Author Archives

Jonny Auping

‘Victims Become This Object of Fascination… This Silent Symbol.’

Dessert, c 1923, by Frederick G Tutton. (The Royal Photographic Society Collection/Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Getty Images)

Jonny Auping | Longreads | August 2019 | 14 minutes (3,848 words)


While reading Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites, there will probably be a point when you’ll think to yourself, “This person is obsessed.” You might be referring to any one of the book’s real life characters who took their obsession with violence to its most illogical extreme. You might actually be referring to Monroe herself, who doesn’t shy away from the notion that she might still have been digging deeply into these stories of bloodshed even if there were never a book to tell them through. Or, you might realize that you planned to sit down and read for only 20 minutes, but it’s been over an hour and you can’t tear yourself away.

Questions about the nature of obsession permeate Savage Appetites, which tells the stories of four women whose connections to violent crimes — either as investigator, killer, defender, or victim — became the obsessive center of their universes. Monroe, whose stories have been featured at places like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Texas Monthly, also weaves in personal experiences and historical context in order to take a macro-view of the true crime genre. What are the causes of our obsession with violent crime and, perhaps more importantly, what are the political and sociological consequences of it? Read more…

‘TV Has This Really Fraught Relationship with the Audience.’

Tom Kelley/Getty Images

Jonny Auping | Longreads | June 2019 | 20 minutes (5,447 words)

Until very recently in its relatively young life, television was considered to have the same creative merit as any other household appliance — perhaps less, since the device itself was referred to as the “Idiot Box” and “chewing gum for the eyes.” Having a passionate debate about television would have been like having a passionate debate about the microwave.

But in her new book, I Like to Watch, Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic, makes the same argument she’s been making, consciously and unconsciously, for 20 years: Television is worth thinking and talking about.

I Like to Watch is a collection of essays that Nussbaum has written, most of them originally for New York magazine and the New Yorker, about television shows that served as cultural touchstones in their time as well as short-lived programs that had more to say than anybody but their loyal fan bases ever realized.

Taken as one, Nussbaum’s essays represent her perspectives and experiences traveling through decades of TV shows that were intentionally and unintentionally commenting on the moments they were being created in. Her writing doesn’t necessarily demand that you take her point of view as much as it brings to focus how clearly you could form your own point of view through a deeper examination of the characters, plots, and themes of the shows you love. I Like to Watch is, fundamentally, an argument for television as art. Read more…

Hanif Abdurraqib on Loving A Tribe Called Quest

Hanif Abdurraqib by Kate Sweeney / University of Texas Press

Jonny Auping  | Longreads | February 2019 | 20 minutes (5,266 words)

Hanif Abdurraqib claims that he “wasn’t interested in writing the definitive book on A Tribe Called Quest.” What he produced instead was much more powerful. Abdurraqib’s recently released book, Go Ahead In the Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest, does provide a history of the revolutionary rap group, but more importantly it’s a memoir of listening and feeling, a deeply personal book unafraid to pair music criticism with intimate reflections.

A Tribe Called Quest debuted in 1990 with the album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, an eclectic layering of samples produced by the group’s de facto leader, Q-Tip, and rhymed over with quirky stories and confident punch lines. Their first three albums, all released by 1993, are considered hip-hop canon and three of the most influential albums of the past 30 years across any genre.

A Tribe Called Quest’s 2016 comeback album seemed destined to debut amidst doomed circumstances. Phife Dawg, the group’s swaggering and quick-witted lyricist, had died of diabetes between the making of the album and it’s release. Three days before the album came out Donald Trump won a shocking presidential election. No singles had been released prior to We’ve Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, but it turned out to be powerful response to the politics of the time, a prophetic pushback against inequality, as well as a statement of the group’s place in popular culture. Pitchfork called the album, “the first time in their career that the entire group was at their peak.”

You could argue that Go Ahead In the Rain is the type of dream project that anyone who has ever felt immense fandom — or even love — for a particular music would want to write. It’s a tribute to a group, and who doesn’t enjoy explaining why their favorite should also be your favorite? But Abdurraqib earns the authority to actually pull it off, not just through his elegant writing but also by having the courage to use Tribe’s music to examine his own place in the world and reckon with what he discovered. Read more…

‘The Most Versatile Criminal In History’

Getty / Penguin Random House

Jonny Auping | Longreads | February 2019 | 16 minutes (4,367 words)


Paul Le Roux is unequivocally a criminal mastermind, and if you’ve never heard his name, that only proves the point. After all, a criminal mastermind isn’t just defined by the audacity of his crimes, but the extent to which he gets away with them, and by that measure Le Roux is nothing short of brilliant.

Journalist Evan Ratliff has spent years piecing together who Le Roux is and the unbelievable nature of his crimes. In his recently released book, The Mastermind, Ratliff paints a picture of a man considered by one source to be the “most versatile criminal in history.” Throughout the mid-aughts, Le Roux, a South African computer programmer, ran an illegal online pharmaceutical scam that sold addictive painkillers to Americans at astonishing rates. Real doctors signed off on the scam. Real pharmacists sold the drugs. But it was Le Roux, usually operating from a computer in Manila, who was pulling all the strings. The painkiller scheme grossed him hundreds of millions of dollars.

That money would go on to fund a global criminal enterprise that included literal boatloads of cocaine, shipments of methamphetamine from North Korea, weapons deals with Iran, and a team of ex-military mercenaries who were ordered to kill anyone who threatened Le Roux’s bottom line.

The Mastermind is an incredible feat of reporting that takes the reader step by step into the journeys of Le Roux’s employees, accomplices and hired killers, as well as the law enforcement teams trying to take him down. Most of these parties were largely unaware of the scope of Le Roux’s enterprise. The shocking details and twists that Ratliff reveals are unrelenting; they tell a story that would be impossible to believe if Ratliff didn’t bring the reader along on the reporting upon which it all rests. Read more…

Decolonizing Knowledge: Stefan Bradley on the Fight for Civil Rights in the Ivy League

Yale cheer leaders Greg Parker (L) and Bill Brown give the Black Power salute during the National Anthem starting the Yale-Dartmouth football game in the Yale Bowl. November 2, 1968. Bettman / Getty

Jonny Auping | Longreads | November 2018 | 19 minutes (5,155 words)

Being steeped in tradition, by nature, requires a resistance to change; and, as Stefan Bradley points out in the introduction to his new book Upending the Ivory Tower: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Ivy League, seven of the eight Ivy League schools — often referred to as the “Ancient Eight” — existed before the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, making them perhaps “more American than the nation itself with respect to culture and history.” Attending an Ivy League school is and always has been a marker of status in this country, one boasted by many U.S. Presidents, judges, and world leaders. Racial equality was not something that came naturally to these institutions; it had to be fought for. Upending the Ivory Tower documents the struggles of early black Ivy League students as well as the demonstrations and building occupations students in the 1960s took part in to hold these elite universities accountable for their prejudice.

Dr. Bradley is currently chair of the African American Studies program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (and years ago he was also a professor of mine at Saint Louis University). In 2012, he published Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the 1960s, a book about how, as some white student activists worked to radicalize and restructure the university, black students, joining with local activists in Harlem, sought to stop the university from paving over a public park to build a private gymnasium. The perspective of outsiders allowed them to see beyond internal campus politics; to recognize the university as a force in the world which sometimes must be opposed, not just reorganized. Upending the Ivory Tower covers similar ground but has an expanded scope, covering the postwar period through 1975 and all eight Ivies, adding a new layer of nuance to our understanding of the civil rights and Black Power movements, and recounting the stories of young people who had everything to lose but were righteous in their demands for what they had yet to gain. Read more…

Eli Saslow on the Slow-Motion Toppling of Derek Black’s White Supremacism

Associated Press

Jonny Auping | Longreads | September 2018 | 19 minutes (5,065 words)

Before Richard Spencer became one of white nationalism’s poster boys, before Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos helped normalize stringently racist ideologies, before Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, and before the Charlottesville riots, no one was more suited and prepared to head this generation of prejudice than Derek Black.

Derek’s father, Don, founded Stormfront, the largest online community for racists. His godfather was David Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard and probably the most notorious white nationalist alive. By his mid-teens Derek was living up to that pedigree. He hosted a daily radio show in which he advocated for an all-white America and denied the legitimacy of the Holocaust. By 2008, among his community, Derek was a prodigy.

How Derek became a white nationalist is relatively obvious: He was a product of his environment. But in his new book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, Eli Saslow dives into a much more complex and emotional journey: How Derek dug his way out.

Saslow’s detailed account of Derek’s time at New College in Florida — from his early double life as a student and white nationalist figurehead to his eventual public disavowing of his previous ideology in a letter to the SPLC — required interviews with classmates who publicly shunned him and ones who chose to engage patiently with him (including Jewish and immigrant students who reached out to him), as well as with committed white nationalists, included Derek’s immediate family. In his reporting, Saslow spent “hundreds of hours” with Derek himself, and gained access to personal emails, Facebook, and g-chats containing intense debates, which now serve as the gradual debunking of racist ideologies.

The former Pulitzer Prize winner took the time to speak with Longreads about Derek’s transformation, the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and whether or not there’s a proper way to engage someone who promotes hateful rhetoric. Read more…

The Apology Tour

Getty / Illustration by Katie Kosma

Jonny Auping | Longreads | April 2018| 12 minutes (3,043 words)

As I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror of a Mexican restaurant, I realized I didn’t want to go back to the table. I didn’t want to follow through with my plans. I splashed a bit of water on my face and tried to give myself a pep talk, but nothing helped. It was all just too painfully awkward.

I was at the restaurant to apologize to Chris, a regular of mine when I used to serve tables a few years back, who I had befriended and stayed in touch with. He didn’t know I was planning to apologize — or even what I’d done in the first place — so if I wanted to go the cowardly route, I could get away with it.

I thought about that when I’d pulled up outside of his apartment and opened the back of my SUV so that his guide dog, Westin, could hop in. I thought about it as I helped lead Chris from the parking lot to our table. I thought about it as I avoided making eye contact with myself in the bathroom mirror. How could I even explain why I was apologizing, anyway?

Let me try right now: We’ve all been in a public place, maybe a grocery store for example, and spotted someone we know before they spotted us. We didn’t feel like talking to them for whatever reason. Maybe we were in a hurry. Maybe we didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone. So we changed directions or walked down another aisle and managed to avoid the interaction altogether. It’s not a particularly nice thing to do — treating someone as if we wished they didn’t occupy the same space as us.

But how do you apologize for that? Worse yet, how do you apologize for walking right past them without saying a word? How do you apologize for using someone’s blindness to avoid interacting with them? How do you begin to fess up for doing that numerous times, months apart?

I reminded myself that this was the right thing to do, that I owed this to my friend, even if he didn’t know it. But I really didn’t want to do it. Soon, the food would be at our table. I could order another beer, tell a couple jokes, listen to his stories and have a great time catching up.

Why ruin that?
Read more…

Chasing the Man Who Caught the Storm: An Interview With Brantley Hargrove



Jonny Auping | Longreads | April 2018| 15 minutes (4,096 words)


In his recently released book, The Man Who Caught the Storm, Brantley Hargrove tells the story of an unlikely legend named Tim Samaras, who lived his life grappling with and addicted to one of nature’s most dangerous marvels.

Samaras was a tornado chaser with a simple but absurdly treacherous goal: to get close enough to a twister to glean data from within its core. Hargrove, who spent months on the road chasing tornadoes for the reporting of the book, retraces and recreates Samaras’ most dramatic missions, culminating on May 31, 2014 in El Reno, Oklahoma, where he would face off with the largest tornado ever recorded. That same tornado would take Samaras’ life along with those of his son, Paul, and fellow chaser Carl Young.

“We now live in an era when the Mars Pathfinder rover has touched down on the Red Planet,” Hargrove writes. “The human genome has been mapped. But twisters still have the power to confound even the most advanced civilization the planet has ever known.”

Samaras legacy and life’s work represented a crucial foundation for how to better understand and predict historically unpredictable tornadoes.

But The Man the Who Caught the Storm is hardly a meteorological textbook. Rather Hargrove weaves a uniquely American tale of adventure — “nowhere else on the planet do tornadoes happen like they do in this country,” as he explained to me — diving into the circumstances and makeup that leads a man to chase what he should be running from.

Lacking even a college degree, Samaras was an outsider in the meteorological community, who not only developed one of the most sophisticated information-gathering probes the field had ever seen, but also had the courage (or perhaps unrelenting urge) to personally drop that probe in front of a twister.

Hargrove sat down with Longreads to discuss tornadoes, his own storm chasing, and the addicting thrill of being in the presence of something that can cause unfathomable chaos and destruction.
Read more…

“Hey, Can I Sleep In Your Room?”: Studying Love with Elizabeth Flock

AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

Jonny Auping | Longreads | March 2018 | 16 minutes (4,156 words)


In her recently published book, The Heart Is a Shifting Sea, Elizabeth Flock aims to tell authentic stories of love in the city of Mumbai. But in a place where the notion of flashy Bollywood romance is ubiquitous, Flock went about her mission as a diligent reporter, spending close to a decade observing the daily lives of married couples in the eighth largest city in the world — interviewing them, living with them — even sleeping on their bedroom floors.

Flock, who spent two years in Mumbai in her early twenties, returned in 2014 to embed with her book’s subjects — three couples she had previously met. “I liked them because they were romantics and rule breakers,” Flock writes. “They dreamed of being married for seven lifetimes, but they didn’t follow convention.”

The deeply reported chronicles of these middle-class Mumbai couples depict the sometimes painful push and pull between love, breaking convention, and the ingrained duty to generations of tradition.

True to the diversity of the city, the book follows three couples from different religious and cultural backgrounds: Maya and Veer are Marwari Hindus, Shahzad and Sabeena are Sunni Muslims, and Ashok and Parvati are Tamil Brahmin Hindus.

But as Flock’s writing illustrates, these backgrounds were contextual and monumentally significant to their circumstances, but not even close to wholly representative of their identities.

Although Flock removes herself from these narratives, the stories feel complete and candid in a way that seems remarkable considering they are told by an outsider. The years worth of trust she built with her subjects — at times even babysitting their children — led to revealed secrets and emotions that take the accounts from ordinary to captivating.

Some of the obstacles these six people face — religious restrictions, gender expectations, antiquated laws and practices — are unique to their cultural environment. But what all of them are after — a successful marriage — is universally relatable.

Flock took the time to speak with Longreads about her reporting process, the state of marriage in India, and how love does or does not transcend culture and region.

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Read more…

What Happens Between What Seems Like All the Facts: On Interviewing Artists

(Photo courtesy the Auping family)

Jonny Auping| Longreads | February 2017 | 15 minutes (4,011 words)

Michael Auping recently retired after 25 years as the chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. His 40-year curatorial career, which focused on the international development of postwar art, has resulted in numerous, critically-acclaimed exhibitions featuring many of the 20th century’s most prominent visual artists.

Before becoming a curator, Auping spent his post-graduate years in mid-70s Southern California trying to figure out how to break into the art world. Around 1975, he came across the book Workingby Studs Terkel, in which the author interviews various working people — from parking valets and cab drivers to gravediggers and pharmacists — about the meaning they find in their jobs. Auping began going to the studios of Los Angeles-based artists like Robert Irwin, Tony Delap, and Craig Kauffman to record conversations about their work, their background, and most importantly, their process.

His new book, Forty Years: Just Talking About Art, is a compilation of interviews ranging from 1977 to 2017 featuring artists such as Frank Stella, Lucian Freud, Susan Rothenberg, Bruce Nauman. Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and many others. Read more…