Tag Archives: Maria Bustillos

Derivative Sport: The Journalistic Legacy of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace in New York City's East Village, circa 2002. (Janette Beckman/Redferns)

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…

STAT: My Daughter’s MS Diagnosis and the Question My Doctors Couldn’t Answer

"Nearly 24 years later and still just that crazy about my kid." Photos courtesy of the author.

Maria Bustillos | Longreads | September 2016 | 40 minutes (10,049 words)



In the first days of 2014, in her senior year at Oberlin and just a few days before the winter term she’d arranged to spend in France, my daughter Carmen’s legs went numb. First her feet got all tingly, then her ankles, calves, and knees. Over three days or so, the numbness crept up to the base of her rib cage, and then stopped. But it didn’t go away—a weird sensation all in her skin, almost as if the whole lower half of her body had been anesthetized. Shingles, the internist told us—really?—okay. The acupuncturist, too, told us he’d been seeing anomalous cases of shingles cropping up in younger people. Carmen seemed to get a little better, and off she went to Paris; the tingling and numbness subsided slowly over the next several weeks, just as we’d been told they would, and the episode faded from memory. But about a year later, they came back again: Not shingles, after all.

Carmen in a hospital bed, uncharacteristically quiet and gloomy, the dark jungle of her curls against slick, plasticky polyester pillowcases. IV steroids, and more and more tests. Legs pretty numb, still. From pregnancy onward, I imagine, most parents harbor a cold little drop of inward fear, even as each day passes peaceful and undisturbed, through birth and babyhood and all the playdates and sleepovers and math tests, rock shows and summer vacations; at any moment, perhaps, from out of nowhere, comes the pounce. Here it is, then. Multiple sclerosis: I didn’t know anything about it really, beyond calamity, wheelchairs, and Annette Funicello. Instant by instant I composed my face and steeled myself as best I could for… what?

For every cliché in the world, naturally. A soul-wracked family, just like the ones you’ll see every day on the Lifetime Channel and the evening news; a brave young person, scared and in trouble; you register a fleeting hope that things will work out for them, in fact or fiction, as you flick to the next station. Now it’s your turn, but you won’t be changing the channel. Can this thing be treated? What is it? How do I discover how bad this will get? Or maybe let me just jump out this motherfucking window this minute, because I’m going to die of the panic alone.   Read more…

Friendship Is Complicated

Illustration by Pat Barrett

Maria Bustillos | Longreads | January 2015 | 15 minutes (3,706 words)

Read more…

Video Games and Their Potential for Storytelling

At The Awl, Maria Bustillos talks to Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward about the magic behind his wildly popular cartoon series that’s beloved by both children and adults. Here, Ward talks about his love of video games and their potential for storytelling:

Oh man, the intensely emotional storytelling in games like ‘Gone Home’… it’s through the roof! The wild goosebumps I experienced after ‘Gone Home,’ I felt like I was in the body of a different person… a VERY different person haha! I don’t want to spoil it, but it was wild to feel so intimately connected with the character in that game. Movies and books transport you to a place where you’re along for the ride, games make you drive the thing forward. That’s especially true in scary games, because instead of shouting “Don’t go in that room!” …you’re the one taking the steps forward towards that room. It’s huge. I think games are a thing you can’t fully appreciate until you play them.

I’ve been to game conventions where games are being projected on screens all around you, they all look nice and it’s fun to see how visually appealing they are… but unless you wait in line and play them… you’ll leave there without knowing how they can pull so many good feelings out of yah. But for emotional storytelling in games, Gone Home is the front runner at the moment…. There’s plenty of games play on moral decision making… in ‘Red Dead Redemption,’ a hermit sent me on a quest to decimate the wild Bigfoots who were terrorizing him. I sought out and killed all of the Bigfoots…. I killed them from a distance, they never attacked me. Then I found the final Bigfoot who was sitting by a tree and crying… he told me that I had murdered his ENTIRE FAMILY!!! I still feel HORRRRRIBLE ABOUT IT! He wanted me to SHOOT HIM because he no longer WANTED TO LIVE! It was miserable!!!

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Our latest Exclusive comes from writer and Longreads Member Maria Bustillos, whose own work has been featured on Longreads in the past. She’s chosen Chapter 8 from Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Becker’s 1975 book Escape from Evil. See it here.

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