit author, known for her great writing and awesome female characters. The tent was packed with fans of all ages, and once the Q&A microphones were opened, tween girls rushed to be the first in line. One girl, probably six or seven years old, asked how Mrs. Pierce dealt with writer’s block. Precocious, indeed, but that moment made me think—almost every aspiring writer struggles with the terror of a blank mind and a blank page, from time to time. In every panel I attended over the weekend, at least one person asked about writer’s block. Get out your pencils, punks.

1. “Getting Unstuck” (Caitlin, Rookie, November 2012) features ideas for overcoming writer’s block from many writers, including Joss Whedon, Adrian Tomine and Fran Lebowitz.

2. “The Daily Routines of Famous Writers,” compiled by Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova, is great for its anecdotal charm, as well as its practical advice. Don’t be surprised if you feel envious.

3. In “Ask the Writing Teacher: Story Arc(s),” author and teacher Edan Lepucki expounds upon her understanding of the definition and purpose of story arc, with a little help from Eileen Myles, Margaret Atwood and Orange is the New Black. Includes writing exercises and reading suggestions.

4. The beautiful “A Writer’s Room” (John Spinks, New York Times, August 2013) slideshow includes pictures of the authors in their treasured workspaces, as well as their meditations on writing and the books they’re publishing this fall.


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Photo by Jeremy Levine

A Longreads Guest Pick: Sari Botton on ‘Not Weird About Brooklyn’

Sari is a writer and editor living in Rosendale, N.Y. She writes the Conversations With Writers Braver Than Me column on The Rumpus. An anthology she edited for Seal Press, Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, will be released Oct. 8.

“My favorite longread this week is ‘Not Weird About Brooklyn‘ by Helen Rubinstein in the Paris Review Daily. Having left the East Village for upstate eight years ago with very mixed feelings on the matter, I tend to be very curious about other people’s stories of quitting New York City. Love-hate relationships with the place are so common as to border on the cliche – ditto the city’s tenacious gravitational pull despite the hate part of that equation, despite diminishing returns over time lived there. Rubinstein acknowledges the cliche, even the one inherent in writing about it, ‘the trope of the single woman in New York,’ while giving new, nuanced, if meta, voice to it. Her criteria for a potential mate made me laugh (and I cheered this one: ‘Not anti-memoir.’). I was reminded of an essay by John Tierny in the New York Times Magazine in the mid nineties about how fundamentally picky single New Yorkers can be. (In that one, a criteria for potential mates was, ‘…has resolved her control drama.’) Nine days before she leaves, as she packs up her apartment, Rubinstein seems at once melancholy and resigned to leaving, and as if she’s trying to convince herself she’s made the right choice. It’s a familiar conversation, one I have with myself all the time.”


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Caught Up in the Cult Wars: Confessions of a New Religious Movement Researcher

Susan J. Palmer | University of Toronto Press | 2001 | 38 minutes (9,328 words)

The below article comes recommended by Longreads contributing editor Julia Wick, and we’d like to thank the author, Susan J. Palmer, for allowing us to share it with the Longreads community.  Read more…

Required Reading from Journalism Professors

Photo by Seth Sawyers

Below, six syllabi from journalism professors on what you should be reading.

* * *

1. Journalism 494: Pollner Seminar In Narrative Non-Fiction With Esquire’s Chris Jones (University of Montana)

“The purpose of this course is to teach students how to write publishable magazine-length narrative non-fiction: In other words, my aim is to help you learn how to write good, long, true stories. The course outline will mirror a typical writer’s progress through the birth of an idea to a finished, polished piece, including reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking. In addition to classroom discussion, course readings will help students understand the difference between good and bad work. My hope is that by the end of the semester, you will have written the Best Story of Your Life So Far (BSOYLSF) and it will help you reach your future potential as an award-winning literary journalist.”

2. Journalism 141: Professional Problems and Ethics in Journalism (by Philip Meyer, University of North Carolina)

“The subculture of journalism is no longer as confident of its success. 
Its old values are increasingly under question. The topic of this course
is therefore a moving target. We shall approach it with two organizing principles:

“A critical study of traditional journalistic values, the historical forces that created them. An evaluation of social and technological changes that threaten that subculture – and possibly its value system.”

3. Introduction to Literary Reportage (by Robert S. Boynton, NYU) (PDF)

“The goal of this course is to help you create a distinctive body of work and, eventually, a capstone piece of literary reportage. It has three basic components. First, it will guide you through the research, reporting and thinking to refine and focus the project you will begin in Portfolio I. Second, it will introduce you to some of the authors, editors and publications of the genre. Third, it will familiarize you with some of the journalistic strategies you will use in your own work.”

4. Journalism 676: Investigative Reporting With Pulitzer Prize-Winner Deborah Blum

“I’m happy to share a syllabus, although they’ve gotten more and more abbreviated over the last few years. That’s because, as you know, investigations never seem to follow a planned path. Basically these days, I just do an oral presentation and assignments and we build deadlines, etc. in to the semester, depending on where we are. We do a lot of oral reports and feedback in this class and in the last month of the semester, we start writing/fact-checking/filling in gaps based on the information we’ve assembled.”

5. Syllabus for Telling Stories: the Art of Narrative Non-Fiction (by Alex Kotlowitz, Dartmouth) (PDF)

“This course will explore the art of telling stories – true stories. The craft is often called Literary Journalism or Creative Nonfiction. The writer John McPhee calls it The Literature of Fact, which I prefer for its lack of pretention and for its lack of ambiguity. In this class, we’ll talk about finding story, about reporting and of course about writing, about how one goes about making sense of the tale at hand. I want to push people to find stories outside of the familiar. 
“It’s what makes this craft so exhilarating, to find yourself in places you’d never have reason to be or with people you’d never have reason to meet. What could be more exciting. More challenging.”

6. JOU 6309: Journalism as Literature – Fall 2009 (by Dr. Ronald Rogers, University of Florida)

“This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.

“This course has a six-pronged approach. It is a smorgasbord of delectables – all, or any one of which, I hope, you will find tasty. We will explore:

“1. Literary journalism’s historical antecedents – or should we say founders?

“2. Literary journalism’s future in the age of the connected computer.

“3. The criticism literary journalism has received from friend and foe alike.

“4. The theory behind this genre.

“5. The techniques that comprise and define this genre.

“6. Ways of toppling the inverted pyramid in developing our own individual writing styles using the techniques of literary journalism.”

Bonus: What’s On Your Syllabus? (Nieman Storyboard)

Featuring Jacqui Banaszynski, Mark Bowden, Madeleine Blais, Robert Boynton, Jeff Sharlet and Rebecca Skloot.

College Longreads Pick: 'Undocumented but Unafraid' by Yanan Wang, Yale University

Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s this week’s pick:

Yanan Wang’s sympathetic story about undocumented students at Yale University begins with a strong image of a little boy, alone: ‘The first time he arrived in the United States, three-year-old Juan Cerda ’15 was on a truck tire floating across the Rio Grande river.’ The theme of loneliness permeates the story; all of the subjects Wang interviewed discuss feelings of isolation and secrecy. This is not an insignificant piece of reporting on Wang’s part. It’s difficult to find sources who, by virtue of the very thing that makes them newsworthy, wish to maintain their privacy. But not only did she find them, she got them to open up to her. These students entrusted their story to Wang, and she did right by them.

Undocumented but Unafraid

Yanan Wang | Yale Daily News | 14 minutes (3,575 words)


Professors and students: Share your favorite stories by tagging them with #college #longreads on Twitter, or email links to

Longreads Member Pick: My Family Tree, in Black and White, by Dionne Ford


This week we’re excited to share “My Family Tree, in Black and White,” a new personal essay by Dionne Ford and More magazine. The below story comes from the magazine’s September issue, which is not yet online. Thanks to Ford and More for sharing it with the Longreads Member community!

Read an excerpt here.

Become a Longreads Member to receive the full ebook.

First Chapters: ‘White Oleander,’ by Janet Fitch

Janet Fitch | White Oleander, Little, Brown and Company | 1999 | 19 minutes (4,640 words)


Our latest first chapter comes from Longreads contributing editor Julia Wick, who has chosen Janet Fitch’s 1999 novel White Oleander. If you want to recommend a First Chapter, let us know and we’ll feature you and your pick: Read more…

Reading List: Fashion Week

Emily Perper is a word-writing human for hire. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.

It’s Fashion Week at Longreads. From street sense to the ethics of cool, fashion is a fitting follow-up to last week’s “Believe in Your Selfie.”

1. “Girls on the Street.” (Katie Haegele, Utne Reader, September 2013)

Forget Fashion Week—zine maven Haegele would rather cruise the streets of her city for inspiration.

2. “Cool Front/Hot Mess.” (Danielle Meder, The New Inquiry, September 2013)

In the 21st century, in-your-face fashion trumps casual-cool elegance.

3. “4 Models Spill About the Plus-Size Industry.” (Liz Black, Refinery29, September 2013)

Interviews with ladies who rock their curves—Fluvia Lecerda, Candice Huffine, Jessica Milagros Guzman Sanchez and Whitney Thompson.

4. “Happy Birthday, Iris!” (Tavi Gevinson, Newsweek, August 2013)

Rookie Magazine editor and fashion maven Tavi Gevinson interviews nonagenarian style icon Idris Apfel about purpose, growing up, and her New York essentials.


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Photo by Jennifer Livingston for Newsweek.

College Longreads Pick: 'The Final Barrier: 50 Years Later, Segregation Still Exists' by Abbey Crain and Matt Ford, University of Alabama


Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s this week’s pick:

One of the hardest rules of writing for students to follow is: “Don’t start a story with a quote.” Except… Except when the quote is so incredible that it makes the reader do a hard-stop. To younger writers, lots of quotes have that power. More experienced writers, who’ve reported more and read more, know better. In this week’s College Longreads pick, the quote-as-lead has the same effect on the reader — abrupt silence — that it did on the room full of people who first heard it. “Are we really not going to talk about the black girl?” Writers Abbey Crain and Matt Ford of the University of Alabama, encapsulate the central conflict of their narrative in that one quote. The story, about racial prejudice in sorority recruitment, is easy to attack because it uses some anonymous sources. But it certainly doesn’t use only anonymous sources, and critics of the story should remember that these sources are 19- and 20-year-old women at the University of Alabama who are recounting incidents of racial prejudice in the entrenched culture of their sorority houses. Should they stand up and speak out publicly for what’s right? Of course they should. Is that an easy thing for a 19- or 20-year-old to do? No, and we should be compassionate about that. But sitting on this story would be a disservice to the readers of the The Crimson White.

The Final Barrier: 50 Years Later, Segregation Still Exists

Abbey Crain and Matt Ford | The Crimson White | 8 minutes (2,034 words)


Professors and students: Share your favorite stories by tagging them with #college #longreads on Twitter, or email links to