Search Results for: Alexander-Chee

How to Pitch Personal Essays to Longreads: An Updated Guide

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This post is no longer current. Please check out our submission guidelines.


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…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Enjoy your Airbnb. (Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Allie Conti, Joe Sexton and Nate Schweber, Alexander Chee, Nell Scovell, and Bee Wilson.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

An Unapologetic Plea for Your Help Funding More Personal Essays

I was going to begin this post by apologizing to anyone who follows me on Twitter for the way in which my feed has, for the past two weeks, read like a non-stop public radio fund drive.

Then I remembered that a) I am the person who added the Unapologetic Women story category here at Longreads, in part to help me check myself in this regard, and b) I have zero regrets for spreading the word about our current member drive, through which we’re trying to raise $25,000 not only for original journalism by great reporters like Alice Driver, but also for personal essays.

In some corners of the internet, personal essays are derided as frivolous and narcissistic, but I couldn’t disagree more. I find personal narratives to be deeply compelling and important. I believe they can be as effective as hard reporting in conveying important ideas, and sometimes even more so in terms of opening people’s minds by engendering empathy, first for the person telling the story.

I consider myself very fortunate to serve as Essays Editor for a publication that recognizes the value of personal essays, pays writers fairly for them, and makes room in its editorial calendar for at least two of them each week.

Member support — which WordPress.com is matching times three! — makes this possible. (All the money in Longreads’ story fund goes toward paying writers, illustrators, photographers, copyeditors and fact-checkers.)

While it’s difficult to single out particular essays as favorites, or most important, in the interest of possibly persuading some of you to contribute, I’d like to point to a few that have made me especially proud to have the opportunity to do this work and be part of the incredible Longreads team. Read more…

Longreads Essays Editor Sari Botton’s Guide to Pitching


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Alexander Chee on Rediscovering Art for Pleasure in Greece

(Christian Marquardt/Getty Images)

In creating a routine “entirely alien to his normal life,” Alexander Chee attempted a real vacation from his work as a writer on a recent trip to Greece. For the New York Times, he sketches his way around Sifnos, capturing both the “least famous” Greek island and his memories of it in a Moleskine notebook. In rediscovering the pure pleasure of art, he draws fresh strength to fuel his writing. (You can read the first chapter, The Queen of the Night, Chee’s latest novel, here.)

Drawing is an excellent way to remember a place. In my mind I can still see clearly the towns I drew and the mornings I spent there.

When I left on the ferry home, I could feel I had in fact relaxed, deep down, in some way that was entirely new to me. But also, drawing had opened that new door to the old place. It had brought me back to the pleasure of the art you make just for yourself, where all art begins, easy to lose track of when you become a professional writer. Your own private conversation about ideas and aesthetics.

Vacation is so often cast as a luxury now in America, a bourgeois game of Instagram tagging and food photos. But for me, in Sifnos, I came to know it as the time in the year when you find not only rest, but also the strength you need to meet your work and your life when you return to them. In the years since, it’s been hard to be an American writer and take vacations like this. But I would never want to live the other way — without them — again.

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The ‘Smashing Things Together’ Approach to Editorial Illustration

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad (Airplane photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Our Art Director Kjell Reigstad recently shared his insights on editorial illustration with our company colleagues. We thought you’d enjoy it too.


In my role on the Editorial team, I end up touching a lot of different parts of Automattic. I work on learning resources, company blogs, highlighting great users, longform publishing, and brand work, with the occasional theme and conference design thrown in. This sort of variety is absolutely amazing, and one of my favorite things about working here.Of all the projects I get to work on, my favorite thing to do may be illustrations for Longreads. It’s lovely to focus on reading and reflecting on stories, and to have the freedom to explore and experiment with visual representation.I’ve done over a hundred illustrations for Longreads over the years, and I thought I’d share a few notes on the concepting process I go through for each one.


I always start by reading the story (obviously!). While reading, I take note of all the visuals that pop into my head along the way. Most of them will end up being tossed out, but usually there are a few that help build the base of the illustration.For example, we recently published an essay where Jami Attenberg describes her battle with flight anxiety. Here’s the list I jotted down while reading her piece:

  • airplanes
  • airports
  • airplane seats
  • clouds
  • books
  • pills
  • xanax
  • pill bottles

When I’m finished reading the story, I run through a series of mental exercises that I picked up years ago in my “Visual Communication” class from design school. VisCom (as we called it) was a required course for all Design, Illustration, and Advertising majors, since at their core, all of those fields center around utilizing visuals to convey or enhance an idea. We were taught about symbolism, juxtaposition, and how to use use color, shapes, and text to get a message across. Here are the questions I ask myself:

  • Are any of these items a common symbol? If so, does it represent something that relates well to the story?
  • Can one of these items be turned into a new symbol?
  • Can I smash some of these images together to make something new?
  • Is there a scene from the story that I can build using these images?

My favorite of the bunch is the “smash things together” exercise. This usually involves taking two seemingly unrelated things and combining them to create greater meaning. In the case of Jami’s essay, I smashed clouds together with Xanax pills to depict the anxiety-ridden, Xanax-fueled flights she described throughout her story.

20170606-Airplane-Anxiety

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad (Airplane photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Another great example of this approach is the illustration I did for Alexander Chee’s piece, “Our Well-Regulated Militia.” I smashed together a map of the United States and a gun rack to echo the article’s statement about the prevalence of guns in America:

20160413-Alexander-Chee

Illustration by: Kjell Reigstad

This technique doesn’t always work, but it does help kickstart creative thinking, and can help generate other solutions. I often run through 2–3 ideas for each illustration before finding one that sticks.


We’ve been building up our publishing pace and coverage lately at Longreads, and illustration plays a key part in making this successful. Our illustrations help attract readers, and if done well, they can amplify the message of the story itself. We’ve been bringing in some amazing freelance illustrators lately, and I want to close by showcasing some of the great work they’ve been doing too:

Alexander Chee: ‘He thought I wanted monogamy more than him, and I didn’t.’

detailed carvings on an archway at the alhambra in granada, spain
Photo by Michelle W. (CC BY 2.0)

When the New York Times asked authors to share stories of love intersecting with travel, Alexander Chee recalls a summer in Granada, Spain, with M. — his boyfriend at the time — who betrayed Chee at a local hammam. “He thought I wanted monogamy more than him, and I didn’t. And I couldn’t forgive that I didn’t get to choose.”

I liked M. I was having my first summer in Spain and he was good in bed, funny at dinner, smart about books. Enjoying that was not a mistake. Hiding himself from me was. When I eventually discovered the truth, I was more offended that he wouldn’t tell me. He thought I wanted monogamy more than him, and I didn’t. And I couldn’t forgive that I didn’t get to choose.

Some things I remember very clearly from that summer: learning to love the feel of cold red wine in my mouth on a hot day. The beautiful boy on the bus the whole way to the beach at Carboneras from Granada, burning the back of the rubber and vinyl seat with a lighter, but slowly, never enough to catch fire, who stopped only to take pictures of himself on his phone. The man putting saccharin in his fresh orange juice. And the streets paved with stones taken from the river, smooth and shining in the dark, like the backs of fish.

M. can keep his secrets, I told myself then. I have this. That was my bargain. I still think it is a good one.

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Longreads Best of 2016: Our 25 Most Popular Exclusives of the Year

Thanks to funding from Longreads Members and a generous match from WordPress.com, we were able to publish another fantastic year of original reporting, essays, book excerpts, and exclusives in partnership with other publishers and some of our favorite writers. If you like what we do and want to support us, considering becoming a Longreads Member today.

Below are the 25 most popular exclusives we published this year. You can see all of our stories here Read more…

The Queen of the Night

Illustration by Carl J. Ferrero, Design by Sarah Samudre

Alexander Chee | First Chapter Exclusive: The Queen of the Night | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Feb. 2015 | 21 minutes (5,292 words)

 

Our latest Longreads Exclusive is the first chapter from The Queen of the Night, the second novel by award-winning writer Alexander Chee, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers

“In the opening pages of The Queen of the Night, we are transported to a celebratory night at The Luxembourg Palace in Paris, 1882, where a legendary opera singer, Lilliet Berne, is trying to avoid attention (self-conscious of a poorly-designed dress she must wear), only to step accidentally into an intimate conversation with a writer who wants to put her at the center of a new opera. The one trophy missing on her crowded shelf is an original role in a new work, and she throws caution away as the stranger flatters her with the offer. As the soprano with the delicate voice tempts fate, we learn of her long-kept secrets, deep ambition, quick wit, and keen powers of observation. In Berne, Alexander Chee has created a fully-formed diva from a glamorous age that has long since passed, yet her role as her own mythology builder is as contemporary as ever, as seen daily in tabloids and online, as actors, athletes, fashionistas, Kardashians, politicians, Real Housewives, and yoginis shape their stories for column inches and Instagram followers—some, like Berne, have true talent. Chee’s Queen of the Night is a spectacular and balletic historical novel, its intricacies offer insights not only about fame, but also about the Second Empire in France and its rich musical and literary history.”

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WHEN IT BEGAN, it began as an opera would begin, in a palace, at a ball, in an encounter with a stranger who, you discover, has your fate in his hands. He is perhaps a demon or a god in disguise, of­fering you a chance at either the fulfillment of a dream or a trap for the soul. A comic element—the soprano arrives in the wrong dress—and it decides her fate.

The year was 1882. The palace was the Luxembourg Palace; the ball, the Sénat Bal, held at the beginning of autumn. It was still warm, and so the garden was used as well. I was the soprano.

I was Lilliet Berne. Read more…

Alexander Chee on Writing, Success, and Subletting Below Chloë Sevigny

Photo via Flickr

At Catapult, Alexander Chee has a self-reflective essay about a period in the early aughts when he got to sublet a friend’s plum 19th-story apartment in Gramercy Park. She let him have it for just $900 per month, a steal, which took a great deal of financial pressure off of him. This was after the release of his first novel, when his stock as a writer was rising and he was commanding a little more money–by writer standards, anyway. Bonus: Chee soon learned that actress Chloë Sevigny, of whom he was a big fan, was his upstairs neighbor. This revelation, and a few nervous encounters with her, made the author take a hard look at himself. Double bonus: He got a great chandelier out of the deal, which he has to this day.

Every day, the apartment felt like some just reward after a long period of hard work, even a sign that further success was close by. The paperback of my first novel had just come out from Picador and with that money, in addition to money from teaching, I felt rich for the first time in my life as a writer. I knew I was not rich in a way that anyone else in the building would recognize, but I was writer rich. I had money earned from writing that I would spend on more time to write, and the cheap deal on the beautiful apartment meant the money would last even longer—it even felt like the beginning of more of that money and more of that success. It was a beautiful moment, when the money and the time it represented added up to a possibility for the future that felt as vast as the edges of the known world. The apartment’s vast views resembled the way I wanted to feel about my own future each time I looked at them.

The only sign of darkness was that I was trying to begin work on my second novel and it was not going well. Each week I abandoned it by Friday and returned to it on Monday, as if it was a bad love affair. I think somehow I knew even then that the novel would take me a decade to finish. But the apartment made my despair easier to bear.

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