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Sari Botton is a writer living in Kingston, NY. She edited the award-winning “Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY” and the NY Times Bestselling “Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for NY.” She is the essays editor for Longreads, and teaches at Catapult. She tweets at http://twitter.com/saribotton

How to Pitch Personal Essays to Longreads: An Updated Guide

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Are you interested in publishing essays on Longreads? It’s important that you read these new submissions guidelines before pitching.

Recently we’ve undergone some budget cuts due to the Coronavirus pandemic and some other changes. As a result, we’re publishing fewer pieces than we used to, and selecting most of those based on whether they fit within a few specific series we’ve developed. While there will still very occasionally be room for some more general, broader interest pieces, we’ll be mainly focusing on the following series for now:

1. Life in the Time of Covid

— In recent months, a new reality has been foisted upon us. Coronavirus has changed our home lives, our work lives, our family lives. These essays will look at the virus’ impact on the way we spend our time now, and its effect on our relationships with friends, family, partners, co-workers, and others. Read more…

Five Longreads Stories Selected for 2020 Editions of the ‘Best American’ Series

It’s always a thrill when an essay or article we’ve published is selected for publication in one of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual, venerated The Best American Series anthologies.

This year Longreads is proud to announce that no fewer than five pieces we published in 2019 will be published in four of the books.

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‘Let’s Reset’: A Career Social Distancer Mends Some Fences

Sari Botton | Longreads | April 2020 | 6 minutes (1,521 words)

To appreciate the significance of the shift I’m about to share with you, it helps to know a couple of things about me.

The first is that I’ve harbored a lifelong aversion to the telephone, which stands in stark contrast to my family’s enthusiasm for it. For the entirety of my adult life, my mother and sister have spoken to each other five or more times daily, and in between chatted with countless friends and other family members. They roll seamlessly from one conversation to the next while I cower the second my muted iPhone starts vibrating, and have worked hard at Ferberizing my mom so she expects only a couple of calls from me per week.

If I were to self-diagnose I’d say my problem is rooted in lonerish introversion (a condition I’ve learned to over-compensate for; I now pass as a full-fledged extrovert), and a social anxiety that stems from my teen years when, even though I begged to have a pale yellow princess phone installed in my bedroom so I could make myself available to my friends and crushes, I dreaded actually talking to them. What if there were awkward silences I didn’t know how to fill? What if I said the wrong thing? What if, without visual cues, I spoke at the wrong time, stepping on a cute boy’s lines?

The second is my long-standing antipathy toward a group I’ve dubbed The Forgiveness Lobby — that well-meaning but preachy band of folks who, to my mind, short-circuit a multi-step process best given ample time. You know the ones — always posting platitudes such as “Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” They pressure the aggrieved into relinquishing appropriate anger well before they’re ready — and before those who’ve aggrieved them have had sufficient opportunity to suffer the consequences of their actions, and come around to making amends. I’m all for genuine forgiveness, but that is something which must unfold at its own pace.

So imagine my surprise when, a week into social distancing thanks to Coronavirus, I suddenly wanted to call or Facetime with absolutely everyone, especially a handful of people I’d previously fallen out with, so we could bury our hatchets, large and small.

Maybe it was the void created by the sudden absence of friends I’m used to spending time with IRL — and the colleagues I used to work with side-by-side in the small co-working space I operated, which Coronavirus has forced me to shutter. Maybe it was the death toll, mounting daily, reminding me of my mortality and everyone else’s. Maybe it was the arrival of a mutual enemy, which has made it easier to bond with those I’ve been at odds with. Whatever the cause, I quickly found myself emailing people, asking for appointments to talk on the phone so we could start over. (What kind of monster just calls people out of the blue without any warning? Okay, okay — some friends have recently done this and I kind of…loved it…? Who even is Pandemic Sari?)

Of course, there have been exceptions, people toward whom I am not feeling terribly generous, even in my newfound state of grace. There’s the underminer/boundary-pusher I’ve been trying to shake for going on 40 years, who keeps resurfacing no matter how fervently I try to avoid her. There are exes I am resigned never to speak to again — unless, of course, they come forth with long overdue apologies. Until such time, I am standing on ceremony, deadly plague be damned.

But for a few notable others, I am all about rapprochement right now.
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Why I’m Giving Myself Permission to Keep Writing at This Time

My great grandmother, Freida, two years before her death from Influenza, with my grandmother, Clarisse, as a baby.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic has been convenient for exactly no one. For some writers’ careers, it’s been devastating. They’ve had their book releases eclipsed, their tours canceled, their sales thrown off by readers’ new economic precarity — several years’ worth of hard work and anticipation thrown, largely, down the drain, although some have been holding virtual book tours, and social media posts imploring people to support authors by ordering their books could help. (Please do this if you are able!)

If the pandemic continues in varying degrees through fall 2021, as some scientists are predicting, lots of other writers will be similarly affected, along with book stores and the entire publishing industry.

It’s been ill-timed for me, personally, too. It comes just as my agent has begun negotiating the contract for the memoir-in-essays I have been working on for years — my first solo book, after publishing anthologies. I have been playing what feels like the world’s longest game, being dogged but patient in my pursuit of a deal. I’m hoping the small indie publisher we’ve chosen to go with will be able to ride this out, and I’ll get to go forward as planned. But who knows?

It’s been challenging, though, to feel as if my publishing plans and my writing in general matter at all right now. In the midst of a global health crisis that is disrupting lives and killing people, it feels frivolous to even think about my book, continue with my newsletter, or write anything at all that is not virus-related. This, after decades of struggling to overcome a feeling common to many women: that my story doesn’t matter, and I don’t have permission to tell it.
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Behind One of the Sketchiest Men, a Sketchy Woman

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Adam Neumann and Rebekah Neumann attend the 2018 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 24, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

For Bustle, Moe Tkacik takes a close look at the ways in which wealthy, new-agey Rebekah Paltrow Neumann — Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin, Adam Neumann’s wife — helped fuel WeWork’s rise and spectacular fall.

Not surprisingly in late-stage capitalism, many WeWork-adjacent faux-virtuous institutions came tumbling down right around the same time the co-working behemoth failed.

The Kabbalah Centre preaches that you can get what you want by willing or “manifesting” it to be. According to the former WeWork staffer, Adam believed that by the time the music stopped, so much important real estate would be annexed by WeWork that they’d be Too Big to Fail. Lofty marketing and lush amenities nearly got them there. “You can use the language of spirituality to revive a discredited idea,” [Rebekah’s yoga instructor and Uma Thurman’s brother Dechen] Thurman says. “And so, the yoga business is old-fashioned labor exploitation, and maybe WeWork was a Ponzi scheme.”

By the middle of the decade, Rebekah’s spiritual stomping grounds had come under fire for taking advantage of congregants. The Jivamukti yoga studio was sued for sexual harassment in 2016 and later settled; it closed its doors in New York City in December 2019. The Kabbalah Centre has faced multiple lawsuits from former members over misappropriated donations and sexual assault, and is currently being sued by seven former staffers who accuse the group of forcing them to sign “vows of poverty” and work essentially for free.

The junk mail company that had bankrolled Rebekah’s lavish childhood began to collapse, too, a few months before WeWork’s botched IPO. In March 2019, roughly 700 employees of a company factory in Ciudad Juárez were told to take a three-day weekend, only to return to an empty warehouse; in interviews, employees said the machinery had been driven back across the border. No one bothered leaving their last paychecks, so employees resorted to hanging “Wanted” posters outside the plant with photos of Rebekah’s brother-in-law, Nick Robinson, who had been running the company during Bob Paltrow’s tax evasion case and is accused in one lawsuit of looting its coffers.

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Sharing Our Stories Was Supposed to Dispel Our Shame

A young Asian woman is writing on her leather-bound personal organizer on the wooden table indoors

In the past 13 years, Emily Gould has become an accomplished author — of a memoir and two novels — and feminist book publisher. As she prepares for the April launch of her latest novel, Perfect Tunes, she worries that to many people, she will only ever be what she was for less than a year, in 2007: an editor at now defunct media gossip site Gawker, who suffered a traumatizing moment on national television that still haunts her.

More than that, she has lost faith in women’s true storytelling as a force for bringing about positive change in the world.

I once believed that the truth would set us free — specifically, that women’s first-person writing would “create more truth” around itself. This is what I believed when I published my first book, a memoir. And I must have still believed it when I began publishing other women’s books, too. I believed that I would become free from shame by normalizing what happened to me, by naming it and encouraging others to name it too. How, then, to explain why, at the exact same moment when first-person art by women is more culturally ascendant and embraced than it has ever been in my lifetime, the most rapacious, damaging forms of structural sexism are also on the rise? I have tried to come up with various explanations for this paradox, but none of them are satisfying. If this is the patriarchy’s last gasp, it’s a long one that shows no sign of ending.

I have lost hope that hearing women’s stories will ever make even one man realize that what seemed like an ordinary night of his life was a life-changing horror story from the perspective of the woman involved. And I no longer think there’s value in the mere fact of getting people to pay attention to what I have to say, especially when the attention is temporary, incredulous, or overwhelmingly negative.

I still do this kind of writing, I am doing it now, but I no longer hope for any outcome other than my own relief. This is because I have lost faith in the idea that there might be anything any individual can say or write that will change the minds of people who, consciously or subconsciously, believe that women matter less than men.

While I still hold out hope that our words can open minds — I see it as a long (long, long) game — I also share Gould’s frustration with the glacial pace of change, and the frequent backlash against women who dare to tell their stories.

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Elizabeth Wurtzel Made it Okay to Write ‘Ouch’

NEW YORK - AUGUST 14: American writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the memoir "Prozac Nation" holds up a locket with the word "Prozac" on it and poses for a portrait in front of a window display of a hand holding pills on August 14, 1991 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)

I loved Peter Schjeldahl’s recent New Yorker essay in which he alerted readers to his battle with terminal lung cancer. But I took umbrage when an acquaintance on social media praised Schjeldahl for adhering to the long-reigning maxim that a writer must never say “ouch” — never let the reader see that the painful experience you’re writing about actually hurt you.

It occurred to me that this is another of several “rules” about writing — established by affluent, straight, white men — that need to be re-written. I mean, could there be a more stereotypically male directive, or one more informed by white gentility? As far as I’m concerned, false bravado has no place in memoir.

When I learned this week of memoirist and Gen X icon Elizabeth Wurtzel’s death, at 52, from metastatic breast cancer, I realized: she re-wrote that rule.

Wurtzel’s raw, absorbing memoirs, Prozac Nation, and More, Now, Again, were ground-breaking in this way. They made it okay — even fashionable — to write “ouch,” something many of us in the trenches of publishing memoir and personal essays now see as valid and valuable. This is how readers with similar experiences have their pain validated; this is how readers with different experiences develop empathy toward others. This is how we change the world.

Wurtzel died as she lived, baring her deep, existential pain and vulnerability until the very end. She was working on her final personal essay for Medium’s GEN vertical when she passed away on January 7th.

In the piece she reveals that as her health was declining, her marriage was unraveling, and she was also still wrestling with new information her mother finally uncovered a couple of years ago: that her biological father was not the same man as the father she grew up with. Of her waning marriage, she writes:

I am estranged and strange, strangled up in blue.

I do not want to feel this way. I am going through the five stages of grief all at once, which Reddit strings have no doubt turned into 523. They are a collision course, a Robert Moses plan, a metropolitan traffic system of figuring it out.
I feel bad and mad and sad.

Is this a festival of insight or a clusterfuck of stupid? I change my mind all the time about this and about everything else.

I got married because I was done with crazy. But here it is, back again, the revenant I cannot shake. I feel like it’s 1993, when my heart had a black eye all the time.

26 is a boxing match of the soul.

I did not expect bruises at 52.

Wurtzel was often derided for her candid “oversharing,” and that rankled me. I’ve been defending her and other brave writers like her forever. Although I didn’t know her very well, we were acquainted, first meeting in the 90s when I dated her cousin. She was the sort of bold, outspoken woman I both admired and feared — the kind who inspired me to start an unapologetic women tag at Longreads. (And I had been meaning to ask her to write a piece for the Fine Lines series I launched a couple of years ago. I am kicking myself for missing the opportunity to add her voice to that series.)

I’m sad she’s gone. I’ve been finding comfort in wonderful remembrances of her by Deborah Copaken at The Atlantic, Emily Gould at Vanity Fair, and Molly Oswaks at the New York Times. Jia Tolentino at The New Yorker, Kera Bolonik at NBC News, Mandy Stadtmiller at Medium, and Nancy Jo Sales at The Cut.

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A Beloved Art Critic Sings His Swan Song

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Art critic Peter Schjeldahl attends The 2011 New Yorker Festival: In Conversation with Steve Martin on September 30, 2011 in New York, United States. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

Many in the literary and art worlds have been sharing this moving kitchen-sink essay by beloved, long-time New Yorker writer and art critic Peter Schjeldahl, in which he reveals that he is dying, at 77, of lung cancer.

In the piece, he poignantly looks back at his life and career, his history as a recovering alcoholic, his continued status as a smoker — and a not-so-wise medical choice he made a few years ago that might have contributed to shortening his life.

Between bulletins from my body that say this isn’t so, I still feel like a kid inside. Four and a half years ago, while rushing to catch a bus (“Don’t run for a bus” was a rule for longevity in Mel Brooks’s “2000 Year Old Man”), I tripped trying to leap, gazelle-like, over a chunk of broken asphalt and must have caught a toe. When I came to on the street, surrounded by strangers, I had no memory of falling or of much else (who I was, where I was). There was blood. My glasses were smashed. I said, “I’m O.K.” The strangers strenuously disagreed. An ambulance had arrived.

I was mostly conscious when wheeled on a gurney into an emergency room in Greenwich Village. A scrawny old-time Village-hipster type was driving the nurses crazy about something, likely trying to wheedle drugs. Strolling past and glancing down at me, he said tenderly, “Die, baby.” That didn’t seem like a terrible idea, right then, and it struck me in a remote sort of way as the funniest thing I’d ever heard.

A cat scan to check out a suspicion that my neck was broken (weird story short: my neck was found to have broken and healed sometime in the past, unbeknownst to me) incidentally discovered a spot in my left lung. This later led to hospital visits for scans and tests, including a needle biopsy (ouch), all of them inconclusive. Fed up with the rigmarole, I refused further investigation. Shouldn’t have? Live and learn.

He also turns over in his mind what it means to be dying, and to have six months’ warning that the end is nigh. “Take death for a walk in your minds, folks,” he suggests at the end. “Either you’ll be glad you did or, keeling over suddenly, you won’t be out anything.”

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Telling About Auschwitz, Before It’s Too Late

A general winter sunset view of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II Birkenau. On Friday, December 6, 2019, in Auschwitz Camp, Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Keren Blankfeld‘s New York Times story about Holocaust survivors David Wisnia and Helen Spitzer being reunited in Manhattan before her recent death at 100 is so heartwarming, it’s easy to overlook a foreboding reality: Wisnia is one of scant few survivors remaining to tell their stories, at a time when we need them more than ever.

On her death bed, “Zippi,” as she was known, confessed that five times she’d used her position as a privileged inmate and a graphic designer at Auschwitz to keep Wisnia from being shipped to a worse camp. Now he’s telling his Holocaust story to keep the memory of it alive — and hopefully help keep history from repeating itself.

Now, about once a month, he gives speeches where he tells war stories, usually to students and sometimes at libraries or congregations.

“There are few people left who know the details,” he said.

In January, Mr. Wisnia plans to fly with his family to Auschwitz, where he has been invited to sing at the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. He expects to recognize only one fellow survivor there. The last big anniversary, five years ago, which he attended, included about 300 Holocaust survivors. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany estimates that only 2,000 survivors of Auschwitz are alive today.

As the Holocaust fades from public memory and anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, Mr. Wisnia finds himself speaking about his past with more urgency. This is quite a turn for a man who spent most of his adult life trying not to look back. Mr. Wisnia’s oldest son learned only as a teenager that his father wasn’t born in America. (His father worked hard to lose his European accent.)

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Woman Writes Story Challenging Gender Dynamics; Is Thwarted by…Long-Standing Gender Dynamics

Irony of ironies: a piece of writing attempting to redefine sexiness in feminist terms is met with sexist derision and mockery.

At Gay Magazine, Longreads contributor Monica Drake recounts learning that a young, white, male intern at a literary magazine she’d submitted to had publicly humiliated her by taking her story to a party to read aloud and make fun of a sex scene she had included — a scene in which traditional gender dynamics are upended. The intern, she writes, “turned my writing into a party girl forced to jump out of a cake, or a stripper hired for the entitlement and entertainment of drunk men. Men in charge, women as object, these are the only stories he knew, apparently.”

Adding insult to injury, when she tells the story to an aunt, who knows the intern, the aunt is overcome with “himpathy,” cautioning Drake against speaking out lest she ruin a young man’s career.

At a family dinner, I mentioned what happened in front of my aunt, among others, my cousin’s mother. I mentioned that I planned to speak to the editor who worked overseeing the interns. It wasn’t right, to use a woman’s work or words in that way. It was exploitive. It created a space that wasn’t safe for literary submissions or ambition.

I’d trusted the magazine.

Part of the thrill in taking my written work to a party and giving an impromptu drunken, degrading reading seemed to include knowing exactly who I am: in other words, a young “writer,” who had published exactly nothing, as far as I can tell, had made an active choice to parade the work of an older woman author around by name at a party, specifically to lay her bare and take her down.

It was a move that reinstated male domination over female sexual expression, and a power trip. It was a forced engagement, an exercise in attempted humiliation.

The intern was close to half my age. My work was and is informed by life. He displayed the truth of his perceived privilege by thinking he had a right to be a gatekeeper at all.

I’d become an unwilling victim of the literary, written equivalent of sexual abuse. The intern had used and displayed my body of work, body of words, body in imagery and literature, for his own pleasure, ego and gain. He’d aimed to shame me for being unabashedly myself, in the public circle of his male friends.

When I mentioned the general, overriding concerns, my aunt burst out, “He’s a good kid! You’ll ruin his job!” She’d known him since he was a child. She’d handed him snacks, once upon a time. He was to be protected like a child, though he was now an adult.

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