Looking back at this week’s posts, I was struck by the similarities between two of the writers we spotlighted. Ida B. Wells was a brave, pioneering investigative journalist who fought for women’s rights and campaigned against lynching. Born a century later, the writer Roxane Gay is also brave, challenging people’s prejudices about large woman and taking on her trolls. Hurrah for these fearless women.
Anna Padnani on The New York Times’ “Overlooked” obituaries. It was the initiative everyone was talking about: The Times righting an old wrong and giving some amazing women long-overdue obituaries. (I mean, really: Ida B. Wells? Sylvia Plath? Charlotte Bronte?) Contributor Julie Schwietert Collazo talked to the editor behind the project, who says she’s been “blown away” by the response. Padnani explained that in the wake of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, she, a woman of color, wondered how she could “advance the conversation” about injustice, discrimination and inequality in a meaningful way. An answer came to her while researching a woman in the tennis world; that answer snowballed into the idea for an entire series that would touch multiple segments of The Times.
The soundtrack: “It’s About Time,” by the Lemonheads. To paraphrase one of the band’s album titles, it’s a shame about the Lemonheads. The album this song is on is near-perfection on the pure pop front. And I love this lyric, “Patience is like bread I say/I ran out of that yesterday.”
One Great Sentence
“I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said.”
Ida B. Wells, pioneering investigative journalist. Read why we think it’s great.
The Power of Narrative conference captures the #MeToo zeitgeist. Judging from the line-up at last weekend’s gathering at Boston University, it seemed like the male-directed conference was trying to meet the issues of women, and women of color, head on. The writer Roxane Gay charged straight into uncomfortable territory, contributor Julia Shipley writes, saying that the subject of her acclaimed memoir, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” fell squarely into the category of “What do I want to write about least?” In it, she disclosed things she “needed to say, but couldn’t say” for so many years — including her childhood rape.
The soundtrack: “Wake Up,” by Alanis Morissette. I had to go with a song on an album, “Jagged Little Pill,” that’s one of the purest examples of female rage on vinyl. “There’s an apprehensive naked little trembling boy/With his head in his hands/And there’s an underestimated and impatient little girl/Raising her hand.”
What I’m reading online: An Undying Mystery, by Deanna Pan and Jennifer Berry Hawes. Bravo to the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., for picking up the serial journalism baton. And wow, they picked a great topic, about a black boy executed for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit. This description of the execution will stay with me for a long time: “The executioner pulled the switch then, and inmate No. 260 convulsed with 2,400 volts of electricity. The death mask covering his head slipped off his face. His eyes were open. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Saliva foamed around his mouth. A shot of 1,400 volts followed. Then another 500 volts coursed through his slight frame.”
The Boy Who Lived on Edges, by Christopher Solomon. I’m a big fan of Outside magazine’s longform work, and Solomon’s stories are always worth a read. This is one of his best, about an extreme skier who died in an avalanche. Solomon gracefully unspools the story of a young man caught in a spiral of mental disease, until finally we, like those who knew him, wonder: Was it an accident, or suicide?
What’s on my bedside table: “Man Overboard,” by Monica Dickens. My favorite publisher, Persephone Books, loves Monica Dickens. I’d never heard of her before I read one of their reissues of her work. She’s Charles Dickens’ great-granddaughter, and has such a nice style. This opening to the book is pretty great (especially the bit about how she smiles): “‘ I am like Mark Twain,’ Ben said. ‘I give up smoking every morning.’ He took a cigarette from the case she held out to him.’ Rose smiled in a photographic way, because a man at the other end of the bar was looking at her. ‘It seems so sill to make good resoulutions you don’t mean to keep,’ she said, in a voice that did not match the smile.”
What’s on my turntable: “High Priestess of Soul,” by Nina Simone. Talk about fierce women of color! Can anyone top Nina Simone? And the first song on the album fits the mood of this week’s posts: “Don’t You Pay Them No Mind.” And this sentence in the liner notes has a great echo to the talk that Roxane Gay gave at the Power of Narrative conference: “Nina Simone does not seek the easy way.”
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.