Search Results for: Paul Collins

A. N. Devers' Top 5 Bathtub Longreads of 2011

A. N. Devers‘ work has appeared online in Lapham’s Quarterly, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and in other publications.  Her most recent essay, about poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel, California, is in the Winter 2011 issue of Tin House. She is the founder and editor of Writers’ Houses, a website dedicated to literary pilgrimage.


Maghag (n.): 1. A compulsive reader and hoarder of periodicals and magazines to a magnitude that endangers the well-being of the hag’s housekeeping ability, family relationships, and punctuality. Identified by a pruney skin that develops from spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathtub 2. Writer and procrastinator known as A. N. Devers.


1. I always go for Scientology exposes. I’m cheap that way. “The Apostate” by Lawrence Wright for The New Yorker, with its heroic fact-checking effort, is so Xenu-shattering that it inspired a rebuttal from the Church of Scientology in the form of a poor-executed satire of The New Yorker.

2. My fandom of Paul Collins goes back a ways. His work exposes my periodical-weeding inability. If you came over to my apartment and demanded some Paul Collins, I’d be able to run to dusty stacks and the file cabinet and deliver a dozen essays of awesome. So I’m not surprised that his piece about the disappearance of child-writer Barbara Follett in the Lapham’s Quarterly Celebrity issue is perfectly constructed story of intrigue and wonderment, mystery and disturbia.

3. Anything I can say about Hungarian industrial designer and ceramicist Eva Zeisel’s Prison Memoir (A Public Space, issue 14) of being arrested in Stalinist Russia doesn’t do her charm and intellect justice. Just listen to this voice: “He put a number in front of my chest and I thought, This will make me look like those pictures of criminals one sees, Wanted for Murder. Then they took me to be fingerprinted, one finger rolled in the ink after the other, and again I thought, It’s like the movies. Again, we walked through many courtyards and the funny thing was that I did not see anybody. It was all empty. Finally, I was in my cell, and I still did not know what it was all about.”

4. Once upon a time, I was a professional archaeologist. Freelance survey and excavation work paid some of my bills my last year of college and my first couple of years out of school. I was waitlisted for a PhD to study caves with a famous spelunking archaeologist at Washington University and had determined if I didn’t get in I’d go a different route. By then I realized that archaeology and literature have more in common than people realize—and I love them for the same reasons. They are both, I believe, about our need to seek and excavate truth. But archaeologists, like many breeds of scientist, aren’t natural storytellers, and I am always glad when a writer happens upon archaeology and finds a way to explore the people and projects of a fascinating field. John Jeremiah Sullivan does this in his wonderful Paris Review essay, “Unnamed Caves” (purchase req.), and it’s now in his excellent collection, Pulphead. Go spelunking with him. Here’s a bonus: another favorite writer of mine, Elif Batuman, dug into Turkish archaeology in her essay, The Sanctuary” for The New Yorker (sub. required). She visits the world’s oldest temple and deftly unravels its history and mythology.

5. I would be lying by omission if I didn’t admit to reading a ton of celebrity dish in the tub. I think my favorite this year was “Lowe, Actually,” the excerpt in Vanity Fair of Rob Lowe’s memoir. I don’t really have a thing for Rob Lowe. Never have. (For instance, I loved West Wing but for the overuse of pancake makeup on Lowe’s face.) But I spent 6th grade idolizing S. E. Hinton for The Outsiders. And I was hooked again when I finally got to see the movie. So, yes, Rob Lowe had me at his mention of Ponyboy. Stay gold, y’all. 


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The Believer's Karolina Waclawiak: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Karolina Waclawiak is a novelist and screenwriter. She is also the deputy editor of The Believer. Her first novel, How To Get Into The Twin Palms, will be out July 2012 from Two Dollar Radio.


I’ve always been fascinated with religion, Russia, and missing persons stories so these five nonfiction pieces really captured my attention this year. The fallout from The New Yorker‘s Scientology piece turned out to be as compelling as the essay itself—and I had to put The New Yorker on here twice because the recent piece on Vladimir Putin is spectacular and continually evolving. Paul Collins’ piece on missing Barbara Follett was utterly haunting and Paul is a master of uncovering long-hidden mysteries. Everyone should check out all of his work, and I’m sure many have after reading that piece. And really, for the other two, who can turn away from secret cults and dead bodies found on beaches? Not me.

1. “The Civil Archipelago,” David Remnick, The New Yorker

2. “The Apostate,” Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker

3. “The Body on Somerton Beach,” Mike Dash, Smithsonian

4. “Inside ‘The Order,’ One Mormon Cult’s Secret Empire,” Jesse Hyde, Rolling Stone

5. “Vanishing Act,” Paul Collins, Lapham’s Quarterly


“Love in a Cold Climate,” Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair

Say what you will of Ms. Love, but she’ll always have a fan in me. 

“To Have and Have Not,” Matt Tyrnauer, Vanity Fair

I found myself endlessly quoting this piece on screen legend Lauren Bacall.

“Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76,” Paul Vitello, The New York Times

NY Times’ fascinating obituary of Loretta Young’s illegitimate daughter with Clark Gable, Judy Lewis.


See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

The Awl's Choire Sicha, Carrie Frye, Alex Balk: Our Top Longreads of 2011

(Left to right: Choire, Carrie, Alex)

Because there are three of us, we trilaterally decided to go for 15. But it’s not really five each; that becomes complicated, too, but… well, anyway, no matter how you cut it, surely at least one of us hated some of these stories. Also to be fair, this list, which is not in order, should really be called “The 15 Best Longreads That We Can Still Remember From 2011—What A Year, Am I Right, Oh Man, It’s December Somehow—After Extensive Googling and Mind-Nudging (Also Only Stories That We Didn’t Publish Ourselves, Because We Could Easily Cough Up 25 Longreads From Our Own Archives That Are Totally As Good Or Better And Also Have Better Gender Parity Probably But Anyway We Don’t Roll Self-Promotionally Like That).” FUN BONUS: Only three of the 15 best stories of the year (yes, sure, that we can remember) were in The New Yorker, so they are ranked in order. — Alex Balk, Carrie Frye, Choire Sicha of The Awl. (See their #longreads archive here.)


• James Meek, “In the Sorting Office,” London Review of Books

• Tess Lynch, “No Actor Parking,” n+1

• David Roth, “Our Pizzas, Ourselves”

• Paul Ford, “The Web Is A Customer Service Medium”

• Katie Baker, “The Confessions of a Former Adolescent Puck Tease,” Deadspin

• Emily Gould, “Our Graffiti”

• Jim Santel, “Living Out the Day: The Moviegoer Turns Fifty,” The Millions

• John Jeremiah Sullivan, A Rough Guide to Disney World, The New York Times Magazine

• Anna Holmes, “Spotlighting the work of women in the civil rights movement’s Freedom Rides,” Washington Post

• Michael Idov, “The Movie Set That Ate Itself,” GQ

• Evan Hughes, “Just Kids,” New York Magazine

• Tim Dickinson, “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich,” Rolling Stone


The year’s three best New Yorker stories, in order:

3. Keith Gessen, “Nowheresville: How Kazakhstan is building a glittering new capital from scratch” (sub. required)

2. David Grann, “A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy”

1. Kelefa Sanneh, “Where’s Earl? Word from the missing prodigy of a hip-hop group on the rise” (sub. required)


Paul Collins’ “Vanishing Act” (Lapham’s Quarterly), about Barbara Newhall Follett, was published in the last twelve months, but on December 18, 2010, so to avoid the problem of the year-end list that’s published before the end of the year, ahem, we include it here honorarily.

Longreads Best of 2011 e-book

Announcing: Our first-ever e-book!

Longreads: Best of 2011 includes seven of our favorite stories from the past year.

The e-book is a unique partnership with the writers and publishers—we want to help celebrate outstanding storytelling, and this is just another way for us to do it. Additionally, money from the ebook sales will be shared with the creators, and we’re excited to have them participating.

Longreads: Best of 2011 is available now and includes:

• “Travis the Menace,” by Dan P. Lee (New York magazine)

• “Vanishing Act,” by Paul Collins (Lapham’s Quarterly)

• “In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club,” by Molly Lambert (This Recording)

• “What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447,” by Jeff Wise (Popular Mechanics)

• “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon (New York Times)

• “The Girl from Trails End,” by Kathy Dobie (GQ)

• “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library,” by Maria Bustillos (The Awl)

Buy the e-book at Amazon

The Top 10 Longreads of 2011

I should preface this by saying I didn’t plan to do a list, because all of your Top 5 Longreads of 2011 really represent what the Longreads community is all about. But, in true WWIC form, I couldn’t resist. 

Thank you for an incredible year. Special thanks to the entire Longreads team: Joyce King Thomas, Kjell Reigstad, Hakan Bakkalbasi and Mike Dang. 

-Mark Armstrong, founder, Longreads

Support Longreads by supporting our partners:

Read It Later: Save your favorite stories for reading on the iPhone/iPad, Android or Kindle Fire.

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1. Travis the Menace

Dan P. Lee | New York Magazine | Jan. 24, 2011 | 24 minutes (6,096 words)

The heartbreaking, horrifying story of a chimp named Travis and the Connecticut couple that raised him like a son. Lee followed Travis’s path from local celebrity to fully grown (and violent) adult:

“Stamford’s animal-control officer was more concerned. After contacting primatologists, she spoke with Sandy, arguing that Travis was by now a fully sexualized adult (chimpanzees in the wild have sex, nonmonogamously, as often as 50 times a day); that he had the strength of at least five men; that adult chimpanzees are known to be unpredictable and potentially violent (which is why all chimp actors are prepubescent); and that maintaining Travis for the duration of his five- or six-decade lifetime was not viable. Sandy seemed to pay an open mind to the officer’s warning but ultimately concluded that Travis had never exhibited even the slightest capacity for violence.”

“Travis” was the first in a “tabloid-with-empathy” trilogy from Lee: He also brought humanity to the story of Anna Nicole Smith (“Paw Paw & Lady Love”) and wrote about Harold Camping, the elderly doomsayer who never quite got his apocalypse calendar right (“After the Rapture”). 

More Lee: “Body Snatchers” (Philadelphia Magazine, 2008)


2. Vanishing Act

Paul Collins | Lapham’s Quarterly | Dec. 17, 2010 | 15 minutes (3,837 words)

A child-prodigy author mysteriously disappears. Barbara Follett was 13 when her first novel, The House Without Windows, was published in 1927:

“Through the door could be heard furious clacking and carriage returns: the sound, in fact, of an eight-year-old girl writing her first novel.

“In 1923, typewriters were hardly a child’s plaything, but to those following the family of critic and editor Wilson Follett, it was a grand educational experiment. He’d already written of his daughter Barbara in Harper’s, describing a girl who by the age of three was consumed with letters and words. ‘She was always seeing A’s in the gables of houses and H’s in football goalposts,’ he recalled. One day she’d wandered into Wilson’s office and discovered his typewriter.

“‘Tell me a story about it,’ she demanded.

“This was Barbara’s way of asking for any explanation, and after he demonstrated the wondrous machine, she took to it fiercely. A typewriter, her parents realized, could unleash a torrential flow of thoughts from a gifted child who still lacked the coordination to write in pencil.”

This was from December 2010, but it came out after last year’s best-of list was published. It’s also on The Awl editors’ best-of-2011 listI still think about this story constantly.

More Collins: “The Molecatcher’s Daughter” (The Believer, 2006)


3. In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club

Molly Lambert | This Recording | Feb. 22, 2011 | 11 minutes (2,825 words)

A manifesto for the modern woman:

“‘What If I Love Being The Only Girl In The Boys Club?’ Megan Fox Syndrome, aka Wendy from Peter Pan. It is the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys’ club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman. If you refuse other women admission you are denying that other women are talented, which makes you just as bad as any boys’ club for thinking there would only be one talented girl at a time.

“You will never actually be part of the boys’ club, because you are a woman. You are Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas.’ You are not Italian, therefore you are never going to get made. And you don’t want to be a part of the boys’ club, because it is dedicated to preserving its own privilege at your expense. Why wouldn’t you want to know and endorse the work of other women who share your interests? How insecure are you?”

I can think of at least ten other personal essays that blew me away this year, but Lambert’s seemed to completely take over our conversations, online and off.

More from This Recording in 2011: “Where We All Will Be Received” (Nell Boeschenstein)


4. A Murder Foretold

David Grann | The New Yorker | March 28, 2011 | 57 minutes (14,318 words)

A political conspiracy in Guatemala and the murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who created a video predicting his own killing in 2009:

“Rosenberg told friends that his apartment was under surveillance, and that he was being followed. ‘Whenever he got into the car, he was looking over his shoulder,’ his son Eduardo recalled. From his apartment window, Rosenberg could look across the street and see an office where Gustavo Alejos, President Colom’s private secretary, often worked. Rosenberg told Mendizábal that Alejos had called him and warned him to stop investigating the Musas’ murders, or else the same thing might happen to him. Speaking to Musa’s business manager, Rosenberg said of the powerful people he was investigating, ‘They are going to kill me.’ He had a will drawn up.”

Obviously, with David Grann, it’s never so straightforward.

More from the New Yorker in 2011: Clarence Thomas, Michele Bachmann, a small-town pharmacist and a Jamaican drug lord


5. A Brevard Woman Disappeared, but Never Left Home

Michael Kruse | St. Petersburg Times | July 22, 2011 | 10 minutes (2,735 words)

A reporter retraces the last years of a woman who slipped away from society:

“Kathryn Norris moved to Florida in 1990. She was intelligent and driven, say those who knew her back in Ohio, but she could be difficult. She held grudges. She had been laid off from her civil service job, and her marriage of 14 years was over, and so she came looking for sunshine. She knew nobody. Using money from her small pension, she bought the Cherie Down townhouse, $84,900 new. It was a short walk to the sounds of the surf and just up A1A from souvenir stores selling trinkets with messages of PARADISE FOUND.

“She started a job making $32,000 a year as a buyer of space shuttle parts for a subcontractor for NASA. She went out on occasion with coworkers for cookouts or cocktails. She talked a lot about her ex-husband. She started having some trouble keeping up at the office and was diagnosed in December of 1990 as manic depressive.

“After the diagnosis, she made daily notes on index cards. She ate at Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s. Sometimes she did sit-ups and rode an exercise bike. She read the paper. She got the mail. She went to sleep at 8 p.m., 1:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m. Her heart raced.

“‘Dropped fork at lunch,’ she wrote.

“‘Felt depressed in evening and cried.’

“‘Noise outside at 4 a.m. sounded like a dog.'”

Once you finish this piece, read the annotated version of this story, in which Kruse breaks down exactly how he reported each fact from Kathryn Norris’s life. Incredible. 

More from the St. Petersburg Times in 2011: “Spectacle: The Lynching of Claude Neal” (Ben Montgomery)


6. What Really Happened Aboard Air France Flight 447

Jeff Wise | Popular Mechanics | Dec. 6, 2011 | 17 minutes (4,253 words)

A fatal human error, repeated over and over again, as the reader observes helplessly. Writer Jeff Wise uses pilot transcripts to deconstruct, conversation by conversation, wrong move by wrong move, how bad weather and miscommunication between the pilots in the cockpit doomed this Airbus 330, which plunged into the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people: 

02:11:21 (Robert) On a pourtant les moteurs! Qu’est-ce qui se passe bordel? Je ne comprends pas ce que se passe. (We still have the engines! What the hell is happening? I don’t understand what’s happening.)

“Unlike the control yokes of a Boeing jetliner, the side sticks on an Airbus are ‘asynchronous’—that is, they move independently. ‘If the person in the right seat is pulling back on the joystick, the person in the left seat doesn’t feel it,’ says Dr. David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ‘Their stick doesn’t move just because the other one does, unlike the old-fashioned mechanical systems like you find in small planes, where if you turn one, the [other] one turns the same way.’ Robert has no idea that, despite their conversation about descending, Bonin has continued to pull back on the side stick.

“The men are utterly failing to engage in an important process known as crew resource management, or CRM. They are failing, essentially, to cooperate. It is not clear to either one of them who is responsible for what, and who is doing what. This is a natural result of having two co-pilots flying the plane. ‘When you have a captain and a first officer in the cockpit, it’s clear who’s in charge,’ Nutter explains. ‘The captain has command authority. He’s legally responsible for the safety of the flight. When you put two first officers up front, it changes things. You don’t have the sort of traditional discipline imposed on the flight deck when you have a captain.'”

This, along with “Travis the Menace” and Wired’s “The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist,” was one of the most heart-stopping of the year.

See also: “The Unlikely Event” (Avi Steinberg, Paris Review)


7. Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World

Amy Harmon | The New York Times | Sept. 18, 2011 | 30 minutes (7,524 words)

A year in the life of an autistic teen moving into adulthood—a time when support systems can begin to fall away:

“Many autistic high school students are facing the adult world with elevated expectations of their own. Justin, who relied on a one-on-one aide in school, had by age 17 declared his intention to be a ‘famous animator-illustrator.’ He also dreamed of living in his own apartment, a goal he seemed especially devoted to when, say, his mother asked him to walk the dog.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment,’ he would say, reluctantly setting aside the notebook he spent hours filling with tiny, precise replicas of every known animated character.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment, too,’ his father, Briant, a pharmaceutical company executive, replied on hard days.

“Over the year that a New York Times reporter observed it, the transition program at Montclair High served as a kind of boot camp in community integration that might also be, for Justin, a last chance. Few such services are available after high school. And Justin was entitled to public education programs, by federal law, until only age 21.”

Harmon’s was one of several outstanding pieces this year on the subject of autism. Also see Steve Silberman on John Elder Robison, an author with Asperger syndrome.

More from Amy Harmon: “A Son of the Bayou, Torn Over Shrimping Life”


8. The Girl from Trails End

Kathy Dobie | GQ Magazine | Sept. 6, 2011 | 26 minutes (6,657 words)

Revisiting the Texas gang-rape story, and a reminder about protecting our youngest victims. Dobie spends time with the girl’s family and attempts to understand how some members of the community could jump to the defense of the 19 men and boys accused:

“While the gag order did silence the defendants and the officials, it didn’t come close to quieting the rumors and accusations, the ill-informed but passionate opinions, the confusion and muddy thinking that obscured what should’ve been a clear-cut case of statutory rape: An 11-year-old child cannot consent to having sex. But a deep misunderstanding of the law persisted—of why it exists and the morality it is meant to express, as did an even deeper ignorance of children’s brains and the true nature of vulnerability.

“The most confused of all were the young people of Cleveland, the vast majority of whom sided with the boys and men and blamed Regina [not her real name]. The peer pressure to take sides—if you can even call it that, for at times it seemed like a mob versus one girl, all alone—was immense. Even the kind ones, the ones who called themselves her friends, had decided against her. In a Facebook conversation, a 13-year-old who was a cousin of one of the defendants said that Regina was ‘like my best friend n i love her’ but went on to write that ‘she ask for them to do that to her i do not care becuss thats just gross n i will never do that…. she like a slut type of girl.’ At 13, this girl could no more grasp the susceptibility of an 11-year-old than an anorexic can see herself clearly in a mirror.”

Just one of many outstanding pieces from GQ this year, including “The Movie Set that Ate Itself,” essays from John Jeremiah Sullivan“Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph High School Basketball Scandal,” and a fun collection of oral histories.

More Dobie: “The Long Shadow of War” (Dec. 2007)


9. A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

Mona Simpson | The New York Times | Oct. 30, 2011 | 9 minutes (2,383 words)

The final moments, and unforgettable last words, of a technology visionary’s life:

“He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

“Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

“He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

“This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

“He seemed to be climbing.

“But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

“Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.”

Steve Jobs tributes poured in during October and November, including a touching tribute from veteran tech journalist Steven Levy. Some of the best reading came from Steve himself, with his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech.

See also: The Steve Jobs archive on Longreads


10. Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library

Maria Bustillos | The Awl | April 5, 2011 | 38 minutes (9,439 words)

The ultimate DFW fan goes on a road trip to see what was on his bookshelves and pore over the marginalia for clues about his life:

“One surprise was the number of popular self-help books in the collection, and the care and attention with which he read and reread them. I mean stuff of the best-sellingest, Oprah-level cheesiness and la-la reputation was to be found in Wallace’s library. Along with all the Wittgenstein, Husserl and Borges, he read John Bradshaw, Willard Beecher, Neil Fiore, Andrew Weil, M. Scott Peck and Alice Miller. Carefully.

“Much of Wallace’s work has to do with cutting himself back down to size, and in a larger sense, with the idea that cutting oneself back down to size is a good one, for anyone (q.v., the Kenyon College commencement speech, later published as This is Water). I left the Ransom Center wondering whether one of the most valuable parts of Wallace’s legacy might not be in persuading us to put John Bradshaw on the same level with Wittgenstein. And why not; both authors are human beings who set out to be of some use to their fellows. It can be argued, in fact, that getting rid of the whole idea of special gifts, of the exceptional, and of genius, is the most powerful current running through all of Wallace’s work.”

After this was published, Bustillos kept going. In 2011 she also dissected the work of the late Christopher Hitchens, as well as Wikipedia and Aaron Swartz, among other topics.

See more longreads from The Awl in 2011

Our Top 10 Longreads of 2011


Barbara Newhall Follett, the child prodigy who began her first book The House Without Windows at the age of 8, and the subject of Paul Collins’ essay “Vanishing Act.” 

“My dreams are going through their death flurries. I thought they were all safely buried, but sometimes they stir in their grave, making my heartstrings twinge. I mean no particular dream, you understand, but the whole radiant flock of them together — with their rainbow wings, iridescent, bright, soaring, glorious, sublime. They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money.”

Did you read this yet? 

Read This Over the Weekend: Vanishing Act

Read This Over the Weekend: Vanishing Act

McDreamy, McSteamy, and McConnell

Illustration by Jason Raish

Samuel Ashworth| Longreads | September 2019 | 13 minutes (3,389 words)


Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are nestled in one another’s arms, sweat glistening on their muscled chests. They kiss softly and tenderly. It’s the middle of the night in a hotel somewhere on the campaign trail, and they are in love.

“So, if you were an animal, which would you be?” asks Ted.

“Let me think,” says Marco. “A manatee.”

Welcome, friends, to the glorious world of congressional fan fiction. If you’ve always associated fan fiction with the kind of people who hand-sew their own Star Trek jumpsuits, think again. Since going online in the late ’90s, fan fiction — a fan-created spinoff (sometimes way, way off) of an already-existing pop culture presence — has exploded. Its protagonists range from fictional, like Han Solo, to real, like Ariana Grande or members of the British Parliament. Published stories, which can range from a few hundred words to a few hundred thousand, number in the tens of millions, and boast an immense readership. The genre also remains one of the few resolutely not-for-profit corners of the internet: Since the work often involves trademarked intellectual property, fair use rules forbid fanfic authors from making money off their writing, unless they change all recognizable details, as E.L. James did with her BDSM Twilight fanfic story, Fifty Shades of Grey. Stories about congress fall under the penumbra of “Real-person fiction,” which isn’t bound by copyright laws in the same way.
Read more…

‘I Surprise Myself With This Refusal To Let Go’: Kate Zambreno on the ‘Ghostly Correspondence’

Illustration Ver Sacrum, 1901, Number 4: "Duchess and Footboy" by Kolo Moser for the poem "Vorfruehling" (Early Spring) by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Imagno/Getty Image & Harper Perennial)

Tobias Carroll | Longreads | July 2019 | 14 minutes (3,601 words)


Since the 2009 publication of her first novel O Fallen Angel, Kate Zambreno has had one of the most fascinating careers in American letters. Her work has included harrowing explorations of alienation (Green Girl) and evocative forays into literary and cultural history (Heroines). The year 2019 has brought with it two new books from Zambreno: Appendix Project: Talks and Essays, an addendum to Book of Mutter, her 2017 collection of writing on grief; and Screen Tests: Stories and Other Writing, which places a series of short autobiographical fictions in the same volume as several longer works of nonfiction, mainly art and literary criticism. The bifurcated structure of Screen Tests hints at something profound and disorienting about the not-so-clear dividing line between narrative and reality: many of the short fictions, or “screen tests” à la Andy Warhol, in the book’s first half feature real people — Zambreno herself, as well as writers and artists ranging from Amal Clooney to Susan Sontag. The screen tests grapple with their subjects’ work while addressing questions of identity and community and continuity; the critical essays in the book’s second half seem to echo themes that emerged in the screen tests. That the lines between fiction and nonfiction are blurred here is precisely the point.

Zambreno’s work offers readers an intellectually rigorous experience alongside the thrill of discovery. She has several other books in the works which will also explore fiction and nonfiction in equal measure. Her next novel, Drifts, will be released in 2020, and she’s working on a book about writer and photographer Hervé Guibert, To Write as if Already Dead. Zambreno talked with me earlier this month about Screen Tests, the challenges and pleasures of writing about visual art, reading the same books over and over again, and satirizing her own role as a “minor author.” The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. Read more…