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The Silence of Women

A scold's bridle. From The Strand Magazine:, July to December, 1894. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jane Brox| an excerpt adapted from Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives| Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Januray 2019 | 15 minutes (4,034 words)



What becometh a woman best, and first of all? Silence. What second? Silence. What third? Silence. What fourth? Silence. Yea, if a man should aske me till Domes daie I would still crie silence, silence.

Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique, 1560


For women, silence within the world of judicial punishment has its own complex history. It’s less recorded than that of men, and fragmented. Details must be teased out of obscurity and can be distorted by what is absent. Often, there are more questions than answers for punishment that amounts to silencing on top of silence, since women have long been expected to govern their tongue.

In colonial America this presumption of silence was reinforced by women’s subordinate place in society, and bolstered by centuries of English common law. No woman had the right to vote and once she married — in an age when most women married — she became subject to the law of coverture, which meant that she not only became dependent on her husband but, as William Blackstone in his eighteenth-century work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, explains: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing, and is therefore called in our law — French, a femme covert… under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.” Read more…

The Haväng Dolmen

,Jose More/VWPics via AP Images

Chris Power | A story from the collection Mothers | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | January 2019 | 25 minutes (5,051 words)

 

Several months ago, while travelling in Sweden, I experienced something I have given up trying to explain. In fact, since it happened I have tried to push it as far from my mind as possible. But yesterday afternoon, searching for an errant set of keys, I found, nestled deep in a coat pocket, an acorn that I plucked from its cap in the forest beneath the fortress of Stenshuvud. Then it was smooth and green, but now it is tawny, and ribbed like a little barrel. You wouldn’t know it was the same acorn I picked on a whim, but holding it I felt again the compulsion that propelled me, at the end of that strange day, into the burial chamber at Haväng.

It was the end of September. I was attending a three-day conference in Lund. It finished early on a Friday afternoon, and with the weekend ahead of me, and nothing to hurry back to London for, I elected to stay. My colleagues recommended some sites – Iron and Stone Age, neither era of particular interest to  me, but I thought why not. The only one I had heard of was Ale’s Stones, Sweden’s Stonehenge, built on a clifftop above the Baltic in the shape of a great ship.

I had presented a paper at the conference, ‘Digging Deeper: On the Aetiology of Archaeological Belief.’ It was good work, and I was excited about the presentation, but the few people who turned up lacked the ability to grasp even the simplest of the points I was making. It was a blessing when it was all over and I could leave Lund. I needed some time away from people.

Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Julie Dermansky/Corbis via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Tressie McMillan Cottom, Kashmir Hill, R.O. Kwon, Jaime Lowe, and Steve Edwards.

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Stories to Read in 2019

Here are stories from 2018 that captured Longreads editors’ imaginations as deserving of ongoing attention. If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday.

Danielle Jackson
Writer and contributing editor, Longreads

Always Open, The Eureka Hotel (Jamey Hatley, Strange Horizons)

The July 30 issue of Strange Horizons, a monthly journal dedicated to speculative fiction, focused on narratives of the southeastern United States, and were all written by indigenous authors and other writers of color. In the stories they selected and nurtured, editors Sheree Renee Thomas, Erin Roberts, and Rasha Abdulhadi brought to light a multiciplicitious South, ripe with the region’s “history, music, food, language,” yet sensitive to the hauntings and challenges still left unresolved.

My favorite story of the issue, “Always Open, the Eureka Hotel,” by Memphis-born writer Jamey Hatley, is an innovative, life-stirring feat of storytelling that resists the boundaries of genre and the page itself to dive deep into the interiors of its characters, into the heart and marrow of a place. A young Black girl in Jim Crow Mississippi has been caught in an affair with a mysterious, blues-playing lover; her protective father and brother drive her North, toward Chicago, away from the trouble her lover can bring. Guided by the Negro Motorist Green Book and the Negro Yearbook and Directory, the family journeys through sundown towns and has a menacing encounter with a white police officer. Their stop in Memphis at the Eureka Hotel changes the young girl’s life: “You thought you were hungry for what your lover could teach you, but you were hungry for yourself.”

Based on deep research (with thorough footnotes!) into Southern foodways, the traditions of conjure and rootwork, and the queer history of the blues, Hatley has created a world in between the real one and a fictional one, between now and the past, to reveal something truer about the South and feminine longing and hope than anything I’ve read in a long time.

Read more…

The Thrill (and the Heavy Emotional Burden) of Blazing a Trail for Black Women Journalists

Dorothy Butler Gilliam at her desk in the fall of 1961 or early in 1962, soon after she arrived at The Washington Post. (©1962, Harry Naltchayan, Washington Post)

Dorothy Butler Gilliam | an excerpt from Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America | Center Street | January 2019 | 17 minutes (4,927 words)

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1961, the city, the entire country, and the African continent were all on the threshold of change. The dashing, young John F. Kennedy had just begun his presidency promising “a new frontier.” The Civil Rights Movement was kicking into high gear with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. now urging young people like me to pursue professions we’d been excluded from and to excel. It was thrilling to be in the nation’s capital to begin my career as a daily newspaper journalist in the white press.

I brought a pretty placid nature to that career. When I later looked back, I surprised myself. I was so conservative politically! For example, only six years earlier, when I wrote about school integration in the student newspaper while attending Lincoln University from 1955 to 1957 (the Negro college in Missouri that provided higher education for colored students, allowing the state to keep all its other colleges and universities white), I indicated reasons we should go slowly with integration. But reporting for The Tri-State Defender in Memphis as the Civil Rights Movement dawned had begun to change me. The bus boycott victories had begun to liberate my thinking. And added confidence came from my faith, strengthened my spirit, and pushed me to do things that other people in my family didn’t do. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Kavitha Surana and Hannah Dreier, Garrett M. Graff, Dani Shapiro, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and Lauren Hough.

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The 25 Most Popular Longreads Exclusives of 2018

Our most popular exclusive stories of 2018. If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday.

1. Who Does She Think She Is?

Laurie Penny | Longreads | March 2018 | 23 minutes (5,933 words)

The internet does not hate women. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity.

2. No, I Will Not Debate You

Laurie Penny | Longreads | September 2018 | 15 minutes (3,795 words)

Civility will never defeat fascism, no matter what The Economist thinks. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Casey Parks, Cathy Newman, Zach Baron, Molly Priddy, and Christopher Solomon.

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Longreads Best of 2018: Business Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in business writing.

Max Abelson
A reporter on Wall Street for Bloomberg News, where his work often goes in Businessweek. His stories were included in Columbia University Press’ Best Business Writing anthologies in 2015 and 2013.

Sign Here to Lose Everything (Zeke Faux and Zach Mider, Bloomberg News and Businessweek)

Good investigative journalism can leave you with that curdled taste of outrage in your mouth, but only great journalism can introduce the world to a whole new kind of loan sharking. And it takes something really splendid to jump from a millionaire city marshal to a gangster named Jimmy Dimps, a Maltese Shih Tzu named Coco, a town called Canandaigua, a drug smuggler named Braun, actual piles of cash, bloody vomit, and 30,000 court cases. Faux and Mider’s work is the best I’ve ever read on predatory lending.

A Business With No End (Jenny Odell, The New York Times)

My favorite story on commerce of the year has more in common with the dreaminess of the nuclear sequences from Twin Peaks: The Return than the everyday stock charts on CNBC. In one sense it’s a story about absolutely nothing, if you consider that the news peg is basically some packages that started arriving at someone’s house one day. But it’s also a story about everything — Christianity, con artists, bookstores, the Internet, real estate, obsession, startups, copyrights, maps, and moisturizer. I was very sorry when it was over.

Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: Food Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in food writing.

Zahir Janmohamed
Co-host, The Racist Sandwich Podcast.

There Is No Dalit Cuisine (Sharanya Deepac, Popula)

Sharanya Deepak is one of the most promising, and inspiring food writers, to emerge from India in as long as I can remember. So often, food and travel reporting, both from India and from outside of India, evades questions of caste, gender, and state violence. But Deepak dives right into these topics. In 100 Cups of Tea, for Taste Cooking, she talks about how food traditions are fighting on, even thriving in the midst of India’s brutal violence in the disputed area of Kashmir.  In a lesser writer, this type of story might come off as hokey, but Deepak complicates the narrative, both for Indian and non-Indian readers. My favorite piece of hers, though, is on Dalit cuisine in India for Popula. The word Dalit means “broken” and refers to about 16 percent of the Indian population who are excluded from the Hindu caste system and are often relegated to the most menial jobs in India, such as trash collection. Deepak shows us how food politics—such as the banning of cow slaughter—has been used by upper-caste Brahmins to preserve their hegemony and to deny Dalits agency. She even calls out one of India’s most celebrated food journalists, Vir Sanghvi, who she says, “reveres the upper-class and colonial vision of Indian cuisine.” This piece, and all of her pieces, is journalism at its best: uncomfortable, layered, and fearless


Naz Riahi
Writer, Consultant, Founder of Bitten.

Can We Honor Your Service with a Steak, Malibu Chicken, or the Jumpo Crispy Shrimp? (Erin Clare Brown, Eater)

This piece encompasses so much that is lovely and so much that is brutal. On its surface Brown and her father go to Sizzler’s on Veterans’ Day for the free steak, a promotion to honor those who’ve served. In that, we are placed in midst of all that is heartbreaking about America, with its promise of opportunity juxtaposed against its exploitative reality. Brown and her father, in brief moments that punctuate long silences on the subject, discuss his service in the Vietnam War. In this essay, Brown explores her complicated feelings on the subject, her relationship with her father and, perhaps, the marketing machine he inadvertently fought for.


John T. Edge
Author of The Potlikker Papers, Columnist, Oxford American.

Houston Is the New Capital of Southern Cool (Brett Martin, GQ)

This piece gave me new perspective on a city I dearly love, a place I wrote about for the Oxford American — early in this era of Houston-is-Cool revelations. I was proud of that piece and the insights I offered. But this essay is so dang much better. It’s smart and circuitous and searching, a string of observations that could be used to describe Houston itself.


 

Irina Dumitrescu
Professor of English Medieval Studies at the University of Bonn, whose work has appeared in Best Food Writing and Best American Essays.

Crying in H Mart (Michelle Zauner, The New Yorker)

Those of us who like to read food writing are probably all tired of the Great Cliché: misty memories of grandma in the kitchen, stirring a pot of fragrant, utterly authentic stew from the Old Country. At the same time, food remains such a useful symbol of our entangled connections to the families and cultures that made us. The reminiscence of a meal includes barely recoverable flavors and scents, ephemeral gestures of care, and, occasionally, flashes of perfect belonging.

Michelle Zauner stumbles across her memories in H Mart, the Korean American supermarket chain. She mourns her mother among dumpling skins and refrigerators stocked with banchan. Her madeleine is the puffed-rice snack ppeongtwigi, which she used to nibble after school. A grandmother slurping jjamppong noodle soup in the food court reminds Zauner of the old age her own mother never reached. This beautiful, delicately observed essay shows how many stories are still left to be told about food, what rich associations are still to be found in immigrant restaurants and strip malls and suburban kitchens, in places “where you can find your people under one odorous roof.”


Melissa Chadburn
Essayist, Novelist.

The Tyranny and the Comfort of Government Cheese (Bobbi Dempsey, TASTE)

I grew up in poverty. I grew up with my mother’s bounced check, a scarlet letter, taped to a wall behind the check-out at the Food King. I grew up washing out stains in the bathroom sink with hot water and a bar of soap, scrubbing until my knuckles bled, sharpening pencils with a steak knife, sucking on Kool-Aid and Country Time Lemonade off my licked wet fingers dipped into a sandwich bag. I want to tell these stories, these stories need to be told, these stories are my bones, and I’m so delighted that food outlets like TASTE are publishing them.

Dear Baby Witch (Sara Finnerty, r.kv.r.y.)

I read this wrapped in grief. We’d just unexpectedly had to put a magical dog down. And I was going through a phase of hating myself taking diet pills and checking my weight frequently. The idea of eating seemed too close to letting love in, and letting love in seemed like it was reserved for someone who was not me, and Sara Finnerty wrote this beautiful essay and came to my door bearing a platter of homemade Chicken Parmesan and very specific heating instructions, and reading about a young girl kneading gnocchi in the basement with her grandmother was just the reminder I needed to continue to reach for whatever neat thing might be around the corner.


Sara B. Franklin
Writer and professor of food studies at NYU based in Kingston, NY. 

A Cajun Seasoned Boil for a Big Party (Samin Nosrat, The New York Times Magazine)

I love Samin Nosrat’s approach to writing, cooking, and life. Nosrat knows a lot —she is, after all, a bestselling cookbook author and a Netflix personality. But in her column for the Times, she approaches her subjects with great openness and genuine curiosity; you can tell she’s still hungry to learn. In an industry whose celebrities often distinguish themselves by asserting their status with obnoxious, meaningless language like “toothsome,” “mouthfeel,” and “unctuous,” Nosrat aims for approachability and humility. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in her column about Mississippi River boat pilot-cum-home cook extraordinaire, Jared Austin. In just 1,000 short words, she captures Austin in his full humanity — as idiosyncratic, unique, and hospitable as his hometown of New Orleans. (I mean, “And yes, ‘bead’ is a verb.” Come on!) In this moment when we’re questioning all the characteristics traditionally associated with power and authority, Nosrat reminds us that humility is an asset, and for that, I’m thankful.


Aaron Gilbreath
Longreads Editor, Essayist.

Hazardous Cravings (Alex McElroy, Tin House)

In a genre that includes celebrity chef profiles, best of lists, and Yelp reviews, personal essays like Alex McElroy’s prove how deep food stories can go. Growing up overweight, McElroy had a very American predicament: surrounded by food, he ate too much, and people made fun of him for it, and yet, as his weight made him a target of ridicule, his eventual dieting threatened them, and people both encouraged him to lose weight and pressured him to share in their gluttony. While working at a Dairy Queen, he became eating disordered and bulimic. In this powerful, intelligent, devilishly funny essay, McElroy calls dieting “a paradox of masculinity and emasculation.” By exploring his relationship with food and his own flesh, he shows how people mistake his large personal space for public space, and how he struggled to value what others, including himself, had mistreated for so long. It’s an incredible, memorable portrait of a journey in the land of too much food, constrictive gender norms, and body shaming, and it’s unusual to hear it told by a man. It’s also about identity: how our past selves cast an inescapable shadow over our future selves, despite who we become.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.