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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Women mourn the death of a family member, who died from COVID-19, in Sopore, District Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir, India on 04 May 2021. (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Arundhati Roy, Josh Levin, Susan Matthews, and Molly Olmstead, Alison Criscitiello, Grayson Haver Currin, and Alan Siegel.

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1. ‘We are Witnessing a Crime Against Humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid Catastrophe

Arundhati Roy | The Guardian | April 28, 2021 | 5,369 words

“The system has not collapsed. The ‘system’ barely existed. The government – this one, as well as the Congress government that preceded it – deliberately dismantled what little medical infrastructure there was.”

2. Mr. Bailey’s Class

Josh Levin, Susan Matthews, and Molly Olmstead | Slate | April 29, 2021 | 6,763

“Before he was Philip Roth’s biographer, Blake Bailey taught the eighth grade. His students say he made them feel special. They worshipped him. They trusted him. He used it all against them.”

3. Contraindications

Alison Criscitiello | Alpinist Magazine | September 22, 2017 | 6,890 words

“I covered the rock beneath me in tears and beat it with my fists. The word No echoed off the cold and shadowed face of Rachu Tangmu. In less than a minute, I unleashed the emotions that I knew I would lock down for weeks, until I got us home. I closed my eyes and wiped my face. Calm and even, I did CPR for an hour despite the obvious signs that she had passed away. It is what you do, so I did it.”

4. Emily Ford Hiked 1,200 Miles in the Dead of Winter

Grayson Haver Currin | Outside | May 4, 2021 | 2,276 words

Ford hiked, instead, for many of the same reasons that “lanky white dudes” or anyone else might take to the woods: to pay attention to herself, to have space to think through the life she had led for 28 years and where she wanted it to go.

5. Two Assholes Lost in the Woods: An Oral History of ‘Pine Barrens’

Alan Siegel | The Ringer | May 5, 2021 | 5,600 words

“Twenty years after it aired, David Chase and Co. look back on the one of the wildest, boldest, funniest episodes of ‘The Sopranos’ ever made.”

‘The Fledglings Are Out!’

Images courtesy of Milkweed Editions

Dara McAnulty | Diary of a Young Naturalist | May 2021 | 1,979 words (7 minutes)


This diary chronicles the turning of my world, from spring to winter, at home, in the wild, in my head. It travels from the west of Northern Ireland in County Fermanagh to the east in County Down. It records the uprooting of a home, a change of county and landscape, and at times the de-rooting of my senses and my mind. I’m Dara, a boy, an acorn. Mum used to call me lon dubh (which is Irish for blackbird) when I was baby, and sometimes she still does. I have the heart of a naturalist, the head of a would-be scientist, and bones of someone who is already wearied by the apathy and destruction wielded against the natural world. The outpourings on these pages express my connection to wildlife, try to explain the way I see the world, and describe how we weather the storms as a family.


Tuesday, 5 June
The garden has blossomed in the warmth of these late spring days. So much light and sunshine, compensating for the heaving tiredness and exasperation that comes, for me, at the end of the school year. Friendship has always eluded me – what is it anyway? A collection of actions and words between two people or more, people who grow and change anyway. It’s a good thing, apparently. That’s what some people say. I don’t have any experience, though. I mean, I play board games with a group at my school. We play, we deconstruct the game. We don’t ‘talk’. What is there to say? Sometimes, I feel that if I start, I might not shut up. That has happened, lots of times. It doesn’t end well. Kids in my class, they walk around town together, they might play football together or whatever other sport takes their fancy. They don’t talk, though. They smirk and snigger at anyone who is different. Unfortunately, for me, I’m different. Different from everyone in my class. Different from most people in my school. But at breaktime today I watched the pied wagtails fly in and out of the nest. How could I feel lonely when there are such things? Wildlife is my refuge. When I’m sitting and watching, grown-ups usually ask if I’m okay. Like it’s not okay just to sit and process the world, to figure things out and watch other species go about their day. Wildlife never disappoints like people can. Nature has a purity to me, unaffected. I watch the wagtail fly out and in again, then step a little closer. Peering in, I see that last week’s eggs are now chicks. Tiny bright-yellow beaks, mouths opening and closing silently. This is the magic. This bird, which dances and hops at everyone’s feet in the playground, unnoticed by most. Its liveliness and clockwork tail, ticking constantly, never touching the ground. It appears again, and the squawking starts in earnest. I giggle inside, in case someone sees. I have to hold so much in, phase so much out. It’s exhausting.

At home, I mooch around the garden and notice the first herb robert flowers, pink wild bloom amongst the verdant. I note it down on my list of firsts in the garden and feel good. I hear Dad come back from work, and with him an injured bat. She’s the first of the year and we tend to it – females only have one pup a year, such precious cargo. We feed it mealworms and put water in a milk-bottle lid. The bat’s mouth is so small I use one of Bláthnaid’s paintbrushes to put droplets on its tongue, hoping it will be something like lapping dewdrops from a leaf or puddle. Dehydration is the main killer of an injured bat, so it’s important to get it to drink. But as they’re getting better they’ll chew up a mealworm like a piece of spaghetti.

They’re such innocuous and timid creatures, not worthy of the silly hype that surrounds the movies and Hallowe’en. They’re insect-controllers: a single pipistrelle eats 3,000 midges a night. Can you imagine the swarms really ruining your camping holiday if we didn’t have healthy numbers of bat populations? It’s unimaginable.

The bat sleeps in my room. They always do because it’s quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the McAnulty family. I always sleep so soundly when I have a bat staying in my room. I hear it scratching about in the night and am never afraid, I am comforted.

Friday, 8 June
I trudge to school with a leaden heart: the bat didn’t make it through the night, and we didn’t lose just one bat, we’ve lost every generation that could have followed. Her injuries, caused by a cat, were too much and she died, Dad thinks, from infection. I feel so heartbroken. I’ve finished all my exams but that isn’t enough to lighten my spirits.

After school, Lorcan and I arrive home to squeals of delight from Mum and Bláthnaid. ‘The fledglings are out! The fledglings are out!’ Mum roars with all the childish delight that many of the kids I know have lost before they’re eight or nine. The excitement is intoxicating, and it spreads into me and I feel a little airy. We watch through the window as a just-emerged coal tit, blue tit and sparrow rest on the branches of the pine trees, open-mouthed, noisy and boisterous and splendiferous.

Watching the discordant gang, I realise that I won’t see them when they’re fully grown. Not if we move house. I’ve been in complete denial about moving house. Tomorrow, though, we’re going house-hunting in County Down, in Castlewellan – a small town six miles from our new school in Newcastle (which Mum and Dad say is too expensive for us to live in). I’m not sure if I feel really annoyed about the whole thing, or whether that tickle I sometimes get thinking about it is a sign of the excitement there might be in starting over again. The opportunity to reinvent myself.

Mum notices my mood shifting. I give her my best broad grin and a hug. It’s not easy for any of us, but she and Dad will do most of the work – and the worrying.
Every day, ever since I can remember, Mum has sat me down, sat us all down, and explained every situation we’ve ever had to deal with. Whether it was going to the park, to the cinema, to someone’s house, to a café. Every time, all manner of things were delicately instructed. Social cues, meanings of gestures, some handy answers if we didn’t know what to say. Pictures, social stories, diagrams, cartoons. Many people accuse me of ‘not looking autistic’. I have no idea what that means. I know lots of ‘autistics’ and we all look different. We’re not some recognisable breed. We are human beings. If we’re not out of the ordinary, it’s because we’re fighting to mask our real selves. We’re holding back and holding in. It’s a lot of effort. What’s a lot more effort, though, is the work Mum did and does still, so light-heartedly. She tells us it’s because she knows. She knows the confusion. That’s why she and Dad will be doing the worrying about moving, and why Mum will be doing all the planning and mind- mapping, and will somehow know how everything fits together. I’m lucky, very lucky.

Many people accuse me of ‘not looking autistic’. I have no idea what that means. I know lots of ‘autistics’ and we all look different. We’re not some recognisable breed. We are human beings.

Saturday, 9 June
The day is glorious. It’s summer weather, I have a new Undertones T-shirt (the ‘My Perfect Cousin’ one) and I feel good wearing it. I don’t know why I love T-shirts with some part of me brandished on them. Maybe it’s because it will either scare people away or start a conversation without me having to do anything. Well, either way, that hasn’t happened yet!

We arrive at the first house for viewing and Mum hates it, I can tell. I don’t like it either. Everything about it is squashed, though we can see the Mourne Mountains from upstairs. The second house is much better but needs a lot of work – the views are extraordinary. Neither of them lights a fire in anyone’s belly, though, so that’s it for today, thankfully. And because it’s still morning we’re going to explore the Castlewellan Forest Park, a government-owned forest with native woods, conifer plantation and red kites. It even has a lake and a mountain path. Lorcan and Bláthnaid have already been but it’s a first for me. It’s so beautiful. I feel a swell of anticipation – if we move here we could live beside a forest. We could be near trees! We might not be crammed in by suburbia anymore. I could ride my bike without worrying about cars.

You see, this is a big deal for us kids. We can’t access nature the way my parents’ generation could. Our exposure to wildlife and wild places has been robbed by modernity and ‘progress’. Our pathways for exploration have been severed by development and roads and pollution. Seriously, you take your life into your own hands if you choose to cycle anywhere in Enniskillen. The roads are congested, busy and unfriendly, especially if, like me, you want to stop and stare. We always have to travel to forest parks or nature reserves for our dose, returning to the starkness of concrete and manicured lawns. To think we could live beside a forest!

The thought keeps echoing and I feel euphoric, almost delirious. We all feel it in the glow of the sun with swallows, house martins and swifts above us, dancing everywhere. So many. I’ve never seen so many all at once. Not all three together. It’s heady and intense. We’re all springing, bouncing off one another with sideway glances and controlled smiles. Hoping and holding it all in.

We find a peace maze in the park, created after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It has 6,000 yew trees and was planted by 5,000 school children and others from the nearby community. We rage through it until we come to a rope bridge. I stop and get out my binoculars: red kites, three of them, wheeling and soaring, ascending, dropping right over our heads. It’s staggering. We gawp at the sky and you can feel our family agreement travelling through us, silently: this might be a good place to live.

Exhausted after the long drive and the day’s events, we head back to Granny’s house in Warrenpoint, where we’re staying tonight. My Granny Elsie has amazing views from her back garden. We can see Carlingford Lough and the Mournes and the Cooley Mountains. Every day looks different there, with subtle changes of colour or the way the clouds sit then disperse on the mountains. Today, the sparrows are chattering and the sun is still high. We decide we need another walk along the beach before we get dinner.

We do a beach clean as we go, but not too much today, which gives us plenty of time for exploring. Lorcan has the best find of the day: a cuttlefish bone smoothed by the sea, silk-soft. The bones, which are not really bones at all but a shell, are usually from the females who die a few weeks after breeding, and the dead cephalopods’ skeletons are later washed up on the beach. Lorcan’s find has the kind of piddock holes that we normally see in soft rocks and clays, and there still seems to be life inside them so we carry it back to the sea before it dries out. We find another, bone-dry, which we bring back to Granny Elsie’s.

Later that night, in the darkness, sharing a room with Lorcan, we talk about the move in hushed tones and excitement, until we both sink like stones into sleep.

Excerpted from Diary of a Young Naturalist. Published by Milkweed Editions.


Dara McAnulty is the author Diary of a Young Naturalist, forthcoming in Spring 2021. He is the recipient of the Wainwright Prize for nature writing. Dara lives with his mum, dad, brother Lorcan, sister Bláthnaid and rescue greyhound Rosie in County Down, Northern Ireland. Dara’s love for nature, his activism and his honesty about autism, has earned him a huge social media following from across the world and many accolades: in 2017 he was awarded BBC Springwatch ‘Unsprung Hero’ Award and Birdwatch magazine ‘Local Hero’; in 2018 he was awarded ‘Animal Hero’ of the year by the Daily Mirror and became ambassador for RSPCA and the iWill campaign; in 2019 he became a Young Ambassador for the Jane Goodall Institute and became the youngest ever recipient of the RSPB Medal for conservation.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Nicole Lewis, Omayra Issa and Ify Chiwetelu, Patricia McCormick, Tobias Buck, and ‘Cúagilákv.

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1. How We Survived Covid-19 in Prison

Nicole Lewis | The Marshall Project | April 22, 2021 | 3,610 words

“At the start of the pandemic, we asked four incarcerated people to chronicle daily life with the coronavirus.” Bruce Bryant, Jennifer Graves, James Ellis, and Christopher Walker “reveal what they witnessed and how they coped with the chaos, fear, isolation and deaths.”

2. Black on the Prairies

Omayra Issa, Ify Chiwetelu | CBC News | April 25, 2021

A multimedia, interactive exploration of Black life in on the prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

3. The Girl in the Kent State Photo

Patricia McCormick | The Washington Post Magazine | April 19, 2021 | 4,535 words

“I believe that one of our most important roles as teachers is to provide authentic opportunities for young people to heal.”

4. Herman and the Serpent

Tobias Buck | North & South | April 13, 2021 | 4,100 words

“How a retired diplomat in Wellington brought a notorious murderer to justice.”

5. Thriving Together: Salmon, Berries, and People

‘Cúagilákv | Hakai Magazine | April 27, 2021 | 2,000 words

“Western science is a curious little sister on this coast, mapping ideas and observations in spaces where Indigenous science has been foundational to kinship-building and ecological balance for millennia.”

The Fracking Lottery

George Hagemeyer in front of his new living-room wall mural. Credit: Tristan Spinski

Colin Jerolmack | Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town | April 2021 | 2,303 words (8 minutes)

Excerpted from Chapter 3: The Fracking Lottery

Like state-run lotteries (and unlike most of real life), the fracking lottery was also rather random from a sociological perspective, in that lessors’ socioeconomic status had little bearing on their chances of coming out a winner.7 In fact, some of the biggest winners were land-poor folks like George Hagemeyer, whose inherited properties were millstones before fracking. Not long before I met George, he was barely getting by on his custodian’s pension. Duct tape traversed his linoleum kitchen floor. The cabinets sagged. A faded wallpaper mural of a fall landscape that had enjoyed pride of place on his living room wall for forty years was peeling. A tarp had been hastily draped over the leaking roof of a ramshackle trailer parked in his front yard that George used as a shed. He drove a jalopy.

Not that George was one to complain. “If you wanna look at the bad things all the time, that’s all you’re ever gonna see. You hafta look at the good side, too.” The good side was that, out of seven siblings, he was the one who had been gifted his dad’s land. He planned to die here, but he worried about what would happen to the property afterward. The natural order of things, according to George, is for a father to entrust his son to be the land’s next steward. But George didn’t have a son, and neither his adopted daughter nor his teenage granddaughter showed interest in living on the estate. His brother, who used to live next door, on a sliver of the family farm, had already sold out.

George’s fortunes did not change overnight. Like the Shaners, he leased in the mid-2000s, before anyone in the region had even heard the word fracking. The going rate at the time was only $5 per acre, roughly the amount that wildcatters had been paying for decades for the right—which they almost never exercised—to probe for trapped pockets of underground methane. Given the region’s historic experience with vertical gas wells, which were low impact, few in number, and almost never put into production, a visit from the landman didn’t set off alarm bells for George. (Some lessors complained that gas companies intentionally glossed over how horizontal drilling would be different—i.e., far more disruptive for lessors and far more lucrative for the industry.) George ran the lease, which offered $12 per acre for the first year and $4.50 per acre for the remaining four years (for a total payout of $2,360), by his lawyer. He was told it was a good deal. George smirked. “How many times do you think I’m ever gonna hire that lawyer to do anything for me again? It’s between zero and none.”

Sociologist Stephanie Malin and colleagues argue that leasing disempowered lessors like George, “precisely because negotiations occurred privately between industry representatives and individual landowners.”8 Most lessors, including people with counsel, lacked full information on what they could bargain for. The structure of private land leasing played into the industry’s hands. In most instances, gas company representatives were able to convince landowners to lease through one-on-one negotiations—situations in which the industry held all the cards. It never occurred to George that he could have collectively bargained with his neighbors, as the Crawleys did; as a result, he arguably got fleeced.

When I asked George if he felt cheated, though, he responded, “I can’t holler.” He noted that he “made a nice chunk of money” for the pipeline under his field. More than the gleaming Ford Explorer SUV and the $8,000 Scag riding mower, what mattered most to him about the windfall was being able to start a college fund for his granddaughter Maddie. Her portrait—knees tucked close to her chest, her blond hair framing a shy teenager smile—was the only tabletop adornment in his living room. Tearfully glancing at her photo, George managed to blurt out, “I love that girl to pieces,” before momentarily going silent to collect himself. “She deserves everything.”

George hoped to be able to give his granddaughter everything in the near future. I stood with him on a scorching July afternoon in 2013 as he supervised the workers preparing to bring his moneymakers—that is, the six gas wells in his backyard—online (i.e., connected to the pipeline). Despite the heat, the roughnecks were required to wear thick fire-retardant suits. “Ugh,” George commented, “I’d rather go pick shit with the chickens than wear one of those damned things!” As was his wont, George chatted up the nearest hard hat, who happened to be a field analyst who told us he recently migrated here from the oilfields in Wyoming. “We’re hopin’ for some pretty good wells here,” the man remarked nonchalantly. “You are?” George asked excitedly, rubbing his hands together as if caressing an imaginary stack of royalty checks. “I am too!” he exclaimed, before becoming overwhelmed by belly laughs. The worker readily indulged George’s fantasy. Based on the wellheads’ high-pressure-gauge readings, he had “a feeling they’re gonna be some pretty good ones.”

Once the man walked away, George began chuckling as he imagined life as a “shaleionaire.” He told me he would be the lousiest rich person alive, because he would give it all away. In addition to planning to pick up the tab for his granddaughter’s college tuition and buy her a car for graduation, he wanted, he said, “to be able to take care of my brothers and sisters that were born and raised here.” On second thought, George conceded that he didn’t plan to give all the royalty money away. “I wanna protect my home as much as possible.” Materially, that meant remodeling his careworn kitchen and installing a new roof—ideally, a metal one. Legally, that meant rewriting his will so that part of his new-found fortune stayed with the property, meaning that his daughter would forfeit any claim to her inheritance if she attempted to sell or transfer ownership of the estate. George also entertained more fanciful visions, like constructing a pond in his field “big enough to put two islands in,” with “an arch bridge going from one to the other with a flowering cherry [tree] in the middle of each one,” and like buying out his neighbor and bulldozing the house, so he didn’t have to look at it.

When the money, such as it was, began rolling in, George had some fun. He purchased a kayak and a large passenger van to transport it, so that he didn’t have to bother attaching a trailer to his SUV. On one visit, I found his table littered with ads torn out of magazines for resorts in the Poconos, casinos in Atlantic City, and even a fourteen-day cruise in Alaska. He had taken to purchasing decorative plates painted with American flags and animals like deer and eagles—which he displayed on counters, sills, and almost any other flat surface he could find throughout the house—and to collecting limited-edition Monopoly board games (the crown jewel, which he said he picked up on a day trip to Corning, New York, with his granddaughter, was gold-foil-stamped and constructed of mahogany). And he sported a fancy new watch that he had seen on TV and had to have. ‘They said the list price was $1,500, but I got it for a little more than $500.’*

It took some time to get his kitchen remodeled, in part because George acted like a self-described “pain in the ass.” Seeming to relish a rare opportunity to play the part of a bigwig, George gleefully recounted how he fired two contractors for not following his detailed specifications (he said one bought the wrong sink; another “hung the cabinets too darn high!”). The kitchen was finally completed in the fall of 2016, and it was such a total transformation that it could have been featured on Extreme Home Makeover: all stainless-steel appliances, including (finally) a dishwasher; wraparound stained solid-wood cabinets; marble countertops; an embossed ceiling that imitated the tin ceilings of old; and, of course, a new tiled floor to replace the duct-taped linoleum. The bathroom, whose origin as an outhouse attached to the kitchen meant that it was perennially dank, was also gut renovated. Its newly installed cedar paneling (including on the tub), wall-to-wall carpet, and insulated walls emanated both figurative and literal warmth. The showpiece, which George couldn’t wait to present to me, was a walnut bay window installed in the laundry room, off the back of the kitchen. Previously, he had no view of his backyard from the kitchen. Its three panes now framed an archetypal rustic scene: the lush green expanse of his lawn extending toward distant tree stands, with the misty mountains looming in the background. (He shrugged off the occasional odor of industrial chemicals like benzene that wafted in from the well pad through his window, noting that the problem was easily solved by jamming rags between the window and the sill.) ‘They were gonna do that window with pine,’ George said with disgust. He went on, ‘Now, pine would’ve only set me back $800, and this cost ten times that. But you ain’t doing my window with pine! Over my dead body!’

Though the living room was relatively unchanged, George did make one significant alteration as an ode to his mother: he replaced her faded, flaking wallpaper mural. The new mural, also a fall scene that took up the entire wall, consisted of dozens of painted vinyl squares glued together. George had actually purchased it four years earlier with his pipeline bonus money, but it sat rolled up behind his loveseat for want of the additional funds required for a professional installation. Knowing that I used to rib him about the unfinished job, George proudly sat for a portrait session with the mural as a backdrop when I visited him in the fall of 2017 with a photographer. Although the declining productivity of his wells, along with the bottoming-out of natural-gas prices, reduced George’s monthly royalties from five figures to four figures in less than a year, he fulfilled his dream of surprising his granddaughter with a new Ford Escape for her high school graduation, in 2017. He joyfully recounted the story of driving Maddie to the dealership under the pretense that his own car needed repairs, and then parking by the white SUV and announcing, “It’s yours!” George sold his two-year-old passenger van to finance the $28,000 cash purchase, which was a reminder that his newfound wealth was finite. Yet the fact that George had grown accustomed to paying in full up front for big-ticket items was an indicator of how privileged fracking had made him. One way he expressed his gratitude was by donating $500 worth of food and new clothes to a shelter on Thanksgiving; he said he made his granddaughters tag along, ‘to show them how to be charitable.’

Thanks to land leasing, George had finally broken free of a lifetime of relative deprivation. Though he was hardly alone in turning to the fracking lottery in an effort to escape hardship, George certainly made out better than most. Of course, those who didn’t own any mineral estate couldn’t participate in the fracking lottery. What’s more, in some places—especially Billtown—tenants faced rising rents, and in 2012 residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park were forced out after a company bought the land in order to construct a water withdrawal site. In the rural places of Lycoming County where most drilling occurred, though, almost everyone owned rather than rented (in Gamble Town- ship, where George lived, only 10 percent of the population were rent- ers).9 And, unlike in parts of the Midwest, almost all the landowners here held the mineral rights. Everyone who leased got something, but it’s a minority, it seems, who wound up with life-changing money.10

The fact that few lessors hit the jackpot, while most of them experienced some degradation in their quality of life, has led some analysts to conclude that petroleum companies exploited the vulnerability of marginalized small-scale farmers and homeowners. Like the disproportionately impoverished group of people who buy lottery tickets, the thinking goes, many lessors felt they had little choice but to sign, because leasing was their only potential escape from economic insecurity. Some scholars call scenarios like this “environmental blackmail,” because, they argue, residents must choose between their health and their livelihood.11 In addition, fracking introduced new inequalities among neighbors: members of the Shaner clan earned enough royalties to endow college funds and hire maids; the Crawleys, just down the hill, received just a $7,000 one-time bonus, which came at the expense of their fresh-water supply (now laced with methane from a neighbor’s gas well). The Department of Environmental Protection shut in the faulty well, foreclosing the possibility of it generating royalties for the Crawleys.

As for his own misfortune, Tom Crawley resignedly concluded that “accidents happen” and optimistically pointed to the Shaners, implying that he could just as easily have been in their shoes. His neighbor Doyle Bodle, whose water was also impacted by drilling, reiterated that most lessors “are not having any problems,” and that even people not impacted by drilling can wind up with bad water, suggesting that geology itself shouldered much of the blame. “Losers” like Tom and Doyle saw themselves primarily as victims of bad luck—in particular, of an unfortunate location—rather than of bad actors or systemic inequity. And the fact that topography and luck largely determined the winners appealed to residents’ egalitarian sensibilities. Anyone could win, regardless of occupation, education, or wealth. In this way, private mineral ownership, a peculiarly American idea, made fracking compatible with the American Dream-even as it created new socioeconomic disparities, exposed landowners to significant environmental risks, and oftentimes left lessors holding the bag.


* Throughout this book, double quotation marks signify that the utterance was audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Single quotation marks represent my reconstruction of dialogue based on handwritten notes. I make this distinction to signal that utterances inside single quotation marks may be less reliable than those inside double quotation marks, as it seems almost impossible to capture speech verbatim with notes, even if they are written contemporaneously.

7. While it is plausible that wealthier and more educated residents were advantaged in negotiating lease and royalty payments, the biggest predictor of whether or not one hired a lawyer was not socioeconomic status but the size of one’s property (small landowners surmised that lawyer fees would eat up most of their leasing bonus). Dylan Bugden and Richard Stedman’s survey of lessors in northeastern Pennsylvania lends additional support to my claim that socioeconomic status did not play a significant role in determining outcomes in the fracking lottery. They find that “outcomes tend to vary by firm-specific rather than sociostructural factors.” See Dylan Bugden and Richard Stedman, “Rural Landowners, Energy Leasing, and Patterns of Risk and Inequality in the Shale Gas Industry,” Rural Sociology 84, no. 3 (2019): 459–88

8. Stephanie A. Malin et al., “The Right to Resist or a Case of Injustice? Meta-Power in the Oil and Gas FieldsSocial Forces 97, no. 4 (2019): 1811–38.

9. “Gamble Township, Pennsylvania Housing Data,”, accessed July 15, 2020.

10. Public data only allow estimates of the total amount of money of leasing bonuses and royalties paid out to lessors by oil and gas companies, not how much each lessor received (see, e.g., Timothy Fitzgerald and Randal R. Rucker, “US Private Oil and Natural Gas Royalties: Estimates and Policy Relevance,” OPEC Energy Review, 40, no. 1 (2016): 3–25). Anecdotally, few if any journalistic reports of shale communities turn up more than a few local instances of shaleionaires. See, e.g., Tom Wilber, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012); Andrew Maykuth, “Shale Gas Was Going to Make Them Rich. Then the Checks Arrived,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 21, 2017.

11. Stephanie Malin, “There’s No Real Choice but to Sign: Neoliberalization and Normalization of Hydraulic Fracturing on Pennsylvania Farmland,” Journal of Environmental Studies and Science 4 (2014): 17–27.


Excerpted from Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town. Published by Princeton University Press.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Breai Mason-Campbell, Simon J. Levien, Paola Capó-García, Emma Gilchrist, and Liam Boylan-Pett.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Seeing in the Dark

Breai Mason-Campbell | Pipe Wrench | April 13, 2021 | 5,129 words

“I have to wear all of these dolls, you see, so that Whiteness does not have to wear any.”

2. The Crimson Klan

Simon J. Levien | The Harvard Crimson | March 25, 2021 | 4616 words

Exploring the history of the Ku Klux Klan’s presence at Harvard University.

3. Making Sense Of It All: High School Poetry in the Age of Zoom

Paola Capó-García | Teachers & Writers Magazine | April 5, 2021 | 2,260 words

“I believe that one of our most important roles as teachers is to provide authentic opportunities for young people to heal.”

4. Genetic Mapping

Emma Gilchrist | Maisonneuve | April 12, 2021 | 6,900 words

“Here’s what I know for sure: I have three fathers who love me. One is my true dad—the man who raised me and has always told me ‘the more people who love you the better.’ One has the softest heart and shares my experience of being adopted. And one feels like a soulmate even though we’ve never met.”

5. Ready

Liam Boylan-Pett | Lope | March 29, 2021 | 2,900 words

“On the start of a cross-country race.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Eli Murray, Rebecca Woolington, and Corey G. Johnson, Ava Kofman, Olly Nze, Dina Gachman, and Larissa Pham.

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1. Poisoned

Eli Murray, Rebecca Woolington, Corey G. Johnson | Tampa Bay Times | March 24, 2021 | 6,560 words

“Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. The consequences have been profound.”

2. The Broken Front Line

Ava Kofman | ProPublica | April 7, 2021 | 5,890 words

“The wave of coronavirus cases that swept across the country late last year put even the most battle-hardened EMTs under unprecedented psychological strain.”

3. Haphephobia

Olly Nze | The Audacity | March 24, 2021 | 2,427 words

“The day I told her I was gay, the hugs changed. They became longer and tighter, like she was trying to hug the sin out of me.”

4. Feel Right at Home

Dina Gachman | Texas Highways | April 7, 2021 | 3,029 words

“Now I live near Brushy Creek instead of the Seine or the Pacific, and I’m not the first to make that sharp midlife turn from the city to the suburbs. ”

5. Crush

Larissa Pham | The Believer | April 1, 2021 | 4,100 words

“Can we fall in love completely without completely losing ourselves?”

Switch at Birth — But How?

From left: Rita and Ches Hynes; Mildred and Donald Avery / Jessie Brinkman Evans for The Atavist

This is an excerpt from The Atavist‘s issue no. 113, “The Lives of Others,” by writer Lindsay Jones. In remote Newfoundland, a search for answers about a series of baby mix-ups leads to a woman known as “Nurse Tiger.”

Lindsay Jones | The Atavist | March 2021 | 5 minutes (1,556 words)

The Atavist is Longreads‘ sister publication. For 10 years, it has been a digital pioneer in long-form narrative journalism, publishing one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a magazine member.

Rita Hynes lugged her pregnant body up the rural hospital’s wooden steps. It was the night of December 7, 1962, and her rounded belly tightened with each contraction. At just 20, Rita knew what she was in for. She had given birth two years prior, to a girl. Rita wasn’t married then, so the priest from her Catholic fishing hamlet on the southern coast of Newfoundland had snatched the infant from her arms and slapped Rita across the face. The baby would be raised by an aunt and uncle.

Rita, a slip of a woman, with blond hair and a rollicking laugh, soon became pregnant again by the baby girl’s father, a burly, blue-eyed fisherman named Ches Hynes, who was 11 years her senior. The couple married in the summer of 1961, the same day their son Stephen was born. But their happiness was short-lived: Stephen died as an infant, in his sleep.

Now Rita was pregnant for a third time. At the hospital, she felt the intensifying crests of pain—at first bearable, and then searing as the night wore on. Just after midnight, she heard the cries of her eight-pound baby pierce the air. A boy! She named him Clarence Peter Hynes, after his godfather, who was a close friend of her husband’s, and her brother, who had died in a fishing accident. Clarence was deposited in the hospital’s nursery and tucked into a bassinet, while Rita dozed in the women’s ward. This time, she surely hoped, no one and nothing would take her baby.

Clarence, whom everyone calls Clar, grew up in a fishing town, St. Bernard’s, perched on the edge of Newfoundland’s Fortune Bay. He was the first in a steady stream of infants to arrive at the Hyneses’ home, a small taupe bungalow on a hill overlooking the quay, with its fish sheds painted the bright colors of jelly beans. As a youngster, Clar watched out the kitchen window for boats steaming into the crescent-shaped harbor and then furiously pedaled his bike down to the wharf. He earned $4 an hour unloading and weighing nets teeming with squid and silver cod.

Clar slept in a top bunk in a room he shared with his brothers. They were fairer than he was—Clar had a toasty complexion and a thick head of dark hair. When they wanted to torment him, his brothers called him Freddy Fender, after the Mexican-American musician. He grew to become a local heartthrob, with a chiseled brow and lean, muscular frame. Clar was a natural athlete who excelled at hockey and cross-country. Rita, a typical hockey mom, banged on the glass during his games and leaned over the railings to yell at the referees.

At 16, when Clar left home for Ontario to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway, Rita cried for days. She knelt on a chair at the kitchen window, clutching her rosary beads and praying to God to bring her son back. She kept all the letters he sent her in her closet. When Clar did return, driving his navy blue Chevy Camaro into the village after many months away, the teenage girls of St. Bernard’s swooned. “Oh, Clar is so handsome!” his sister, Dorothy, remembered hearing again and again—her friends were always talking about her big brother.

Clar was 24 when he met a woman named Cheryl at a motel bar in Marystown, farther down the boot-shaped peninsula from where he grew up. Clar had an on-and-off girlfriend at the time, but when he saw Cheryl he was smitten. With pretty, bow-shaped lips and curly blond hair, she was the belle of the bar. She’d recently moved back to Newfoundland from the Toronto area, where she’d worked as a hairstylist. Cheryl noticed Clar looking at her. She didn’t normally date guys from rural fishing communities, or “down over the road.” They were a hard bunch. But as she and Clar talked over beers and glasses of Screech rum and 7Up, Cheryl found him attentive and kind. They danced and chatted the night away. She didn’t want it to end.

They were married two years later in Marystown’s white, steepled Anglican church. The ceremony was packed to the gills with family. Rita wore a royal blue dress with puffed sleeves, and her husband Ches a dark gray suit. They were thrilled to see Clar tie the knot.

Rita was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer a few years later, at 50. Clar nursed her as a mother would a baby. He held her and rocked her in the Hyneses’ old bungalow on the hill, making sure to face a window on the ocean so she could see the waves. Rita stayed with Clar and Cheryl at their home “in town,” as everyone calls Newfoundland’s capital city, St. John’s, during the futile treatment she underwent. Clar spoon-fed his mother bowls of fish and potatoes. He spent day after day with her right up until the end, so she would never be alone.

Five years after that, lung cancer took Ches.

Clar and Cheryl built a life together in St. John’s, raising three children of their own. When the fishery that had sustained generations of islanders collapsed, Newfoundland’s economy reoriented itself around the offshore oil and gas business. By 2014, Clar had a job as a welding foreman at Bull Arm, one of the industry’s major fabrication sites, where employees were building an oil platform that would eventually be towed out to sea.

That December, 52 years to the day after Rita brought him into the world, Clar overheard a woman in the hallway just outside his office sing out to a coworker, “It’s Craig’s birthday!” The woman’s name was Tracey Avery, and she was a cleaner at Bull Arm. She was talking about her husband, who also worked at the site. How funny, Clar thought. “It’s my birthday, too,” he said with a laugh.

“Yes, b’y,” Tracey replied. (B’y is pronounced “bye”—the Newfoundland expression is one of surprise, like “oh really?”) “How old are you?”

When Clar told her his age, Tracey’s next words came tumbling out: “Where were you born?”

“Come By Chance Cottage Hospital,” Clar said.

Tracey stood stock still for a second, her mouth agape. Then she ran, leaving her mop and cart behind. Clar shivered.

In that moment, a secret began to worm its way into the light: Another child had been taken from Rita Hynes—and she wasn’t alone.

On ‘the rock,’ as Newfoundland is affectionately known, your bay and your bloodline still define who you are—they are the first things people ask about when they meet you.

Depending on how you look at it, the stirring of this long-buried truth was sheer coincidence—one of those wild things that just happens—or it was inevitable, born of the quiddity of place. Newfoundland, the island portion of the sprawling Canadian province known as Newfoundland and Labrador, is a massive triangular rock in the Atlantic Ocean, colonized centuries ago for its fishing grounds. It has a rugged coastline, with hundreds of communities nestled into crooks, crannies, and coves. Some towns have blush-inducing names such as Heart’s Desire, Leading Tickles, and Dildo, and each is its own remote kingdom, fortified by rolling bluffs. Extended families are vast and tightly bound. For a long time they had to be. In such an austere place, it was a matter of survival. Today on “the rock,” as Newfoundland is affectionately known, your bay and your bloodline still define who you are—they are the first things people ask about when they meet you.

Getting anywhere along Newfoundland’s 6,000 miles of mountainous coast has always been a challenge. In the early 20th century, people in many of the island’s approximately 1,300 outports—the local term for fishing towns—had limited access to health care. Cottage hospitals, strategically located to serve dozens of outports at once, were intended to eliminate unnecessary death and suffering. They were a place to have your appendix out, get stitched up after an accident, or give birth and recover under the care of qualified doctors and nurses. They heralded a new dawn for Newfoundland. According to Edward Lake, a nurse and health administrator who worked in cottage hospitals and later wrote the definitive account of their history, they were the start of the most advanced rural health care program North America had ever seen, forerunners to Canada’s publicly funded national system.

The first seven cottage hospitals opened in 1936. One was located in the village of Come By Chance, which had been given its curious name by English colonists. As the story goes, in 1612, white explorers came ashore in one bay, only to discover a well-worn path to another bay on another coastline. The path had been cut by the indigenous Beothuk people. (The Beothuk were wiped out in the 19th century by the encroachment of white settlers.) The route led to the mouth of a river flush with salmon. It was a fortuitous find, which perhaps explains why the colonists later christened the settlement they built there Come By Chance. More than three centuries on, the village would prove a prime spot for a cottage hospital, with more than 50 outports close by.

The cottage hospitals were cookie-cutter clapboard buildings designed to be inviting. From the outside they looked like quaint residences. Strangely, in Come By Chance, the hospital was built the wrong way round, with its back to the road. For those inclined to superstition, the error might seem like an omen—a foretelling of bigger mix-ups to come.


Read the full story at The Atavist

When Refugee Families are Separated, Women Carry the Burden

Author photo by Jill Filipovic, used courtesy of St Martin's Press.

Ty McCormick | Beyond the Sand and Sea, One Family’s Quest for Country to Call Home | April 2021 | 3,518 words (20 minutes)

A few weeks after Maryan gave birth to her first son, Mohamed, word came from Dadaab that her parents and younger siblings were going to America. The Ashraf had been given priority for resettlement by the UN, and thousands of people seemed to be were leaving at once. Believing her brief marriage to Yussuf had run its course, Maryan took the first bus back to Dadaab with little Mohamed in tow. She had yet to tell her parents about her husband, in part because there was part of her that always doubted their marriage would survive. Now there was no hiding the fact that she was married and a mother. Sharif and Kaltuma would never approve of her plan to leave without Yussuf. But if they were going to America, she was going too.

The sight of Maryan with an infant child was a shock to her parents. Her mother broke down in tears, and she and Sharif both begged her to reconcile with Yussuf. “Think of the damage you are doing to our reputation,” they said. But Maryan was adamant that she was done with him. A day or two before the family was scheduled to begin the vetting process for resettlement, though, Yussuf showed up in Dadaab demanding to know why Maryan had left with their son. He had heard from family back in Moyale that the UN was taking her to America. Suddenly, the wife he had abandoned was his ticket to a better life.

Initially, Maryan rejected the idea out of hand. But her parents pushed and cajoled her. Divorce was simply out of the question as far as they were concerned. It wasn’t just taboo; it was unspeakable, a religious and moral failing that she would take to the grave. Leaving Yussuf behind, she realized, would wound her parents in a way she could never repair. What’s more, she harbored her own feelings of guilt at having agreed to marry him. You picked this guy, she thought. You can’t just walk away.

Reluctantly, Maryan agreed to give her marriage a second chance. She and Yussuf hadn’t had a legal wedding in Moyale, so they organized a hasty one at a mosque in Ifo in order to obtain the marriage certificate they would need to be resettled as a family. A sheikh named Jawad Abdi presided over the ceremony, and his signature is affixed to the bottom of a handwritten document from that day, specifying a dowry of “a cow of three years.” Sharif’s signature appears as a witness, above a statement clarifying that the improvised certificate, written in English and in Arabic, “should serve as proof of said marriage because currently marriage certificates are out of stock.”

Once they were officially wed, Maryan and Yussuf were given their own resettlement case with baby Mohamed, instead of remaining attached to Sharif, Kaltuma, and the rest of their children. That fateful decision, made to accommodate Yussuf, would end up splitting the family in two for years to come.

* * *

Maryan came off the plane in Phoenix carrying one-year-old Mohamed and a white plastic bag stamped with the blue insignia of the International Organization for Migration. In addition to immigration and work authorization papers, the bag contained a four-by-six-inch card bearing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Unlike the generation of Somalis that would follow her, including her three youngest siblings, Maryan hadn’t grown up dreaming of the United States. The words “land of the free and home of the brave” held no meaning for her. All she knew was that she wanted a better life for herself and for her family. That meant being more than a mother and a wife, more than a woman for whom a suitable dowry was a cow of three years.

Their journey had lasted more than forty-eight hours, taking them from Nairobi to New York to Houston and finally on to Phoenix. Neither she nor her husband had ever seen an airplane up close, let alone ridden on one. Now as they exited the terminal at Sky Harbor Airport, Maryan suddenly froze in terror. In front of her was a glass-encased stairway that appeared to be collapsing. The steps were grooved and sturdy-looking, but they fell away, one after the other, each time she went to step on them. It took a moment for Maryan to grasp what was happening. The concourse had been relatively empty when they arrived at the top of the escalator, but now a small line had formed behind them and people were anxious to move.

“It’s okay, you can walk on it,” came the gentle voice of a woman behind her. The woman must have guessed they had just arrived from somewhere far away—Maryan in her black hijab looking fearful and confused, and Yussuf at a loss as well.

The escalator wasn’t the only thing about their new life that seemed odd. When Maryan would ride the Number Eleven bus with baby Mohamed, people would fawn over them and say what a cute daughter she had. It wasn’t until she made friends with a few Americans that she figured out the source of the misunderstanding: children’s clothes were gendered here, and Mohamed’s light pink pajamas were throwing people off. The grocery store was another locus of confusion. For months after they arrived, Maryan kept buying things by mistake because the pictures on the labels were misleading. A packet of tea bags, for instance, showed huge cubes of sugar, which was what she had intended to buy. Nothing was packaged this way back in Kenya. You bought things loose, not in bags or plastic wrappers. But Maryan was curious and outgoing by nature, and she didn’t mind learning by trial and error. In fact, she bought lots of things on impulse, without even trying to guess what they were. A box of shiny red strawberries jumped out at her, so she bought them on a whim, only to recoil in disgust at what to her was their strange, sour taste.

Many new arrivals in Tucson who had come from Dadaab, including Yussuf, had never lived outside of a small rural village. Some of the children had never seen the outside of a refugee camp. Maryan was unique in that she had lived alone in Nairobi. She also spoke decent English, and was used to a level of independence that was unusual in conservative Somali communities. This was a source of constant friction in her marriage, but it was also a font of opportunity in America. Because she could read and translate, she was an invaluable resource to the dozens of refugee families living in the area, the person inevitably called on to resolve all manner of misunderstandings with landlords, employers, and the police. It wasn’t long before the International Rescue Committee started hiring her for little jobs assisting other new arrivals, translating at job interviews or helping decipher training videos. She liked helping other refugees, and she could make as much as $75 for a single day of work.

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With the help of the International Rescue Committee, Maryan soon got a full-time job at Jack in the Box, cutting tomatoes and iceberg lettuce for Caesar salads. The pay was only $5 per hour, but the work was more regular than the translating jobs and the restaurant was close enough to the apartment complex that she didn’t have to waste money riding the bus. There were a few mishaps in the beginning, like the time she called a colleague fat and caused her to break down in tears. In Somali culture, girth signifies wealth, so she hadn’t anticipated this reaction. But on the whole, things went smoothly on the food-prep line. She made friends with her manager, a young woman named Nancy Rodriguez who was also a new mother in a tempestuous relationship. The two women liked to gossip and often confided in each other when things weren’t going well at home. Sometimes, Nancy would knock quietly on Maryan’s window at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. Maryan would slip out of the house, careful not to wake Yussuf, and zoom off with Nancy in her silver Honda Civic. The two of them would drive for hours before the sun came up, talking and listening to music. Eventually, Nancy started letting Maryan drive, teaching her to maneuver along quiet back roads even though she didn’t have a license.

Yussuf was having a different experience in his new country. Much less comfortable than his wife in their new surroundings, he was even more determined to control her than he had been in Kenya. The International Rescue Committee had helped him get a job, too, first as a night-shift cleaner at the Hilton and later as a landscaper. But the work was hard and he was constantly confused and embarrassed. Unable to speak English and unwilling to learn, he took his frustrations out on Maryan. He disliked that she worked, and he hated that she thought it earned her a measure of autonomy. The way Maryan saw it, she brought in more than half of their income, so she should have at least half the say in how the household was run. Yussuf disagreed, often forcefully. Over time, their fights grew even more ferocious. She would yell and cry, and he would slam his fists against the tables and the walls. Sometimes, he would physically block her from storming out into the hall. More than once, the neighbors called the police. But there was part of Maryan that felt sorry for Yussuf, part of her that knew she couldn’t leave him in a place where he couldn’t survive on his own. Each time the cops came, she kept her mouth shut.

Yussuf seemed threatened by Maryan’s prominent position in the community. He grew incensed when people he didn’t know called the house asking for her, and more than once he ripped the phone out of the wall. He also tried to sabotage Maryan’s friendships by spreading rumors that she had neglected their son. Once, when he and Maryan were meeting with an employment counselor at the International Rescue Committee, he announced that he had forbidden her from working outside the home. The counselor calmly reached across the desk and lifted up baby Mohamed, who had been swaddled in Maryan’s arms, handed him to Yussuf and told him to take the bus home. “You can control your child,” she said flatly, “But in America, you can’t control your wife.” Enraged, Yussuf stormed out of the room with the baby, a torrent of insults pouring out of his mouth in Somali. “You just follow the cadaan,” he sneered at Maryan, using the Somali word for whites. “You just follow their rules, and you don’t respect our religion.”

* * *

Maryan began to dread being in the apartment. Whenever Yussuf was there, she would find an excuse to go somewhere else with the baby, whether it was to the Reid Park Zoo with Nancy, who had a yearlong entry pass, or to Chuck E. Cheese with other friends from work. But the bond between her and Yussuf wasn’t completely severed, and feeling lonely and isolated, she sometimes let herself be drawn back into his arms. A little more than a year after they arrived in Arizona, she realized she was pregnant again.

Ambia was born with jaundice, a common blood disorder that made her skin appear slightly yellow. “You have a cursed child,” Yussuf said, when he first laid eyes on her at the University of Arizona Medical Center. The doctors said she would be just fine, but that Ambia needed to stay overnight for special therapy under a halogen light. They discharged Maryan, though, and told her to go home with Yussuf, a notion that struck her as preposterous. She wasn’t about to leave her baby in the care of people she didn’t know to be treated with a light machine she didn’t trust. In Kenya, no mother would leave her newborn at the hospital, but here the impassive white robed physicians clearly expected her to. She broke down crying, and implored them to let her stay. Eventually, they relented, and Maryan and Ambia were given a room together for the next three nights.

The counselor calmly reached across the desk and lifted up baby Mohamed, who had been swaddled in Maryan’s arms, handed him to Yussuf and told him to take the bus home. “You can control your child,” she said flatly, “But in America, you can’t control your wife.”

A few weeks later, when they were back home at the apartment on North Alvernon Way, a bill arrived in the mail. When Maryan read it, she let out a gasp: $16,000, for the care she and her daughter had received. It was more than a year’s salary at Jack in the Box. A knot forming in her chest, she dialed the billing department, unsure of what exactly she would say. But after she gave her patient code and verified her date of birth, the woman on the other end of the phone sounded surprised Maryan had called. “I’m showing no balance owed,” she said. “It’s been paid in full.”

Maryan never found out who paid that bill. She wondered if maybe it was the employment counselor from the International Rescue Committee, a woman whose name she can’t recall but who was always kind to her. Two years later, after her second daughter, Najma, was born, Maryan got up the courage to ask the counselor if she had been the guardian angel who had wiped out her debt. The woman scoffed at the suggestion. “I don’t have that kind of money,” she said.

But the counselor did have ideas about how Maryan could earn more money of her own: by pursuing a GED. With a high school equivalency certificate, a whole range of new job opportunities would open up—ones that paid better than $5 per hour and wouldn’t leave her clothes smelling like fried food.

Soon, Maryan was spending several hours a day at Pima Community College while an elderly Somali woman in their apartment building looked after the children. Maryan liked being back in school, but in the beginning, she was bewildered by her classmates. They put their feet on their desks and ate food during class. Acting like that at Abdul Aziz Primary would have earned you a beating. Were these students not afraid of the teachers? Did the teachers have no self-respect?

One of her courses at Pima was English as a Second Language, or ESL. Most of the assignments were simple worksheets that involved identifying errors in grammar or spelling. But the worksheets were supposed to serve a secondary function as well: introducing foreigners to American traditions and customs. Tailgating at sporting events was the subject of one memorable ESL worksheet, which advised students that the boozy tradition was “a fun part of college life and for sports fans in Illinois.” Maryan often found herself giggling quietly over assignments like these, which struck her as random to the point of absurdity. They weren’t even in Illinois, she thought to herself. And why on earth would she ever need to know about drunken college football parties?

Six months later, Maryan had her GED. Not long after that she got a job at St. Joseph’s Hospital, mopping up the surgical theater after operations. The pay was better than at Jack in the Box, and she was able to afford a drivers’ education course and eventually a used car. She was also able to send more money home to her parents. There had been all manner of expenses to cover, including tuberculosis medication for her father, whose health had taken a turn for the worse. Lately, she had also noticed additional charges on her credit card statement for e-books that her brother Asad had downloaded from Dadaab. The books were expensive, certainly more money than she would have spent on small luxuries for herself. But remembering the monotony of life in Dadaab, she was glad her brother had become a passionate reader. She hated to think of him wiling away his days in the heat, waiting in humiliating food distribution lines, and cooking over a fire pit. Books seemed to light him up, and thinking of him that way made her happy.

The two of them corresponded more frequently as the years wore on and Asad matured into a reserved and sensitive young man. She would create email and social media accounts for him so they could communicate more easily, then give him the log-in credentials over the phone. Sometimes, she would get email alerts warning that someone was trying to access her accounts from abroad. Those emails always made her smile.

She had come to think of Asad not just as a little sibling in need of direction, but as a partner in caring for their parents—she as the breadwinner in Arizona and he as the caregiver and problem-solver at home. Now instead of talking to Sharif about difficulties with doctors or the UN, it was always Asad she coordinated with. His was a comforting voice on the other end of the phone, and as time passed she felt herself leaning on him as well. When he was young, she had tried not to burden him with her own struggles. But the worse things got with Yussuf, the less of her suffering she was able to hide. It was strange opening up to someone she remembered only as a small child, someone whom fate had taken away from her and whose life was now so different than hers. They existed in totally separate universes, and yet there were things that only he could understand.

* * *

Maryan had another phone besides the one she used to call home with her $20 calling cards. It was slim and black and its existence was a closely guarded secret. In the contacts, there was only a single number saved: 911.

The emergency phone had come from a domestic violence counselor. Because Maryan had high blood pressure and crippling anxiety, her doctor had come to suspect she was in danger at home and referred her to a shelter for battered women. Even before that Maryan had thought about running away with her children, but she didn’t know who she could trust or where to turn for help. Yussuf had succeeded in turning much of the refugee community against her, spreading vicious rumors about his wayward “Western” wife who thought she was better than other Somalis and didn’t value their traditions. Even the idea of domestic violence was viewed with suspicion by many of the refugees she had helped translate for over the years. “If you are married and your husband beats you up, you have nothing to say because he’s your husband,” was how she summed up their thinking.

She hated to think of him wiling away his days in the heat, waiting in humiliating food distribution lines, and cooking over a fire pit. Books seemed to light him up, and thinking of him that way made her happy.

Yussuf never hit Maryan, but his constant emotional and psychological abuse had slowly broken her down. She would wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, unable to bear the thought of another day with him. Even so, she felt paralyzed. Faith had always been important to her, and while divorce was technically allowed in Islam, it would make you an outcast. There was part of her that felt she had a religious duty to stay in the marriage as long as her husband did. And nothing had changed her belief that leaving Yussuf would crush her parents and forever change the way they looked at her. Running away to avoid getting married had been one thing. Divorcing the father of her three children would be quite another. “It felt like there was something holding me down that was heavier than me,” she recalled. “Like I was in the ocean and the waves were just overpowering me.”

But the situation had become untenable. She had started breaking down in public, crying in front of coworkers and in the middle of shifts at the hospital. She had missed work after one particularly painful fight, and then she had missed another day and another. Eventually, her boss had let her go. Yussuf had finally gotten his wish: a wife without a job.

Not long after that Maryan found herself alone on a ledge, looking down at what seemed like her only avenue of escape. As Yussuf pounded angrily on the locked door of their apartment, threatening to break it down, she teetered on the edge of a sliding-glass window, the smooth pavement of the parking lot beckoning from twenty feet below. She had reached the limit of what she could take. But as she contemplated stepping out of her life, it occurred to her that Yussuf probably wouldn’t care if she died. The thought of his indifference filled her with rage, and she pulled back from the ledge. Suddenly, she knew what she would do, and it was something that would hurt Yussuf, too. The next day, she sold her car and bought four plane tickets to the farthest place from Arizona she could think of that was still in the United States. Then she picked up the phone to tell her parents she was leaving Yussuf and moving the kids to Seattle.

Excerpted from Beyond the Sand and Sea by Ty McCormick. Published by St.Martin’s Press.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Megan Evershed, Mark Mann, Jaelani Turner-Williams, Minelle Mahtani, and Kim Cross.

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1. How an Upper West Side Hotel Came to Embody the City’s Failure on Homelessness

Megan Evershed | The New Republic | March 31, 2021 | 5,900 words

During the pandemic, men housed at the Lucerne hotel have seen the worst side of New York’s self-described liberals. They’ve also exposed a decades-long policy of neglect.

2. The Great Work

Mark Mann | Beside | March 29, 2021 | 2,102 words

“Overwhelmed in the classroom, Peter and David began taking long, slow walks around the neighbourhood together. In Peter’s unhurried pace and frequent pauses, they found a shared rhythm and a way of enjoying each other’s company.”

3. Hanif Abdurraquib’s Third Favorite A Tribe Called Quest Album Might Surprise You

Jaelani Turner-Williams | Okayplayer | March 31, 2021 | 2,509 words

“Author Hanif Abdurraquib on his new book, A Little Devil in America, how current Black music is shaping the racial justice movement, his favorite A Tribe Called Quest albums, and more.”

4. Finding My Voice as My Mother Lost Hers

Minelle Mahtani | The Walrus | March 24, 2021 | 3,100 words

“Not long after I started my job as a radio host, my mother told me she had tongue cancer.”

5. My Month of Doing 100 Wheelies a Day

Kim Cross | Outside | March 15, 2021 | 3,550 words

“In her quest to master a quintessential cool-kid trick, a writer found the sweet spot at the crossroads of work and play.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Max Blau, Venessa Wong, Hope Wabuke, David Dayen, and Mark Sundeen.

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1. The Coal Plant Next Door

Max Blau | ProPublica | March 22, 2021 | 9,852 words

“Near America’s largest coal-fired power plant, toxins are showing up in drinking water and people have fallen ill. Thousands of pages of internal documents show how one giant energy company plans to avoid the cleanup costs.”

2. This Is Where 150 Years Of Ignoring Anti-Asian Racism Got Us

Venessa Wong | BuzzFeed News | March 20, 2021 | 5,050 words

“For so long, we’ve thought keeping our heads down and being invisible in America might help us gain acceptance — but the recent wave of racist violence has shattered that myth.”

3. Disney’s Disembodied Black Characters

Hope Wabuke | LA Review of Books | March 23, 2021 | 5,395 words

“Green, blue — Disney has no problem with characters that are different colors, it seems, as long as that color is not brown. What does it say to Black kids watching when the world’s biggest children’s entertainment company cannot give them even one animated film that features a Black person that stays a Black person throughout? What does this say about Blackness to kids who are not Black? About whose life is being portrayed as mattering? And whose does not?”

4. Islands in the Stream

David Dayen | American Prospect | March 22, 2021 | 7,400 words

“Musicians are in peril, at the mercy of giant monopolies that profit off their work.”

5. Notes from a Moab Trailer

Mark Sundeen | Outside | March 23, 2021 | 8,655 words

“I didn’t hear from her. I had flings with other women, but nobody equaled her. Unable to maintain a relationship, I got a dog, a heeler mutt puppy I saw in a cardboard box at the supermarket. I named her Sadie. When Wendy returned a year or so later, she was with a new guy, a fisherman, long hair and a beard, engaged to marry.”