An argument about why ESPN’s tactic of appealing to as many people as possible ensured that a “well-funded black-interest site written and edited by blacks” could never exist within the company.
Jay Caspian Kang (pictured above) is an editor at Grantland. His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Morning News. His first novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, will be published by Hogarth/Random House in August 2012.
This is the sort of piece you want to compare to other writers like Didion or Carver or even James Baldwin, but you hold off because you don’t want to piss off the author by getting it wrong. Yes, there’s a bit of Didion’s calmness here, a bit of Carver’s bleariness, and a bit of Baldwin’s honesty-at-all-costs, but David Hill’s prose sings with a melancholy that’s truly original. The one piece from 2011 that had me punching the wall with jealousy. By far my favorite read of the year.
Great crime writing. Thoroughly reported and well constructed.
My thoughts on Guillermoprieto can be found here.
This is gut-wrenching. Goldman’s novel, Say Her Name, is somehow even more powerful.
When this very funny piece about robots is over, you start thinking a bit differently about love. I don’t know how Jon Ronson achieved that effect, but “Robots Say the Damnedest Things,” was my most fun read of 2011.
Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.
Amos Barshad | The Marshall Project & Longreads | February 2018 | 16 minutes (4,100 words)
This article was co-published with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.
The message came in on a spring day via the undisclosed U.S. government facility that approves all correspondence out of the military prison in Guantánamo Bay. It was a request for representation from Haroon Gul, a detainee, to Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, an attorney. Gul had never had a lawyer. He was one of the last men in Guantánamo without one.
Now, in 2016, his request was urgent. After nearly a decade of nothing, he was being given the chance to explain himself. It would happen through the Periodic Review Board, an administrative body that considers whether Guantánamo prisoners who have not been charged should be transferred home or to another country. A board representative wrote Sullivan-Bennis an email explaining that Gul, also identified as detainee number ISN 3148, “has requested in writing that you assist him with … proceedings before the PRB, at no cost to the Government.” When the email arrived, Gul’s first hearing was weeks away.
Guantánamo lawyers are famously overworked. At the time, Sullivan-Bennis was juggling five other clients. She and her coworkers at the human rights organization Reprieve asked themselves: How can we possibly handle another one? “And then everyone was like, ‘Let’s just try,’” Sullivan-Bennis recalled. “Because otherwise he’ll be alone.’”
She typed Gul a brief note saying that she’d take his case and that she’d come see him soon. She asked if he wanted anything from Guantánamo’s all-purpose department store, the Navy Exchange.
“Dear Honorable Miss Shelby Sullivan Bennis,” he wrote back in sloping, cursive handwriting, “I have no words to express my feeling of gratitude, appreciation and Thanks for your timly legal and moral help in my PRB hearing. I was in a helpless and hopeless state of my mind in my legal affairs you gave me emotional psycholgcal help.”
A few weeks later, they met for the first time in a windowless cement cellblock on prison grounds. Gul sat across a plastic-top table from Sullivan-Bennis in a loose-fitting, tan-colored T-shirt, with his ankle shackled to a metal ring secured to the floor. He’d been detained in Guantánamo since 2007, shortly after Afghan National Directorate of Security forces burst with guns into the rural guesthouse where he was staying outside Jalalabad and threw a bag over his head.
For the first time, he told his story to a lawyer. He was in his early 30s, like her. He had a wife, Halimah, and a 10-year-old daughter, Maryam, living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Gul himself grew up in a Pakistani camp after violence forced his family to flee his home in Afghanistan. Despite harsh camp conditions, he’d earned an economics degree at Hayatabad Science University. He spoke four languages, including Pashto and Dari. While at Guantánamo he’d learned a fifth, English.
And like nearly every other detainee held at Guantánamo since 9/11, Gul had never been charged with a crime. The U.S. government was justifying his detainment under the law of war. In a secret government dossier on Gul released by Wikileaks, Gul (also known as Haroon al-Afghani) is described as “high risk” and of “high intelligence value.” The dossier alleges that he was an explosives expert and a high-ranking military strategist who had executed attacks on the Northern Alliance on behalf of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, a party affiliated with al Qaeda in the 2000s. U.S. intel also indicates that, in 2001, Gul attempted to help Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora.
Gul was too polite to put it this way, but he was effectively saying that it was all, all of it, bullshit. His affiliation with HIG was the same as that of millions of other Afghans: The group ran the refugee camps he needed to survive. He said he supported his family by selling small goods, like used books and jars of honey. He said the reason he was in that guesthouse that night was because he was on the road, selling, trying to scrape together some money. He said the Afghans had grabbed the wrong person.
The government’s allegations were built on secret interrogations and unidentified sources named things like IZ-10026. Sullivan-Bennis came to believe that Gul was innocent. It had happened before: An alleged al Qaeda agent named Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri was detained for 13 years before his release; during his PRB hearing, the government admitted it may have had the wrong man. Read more…
By Josh Roiland
Longreads | December 2017 | 32 minutes (8,200 words)
At a hip Manhattan book launch for John Jeremiah Sullivan’s 2011 essay collection Pulphead, David Rees, the event’s emcee, asked the two-time National Magazine Award winner, “So John…are you the next David Foster Wallace?” The exchange is startling for its absurdity, and Sullivan shakes his head in disbelief before finally answering, “No, that’s—I’m embarrassed by that.” But the comparison has attached itself to Sullivan and a host of other young literary journalists whom critics have noted bear resemblance to Wallace in style, subject matter, and voice.
When Leslie Jamison published The Empathy Exams, her 2014 collection of essays and journalism, a Slate review said “her writing often recalls the work of David Foster Wallace.” Similarly, when Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life appeared a year earlier, a review in the L.A. Review of Books proclaimed: “If Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace had a love child, I thought, Michelle Orange would be it.”
Wallace was, himself, a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, winning once, in 2001; yet he compulsively identified himself as “not a journalist” both in his interactions with sources and reflexively as a character in his own stories. Nonetheless, he casts a long shadow in the world of literary journalism—a genre of nonfiction writing that adheres to all the reportorial and truth-telling covenants of traditional journalism, while employing rhetorical and storytelling techniques more commonly associated with fiction. To give better shape to that penumbra of influence, I spoke with Sullivan, Jamison, and Orange, along with Maria Bustillos, Jeff Sharlet, Joel Lovell, and Colin Harrison about Wallace’s impact on today’s narrative nonfiction writers. They spoke about comparisons to Wallace, what they love (and hate) about his work, what it was like to edit him, their favorite stories, posthumous controversies, and his influence and legacy.
Joel Lovell only worked with Wallace on one brief essay. Despite that singular experience, Lovell’s editorial time at Harper’s and elsewhere in the 1990s and 2000s put him in great position to witness Wallace’s rising status in the world of magazine journalism. He was unequivocal when I asked him which nonfiction writer today most reminds him of Wallace.
Joel Lovell: The clear descendant is John Jeremiah Sullivan, of course. For all sorts of reasons (the ability to move authoritatively between high and low culture and diction; the freakishly perceptive humor on the page) but mostly just because there’s no one else writing narrative nonfiction or essays right now whose brain is so flexible and powerful, and whose brainpower is so evident, sentence by sentence, in the way that Wallace’s was. No one who’s read so widely and deeply and can therefore “read” American culture (literature, television, music) so incisively. No one who can make language come alive in quite the same way. He’s an undeniable linguistic genius, like Dave, who happens to enjoy exercising that genius through magazine journalism. Read more…
As a teenager in the late 1990s, I learned a hard truth about music: Your album collection couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken seriously without a copy of Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. That’s why I went to the Tower Records on 4th Avenue in New York City one afternoon in ninth grade to cop the album, with its maroon cover and purple CD. Of all the records in Petty’s discography it’s by far his best selling, a perfect record for road trips, cookouts, and everything in between.
Throughout his career, Petty’s songs cut to the core of human emotion. His catalogue expressed an everyman bent, one that was shared by anyone who came in contact with his music, which was everyone. Petty and his Heartbreakers were a classic rock mainstay from the moment the first album dropped in 1976. His singles ran the gamut from love to heartbreak, depression to longing. “American Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “You Got Lucky,” “Free Fallin‘,” these were songs meant to be sung off pitch and in unison. How else could you know the classics if you didn’t own the one album that had them all?
Jonathan Mugar’s idea was simple: create a single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament full of ex-college stars and pros. The Basketball Tournament—or, more simply, TBT—would take place every summer and, much like March Madness, only a select few could enter, determined by popular demand and an at-large selection process.
When TBT first launched in 2014, a team made up of former Notre Dame basketball players took the title, and the squad won $500,000, but the competition was seen largely as a niche event: perfect for the summer months to ease the doldrums of choosing between golf and baseball for your sports viewing pleasure. In the years since, though, TBT has exploded, adding 32 more teams (for a total of 64) to the field and upping the prize money to a whopping $2 million, attracting better athletes and enhancing the competitive spirit.
It’s within this chasm that Overseas Elite began its dynasty. An easy team to root for—Overseas Elite is stocked with Big East favorites including former St. John’s players (like DJ Kennedy) and Pittsburgh-area stars (DeAndre Kane)—the squad has won the past two TBT titles, racking up $4 million in the process and carving a path to the 2017 TBT finals (versus the Carmelo Anthony-coached Challenge ALS, which airs Thursday night on ESPN, challenging the NFL Network’s first preseason game).
Each of the half-dozen of so Overseas Elite players all have careers playing international ball, so it’s somewhat shocking that a team of such disparate players can come together for three straight years and make a mockery of the competition.
So what has helped Overseas Elite achieve this level of dominance? The team is built much like the modern NBA—that is, chock full of positionless players all capable of driving the lane and finishing at the rim or scorching the nets from deep. During the win against Boeheim’s Army in the TBT semifinals, Overseas Elite connected on nearly 50 percent of its threes, led by Errick McCollum II’s five three-pointers. During his time as a member of the Red Storm, Kennedy wasn’t known for his passing capabilities, but the big has evolved into a point-forward as a three-time Overseas Elite member (handing out 19 assist over five games).
By mimicking the tweaks already embedded in the modern NBA—offensive spacing, perimeter shooting, and lineups stacked with multi-versatile players—Overseas Elite has essentially become the Golden State Warriors of The Basketball Tournament. Back in 2014, when TBT was still very much a cool idea rather than a proven concept, Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined the uniqueness of such a competition:
Picking the teams is the fun part. Any group of between seven and 10 players can apply for one of the 32 spots on TBT’s website (launching today). Every team has to have a “general manager” who selects the players, manages the team, and recruits “fans” through the website. Every “fan” must fill out a simple form to become official, and any team wishing to make the 32-team field must recruit at least 100 such fans — and likely thousands more. The 24 teams with the most fans will earn automatic bids into the 32-team field. The tournament organizers will choose the remaining eight teams, provided they’ve all met a baseline of 100 enlisted fans. That allows the tournament to make sure a high-profile team can make the field even if it somehow fails to pile up enough fans to crack the top 24.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t just a master on all things basketball; when he isn’t speaking out against the Muslim ban or voicing his unwavering support for the Women’s March, the coach—who has led the Spurs to five NBA championships—is one of the most well-read people in the NBA. Read more…
The Oregon Ducks’ Dillon Brooks is one of the nation’s most talented basketball players, a 6-foot-7 forward who can score on the block and possesses enough quickness and handle to double as a guard within the Ducks’ offense. There is little Brooks can’t do, but when the junior tries to extend his talents to other arenas, the results can be, well, a bit embarrassing.
For instance, during Thursday’s win over Pac-12 opponent Utah, Brooks attempted to draw a charge on freshman guard Sedrick Barefield. It wasn’t pretty:
Flopping, in which a player intentionally falls after little or no contact from an opposing player in an attempt to draw a foul, is a problem in basketball, and there have been some very bad ones in the history of the sport. Duke is routinely lampooned for their ability to throw their bodies on the ground at just the slightest touch, and a Google search of ‘Marcus Smart flops’ yields nearly 500,000 results criticizing the Boston Celtics’ guard’s ‘defense’. Read more…
If you Google “Constance Fenimore Woolson,” the top item is her Wikipedia page. The second is an excerpt of a book about the author Henry James.
I hadn’t heard of Woolson until recently. She’s the subject of a new biography by Anne Boyd Roux, Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist. To herald her new biography, a collection of Woolson’s short stories has been published, too.
Until now, Woolson has been an interesting, tragic anecdote in the lives of others. She’s the alleged inspiration for the Lady in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady. Never mind that she was an accomplished writer in her own right or a world traveler.
I like calling Woolson “CFW.” It reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s oft-used nickname, and Wallace is one of those names people gesture at emphatically when they toss out the words “literary genius.” I like sneaking Woolson into the lit boys’ club. Read more…