Author Archives

Jonny Auping

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

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

AP

 

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.
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“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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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…