In recent months, there’s been a lot of hubbub and even a little hysteria over the fate of the personal essay. It began with a New Yorker piece by Jia Tolentino with the headline, “The Personal Essay Boom is Over.”
But Tolentino wasn’t proclaiming the death of the entire category, just essays of a certain kind: often sensationalized, barely edited accounts of very personal experiences with click-baitish headlines. The pieces tended to lack reflection, and offered little connection between their anecdotes and something larger.
Because there are so many people emailing me essays every day — more than I can respond to — and because I am ramping up from 8 essays a month to 10 or 12, I thought it might be a good idea to post here clarifying what I’m looking for, what are the best ways to pitch me, and what you can expect from working with me once I choose your essay. Read more…
Garrett Graff is joining us as a contributor covering border security, immigration, federal law enforcement, and how government works.
Alice Driver will publish a series covering border stories and migration.
Laurie Penny will write a series of political advice columns addressing broader themes of consent, desire, and power. (We’ll be publishing an excerpt from her upcoming essay collection, Bitch Doctrine, this summer, too.)
We’ve made it our mission to publish and curate the best longform stories on the web, from personal essays to investigative journalism — and we wouldn’t be here without supporters like you.
If you like what you’re reading, we’d love for you to become a Longreads Member. 100% of your contribution goes directly to authors, and helps raise the bar for longform writing and its value.
We look forward to continuing our work bringing you the Top Longreads of the Week, and to delivering the quality you crave from the writers you love the most.
We’re excited to announce that journalist Garrett M. Graff is joining Longreads as a contributing writer covering border security and immigration, federal law enforcement, and the mechanics of how government works. Read more…
This month, Longreads turns eight years old. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site over the years — from the Longreads Members who fund our story budget, to my colleagues past and present at our parent company Automattic/WordPress.com, and to editor in chief Mike Dang and our growing team of editors, writers, and journalists who are producing outstanding essays and reporting every day.
I’ve often used these anniversary posts to look back, but we’re undergoing some big changes this year — not just publishing more original and exclusive stories, but also funding more serious reporting from around the world. It’s time to look ahead. Read more…
Seven years ago this month I started Longreads. To say the word “longread” has taken hold beyond my wildest expectations would be an understatement. It was a Twitter hashtag experiment — which I started because I wanted story recommendations for my subway commute — that turned into a company, a meme, an original publisher, and, of course, an endless cycle of writers debating whether longform storytelling is good or bad for the internet. (Well, thank god for that.) Read more…
Longreads is proud and excited to announce that one of our writers, Meaghan O’Connell, has sold a book to Little, Brown. We published Meaghan’s epic 14,248-word account of going into labor and giving birth, “A Birth Story,” last November, and it quickly became our most popular story of the year.
Meaghan shared the announcement with us, which was published in Publishers Marketplace:
A huge congrats to Meaghan! We’re looking forward to seeing And Now We Have Everything in bookstores.
I had many problems with Purity, Jonathan Franzen’s new novel. The book had me hooked and turning pages from the first. There’s plenty of intrigue–a murder; the mystery of the title character’s parentage; unfolding backstories that link assorted melodramatic subplots, far-flung over geography and time. But to a large degree I was racing through it in search of some comment that might show the author to have a less shallow, more mature and nuanced perspective on women than his male characters exhibit. The absence of that was one of my biggest disappointments. In an essay at Salon, Lyz Lenz echoes and perfectly crystallizes one of my issues with Franzen’s depictions of women:
Pip, the main character, is often described as “pretty” and herself describes other women in terms of their beauty. Pretty faces, pretty fingers, beautiful women and beautiful weeping clog the pages of the book. After page 70, I began counting every time I saw the words “beauty,” “beautiful” and “pretty.” By page 412 I had reached 50 and all of them related to women. The problem with calling a woman beautiful is that it is not a description. Beauty is a judgment. With the exception of Anabel, none of the female characters in the book are allowed to move beyond this judgment. In the over 500 pages, Pip, Annagret and the rotating cast of ancillary women are never allowed more than their shades of beauty…
…the women of the novel lay flat on the page, subject to the whims of the male gaze that created them.
This is also a misstep Franzen has made off the page — he once famously declared that Edith Wharton’s greatest disadvantage was that she wasn’t pretty. Franzen, it seems, can’t see women beyond the binary of beautiful or not. It would seem to be both a personal problem and a writing problem. As Dickens and Wolfe learned, every kind of person should be allowed to be fully actualized on the page. Holding female characters under the thumb of narrative judgment denies them humanity. And this is a contrast to the thesis of “Purity,” which argues rather that the modern, digtal world of Facebook, Twitter and web journalism is alienating — bodies, though confounding, are the conduit to redemption. Yet, by not allowing female bodies to be truly seen, Franzen undercuts his own thesis. It is not the Internet that is the alienating force in his novel, but a writer who can see a dog better than his own protagonist.
April 17 marks six years since we started this community—growing from just a few readers to over a million, with people now sharing stories in dozens of different languages from hundreds of publishers. Christian Jørgensen put together a really nice Storify timeline of how the Twitter hashtag #longreads first evolved.
This community also has grown from sharing stories to actually funding them. Longreads Members have already helped us finance dozens of stories from outstanding writers and publisher partners. You can see them here. (We’re also celebrating our one-year anniversary being part of the Automattic / WordPress.com family, and we couldn’t be prouder to be at a company dedicated to helping independent publishers succeed.)
Thank you to everyone has helped make this community of readers so special. We’re excited for what’s next, from new originals to live events in San Francisco and New York.
Since 2009, Longreads has thrived as a service and a community thanks to your direct financial support. Without Longreads Members’ contributions, it’s possible we would have had to shut down after just a couple years.
This also meant that we could finally make good on our original intention for the Longreads Membership—which was for 100% of your contributions to go directly to independent publishers and writers.
So that’s what we are announcing today: The Longreads Membership is now a great big digital story fund, financed with your generous support. The more Longreads Members who join, the more contributions we gather, the more stories we’ll help fund. Read more…