A new room in the maternity ward of Maine Medical Center. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Seventeen years ago, Nina Martin’s sister almost died in childbirth. “I remember the trauma of that experience really, really, really well,” recalled Martin. “The disorientation of it and then also, the silencing of it afterwards.”
Over the next several months, Martin and Montagne will release more stories about maternal care in America which will focus on a host of issues surrounding maternal mortality, including racial disparity in care and women with near misses. Every mother has her own story of birth, and all too often these stories go unnoticed, or are buried under platitudes that focus on the health of the baby. Together, Martin and Montagne want to move the conversation back to the mother, and ask why America is the only developed nation where maternal death rates are rising.
Longreads spoke to both journalists about the process of reporting the story, their passion behind the project, and the impact they hope it will have.
Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, during which members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed unarmed college students who were protesting the Vietnam War, after they burned down the campus’ Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) building. To mark the occasion, NPR has an excerpt of 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings , Philip Caputo’s 2005 book about covering the massacre as a 28-year-old reporter for The Chicago Tribune.
My first question was, “Where the hell is Kent State?” I had never heard of it. Informed of its location, I booked the next available flight to Cleveland, packed a bag, said goodbye to Jill and drove to O’Hare airport. During the hour-long flight, I read a wire-service story to bring myself up to date. Ohio’s governor, James A. Rhodes, had blamed the disturbances on “outside agitators.” I had learned to be skeptical about such claims, but was willing to set my skepticism aside. The burning of the ROTC building was right out of the Weather Underground’s handbook. Except for that – and it was no small exception – the protests appeared to be like those at Illinois. Maybe there was one other difference. Illinois Governor Ogilvie had taken pains to calm the situation at Champaign-Urbana. Gov. Rhodes adopted the combative approach. At a press conference on Sunday he’d compared the protestors to Nazi brown shirts, describing them as “the worst sort of people we harbor in America,” and promised to “use every weapon possible to eradicate the problem.” A bit of political grandstanding perhaps – Rhodes was then involved in a tough primary fight for the Republican Party’s senatorial nomination – but it struck me as an inflammatory statement.
My memory is patchy. I believe the shootings took place while I was flying to Cleveland and that the report I heard on my rented car’s radio was an update. My immediate reaction was the one you would expect: I was stunned.
Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t listened to S-Town. You can listen to the podcast on its website or on iTunes.
Pam Mandel: I finished S-Town about a week ago but I keep going back to replay the last two episodes because I feel like there’s something important in there I missed.
Sari Botton: I just finished it this morning and immediately called my husband to ask, “Did I miss something at the end?” I still have lots of questions. While I like that they didn’t artificially wrap it up, I kind of wish they would have acknowledged they weren’t going to.
Mark Armstrong: I should first admit I’m not a regular podcast listener, but I loved S-Town in a way that made me truly excited about the possibilities of audio documentary. There was an intimacy to it that I can’t imagine working as either a written magazine feature or filmed documentary. It was that intimacy that somehow still made the show deeply satisfying, even though NONE of my questions were answered at the end.
I read Alana Massey’s essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, with a pencil in hand. I read it behind the counter at work when it was quiet and customer-free. I read it in bed, long after my partner and cat had fallen asleep. I read it in Starbucks when I should’ve been writing but needed inspiration. Massey is a writer I’ve followed since I became interested in journalism. I admired her incisive blend of pop culture and literary criticism. I especially loved when she wrote about religion—Massey spent time at Yale Divinity School—because I went to a conservative Christian college and I was yearning to see how I could translate my weird, vaguely traumatic religious background into beautiful sentences. I bought her book as a reward for myself for meeting a writing deadline.
This reading list is partially inspired by Massey’s excellent writing about the way our society honors and rejects celebrated women—and also about society’s inclination, if not blatant desire, to know every little detail about our favorite celebrities and judge them according to our own arbitrary moral standards. (I’m not immune to this: I spent ten minutes in bed Googling potential paramours of one of my favorite YouTube stars, even though I know it’s none of my damn business.) Why do we feel like we own celebrities—not just their art or their products, but their images and their personal lives? What do celebrities owe us, if anything?
I mean, the solitude of being an immigrant, the solitude of having to learn a language and a culture from scrap, led me to the need for some sort of explanation, the need for answers, the need for something that would give me – that would in some ways shelter me, led me to books, man. I was trying – as a kid I was very, very curious, kind of smart, and I was trying to answer the question, first of all, what is the United States, and how do I get along in this culture, this strange place, better? And also, who am I and how did I get here? And the way I was doing it was through books, man. You know, I just – I found books – when they’d showed me the library when I was a kid, a light went off at me in every cell of my body. Books became the map with which I navigated this new world.
When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.
In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk”ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost”during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth. Read more…
This fall, Gross marks her 40th anniversary hosting “Fresh Air.” At 64, she is “the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet,” as Marc Maron said recently, while introducing an episode of his podcast, “WTF,” that featured a conversation with Gross. She’s deft on news and subtle on history, sixth-sensey in probing personal biography and expert at examining the intricacies of artistic process. She is acutely attuned to the twin pulls of disclosure and privacy. “You started writing memoirs before our culture got as confessional as it’s become, before the word ‘oversharing’ was coined,” Gross said to the writer Mary Karr last month. “So has that affected your standards of what is meant to be written about and what is meant to maintain silence about?” (“That’s such a smart question,” Karr responded. “Damn it, now I’m going to have to think.”)
Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.
Berkeley Breathed is responsible for one of the more delightful things to happen to my Facebook feed in some time: The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, who created “Bloom County” and characters like Opus the penguin, has revived his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus, posting new installments on his Facebook page.
In a new interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Breathed says he has author Harper Lee to thank for the decision. He was stunned when Lee’s supposed second novel was published earlier this year as Go Set a Watchman:
BERKELEY BREATHED: I watched slack-jawed in horror as they threw one of the 20th century’s most iconic fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, under the bus. At the time — and this was a couple of months ago — it made me think that there would have been no “Bloom County” without “Mockingbird” because I was 12 I read it, and the book’s fictional Southern small town of Maycomb had settled deep into my graphic imagination and informed it forever. If you look at any of my art for the past 30 years, there’s always a small-town flavor to it.
So this summer, just a couple months ago when “Go Set A Watchman” was causing an uproar, I went back to my files and I pulled an old fan letter from years ago. It says (reading), “Dear Mr. Breathed, this is a plea from a dotty old lady and from others not dotty at all. Please don’t shut down Opus. Can’t you at least give him a reprieve? Opus is simply the best comic strip there is and depriving him of life is murder – a hard word to describe an obliteration of your creation. But Opus is real. He lives. -Harper Lee, Monroeville, Ala.”
In fact, perhaps ironically, if you doubt for a moment that there is still a cultural class distinction between television and film or television and novels, look to the eagerness of people who are enthusiastic about television to compare it to film or novels. It’s the new cinema! It’s the new novel! Is TV better than movies? Are movies better than television? Is this show so lovingly made that it can be called … cinematic?
If you ask these questions, let me ask you these questions: Is an avocado better than a hammer? Is a fish better than a skateboard? Who cares? Things are different from each other. Ranking a television comedy against a television drama is bogus enough without dragging movies and books into it. And yet: here we are. Not because these distinctions are particularly well supported by evidence, but because they are expedient, and because they help people organize their cultural worlds – which is a very understandable impulse growing out of the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.
— NPR’s Linda Holmes, in one of a week-long series of essays on the state of television in 2015, on whether pooh-poohing television makes any sense in a changing digital media landscape.
To try to figure out what exactly that story is and why we still have it, we have to separate out the folk tale that is Cinderella, though, from the turn of phrase that is “Cinderella story.” Americans will call almost anything a Cinderella story that involves a good thing happening to someone nice. We slap that title on movies and books, but also on basketball games won by tiny schools full of scrawny nerds, small businesses that thrive and even political ascendancies that upend established powers.
The actual Cinderella tale, while a nebulous thing that can be hard to pin down with precision, is more than that. There’s very little that’s common to every variant of the story, but in general, you have a mistreated young woman, forced to do menial work, either cast out or unloved by her family. She has an opportunity to marry well and escape her situation, but she gets that chance only after being mistaken for a higher-status person, so she has to get the man who may marry her to recognize her in her low-status form, which often happens either via a shoe that fits or some kind of food that she prepares.