Julia Wick | Longreads | November 7, 2014 | 11 minutes (2,674 words)
“I am bone of the bone of them that live in trailer homes.” That’s the first line of Sarah Smarsh’s essay “Poor Teeth,” which appeared on Aeon earlier this month. Like much of Smarsh’s work, “Poor Teeth” is a story about inequity in America. It is also a story about teeth, hers and her grandmother’s and also the millions of Americans who lack dental coverage.
Smarsh has written for Harper’s, Guernica and The Morning News, among other outlets. Her perspective is very much shaped by her personal experiences: She grew up in a family where most didn’t graduate from high school, and she later chaired the faculty-staff Diversity Initiative as a professor at Washburn University in Topeka. I spoke with her about her own path to journalism and how the media cover issues of class. Read more…
This month, Longreads is celebrating its fifth anniversary. I started this service in April 2009, and it has grown into an incredible global community of readers, writers and publishers. Together, we helped create a thriving ecosystem for longform storytelling and helped reverse the myth that the Internet has shortened attention spans or diminished our appetite for reading. Read more…
The below article comes recommended by Longreads contributing editor Julia Wick, and we’d like to thank the author, Susan J. Palmer, for allowing us to share it with the Longreads community. Read more…
This week we’re excited to introduce First Chapters, a new series on Longreads dedicated to sharing your favorite first chapters, nonfiction or fiction, past or present. Our first pick comes from Longreads contributing editor Julia Wick, who has chosen Janet Fitch’s 1999 novel White Oleander. If you want to recommend a First Chapter, let us know and we’ll feature you and your pick: email@example.com.
“In this time period, which can be months or many years, everybody gets a different social worker—the child, the biological parents, and the foster parents. In this time, more lawyers step in and draw up more plans: How often will the parent see the child; what will visitations be like? Where will visits be held; what are the milestones toward reuniﬁcation? Throughout this, a judge, who in New York City sees about ﬁfty family court cases every day, makes the binding decisions as to who must do what by when.”
This week’s Longreads Member Pick comes recommended by Longreads contributor Julia Wick: It’s “The Last Freeway,” a story by Hillel Aron, published in Slake in 2011, about the construction of a freeway interchange and a judge whose decisions shaped its scope. Aron explains:
“Well, my friends Joe Donnelly and Laurie Ochoa had this great quarterly called Slake, and I wanted to write something for them, so we sat down and talked about it… I think maybe I pitched it to them, I can’t remember. I’d was just always fascinated by freeways, growing up in Los Angeles, and I loved that Reyner Banham book, The Architecture of the Four Ecologies. When I was kid, I was completely enchanted by that 105 / 110 interchange, the carpool lane one, which towers above the city. It’s basically like a rollercoaster. Actually it kind of sucks—since I wrote the piece, they’ve turned that carpool lane into a “toll lane,” so normal carpoolers can’t use it anymore without one of those fast pass things. At any rate, I did some research and it turned out that (a) the 105 was the last freeway built in Los Angeles—the end of an era, really. And it was so tough to build that it basically set a precedent of not building freeways anymore. And (b), there was this nutty judge who turned the whole thing into a New Deal-style public works program to benefit the communities that were being bisected by this massive beast of a freeway. And he also ordered them to stick a train in the middle of it, which didn’t quite go to the airport, but that’s a different story…”
This week’s Longreads Member Pick comes recommended by Longreads contributor Julia Wick: It’s “The Last Freeway,” a story by Hillel Aron, published in Slake in 2011, about the construction of a freeway interchange and a judge whose decisions shaped its scope.
Julia Wick is a native Angeleno who writes about literature, Los Angeles, and cities. She is currently finishing an Urban Planning degree at USC.
With Chelsea Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison and Edward Snowden’s future still uncertain, it seems a pertinent time to look at what becomes of our whistleblowers after the initial flurry of publicity fades. On the public stage and popular culture, whistleblowers are both celebrated and reviled, categorized as snitches and traitors, and heroes and martyrs. They are almost always seen as symbols, but they are also often people whose lives are shattered. The U.S. has had some version of whistleblower protection laws on the books since 1778, but whistleblowers themselves have still often faced reprisal, have been left jobless and hounded, personally attacked and professionally discredited. Here are the stories of six famous whistleblowers, and their lives long after the press has picked up and left town.
Jesselyn Radack is a “Lifetime TV writer’s dream”—the mother of two young children and pregnant with her third who had privately struggled with MS since college. She was a government lawyer with the Justice Department’s ethics unit when a colleague asked her to look over the FBI’s interrogation of the John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” captured during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. She spoke up about the impropriety of Lindh’s being questioned without a lawyer present, and quickly became emblematic of the Ashcroft-era treatment of whistleblowers, her life turned upside-down. And then she did the most unlikely thing of all—became an activist for whistleblowers across the nation. She is currently the National Security & Human Rights Director of the Government Accountability Project.
The cinematic version of Frank Serpico’s life—Serpico, starring Al Pacino in the title role—begins with Serpico being shot in the face during an attempted drug bust and ends with closing credits saying he is “now living somewhere in Switzerland.” Kilgannon’s profile of the honest cop who exposed NYPD corruption picks up four decades later, long after Serpico’s lost years in Europe. Bearded, bitter, and in his early seventies, this Serpico lives a monastic life along the Hudson, just a few hours north of his former city. Perhaps the most poignant scene involves a rewatching of the famous film, which Serpico has never seen in its entirety, on the reporter’s laptop in a small town public library, where “the real Mr. Serpico stared out the window, unable to watch—too painful, he said.”
Pamela Colloff’s character-driven profile of Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins is a reminder of why fans of longform journalism love Texas Monthly. This is a deftly drawn and richly layered narrative of what life is like for a whistleblower who, despite being nationally-lauded, still finds herself rejected by the high-rolling Houston society set to which she once belonged.
No collection of whistleblower stories would be complete without a mention of Mark Felt, née Deep Throat, the source who leaked the details of Watergate to the Washington Post. Felt, who was ultimately responsible for the downfall of an American president, could easily be considered the ur-whistleblower of the last century. Written nearly three decades after the fact, O’Connor’s story finally exposed Felt’s identity.
Long before Snowden made headlines, Thomas Drake had grave doubts about the NSA’s use of domestic surveillance. Drake, then a senior executive at the NSA, to The Baltimore Sun and was ultimately indicted under the Espionage Act. Mayer uses Drake’s story as a lens to explore the larger issues of warrantless surveillance in post–9/11 America, and though the piece itself is more than two years old and dealing with a case that has now been dropped, it is still relevant, perhaps unsettlingly so.