The People on Our Postage Stamps: A Reading List

Flannery O’Connor is going to be on a stamp! I’m going to actually mail those postcards I bought years ago. In my enthusiasm, I learned there have been almost 800 different folks on the U.S. stamp—authors, like O’Connor, but also blues singers, inventors, athletes and politicians. After much deliberation, I chose to feature five stamped individuals: an inventor, an entertainer, an activist, a journalist and a short story mastermind. Don’t worry, I linked to their stamps.

1. Buckminster Fuller: “Dymaxion Man.” (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, June 2008)

Buckminster Fuller wrote rambling manifestos and dreamed of cookie-cutter bathrooms and cars that flew. This inventor’s stamp is as strange and wonderful as his failed, fanciful inventions.

2. Selena: “Dreaming of Her.” (Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly, April 2010)

She was a folk hero with a voice of gold, murdered in the prime of her life. Selena ruled the Tejano music scene, inspiring millions of people and shattering records. With the help of her family, friends, mentors and collaborators, Texas Monthly compiled an oral history of Selena’s rise to fame in her honor. (Stamp: 2011)

3. Dorothea Dix: “The Life, Death, and Possible Resurrection of the Asylum.” (Harry Cheadle, VICE, April 2015)

Dorothea Dix was one of the first advocates for mental heathcare reform. As early as 1841, she objected to the mistreatment of the mentally ill in asylums and prisons. Can Dix’s dream of the asylum as oasis come to fruition in the 21st century? (Stamp: 1983)

4. Ethel L. Payne: “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press.” (James McGrath Morris, PopMatters, February 2015)

For Ethel Payne, journalism was love at first sight, and the Chicago Defender reciprocated. PopMatters presents an excerpt from a new biography of Ethel Payne, one of the finest female journalists of color of the 20th century. (Stamp: 2002)

5. Flannery O’Connor: “Both/And: Finding Grace in Flannery O’Connor.” (Molly McArdle, BK Mag, May 2015)

This essay by Molly McArdle made me grab for my own journal and start writing. McArdle reflects on her middle school Catholic confirmation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and Flannery O’Connor’s understanding of grace, fear and pain as seen in her remarkable prayer journal.


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When Blondes Go Wrong

After I found out about the Blonde Fury, I thought I’d better colour my hair again. I bought the dye at the same drugstore where I’d bought the pregnancy test, only this time its shelves were half vacant. There was an inventory girl with dark blueberry hair who stood in front of the selection with a clipboard. She had loaded all of the Blondissima and Super Blonde into a shopping cart, presumably to be trucked away into some back warehouse, out of customer eyesight. I reached out a finger and ran it along the remaining choices, as if touching the boxes would help me. When you get to know me, you’ll find out I have to touch everything to convince myself it’s real. I touch everything except people. Your father, an exception.

Brown Sugar, Toffee, Pecan, Cedar, Acorn, Walnut. In the cardboard panel on the boxes that showed the results, and on the dingy hair loops attached to the shelves below, they all looked the same shade.

“I went for the darkest,” the employee said. “Don’t take chances.”

—From Emily Schultz’s satirical novel The Blondes, a wild and smart look at cultural theory, gender roles, and societal expectations, against the backdrop of a curious and dangerous new rabies-like disease that only turns women with blonde hair into cold-blooded killers.

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A Hospital Chaplain Reflects on Poetry and Dying

A few weeks later, my friend sends me a copy of Dunn’s poem “A Coldness.” The speaker says about his sick brother, “From then on he was delusional, / the cancer making him / stupid, insistently so, and lost. / I wanted him to die. / And I wished his wife / would say A shame / instead of God’s will. Or if God / had such a will, Shame on Him.”

I’ve found the lines about cursing God, “Shame on Him,” to be true. My supervisor had told us—me and my fellow chaplain interns—that we might find it appropriate to tell a patient that it’s all right to be angry at God. It takes me a while to say this to someone because a lot of my patients believe that to question God is to curse her very nature. They believe it’s God’s will for them to suffer. Some refuse pain-alleviating medication because they believe God wills them to suffer like Christ. “Sometimes, God sucks,” I eventually tell one woman around midnight before she goes into surgery the next morning for a cancer.

Win Bassett, in an essay for Poetry magazine, on his summer working as a hospital chaplain.

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Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. Teachings

Win Bassett | Poetry Foundation | May 27, 2015 | 15 minutes (3,780 words)

On poetry and dying: Win Bassett reflects on a summer spent working as a hospital chaplain.

2. The Boy Who Burned Inside

Maria Cramer | Boston Globe | May 23, 2015 | 20 minutes (5,147 words)

The abuse started when Marco Flores was nine years old. When he was 17, he realized that there were other victims like him and decided it was up to him to put a stop to it.

3. Why the Press Is Wrong About Bernie Sanders

Steve Hendricks | Columbia Journalism Review | May 21, 2015 | 9 minutes (2,487 words)

Steve Hendricks looks at why the press loves to hate underdogs, and how their treatment of Bernie Sanders belies the fact that he just might have a shot.

4. The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever

Abraham Riesman | New York Magazine | May 25, 2015 | 23 minutes (5,950 words)

“Ultimate Marvel” was a modern, successful reboot of popular Marvel titles like “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” and the “The Avengers,”—the latter of which proved to be a box office smash after the series was loosely adapted for the big screen. But after a decade, it became a victim of its own success.

5. Who Killed Alberto Nisman?

Wyre Davies | BBC Magazine | May 28, 2015 | 14 minutes (3,600 words)

Days before he was due to release a report condemning the Argentine government, a high-profile prosecutor was found dead in his home. Was it murder or suicide?


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How the Modern Modeling Agency Came to Be

This was a precursor for what would become the protocol by which models were paid for the rest of the century, but as Natálie [Nickerson] put it to Eileen [Ford] in their late-night Barbizon conversations, the system was back to front. According to Eileen, Natálie told her, “Models were treated as if they worked for the agencies, instead of the agencies working for them. There was too much sink-or-swim. Models needed to know exactly where they had to be for a job, and what they were supposed to bring with them, and the big agencies were not efficient in making sure their girls knew even such simple things. There was no career planning, no special training or care, no help with hair or makeup—no real system at all.”

So the two women decided to work out a system together. Eileen would act as secretary and booker to Natálie and to another model, Inga Lindgren, a Swedish beauty with high-arching eyebrows and meticulously manicured nails. Each model would pay Eileen $65 per month for her secretarial assistance and for making phone bookings, while Natálie would act as a discreet publicist and drummer-up of business, quietly recommending the energy and efficiency of Eileen’s services to other models. “I realized,” Natálie explained to Michael Gross, “that for any new operation to be successful, they had to have at least one top girl, and I was the model of the moment.” Natálie beat the bushes well. Eileen started working for her and Lindgren in the fall of 1946, and by March of the following year Natálie’s word of mouth and Eileen’s proven efficiency had attracted the signing of seven additional successful models—high-flying women who were all fed up with how men were handling their business. Each newcomer paid Eileen a further $65 for her services, which took her monthly income to almost $600—some $7,000 per year.

Robert Lacey writing in Vanity Fair about the history of Ford Models. Started by a pair of newlyweds in post-World War II Manhattan, Ford Models quickly became one of the most powerful agencies in the business and helped “launch the era of the supermodel.” Lacey’s Vanity Fair piece is adapted from his forthcoming book, Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty.

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Heidi Julavits and the Democracy of the Diary

It just wasn’t that interesting to read the entries in chronological order, so I started to play around with different ways to arrange them, like dividing them up into categories like “Friends” and “Children” and “Weather” and … I don’t know, “Sweaters.” But all of those categories kept collapsing back into themselves. “Friends” and “Sweaters” belonged together, and so on. Eventually I had one big pile of entries again. The metaphor I’ve been using to describe my eventual assembly process is the “mix tape metaphor.”

— Heidi Julavits kept a meticulous diary as a child. In preparation for a new project, she returned to journaling, only to discover that the journal itself would be her project. LARB interviews Julavits about her book, The Folded Clock, the result of two years’ diary entries, “when my life counted as my job.”

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Why Are Cities Still Subsidizing For-Profit Development?

But at what point should cities make this decision to stop subsidizing for-profit development? And how do they know when enough is enough? That’s the question being asked in Kansas City and in cities around the nation as downtowns bounce back from years of abandonment only to find that developers still expect the aid they were receiving when downtowns were far less profitable places to be.

“Urban leaders still tend to overpay for development because they internalized low civic self-esteem bred by decades of being told they were too polluted, too dangerous, or too school-deficient to attract investment,” says Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, an organization that advocates for economic development policies that lead to better job opportunities for working families. “When the back-to-the-cities trend started taking root, albeit very unevenly, cities were so glad to finally land deals that they routinely overpaid, not having a solid grasp of the demographic and market forces they should have been channeling instead of subsidizing. It’s especially true for retail and entertainment projects, which generate very poor-quality jobs. I have yet to find a city that has figured out how to ‘take the foot off the pedal’ and stop over-subsidizing, even when gentrification becomes a problem.”

Sandy Smith writing for Next City about Kansas City’s KC Live development, and and why cities are still paying developers to build in their downtowns—despite the fact that many downtown areas have become profitable again.

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