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A former plantation turned into a source of pride. The freedom of a street dog. The heavy toll of a gambling addiction. The strained lives of South African copper thieves. And an uplifting profile of a rock icon. Our favorites of the week, pulled from all of our editors’ picks.
1. Reclaiming a North Carolina Plantation
Cynthia R. Greenlee | Garden & Gun | April 24, 2023 | 3,050 words
I went to college in North Carolina, where I took a history-meets-writing seminar about Stagville, a former slave plantation near campus. By trawling through historical documents and walking the site, I learned how a 30,000-acre operation was made possible (and profitable) by the labor of roughly 900 Black people held in bondage. Stagville is now maintained by the state; it never occurred to me as a student that the land might be used for anything other than studying and honoring the past. As this story in Garden & Gun shows, there is another way to approach land once tended by slaves, one that can provide for local communities, now and in the future. Two remarkable sisters have been transforming Snow Hill, a former plantation not far from Stagville, into an incubator for gardeners and small farmers. They are promoting sustainability and battling food insecurity while at the same time promoting land access to populations long denied it. The sisters currently lease the land, but as Cynthia R. Greenlee explains, “using a conservation easement, which restricts development rights and lowers property values,” they plan to buy the acreage, likely worth millions, for just $37,000. “Land isn’t just a source of the compounded traumas of slavery, sharecropping, migration, and food insecurity for Black Americans,” Greenlee writes. “It’s also a wellspring of pride, knowledge, economic power, and spiritual connection.” —SD
2. The Free Dogs of India
Krithika Srinivasan | Aeon Magazine | May 4, 2023 | 2,800 words
India has the world’s largest population of street dogs, historically labeled as “pariahs” and “strays” by the British and viewed as a symbol of the decline of India. British colonialism spread the idea that dogs are only legitimate if they belong to a breed; any others are dirty, inferior creatures meant to be culled. As Krithika Srinivasan argues in this insightful piece, dogs existed before breeds, before fancy dog shows, before the upper class groomed them. Shouldn’t the country’s street dogs be free to live in public places? Despite the need to find their own food, water, and shelter — and their exposure to mostly human-made harms like traffic and cruelty — these free-living dogs live mostly autonomous and peaceful lives. Srinivasan challenges us to reconsider the long-held idea that dogs are meant to be human companions, and to rethink how humans can coexist with other beings on the planet. —CLR
3. I Placed my First Wager When I was 10. I’ve Gambled More than $1 Million Since.
Noah Vineberg | Maclean’s | May 10, 2023 | 5,098 words
In my city, the climate wreaks havoc on infrastructure. Potholes abound. Curbs crumble to dust after a single brutal winter. But guess what has a shiny sparkle? The newly renovated and expanded casino, located within walking distance from some of the most impoverished postal codes in town. The government insists gambling proceeds help fund “healthcare, education, social services, housing and infrastructure.” I’m not against gambling, but for some, it extracts a much greater cost than it could ever repay in helping fund community and social services. At Maclean’s, recovering gambling addict Noah Vineberg recounts how he spiraled into gambling addiction from sports betting as a teen and the steep non-monetary price he’s paid ever since. —KS
4. Life Inside the South African Gangs Risking Everything for Copper
Monica Mark | Financial Times | May 10, 2023 | 4,823 Words
Sausages, Mafia, and TwoSix: Three men at the bottom of a supply chain sourcing stolen copper for international syndicates. Monica Mark uses their story to explain how the South African gangs stealing copper have reached an industrial scale — causing outages in water, sanitation, and hospitals, and even train crashes. She sets the personal tale of these men against the larger backdrop with intricate skill: Copper thieves are widely despised (vigilantes even beat a suspected thief to death), but Mark’s account evokes empathy for those driven by poverty to this crime. Yes, they often use the money to buy drugs, but Mark explains how “Heroin helped numb everything: the chill seeping through the thin walls, the stomach cramps from hunger.” It is skinny, softly spoken TwoSix who — after weeks of negotiation — Mark manages to spend time with. TwoSix will wrench your heart. This essay does not shy away from the devastating effects of these thefts, but it also shines a fierce, unflinching light on the plight of the people committing them. As ever, it’s complicated. —CW
5. The Dave Matthews Guide to Living and Dying
Alex Pappademas | GQ | May 18, 2023 | 5,777 words
I’m not sure I ever had an opinion about Dave Matthews. I knew how I felt about his music — which is probably best left for another time, though “no thanks” pretty much sums it up — but I also think I thought he was Jack Johnson. (White guys with guitars, man; I don’t know what to tell you.) After reading Alex Pappademas’ stellar profile, though, I finally do have an opinion, and that opinion is that the world needs a few more people like Dave Matthews. Pappademas has always been able to walk the razor-wire tightrope of inserting just enough of himself to leaven a story without pushing it into This Famous Person Is Just an Excuse For My Thoughts territory, and that talent is on full display here. Even beyond the effortlessly entertaining writing, it’s a profile of the type we don’t see enough of these days: a multi-day/location/activity hang in which a rapport grows and a subject’s personality emerges. There’s lots here about Matthews’ understanding of who he is and how the world sees him, of course, but just as much about the way he moves through the world and the joy with which he approaches life and its inevitable end. Regardless of how you ever felt about DMB, you’ll leave this one feeling a little bit changed for the better. Which is probably exactly how Matthews would want it. —PR
And now for the big one — the piece our readers loved the most this week.
Sincerely, Your Sister
Jillian Horton | The Globe and Mail | May 13, 2023 | 5,631 words
After a bout of post-surgical meningitis in the early 1970s, Dr. Jillian Horton’s sister Wendy was left with severe mental and physical disabilities. In this gutting essay, she recounts her mother’s struggles to get assistance with Wendy’s care. Jean Horton wrote letter after letter to provincial politicians in Manitoba, pleas for help for her daughter that went mostly ignored. “Wendy needed a residence that was capable of managing the complex medical needs of adults with brain injuries,” writes Dr. Jillian Horton. “The problem was that in Manitoba there was no such thing.” —KS