Author Archives

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 editorial director of TMI Project, a non-profit offering storytelling workshops, and has a column on The Rumpus. She tweets at http://twitter.com/saribotton

The Film Critic Turned Filmmaker

This week, T: The New York Times Style Magazine publishes “The Greats,” a package featuring masters in various artistic fields, profiled by great writers. There are seven profiles, and seven different covers to go with them.

Included is novelist Alexander Chee’s profile of Korean director Park Chan-wook, who has become the most celebrated filmmaker in Korea despite his informal training.

Park is an autodidact, a self-taught auteur. This wasn’t just by choice; the 1980s Korea in which he came of age had only a few film schools, and no serious cinematic culture for him to either engage with or ignore. He had only the American Forces Korea Network, a television channel famous for airing foreign movies, often without subtitles. (If there were subtitles, they were in English, not in Korean.) Park remembers watching these on his family’s black-and-white television. Later, he had his university’s cinema club, which showed bootleg VHS tapes of foreign films. “When you say you go to a film school in America or France, you would probably go to a lecture where they teach you about German Expressionism and show you what these German Expressionist films are,” he says. “But in Korea there was no systematic education I could be exposed to. It was sporadic, haphazard. And maybe that’s why my films have ended up in this strange form, where it feels like it’s a mishmash of everything.”

He recalls a James Bond film he saw in the theater as a boy — he doesn’t remember which one, but it excited him so much, he began imagining his own Bond films. But not just the stories: He saw them in his head, shot for shot, thinking of how lighting, angles and editing told stories, and he began formulating his own.

The six other profiles in The Greats series include: Roxane Gay on hip hop artist Nicki Minaj, Hanya Yanagihara on designer Dries Van Noten, Lin Manuel Miranda on lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Manohla Dargis on actor Amy Adams, Dave Eggers on writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Randy Kennedy on sculptor Claes Oldenburg.

Read the Story

The Secret Women’s Organization Providing for Black Communities

At a moment when there’s so much distressing news about bad men, it’s a relief to read an article about some inspiring women.

At Lenny Letter, novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge writes about her weekend in Chesapeake, Virginia for the 150th anniversary of the United Order of Tents, a somewhat secret society of black women established just after the end of the Civil War, which has long provided financial and other kinds of support to black communities.

The organization was founded by two former slaves, Annetta M. Lane and Harriet R. Taylor. Lane had been a nurse on the plantation where she was enslaved, and over the years, that has influenced the group’s makeup and mission.

Tents members are from all social classes — Lodis Gloston was a school principal before she retired; others work in government or real estate, and some are working class. In the past, Tents members were often nurses, another link to the organization’s founder, Annetta Lane. And even at this conference, there is a small but vocal group of health-care workers.

This connection to health care is central to the Tents’ mission.

But health care is merely one focus. For generations, those women have worked together to provide so much more.

Most astonishing about the Tents is the fact that about a generation out of slavery, in 1894, they established a rest home for the elderly that they ran continuously, with no outside financial help and with no bankruptcy, for over 100 years, until 2002. In addition, at a certain point in the mid-century, the Tents served as a mortgage house for black families and churches who would not have been able to apply for loans from white banks. The Tents, therefore, literally helped build the institutions and homes of their communities.

Read the story

The ‘Moderate Thoughfulness’ Hour with Preet Bharara

At New York Magazine, Andrew Rice has a profile of Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who earlier this year was fired by Donald Trump. Bharara, known as a crusader against corporate corruption, has a new career as a podcast host. On his weekly show — Stay Tuned with Preet, launched in September through his younger brother’s holding company, Some Spider Studios — he deciphers current legal matters, including but not limited to those having to do with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president.

Bharara can discern, perhaps as well as anyone now speaking publicly, where the mystery plot may be headed. But listeners tuning into his show for dramatic revelations are likely to be disappointed; Bharara is stubbornly resistant to allowing the show to become, as he puts it, “too Trump.” His first few shows featured friendly retrospective interviews with Democrats in exile, like Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff and CIA director, and Vanita Gupta, the head of the Department of Justice’s civil-rights division under President Obama. Some of his initial interviews hardly touched on Trump at all. In September, I watched him tape an interview with the outspoken federal judge Jed Rakoff, with whom he discussed the moral calculus of punishment. “What is cosmic justice?” Bharara asked.

“I don’t aspire to be a talk-show host. This is a thing that I’m doing, and we’ll see how it goes,” Bharara told me. Then he added, “I don’t know how much of an audience there is for moderate thoughtfulness from someone who used to have power.”

“You just gave us a tagline,” Vinit said, grinning. “Moderate thoughtfulness: Preet!” Bharara tried it again, in his most solemn, radio-ready voice.

“Moderate thoughtfulness … from a guy who used to have power.”

Read the story

Roast Duck Soup for the Chinese-American Daughter’s Soul

Su-Jit Lin | Longreads | October 2017 | 10 minutes (2,431 words)

 

No matter the culture, no matter the upbringing, certain foods will always bring back certain memories. Whether those recollections are good or bad, the strength of the association is such that time stands still. For that one big moment, as you inhale the aroma, settle your teeth down, and let the flavors fill your mouth, you are again who you once were.

For me, that one dish was Hong Kong-style roast duck soup from Chinatown in New York City. To this day its heat and fragrant spices remain strong enough to permeate my sinuses and make their way into my subconsciousness.

***

Imagine this: chopped duck, dark and gamey; marrow unobtrusively seeping out of brittle, splintered bone. Rich meat covered in crackling skins, shining with fat rendered out, and glistening with that which remains. A complex broth gleaming golden, tasting faintly of toasted shallots and green onions. From this, steam rising to coat your nasal passages with delectable, moist warmth as the scent travels down to your mouth. Al dente egg noodles, floating like dense bundles of seaweed in a virtual seascape, with plump ground pork-and-shrimp wontons wrapped in translucent skins, the excess dough fluttering in the soup like the tails of fat jellyfish.

Atop it all, tender baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, or crisp mung bean sprouts add a splash of color and a refreshing, vegetative foundation to the heavy flavors. Despite how much my tastes evolve or my standards rise, this will forever be the dish that transforms me again and again, back into a buck-toothed child eagerly grinning at a bowl bigger than her head.

Coming from an underprivileged family in the restaurant industry, I learned early on in life that although cash may change hands, food is the ultimate currency. Greens hold more value than greenbacks, and bringing home the bacon wasn’t a figure of speech — it’s what my parents literally did. Although we were disadvantaged, because of my parents’ profession, food was always plentiful. In our house, money wasn’t used to coerce us to do the right thing, but tasty treats were always fair game.

Read more…

Gloria Allred’s Personal Crusade

In her first print feature for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino profiles iconic anti-discrimination lawyer Gloria Allred, who is currently litigating major cases against Bill Cosby and President Donald Trump and has played a key role in changing attitudes and legislation regarding rape and sexual assault. Allred came by her conviction for that work very personally, after being raped in the early 1970s.

During her first year in California, she went to Acapulco for a vacation. One night, a local physician asked her out to dinner. He had to make a few house calls first, he said, and they stopped by a motel. He took her to an empty room, pulled out a gun, and raped her. She didn’t report the crime to the police, fearing that she wouldn’t be believed. Soon after returning home, she discovered that she was pregnant.

It was seven years before Roe v. Wade, and abortion was illegal in California. She made an appointment for one and went alone, as instructed. She began hemorrhaging after she got home, and the man who had performed the procedure declined to offer guidance. Allred was afraid to go to the hospital. She sat at home, feverish and bleeding; eventually, her roommate called an ambulance, which took her to a hospital ward filled with other women who had had illegal abortions. She didn’t realize until later that patients around her had died. A nurse told her, as she was recovering, “This will teach you a lesson.”

Read the story

Assessing the Media’s Role in ‘What Happened’

New Yorker editor David Remnick spoke with Hillary Clinton for a wide-ranging profile in the magazine’s September 25th issue. Remnick interviewed Clinton and other players — both off-the-record and on — on the occasion of the publication of What Happened, her memoir of winning the popular vote but losing the more crucial electoral one to a crass, bigoted reality TV star.

Remnick considers the role the media might have played in this debacle by frequently, unfairly, painting Clinton in a harsh light. It’s nothing new, he acknowledges, pointing to a similar discussion in a 1996 profile in his own magazine:

Twenty-one years ago, in an article for this magazine called “Hating Hillary,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she admitted, “I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something.” In the same piece, Arianna Huffington remarks on Clinton’s “self-righteousness,” Peggy Noonan on her “apple-cheeked certitude.” Gates observed that Clinton was widely perceived as Mrs. Jellyby, the character in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” who is as “intent on improving humanity as she is cavalier toward actual human beings . . . the zealous reformer with a heart as big as all Antarctica.”

Such ingrained habits of media antagonism proved to be another factor that allowed Trump, the biggest liar in the history of Presidential politics, to be seen by tens of millions of people as a figure of rude authenticity, their champion. In Clinton’s view, she could never win with people who had been trained to regard her as a high-minded phony. Her wariness and evasions drained their sympathy; her strained attempts to win people back too often fell flat. Why couldn’t she be admired for her intelligence, her competence, her experience?

Read the story

Harvard’s About-Face on Michelle Jones’s Acceptance

In a collaboration between The New York Times and The Marshall Project, journalist Eli Hager recently published an investigation into Harvard University’s eleventh-hour flip-flop on its acceptance of ex-convict Michelle Jones to its doctoral program in history. Jones, who spent more than two decades in prison for the murder of her four-year-old son — conceived non-consensually when she was 14 — became a stellar academic and published scholar while incarcerated. She was set to attend Harvard this fall, but after her acceptance, two professors questioned whether she had adequately portrayed her crime in her application — something that was not required — and also whether the former prisoner was up to the challenge of an Ivy League environment.

Jones was supposed to be released in October, but received a two-month reduction of her sentence so she could start a Ph.D. program on time this fall. She applied to eight, with Harvard her first choice because of historians there whose work on incarceration she admired.

While those historians embraced her application, others at Harvard questioned not only whether Jones had disclosed enough information about her past, but whether she could handle its pressure-cooker atmosphere.

“One of our considerations,” Stauffer said in an interview, “was if this candidate is admitted to Harvard, where everyone is an elite among elites, that adjustment could be too much.”

Alison Frank Johnson, director of graduate studies for the history department, dismissed that argument as paternalistic.

“Michelle was sentenced in a courtroom to serve X years, but we decided — unilaterally — that it should be X years plus no Harvard,” she said. “Is it that she did not show the appropriate degree of horror in herself, by applying?

“We’re not her priests,” Johnson added, using an expletive.

Jones will be attending New York University instead.

Read the story

Eileen Myles: There’s No Escaping History

At Rolling Stone, Helena Fitzgerald profiles punk poet and 1992 write-in Presidential candidate Eileen Myles. Myles’s new memoir, Afterglow, was released this week, and their first autobiographical novel, Cool for You, was recently re-released and included an introduction by I Love Dick author Chris Kraus.

Myles (who prefers gender-neutral pronouns) has been publishing since the 70s, but has lately experienced a new wave of popularity, gathering new young fans in part because of their Twitter presence and also the character inspired by them on Transparent.

Among other things, Myles talks with Fitzgerald about the importance right now of poetry and art as forms of resistance under the current U.S. presidential administration. Interestingly, though, Myles points out that what’s been happening really isn’t all that new.

In this current moment, the feeling that we’re facing an avalanche, that we might be destroyed, is hard to ignore. When prompted to speak about art in the current political moment, Myles says: “You know, there is nothing new about what’s happening now.” Myles goes on to call Trump’s assembled henchmen “a cabinet of cockblockers: an educational secretary who’s against education, an attorney general who’s a Klansman.” But they also stress that there’s precedent throughout our history for all of these, that none of these people came out of nowhere. As much of Myles’ work — such as the seminal “An American Poem” — has grappled with in the past, this is the America in which we have always lived. The James Comey testimony took place a few days before our meeting, and Myles was passionately skeptical of the liberal praise that has been showered on the former director of the FBI. “They’re like, ‘Oh, Comey’s the good guy!’ Are you kidding me? He’s talking about a Shining City on the Hill; he’s talking about the horror, and the outrage, of people interfering with our election — like that isn’t what we do in the Middle East and in South America. I’ve never been so driven to make the argument about the nature of our history.”

Read the story

The High Cost of Cheap Fashion

I’m ashamed to admit that despite my long-standing qualms, it took reading this Los Angeles Times expose by Natalie Kitroeff and Victoria Kim to get me to finally swear off “fast fashion” — cheap, poorly manufactured clothing that is often made under the worst possible working conditions, and often infringes on copyrights.

(I’m even more ashamed to admit that as I write this, I’m wearing a dress I paid $3 for on clearance at The Rainbow Shop, and shoes I paid $15 on clearance at Target.)

Often when we think of sweatshops, we think of those in other countries, where labor regulations are more lenient or non-existent. But Kitroeff and Kim report on sweatshops right here in the United States, specifically in Los Angeles — factories that exploit mostly undocumented workers, paying them less than minimum wage to work in slave-like conditions. They also point out the loop-holes protecting retailers that use these sweatshops for their house brands — stores like Forever 21, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s.

Sewing factories and wholesale manufacturers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle those workers’ claims. Forever 21 has not had to pay a cent.

Like other major clothing retailers, Forever 21 avoids paying factory workers’ wage claims through a tangled labyrinth of middlemen that stands between the racks in its stores and the people who sew the clothes.

The company benefits from an 18-year-old state law that was originally intended to stamp out sweatshops but has come up short. The law allowed workers to recoup back wages from their factory boss, and any garment manufacturing company that does business with that person. Forever 21 says it is a retailer, not a manufacturer, and thus is always at least one step removed from Los Angeles factories.

One paradox of that arm’s-length relationship: Forever 21 says it often inspects factories abroad that produce its clothes as part of its “social responsibility to better protect workers,” but it doesn’t do that in Los Angeles. The company said it takes that approach because in California the Department of Labor enforces strict worker protections, whereas there’s no government body that does that for overseas factories.

Now, as retailers across the country face increasingly tough competition from e-commerce, budget brands like Forever 21 are putting more and more pressure on suppliers to keep prices low.

Read the story

A Lie of Creative Rehabilitation in ‘Vacationland’

At The New Inquiry, Chelsea Hogue has an expose on the Maine Department of Correction Industries (MDOC) woodshop and other prison-based businesses like it, which frame their exploitive inmate manufacturing programs as rehabilitative when in reality they’re more like state-sanctioned slavery — or, as Hogue puts it, “rebranding carceral slavery as ameliorative.”

MDOC profits from various wares made by inmates as part of their mandatory, low-wage labor, selling them at at The Maine State Prison Showroom, something of a feel-good souvenir shop.

Maine has sold its program to tourists as a form of arts-and-crafts nostalgia: Where cottage industries for handmade items have shrunk or evaporated, the story goes, these men work together to produce interesting objects. But the state’s labor program is no different from any other; its artisanal veneer may even make it more insidious. The majority of men are fulfilling monotonous duties. They aren’t learning marketable skills.

At the MDOC, the chosen method of rehabilitation is conveniently braided with punishment. Moreover, such punishment provides direct material benefit to the MDOC, those who are responsible for these men’s captivity in the first place. And yet we on the outside are told to think it is good to feel purpose—and that a task, however extractive, is one kind of purpose.

Read the story