I first discovered the Oklahoma-based magazine This Land on Twitter through an extraordinary story by Kiera Feldman about a sexual abuse scandal and cover-up at a Tulsa Christian school. Longreads later named “Grace in Broken Arrow” one of the best stories of 2012.
This Land Press, which was founded in 2010 with a seven-figure investment by publisher Vincent LoVoi and editorial leadership from Michael Mason, announced last week it was halting its print operations. CJR called it “one of the most audacious local news experiments of the past decade.” To me, the magazine represented everything that I ever wanted to help celebrate through Longreads: Outstanding reporting from a specific place, with storytelling that resonates around the world. (I grew up nowhere near Tulsa, but I often saw shades of my own hometown, Fresno, California, in the perspectives that This Land shared.)
We continued a long relationship with Michael and This Land, partnering with them on stories, and even hosting a late 2014 celebration of Oklahoma writing in, of all places, New York City. I still remember standing in the back of the room at Housing Works Bookstore as Michael was speaking onstage when a familiar silhouette walked up to me. It was David Carr, sneaking in to give his blessings on the festivities, only a few weeks before he died. I shook his hand, thanked him for coming, and he told me that he’d been a fan ever since A.O. Scott bought him a This Land T-shirt. It was the last time I got to thank Carr, who had done so much for media entrepreneurs everywhere.
The end of the print edition of This Land isn’t a failure. It wisely used its seven years to reinvent the scope and status of local journalism, as well as to inspire the next generation of storytellers. Michael Mayer, in his eulogy for the magazine in CJR, writes that This Land
laid bare the emotional content of what it’s like to live in a place. This is why it resonated with me, despite my lack of an Oklahoma connection.
I grew up in an oil town bordering the Navajo Reservation in northwest New Mexico—a place that had its own version of Tulsa’s complicated relationship to race, class, religion, and environment. Like the vast majority of the country, my community had no way of telling its own story with any depth. It wasn’t until I encountered This Land that I realized the possibility that homegrown media might play a role in giving people a deeper sense of the place they inhabit. We had a newspaper, but we didn’t have stories. Most culture of value was shipped to us from the coasts, so that’s where I shipped myself when I decided to become a journalist. A critical piece of This Land’s legacy so far is its effort to convince a generation of young writers and artists that they are needed on the home front.
I am thrilled that Mason’s work will continue through retail stores, documentary films, and other projects, but This Land‘s feature writing deserves a long afterlife. Here is a brief reading list with some of notable stories from This Land (see all of our past picks here), as well as selections from our evening at Housing Works.
1. “Grace in Broken Arrow,” by Kiera Feldman (May 2012)
Young boys were leaving Grace Fellowship Christian School over the past few years, and no one knew why. One boy moved a full 1200 miles away. He still skateboarded with friends and did normal kid stuff, but he was having horrible nightmares and failing classes, unable to contain his inexplicable fury at teachers. At one point, he told his mother he couldn’t stand how he felt and no longer wished to live. But Grace’s leaders would not know or would not admit such things about their flock until much later.
2. “The Making of Miss Hornet,” by John Waldron (February 2012)
“Hi, my name is Fareedah Shayeb, also known as the girl in the scarf or as Ms. Asad-Pratt’s daughter, and I just want to start out by saying thank you so much for nominating me for Miss Hornet! I am going to start by explaining what I think Miss Hornet represents, then the good stuff will come later…”
3. “A Stiller Ground,” by Gordon Grice (November 2013)
At the hospital the day Abby was born, a nurse handed me a booklet about being the parent of a dead child. What’s the cost of a funeral for a newborn? Can you take a tax deduction? What should you name a dead child? Is it OK to build the coffin yourself? The booklet plainly answered such questions. It was my introduction to a realm of knowledge I had never known existed.
4. “Among the Tribe of the Wannabes,” by Russell Cobb (August 2014)
We are among the tribe of the Wannabes: non-Native Americans who insist on claiming Indian heritage. Why do Wannabes appropriate, fabricate, and invent a Native identity? Is it for pure financial gain? Is it part of a colonialist project to speak for the Other? College admissions? A highly subjective existential crisis? Examining the motives of the Wannabes is a fraught subject, one where good intentions rub up against old racist habits and where narrative embroidery easily morphs into self-delusion. It’s where the personal is political and politics get personal.
5. “This Is My Beloved Son,” by Kiera Feldman (October 2014)
“Success without a successor is failure,” Oral often said. He dreamed that his brilliant first-born son, Ronnie, would succeed him. Yet, Ronnie refused the mantle, unwilling to play a role in the succession drama into which he’d been born. The eldest child, Rebecca, and the youngest, Roberta, were not considered suitable heirs: Only the sons would carry on the family name. It was Roberta alone among the Roberts children who was enchanted with the mythology of her father, the faith healer, and it was Roberta, a deeply studious child, who so loved the namesake school he built in South Tulsa, near the Arkansas River. But the house that Oral Roberts built had no room for daughters.
(Read our interview with Kiera about both “This is My Beloved Son” and “Grace in Broken Arrow.”)