How do you keep going back and back and back in conditions that are really awful? It’s the people that keep you going back; it’s these deep engagements with these people that you’re learning a great deal from. … It really is a respect and a love for these people that has nothing to do with your own virtue. It has to do with their claim on your heart. Then the trick is how do you get that onto the page so that people in New York, 8,000 miles away from their community, will be able to engage with their dilemmas?
"This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the ’20s and ’30s. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on." John Jeremiah Sullivan investigates more mysterious musicians in The New York Times Magazine. Bonus: You can listen to their music as you read. For more of Sullivan’s music journalism, read his piece on the origins of ska.
Just as an artist needs to identify his light source before beginning a painting, a writer looks for a narrative power source — what sets the story in motion, or what obstructs it. Perhaps no writer is as concerned with the minutiae of power and motivation, its shifts and upheavals, as a journalist — someone who has covered politics, wars, and uprisings here and abroad. Not to mention a journalist who was successful in his field for years, who always met his deadlines and word counts, and who ultimately decided to leave the profession entirely in order write his own truths.
Who invented ska music? John Jeremiah Sullivan traces the history of the genre in his latest essay for The Oxford American. “The more the claims for Rosco Gordon’s supremacy as a ska progenitor seem not out of proportion, and the less crazy it feels to say that, in a sense, ska was born in Tennessee.” Pair with: Sullivan’s essay on Bunny Wailer, who makes a cameo in his ska essay.
At a refugee community in Onagawa, an old neighbour would appear in the living rooms of the temporary houses, and sit down for a cup of tea with their startled occupants. No one had the heart to tell her that she was dead; the cushion on which she had sat was wet with seawater.
Ever since Pulphead, we can’t get enough of John Jeremiah Sullivan, so we’re happy to hear he’s at work on his next book, The Prime Minister of Paradise. Sullivan will tell the story of Christian Priber, a German American who tried to establish a utopia in 18th century South Carolina. “This man, he really represented the height of the enlightenment at the time,” Sullivan said during a recent interview at Notre Dame. No word on an official release date yet, but it’s already being optioned for film by Scott Rudin.
How often do journalists unfairly stereotype the Rust Belt? All the time, says Jim Russell. In a piece for Pacific Standard, he argues that much of the reporting on Dayton, Flint and other industrial towns falls prey to hyperbole and generalization. (Related: Darryl Campbell on the recession and Rust Belt fiction.)
He threw his head back, finished his Scotch, then asked the stewardess for another. Peter O’Toole was sitting in an airplane that one hour before had left London, where he has long lived in exile, and was flying to Ireland, his birthplace. The plane was filled with businessmen and rosy-cheeked Irishwomen, and also a scattering of priests, one of whom held a cigarette in what seemed to be a long, thin pair of wire tweezers—presumably so he would not touch tobacco with fingers that would later hold the Sacrament.
The New York Public Library just acquired Tom Wolfe’s archives for $2.15 million. They include 190 boxes of drafts, outlines, and research for his articles and books as well as 10,000 letters from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese. But the library missed the opportunity to get one of his famous white suits because as Wolfe said, “Those are the things I really can’t part with.” Here’s one of our favorite Wolfe essays, “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s.”