This week, we’re sharing stories from Ben Taub, Paige Blankenbuehler, Alex Horton, Victoria Gannon, and Gustavo Arellano.
Amanda Kolson Hurley | An excerpt from Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City | Belt Publishing | April 2019 | 19 minutes (4,987 words)
The Stelton colony in central New Jersey was founded in 1915. Humble cottages (some little more than shacks) and a smattering of public buildings ranged over a 140-acre tract of scrubland a few miles north of New Brunswick. Unlike America’s better-known experimental settlements of the nineteenth century, rather than a refuge for a devout religious sect, Stelton was a hive of political radicals, where federal agents came snooping during the Red Scare of 1919-1920. But it was also a suburb, a community of people who moved out of the city for the sake of their children’s education and to enjoy a little land and peace. They were not even the first people to come to the area with the same idea: There was already a German socialist enclave nearby, called Fellowship Farm.
The founders of Stelton were anarchists. In the twenty-first century, the word “anarchism” evokes images of masked antifa facing off against neo-Nazis. What it meant in the early twentieth century was different, and not easily defined. The anarchist movement emerged in the mid-nineteenth century alongside Marxism, and the two were allied for a time before a decisive split in 1872. Anarchist leader Mikhail Bakunin rejected the authority of any state — even a worker-led state, as Marx envisioned — and therefore urged abstention from political engagement. Engels railed against this as a “swindle.”
But anarchism was less a coherent, unified ideology than a spectrum of overlapping beliefs, especially in the United States. Although some anarchists used violence to achieve their ends, like Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901, others opposed it. Many of the colonists at Stelton were influenced by the anarcho-pacifism of Leo Tolstoy and by the land-tax theory of Henry George. The most venerated hero was probably the Russian scientist-philosopher Peter Kropotkin, who argued that voluntary cooperation (“mutual aid”) was a fundamental drive of animals and humans, and opposed centralized government and state laws in favor of small, self-governing, voluntary associations such as communes and co-ops. Read more…
Aaron Bobrow-Strain | The Death and Life if Aida Hernandez | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | April 2019 | 28 minutes (5,637 words)
Since the move to Douglas, Arizona, Jennifer had spent less and less time at home. She was distant and irritable. Her anger encompassed her mother, her mother’s abusive boyfriend Saul, American schools, and the whole United States. At the nadir, she started lashing out at her sisters Aida and Cynthia. And then, in 1998 or 1999, she left for good.
The morning Jennifer ran away, Aida was the only other person home. She watched her sister dump schoolbooks from her backpack and replace them with clothes. She knew what was happening without having to ask and figured it was for the best. On the way out, Jennifer said that a friend would drive her across the border. After that, she’d see what happened.
The winners of the Pulitzer Prize have been announced and recipients include The Los Angeles Times’ investigation into George Tyndall, a former USC gynecologist accused of sexually abusing students, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s breaking news coverage of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, and Hannah Dreier, who won for feature writing for her powerful series at ProPublica following Salvadoran immigrants “whose lives were shattered by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.”
This week, we’re sharing stories from Jayson Greene, Theresa Breuer, Christa Parravani, Alexandra Kimball, and Casey Taylor.
I forget sometimes that my parents and I were homeless for three months in 2001. Our landlord lived in Tampa, but decided to move back to Pittsburgh and back into his house, and he shared this information with Dad six months before he planned to return. Which fucking sucked. Our home on Clinton Drive was a simple two-story brick house with three modest bedrooms, two baths, and a tattered green awning stretched over a forty-square-foot front porch, but after escaping Mellon Street, it felt like the Taj Mahal. Cozy sometimes has a connotation of slight condescension, a smirking and backhanded commentary on an item’s size. But for us cozy meant safe, stable, and settled, and this was the safest, stablest, and most settled my family had been in a decade. Dad’s habitual joblessness ended, and he’d been employed at the same telemarketing firm for three years. My parents even finally had a car—a wolf-gray and whistle-clean 1995 Cadillac DeVille. Still, six months was more than enough time for my parents to find a new place and move. Dad, however, kept this information from Mom until a month before they had to leave. They weren’t able to find a new place in time, and they were forced to cram their belongings in a storage facility while crashing at Nana’s. This all happened my senior year at Canisius. I didn’t learn they’d lost the house until I was home for spring break.
Grace Talusan| an excerpt from The Body Papers | Restless Books | April 2019 | 16 minutes (4,046 words)
“Did I ever tell you about the dog I had in the Philippines?” my father asked me when I was younger.
As a boy, my father lived in Tondo, the most densely populated area of Manila, infamous for its slums and high crime rates. Before it burned down, his family lived in a house above their sari-sari store, where they sold prepared foods, snacks, soda, and other convenience items. You could buy single sticks of cigarettes and gum, a dose of aspirin, or a packet of shampoo good for one wash. When he shared stories about his childhood, my American sensibilities were always shocked.
One day, a street dog followed him home and joined the other dogs already living in his family’s yard. The dogs didn’t have names; they were all called aso, dog. “Our dogs were not for petting,” my father explained. “They were low-tech burglar alarms and garbage disposals.”
But this dog was special. Totoy named his dog, “Lucky,” after, Lucky Strikes cigarettes. This detail still astounds me: At eight years old, my father had a favorite brand of cigarettes.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Irin Carmon, Joe Bernstein, Robert Sanchez, Amanda Feinman, and Lois Beckett.
David Brown | The American Scholar | April 2019 | 23 minutes (5,796 words)
It’s hard to know what would be a good place from which to imagine a future of bad smells and no privacy, deceit and propaganda, poverty and torture. Does a writer need to live in misery and ugliness to conjure up a dystopia?
We’d been walking more than an hour. The road was two tracks of pebbled dirt separated by a strip of grass. The land was treeless as prairie, with wildflowers and the seedless tops of last year’s grass smudging the new growth.
We rounded a curve and looked down a hillside to the sea. A half mile in the distance, far back from the water, was a white house with three dormer windows. Behind it, a stone wall cut a diagonal to the water like a seam stitching mismatched pieces of green velvet. Far to the right, a boat moved along the shore, its sail as bright as the house.
This was where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. The house, called Barnhill, sits near the northern end of Jura, an island off Scotland’s west coast in the Inner Hebrides. It was June 2, sunny, short-sleeve warm, with the midges barely out, and couldn’t have been more beautiful.
Orwell lived here for parts of the last three years of his life. He left periodically (mostly in the winter) to do journalism in London and, for seven months in 1947 and 1948, to undergo treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis. Although he rented Barnhill and didn’t own it, he put in fruit trees and a garden, built a chicken house, bought a truck and a boat, and invested numberless hours of labor in what he believed would be his permanent home. When he left it for the last time, in January 1949, he never again lived outside a sanatorium or hospital.
I came to Jura after a two-week backpacking trip across Scotland. My purpose was to drink single-malt on Islay, the island to the south, and enjoy two nights of indulgence at Ardlussa House, where Orwell’s landlord had lived. I was not on a literary pilgrimage. Barnhill is not open to the public, and no one among the island’s 235 residents remembers Orwell. Read more…
Yuval Taylor | An excerpt from Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal | W. W. Norton & Company | March 2019 | 30 minutes (8,692 words)
Ornate and imposing, the century-old Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Passenger Terminal in downtown Mobile, Alabama, resembles a cross between a Venetian palace and a Spanish mission. Here, on St. Joseph Street, on July 23, 1927, one of the more fortuitous meetings in American literary history occurred, a chance incident that would seal the friendship of two of its most influential writers. “No sooner had I got off the train” from New Orleans, Langston wrote in The Big Sea, “than I ran into Zora Neale Hurston, walking intently down the main street. I didn’t know she was in the South [actually, he did, having received a letter from her in March, but he had no idea she was in Alabama], and she didn’t know I was either, so we were very glad to see each other.”
Zora was in town to interview Cudjo Lewis, purportedly the only person still living who had been born in Africa and enslaved in the United States. She then planned to drive back to New York, doing folklore research along the way. In late 1926, Franz Boas had recommended her to Carter Woodson, whose Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, together with Elsie Clews Parsons of the American Folklore Society, had decided to bankroll her to the tune of $1,400. With these funds, Zora had been gathering folklore in Florida all spring and summer. As the first Southern black to do this, her project was, even at this early stage, clearly of immense importance. It had, however, been frustrating. “I knew where the material was, all right,” she would later write. “But I went about asking, in carefully accented Barnardese, ‘Pardon me, but do you know any folk-tales or folk-songs?’ The men and women who had whole treasuries of material just seeping through their pores, looked at me and shook their heads. No, they had never heard of anything like that around there. Maybe it was over in the next county. Why didn’t I try over there?”
Langston, meanwhile, had been touring the South for months, penniless as usual, making some public appearances and doing his own research. He read his poems at commencement for Nashville’s Fisk University in June; he visited refugees from the Mississippi flood in Baton Rouge; he strolled the streets alone in New Orleans, ducking into voodoo shops; he took a United Fruit boat to Havana and back; and his next stop was to be the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was his very first visit to the South.
When Zora invited him to join her expedition in her little old Nash coupe, nicknamed “Sassy Susie,” Langston happily accepted. (The car looked a lot like a Model T Ford, and could only seat two.) Langston adored the company of entertainers, and Zora was as entertaining as they came. Langston did not know how to drive, but Zora loved driving and didn’t mind a whit. They decided to make a real trip of it, “stopping on the way to pick up folk-songs, conjur [sic], and big old lies,” as Langston wrote. “Blind guitar players, conjur men, and former slaves were her quarry, small town jooks and plantation churches, her haunts. I knew it would be fun traveling with her. It was.” Read more…