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Our recent Longreads Member Pick by National Magazine Award winner Andrew Corsello from GQ is now free for everyone. Special thanks to our Longreads Members for helping bring these stories to you—if you’re not a member, join us here.
“My Body Stopped Speaking to Me,” is a personal story about Corsello’s near-death experience, first published in GQ in 1995.Read more…
Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher and Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. This week’s pick is “The Shady Lady,” by Danny Valdes, and it comes from Dartmouth College, where professor and bestselling author Jeff Sharlet worked with his class to create 40 Towns, a new literary journalism project.
“40 Towns is a new online magazine of literary journalism about the small towns along the Connecticut River in Vermont & New Hampshire. The writers are my students at Dartmouth College. 40 Towns grew out of my realization that every term at least one student—often more—writes a story I not only admire but actually envy, in the best sense. Work that’s just too good not to be published. I think that’s because young writers don’t know the formulas, and they don’t know what stories are ‘old’ or ‘too small’; so they make them new and life-size. The regional focus helps. Dartmouth students study overseas but they too rarely explore the reality of rural and postindustrial New England. So when they venture beyond the ‘Dartmouth bubble,’ they find themselves drawn away from imitation and towards the documentation of overlooked lives. If you take that impulse seriously, if you treat your students like the writers they’re becoming, they’ll write stories like those of 40 Towns—less polished but more vital and more exciting than much of what’s found in ‘real’ magazines.”
“A few years ago I set out to learn how New York’s reentry organizations help former prisoners navigate freedom. I talked to clients and staff and observed programs at nonprofit agencies with Pollyanna-ish names like STRIVE (Support and Training Results in Valuable Employees), CEO (Center for Employment Opportunities) and the Fortune Society. The Fortune Society is New York’s most prominent and comprehensive reentry agency. It offers substance abuse treatment to ex-offenders, as well as computer, cooking, fatherhood and ‘job readiness’ classes. Fortune, as it is commonly known, also runs a halfway house in West Harlem nicknamed the Castle. I clearly remember the first time I visited the Castle, its schist rock facade sparkling in the sun. With its miniature lookout towers, its arched windows and the bright crenellations that top some of its walls, the Castle resembled a Gothic bastion. One could easily imagine a muddy moat separating those who had committed serious transgressions—those who had been stigmatized and locked away for most of their lives—from the rest of the world.
“To shed light on the struggles of the 700,000 men and women who are released from U.S. prisons each year, I followed three residents of the Castle for several years. Angel Ramos, the protagonist of my book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison, spent 29 years in prison for strangling a young girl in an abandoned building in East Harlem and for trying to kill a co-worker. At the Castle, the 47-year-old befriended two older men, Bruce and Adam, who had also spent several decades locked up for murder. Over the course of more than two years Angel, Bruce, Adam and I spent a lot of time with each other. I accompanied Adam when he bought his first winter coat in 31 years and visited different ethnic restaurants and cafés with Bruce. I helped celebrate Angel’s ‘first’ birthday and was there when, on Halloween, the halfway house residents turned the Castle into a haunted house. Together, the men and I explored the neighborhoods of their youth. We talked about murder, remorse, shame, love, loss and prison. (Sooner or later our conversations inevitably returned to prison, where the men had spent most of their adult lives.)
“One of the most revealing experiences the men shared with me was their seemingly endless track through New York’s job readiness programs, a requirement to qualify for housing subsidies, welfare and the agencies’ employment referrals. This is what I saw.”
George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thronesseries is a crossover hit. However, there are still skeptics who view fantasy as children’s fables and tales exclusively for young adults—or you might just find GRRM’s enormous tomes a little intimidating.
Luckily, fantasy short stories offer us the depth of narrative we require and the fantastic elements we crave. Here is a collection of my favorite new and old gems, available online for free.Read more…
I first arrived in Libya at the end of February 2011, less than ten days after the uprising began when peaceful protests were attacked by Col. Qaddafi’s forces. I spent a few months there on that trip and witnessed the beginnings of the armed conflict and the NATO intervention and, accidentally, the inside of the Libyan prison system. In September of 2011 I returned to report on the final phases of the war and the eventual execution of Qaddafi by rebel forces.
Like nearly every journalist who covered the conflict, and over 90% of the Libyan population, I had spent all my time in Libya on the Mediterranean coast. When I returned in February 2012 for the one-year anniversary of the uprising, I was determined to see more: the vast southern deserts had always fascinated me with their promise of oil-fields, tribal peoples, camels and oases. That month an age-old friction between the Tubu and Zwaya ethnic groups broke out into open battle in Kufra, some hundred miles north of the Chadian border. Despite claiming around 100 lives, it got almost no media attention, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go south.
We—my Ukrainian colleague Vadim Naninets (whose photographs were in the piece), our driver and I—set out before the break of dawn to make the 620-mile drive south from Benghazi. Fully stocked with bread, cheese, dates, and many cigarettes and bottles of water for the trip, the only real concern we had was bandits on the road. Since fighting in the city had ended, and it was fully ‘liberated,’ under the control of anti-Qaddafi rebels, we didn’t worry about politics in town. That was our first mistake…
On arrival we were immediately taken to the military council headquarters, where the questioning started off fairly innocuously (‘where are you from,’ ‘what are you doing here?’). Within an hour or two we were being questioned separately, our answers transcribed. Local newspapers wrote of our detention, prompting anxious Facebook discussions and phone calls from the temporary consulate in Benghazi. Ten hours later we were released into the custody of the National Army, the Benghazi-based outfit which had come south to quell the battles.
I quickly understood that in the Sahelian region of Libya—where lighter-skinned Zwaya and darker-skinned Tubu live together—the revolution had a very different meaning from the straight politics of the coast. Pro- and anti-Qaddafi factions were largely based on ethnicity and the history of relations between each ethnic group and the onetime Leader.
The ride home was much swifter and livelier than the ride down: National Army gave us a night-time lift in a C-130. In flagrant violation of any extant aviation law, we rode in the cockpit (I took a turn in the pilot’s seat), each of the ten or so men in the flight crew chain-smoking and explaining what all the dials were for, and pointing to distant red flares burning in the darkness which marked locations of oil fields.
I was struck yet again by the unimaginable vastness of the deserts, and the sense that we can never fully know what goes on there.
Hilary Armstrong is a literature student at U.C. Santa Barbara and a Longreads intern. She also happens to love science fiction, so she put together a #longreads list for sci-fi newbies.
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Have you heard? Science fiction is “in”—nerds at the movies, nerds everywhere. This is thrilling if you are familiar with the genre, but what if you never got into sci-fi in the first place? Where would you start?
Since its inception (ha), speculative fiction has worked as social commentary, satire, and a creative answer to the question “What if?” Here are my personal picks to get you started.
A look at the symbiotic relationship between aliens and humans. If you’ve seen any horror movie featuring extraterrestrials, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but sci-fi stories like this one explore more “alien” ideas than the simple “monster from space” trope.
Chiang addresses PTSD, advancements in medical science, and the horror of not trusting your own mind. This story is probably one of the best “straight” sci-fi examples on this list—the clear “What if?” develops steadily, and pushes the reader along to its surprising conclusion. Entire novels have been written in this style—Max Barry’s Machine Man is my personal favorite.
I was in the middle of writing a second novel that would hopefully earn me a billion dollars in movie franchise royalties when my third kid was born. There were complications. I find that ‘complications’ is the universal euphemism for anything bad that happens during the birth and early life of an infant. It can mean anything, really: birth defects, mental illness, a lost limb, an ambulance driven into a tree, etc.
If you’ve ever experienced complications with a baby, you know that it immediately makes any other difficulty you’ve ever experienced in life seem harmless by comparison. Your life can be neatly separated into Before Complications and After Complications. They always say that having a kid changes you, but that’s a lie. It’s having a kid on the brink of dying that changes you.
So I had to table the novel for a bit and get this out of my system. I had to write about my third kid, and I had to write about my family as a whole, about this whole unit of people that needed to be strong enough to go through what we were about to go through. And that’s how Someone Could Get Hurt came to be. This is the first chapter.
It’s 2013—three long years since New York magazine asked “What was the hipster?”—and yet there are still people for whom Brooklyn means Bedford Avenue. It’s depressing that so played out a trope could displace, in the popular imagination, everything else that the borough is: more populated than Manhattan and three times as massive; a patchwork of neighborhoods, some of which, incredibly, aren’t Williamsburg or Park Slope; and a place whose history stretches as far back as the country’s.
A restorative for the trend piece du jour is Pete Hamill’s “Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative,” a New York magazine cover story from 1969. It’s an oldie but goodie, a look at the borough’s bounce back from what Hamill sees as its postwar (and post-Dodgers) decline. As a snapshot of an evolving Brooklyn from decades ago, the story’s a fascinating read today. And Hamill’s wide-angle view of the borough’s complexities, as well as his celebration of its energy and diversity, still rings true.
There’s a story many Brooklynites tell in which the moment of their arrival in a neighborhood coincides with the last breath of its “authentic” life. Those who came after, this story goes, never knew the “real” neighborhood. They missed the junkies who hung out on the stoops down the block, the bodega on the corner that sold 40s, the drop ceilings and vinyl siding and linoleum. It’s a seductive story, to hear and to tell. But it’s also a destructive story—really a myth—that valorizes an arbitrary authenticity at the expense of a more complex understanding of the place we call home. What is the “real” Brooklyn—what is the “real” anywhere?
If you’re interested in interrogating that question, I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gumport’s 2011 essay “Gentrified Fiction,” which explores the fixation on authenticity in contemporary literature about Brooklyn.