Scaramucci’s Removal Evokes White House Turmoil During the Reagan Years

The first nine days of Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as the White House’s director of communications was a combination of bluster, bullying, and charm mixed with a bit of crazy. But, then again, that’s the sort of recipe favored by Donald Trump, a president who acts with impetuosity and has little time for strategy.

In the end, Scaramucci was too much even for Trump, and on the tenth day, the former hedge fund executive found himself amongst a long list of White House staffers suddenly on the outs with the president: Citing a wish to give new chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate, Scaramucci stepped down (or was removed, depending on your interpretation of reports) from his position. It’s a week Scaramucci will likely ponder over and over again in the coming months:

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Scaramucci’s brief White House stay also set an (unofficial) record for shortest tenure for a communications director, besting the previous mark of eleven days set by John Koehler in 1987. Though Ronald Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, thoroughly thrashing Walter Mondale, the end of his second administration was beset by staff upheaval and intense intra-cabinet bickering and back stabbing. Sound familiar?

Reagan had appointed Treasury Secretary Don Regan as his chief of staff in 1985, setting off two years of feuding between Regan and First Lady Nancy Reagan; in his 1988 memoir, Regan portrayed Mrs. Reagan as a puppet master who heavily relied on an astrologer to help guide and influence decision and American policy. Coupled with the Iran-Contra scandal, the executive branch of government seemed paralyzed. Perhaps the most illuminating example of the administration’s disarray during the last 24 months of the 40th president’s time in office was the appointment of Koehler as the new comm director, replacing Pat Buchanan, who resigned in January 1987 (and had his own issues with Regan and was mulling a run for president in 1988).

Mrs. Reagan was Koehler’s advocate within the administration. Largely on the advice of  Charles Wick, head of the US Information Agency, Mrs. Reagan felt Koehler, a German immigrant who served as interpreter for the U.S. Army in World War II and former managing director of the AP’s world services, could best shape the president’s message, and rushed through his appointment. “It was done quickly and without running the usual traps,” a White House official told the Washington Post at the time, which is why no one discovered that Koehler, as a 10-year-old, had served for six mouths in a Nazi youth group in Germany known as Jungvolk.

Regan wasn’t consulted before Koehler was brought aboard, and since Koehler didn’t list his participation in the youth group “on his resume,” the chief of staff said the West Wing had no way of knowing his past activities. Sensing a much-needed opening to possibly decrease the First Lady’s influence, Regan immediately shifted blame to the East Wing—aka Mrs. Reagan—for the hiring. Meanwhile, Koehler reportedly couldn’t understand the uproar: growing up in Dresden, Koehler said his participation was “almost mandatory” and that he left Jungvolk because “[he] was bored.” And, in a bizarre deflection, he told the Los Angeles Times that both his first and second wives were Jewish, adding, “What does that make me? A Zionist or a member of the Stern gang?”

Asked whether his appointment was in jeopardy, he said it would be a “black day in journalism” if he was ousted. And yet, in early March 1987, 11 days after being named the new communications director (and five days after he officially began the job), he was asked to effectively resign, following Regan out the door, who the president had ousted the previous week before (the coincidences are quite eerie). Unsurprisingly, Dutch sided with his wife, telling Regan, “[Nancy is] being blamed for Koehler and she’s seen unfairly.”

Trump consistently refers to the Reagan years as a golden period in American history, that he wants to make America great again like it was in the 1980s. Certainly, the events of this past week show how the 45th president is following in Reagan’s footsteps, though it may not be the path Trump thought he would encounter just seven months into his administration.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/31/scaramuccis-removal-evokes-white-house-turmoil-during-the-reagan-years/

Why Fiction Haunts Us: Pulitzer Prize Winner Viet Thanh Nguyen on His Ghosts

In a profile at New Republic, Josephine Livingstone talks with Viet Thanh Nguyen about the ghosts that inhabit his life, his writing, and his birthplace in Vietnam. Nguyen’s book, The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The ghost is an apt figure for the war that is fought a second time. It is a metonym for the memory of a living person, as well as the vocalizing embodiment of death itself. The ghost is a kind of walking death-in-life principle. “I don’t think I have ever seen a ghost,” Nguyen told me. “But I do know people who have.” He believes in them “as a figurative sign of haunting, given everything that [he] experienced growing up in the Vietnamese refugee community.” Back in Vietnam, Nguyen explained, “I had an adopted sister that we left behind.” He only knew her by a black and white picture that belonged to his parents. “So I grew up literally knowing there was a missing person in the family, and not really understanding why. That is a kind of a haunting.”

In a way, the novelist’s role in the culture is similar to a ghost’s within a family. A work of fiction haunts us: It watches over the shoulder, inspires memories, encourages reflection. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s books are almost overwhelming in their capacious embrace of a war that was so very, very big. But Nguyen’s career is evidence that patience and memory are intertwined parts of the brain. Sometimes a writer must wait and remember, until the voice of memory emerges. Then, like a ghost, it can never die.

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/31/why-fiction-haunts-us-pulitzer-prize-winner-viet-thanh-nguyen-on-his-ghosts/

‘You Wouldn’t Think the Ashes of a Man Would Be So Heavy’: Remembering Sam Shepard

Broadway World reports today that Oscar-nominated actor and Pulitzer-winning playwright Sam Shepard has died at 73 of complications from ALS, AKA Lou Gherig’s disease.

In recent years, Shepard was best known as an actor, in the last few years appearing as the Rayburn family patriarch in the Netflix drama Bloodline. But he was a prolific, ground-breaking playwright, and a key player in the Off-Broadway movement of the ’60s and ’70s. According to The New York Times, Shepard won a Pulitzer in 1979 for The Curse of the Starving Class, and received nominations for two others, True West, and Fool for Love.

His work examined toxic masculinity at a time when that was rare. The son of an alcoholic farmer, he explored male aggression as it is often passed down from fathers to sons. In 2010, critic John Lahr touched on this in a profile of Shepard in The New Yorker, as part of a review of Ages of the Moon, Shepard’s most recent play at the time — his 40th of 42 — which was being staged at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan.

Shepard attributes part of his father’s downfall to postwar trauma. “My dad came from an extremely rural farm community … and the next thing he knows he’s flying B-24s over the South Pacific, over Romania, dropping bombs and killing people he couldn’t even see,” he said. “These men returned from this heroic victory … and were devastated in some basic way … that’s mysterious still… . The medicine was booze.” The booze often led to abuse. “Those Midwestern women of the forties suffered an incredible psychological assault,” Shepard recalled. “While growing up, I saw that assault over and over again, and not only in my own family.” In 1984, Rogers was hit by a car, after a drunken quarrel with a girlfriend in a New Mexico bar. “You either die like a dog or you die like a man. And if you die like a dog you just go back to dust,” Shepard, who had his father cremated, said later. After the ceremony, Shepard picked up the leather container holding the ashes. “It was so heavy,” he said. “You wouldn’t think the ashes of a man would be so heavy.”

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/31/you-wouldnt-think-the-ashes-of-a-man-would-be-so-heavy-remembering-sam-shepard/

The Gossip Columnist Who Became the News

“If you were a woman and wrote about politics and D.C., you were a Washington gossip. If you were a man, you were a columnist,” explained Rona Barrett, the television presenter and celebrity gossip royalty of the 1970s and ’80s, in an interview with BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen last year. Gossip—he said, she said, who was there, who was he with, what did they talk about—is the official currency of the Trump Administration, and any reporter who thinks they are above it is going to lose the newspaper war.

The women who became the great gossip columnists of the late twentieth century knew they weren’t above it—a reporter merely reported what their sources told them, a gossip columnist psychoanalyzed them.

In a new profile of Liz Smith at The New York Times, the 94-year-old grand dame of gossip discusses her early education as a journalist. To be a woman, and to want desperately to be a reporter, meant you had to enter the game and almost immediately break the rules.

She had studied journalism at the University of Texas and wanted to be taken seriously, like the news reporters she admired. When she landed assignments for the first issues of New York magazine, which published the so-called New Journalism of writers like Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, she thought about following their path. “I was still at their feet, slathering over them,” she said. Then she discovered that she could not make a living at it. Celebrities, on the other hand, paid the bills. Like the stars she wrote about, she did what was necessary to get ahead.

“I needed access to people,” she said. “And you’re not supposed to seek access. You’re just supposed to be pure and you go to the person you’re writing about and you write the truth. Nobody can do it totally.”

“But everybody gives up something to be able to do a job, a demanding job,” she added. “And being a reporter is a demanding, dangerous job. It may be glamorous or put you in harm’s way. I gave up being considered ethical and acceptable, for a while.”

Seeking access meant not only getting celebrities to talk to her, but also getting them to like her. (“We need someone who actually likes celebrities,” says Michael Musto, then the gossip columnist at the Village Voice. “We knock everyone down, and then she builds them back up.”) Smith’s friendship with Ivana Trump—and her coverage of the Trump’s high-profile divorce—led to scoops that looked less like column fodder and more like front page news.

Ms. Smith especially befriended Ivana Trump, who she thought was being unfairly shunned by high society. When the Trump marriage soured in February 1990, Ms. Smith chose sides cannily.

“I was horrified at the way he treated her, and I made the mistake of defending her,” she said. “This is always fatal for your aspirations to be taken seriously as a reporter. But I had no choice. I had to be nice to them for a while to get access to them. I didn’t particularly approve of them, I didn’t like or dislike them. And I met his whole family and they were charming. So I was swept up in the scandal of Ivana wanting a decent settlement from Donald. And I became a featured player in the story, which I came to regret…”

As Ivana Trump’s confidante, Ms. Smith channeled details of a divorce that filled not just the tabloids, but also the networks and the covers of Time and Newsweek. As the former gossip columnist Jeannette Walls noted in her 2000 book “Dish: How Gossip Became the News and the News Became Just Another Show”: “A lot happened in the world that week. The Berlin Wall was toppled and Germany was reunited. Drexel Burnham Lambert, the wildly powerful junk bond company that spearheaded the 1980s financial boom, collapsed. And after 27 years in prison, South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela was freed. But for 11 straight days, the front pages of the tabs were devoted to the Trump Divorce.”

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/31/the-gossip-columnist-who-became-the-news/

The Boy With the Coin-Filled Cellophane Cigarette Wrapper, and Me

Amber Leventry | Longreads | July 2017 | 12 minutes (3,016 words)

I entered my daughter’s kindergarten classroom and walked behind her with enough distance to accommodate the swinging of her backpack and the unpredictable steps taken by a five-year-old wearing wet snow boots on a linoleum floor. We squeezed through the door and by her classmates who, with barely combed hair and missing baby teeth, are practically carbon copies of her. She shuffled over to her friends, and I placed onto a table the well-labeled Ziploc bag containing the exact amount of money she needed for the school’s pre-Christmas sale, in the exact denominations requested.

One of my daughter’s classmates placed his sack of coins on the same table, but it was not over-prepared in the way my daughter’s was. There was no label or even a seal to keep his change from spilling onto the table or floor. His money was seemingly grabbed from what could be found in pockets or the car on the way to school and was stuffed into the clear cellophane wrapper pulled off of a pack of cigarettes. It was clearly an afterthought on a morning that placed other things more stressful or pertinent above a kindergarten teacher’s reminder to send a dollar’s worth of dimes into school for a holiday tag sale.

Even with their different backgrounds hidden beneath the surface of similar physical features, each child is measured against the same school motto: Be Kind, Be Safe, and Be Your Best. The expectations are reasonable, but the ability of each child to exhibit these qualities is variable. One’s best may be viewed as far below another’s. Sometimes one’s best is only as good as what is provided at home, by what is held in one’s hands.

I don’t know this boy’s circumstances, and the similarities in our childhood experiences may start and end with this isolated detail provided by a cigarette-smoking caretaker. But his bag of tobacco-greased pennies and nickels could have been pulled from my childhood home, if my parents had been so clever or resourceful. The coins and their presentation quickly conjured memories from my childhood.

***

My father kept his coins in a jar on his dresser. They made their way in and out of his pockets each day, during a time when coins were still carried in pockets filled with keys and small knives. The denominations varied, dependent on his employment status. If he had his job at the steel mill, quarters were easy to find and steal for the ice cream truck or corner candy store. During the months — sometimes years — when he was unemployed, pennies would rattle around the bottom of the aluminum jar. Pennies still held value in those days, though, and if I was willing to count them, I used them.

I placed onto a table the well-labeled Ziploc bag containing the exact amount of money my daughter needed for the school’s pre-Christmas sale.

He used them too, and at some point, perhaps after noticing I’d been dipping into it, he began to hide his jar of coins. One day I snuck into my parents’ room to grab some change and saw that the jar was missing. It didn’t take long to find it in the bottom drawer of his dresser, next to his box of buckshot, carton of Newports, pornographic magazines, and stacks of notebooks with years of documented lottery numbers. But instead of quietly dumping the pennies onto the bed and counting out enough to get a bag of Swedish Fish from the candy store, I closed the drawer and never went back for his change.

I didn’t stop taking from him out of respect, or a fear of getting caught. I stopped taking from him because it was obvious to me that he didn’t have anything left that he was willing to give. He never showed interest in being a loving or engaged father. He never attended my school events or athletic competitions. And after so many “maybes” or “one of these days,” I stopped asking him for both material things and time. The few dollars in his wallet or pennies hidden in his dresser were now strictly to be used for his cigarettes and lottery tickets, desires which he never sacrificed, despite his family’s need for life’s essentials.

He was never too shy to ask for handouts, though. He asked neighbors and family members. He asked a congregation full of sinners every Sunday when he walked himself to the pulpit to stand before God and witnesses. He requested prayers for his employment, money to pay his bills, and provisions for his family. And after praying for a miracle each Sunday, he drove us to his favorite convenience store, the place he visited daily.

When my father wasn’t working, he spent much of his time sleeping. He stayed in bed until noon most days, and after a breakfast of coffee, cigarettes, and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, he napped on the couch. He woke only to eat, to drive a mile to the convenience store, or to stop my mother’s nagging; she wanted help with the tasks of daily family life, tasks which in his eyes were meaningless. He had slept through Christmas mornings; he wasn’t going to rush to mow the lawn or take out the trash.

Stopping at the store after church was convenient for no one other than him. Getting his daily Powerball and Pick 3 tickets before lunch meant his afternoon nap would not be interrupted by the need to leave the house again. The stop lengthened the amount of time I was in church clothes, though, and meant I missed the kick-off of the NFL Sunday football game that featured my beloved Cleveland Browns, and the few hours a week even my father knew not to interrupt. Before Bernie Kosar and the Dawgs could disappointment me, my father did. When we stopped at the store each Sunday, we always needed something, usually milk or bread. But the only nourishing things guaranteed to be purchased were those things that fed my father’s habits, not our bellies.

One of my daughter’s classmates placed his sack of coins on the same table, but it was not over-prepared in the way my daughter’s was.

I carried resentment for what he didn’t do for me. I carried anger for the physical and emotional abuse he handed over more readily than pennies from a jar.

I carried humiliation for the number of times I had to tell bill collectors who called the house that my parents were not home, despite having just been handed the phone by one of them. I carried secrets and shame because I was the newest generation of what seemed to be my family’s destiny of treating each other poorly. My father’s beatings, and listening to my mother call for help in the middle of the night while he beat her, were part of my initiation.

That wasn’t the only abuse. Sexual violation by my aunt, my mother’s sister, for most of my childhood was part of it too. My earliest memories are of the way she tasted and smelled. The night I rolled over, feigning sleep while America’s Most Wanted played in the background, was the night I stopped the abuse. After at least ten years of giving and receiving sexual acts — a lifetime of sexual activity tightly woven into my life of catching fireflies and playing hide and seek with the neighbor kids, the belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and long days of organizing and trading baseball cards — it stopped. She asked if I was awake, and I didn’t answer. For the first time in my life I was wide awake to what was our normal, knowing that our understanding of life wasn’t the norm for everyone.

I didn’t realize it until many years later, after my first semester at college, that my mother was as damaging to me as my father and my aunt. She did not physically or sexually abuse me. She made me her friend; she encouraged and allowed me to take care of her emotional needs. She wanted to be the cool mom, and in this role she took every piece of my happiness and made it her own. Her narcissism turned my feelings into hers, unless I was unhappy. My unhappiness meant something was wrong, something should be done, that something and someone deserved to be held accountable for the abuse touching every part of my childhood.

When my mother finally found out about the abuse it was because a neighbor from my childhood confessed to my mother that years prior I had confided in her that my aunt’s braces hurt my vagina. I don’t remember making this confession. Perhaps because I had been three when I had said these words. Perhaps because I had blocked them out. But this neighbor had carried my words for 13 years. Days before she got married, she handed them to my mother. My mother confronted me, but I denied the abuse. I was 16. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I was suicidal. Yet in my darkest moments, I admitted what I knew my mother didn’t want to hear but already knew was true. My mother confronted my aunt, whose denial turned into lying, and saying it only happened once or twice. Once or twice in my family was not grounds for abuse, and my family members blamed me for causing such a fuss; they blamed me for the turmoil.


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My mother was angry at my aunt, her sister, for a few days, but my aunt was family; she was my mother’s best friend and, someone who, I found out during a screaming match shortly after news of the abuse surfaced, had also slept with my father. My mother hoped I could understand that she couldn’t just disown her sister, despite my requests that we never speak to her again. My mother made me promise I wasn’t mad at her because of her need to keep my aunt in her life. My mother made me promise not to be rude to my aunt when I saw her at church or holiday meals.

The boy’s bag of tobacco-greased pennies and nickels could have been pulled from my childhood home. It quickly conjured memories from my childhood.

My mother was never the one to take any blame or feel at fault for anything that resembled my sadness or pain. That would have meant her own memories were repeating themselves through me, and that caused her too much distress. If I was happy, she was happy. If I was not, then I needed to find a way to make her feel better.

***

This was my family’s understanding of life, and, in turn, it was mine too. I took all of this with me to school, bundled with the weight of embarrassment for the ill-fitting and homemade clothes I wore, the styles that were out of date or slightly damaged because they were on the clearance rack, and the shoes that told the story of our inability to buy name brand sneakers. I carried a brown paper bag with Little Debbie Snacks and white bread sandwiches filled with either peanut butter and jelly or simply mayonnaise. Having the latest fashions and healthy lunches wouldn’t have made up for what I really needed at home, but it would have helped me fit in. Those things would have eliminated some unwanted negative attention.

Being my best at school was sometimes limited by what was provided for me, and if I or others based my efforts on what my parents did or did not send me to school with each day, my best wasn’t very good. I returned school forms declining attendance or participation or school trips because I did not have health insurance. I accepted free lunches. I asked basketball coaches to cover the cost of tournament fees and team sweats, and I asked Little League coaches to cover enrollment costs because my parents didn’t have the money to spend on extras. My best looked like a kid always asking for handouts.

I tried to compensate for my parents’ deficits by being perfect. I put my efforts in where money wasn’t necessary. I studied my way into AP classes; I practiced hard and long enough to make the varsity teams as a freshman; I signed up for all of the free extracurricular activities.

But even with my accomplishments, I would still always be a poor kid from a blue collar house trying to blend in with, trying to be one of, the kids from the white collar houses. It wasn’t just that we had less money, and lower status. We had something those houses didn’t, or which I assumed they didn’t: turmoil and abuse. Poverty doesn’t ensure abuse any more than money prevents it, but I had both in my life.

I carried secrets and shame because I was the newest generation of what seemed to be my family’s destiny of treating each other poorly.

No matter how hard I tried to be my best, I was always working out of a home that was not consistently kind and safe. On some days my best was a handful of coins that smelled like my father’s jeans and waves of tobacco that unfurled from my backpack when I unloaded my books to start the school day. I was a child measured against the expectations of a classroom assuming that all children were treated equally.

When the boy in my daughter’s class put down his cellophane-bound money for the sale, I felt the old pangs of embarrassment of being a kid whose labeling as a success or failure hinged on the limited control I had over which resources I could bring into the classroom.

I looked at my daughter, unpacking her bag full of extra clothing and food for the day, most of which was fresh fruit and vegetables, or filled with whole grains, and felt so far away from her. She could have been one of the kids I’d desperately wanted to trade places with when I was her age. She doesn’t know yet just how different her childhood is from what mine was. She doesn’t know about the ache in my chest for the boy I only know through his packet of change and the surfacing of my own memories.

At some point I need to teach my daughter that differences in the way a dollar is held can shift the perception of one’s worth, but she doesn’t even yet know that nickels and pennies are worth less than shiny dimes and quarters. I owe this lesson to my child, and to the child I was, who still lingers inside me. I owe it to the other children my daughter encounters, who are less fortunate, but not any less worthy. That morning, I wanted to gather this boy and my daughter together and tell them, “A dollar is a dollar, no matter whose hand it’s in, no matter how it’s packaged.”

I smiled at the boy, and kissed my daughter’s head. She smelled like sunshine, an odd but appropriate scent to counteract the storm swirling in my chest. I was reminded of sun streaming through stained glass windows during church services and the blessings of the Trinity. I found salvation in my past, my present, and my hope for this boy’s future. My higher power was not a deity, however.

I was saved by an unprecedented need to get out and away from all I knew. My drive for perfection provided an escape. Each night I retreated to my room to study, to be the best. As I closed the door, I was silently announcing: don’t bother me, I am studying. The straight A’s on my report card, year after year, provided an escape from my bedroom to a dorm room. Without knowing how I would pay for it, I applied to several colleges. I was accepted to all of them. Panic turned to relief when I once again found a way to pay for something I wanted and needed. With scholarship money, student loans and grants, and money saved from a summer job, I was the first one in my family to go to college. When I was finally alone on a campus three hours from home, I closed the door of the dormitory, silently announcing: don’t bother me, I am growing. I am learning. I am free.

Even with my accomplishments, I would still always be a poor kid from a blue collar house trying to blend in with, trying to be one of, the kids from the white collar houses.

For four years, semester by semester, I figured out how to pay my way through school. And I fell in love with the woman who would eventually become my wife and a mother to our three kids. She didn’t understand the life I came from, but she knew it wasn’t right. She knew enough to love me; she knew enough to not try to fix me. She asked me to see a campus counselor, and, because I was in love and afraid to lose what felt like the only thing good in my life, I did. With therapy came healing and understanding. With time came boundaries and letters to family members asking for explanations and apologies. I didn’t get the responses I needed to keep them in my life, so I broke off all contact with everyone in my family except my mother. Self-inflicted guilt keeps her in my life.

December 22, 2003 was the last time my father and I communicated. He sent a letter to wish me a Merry Christmas and to get something off of his chest. “I am sorry I lost interest in being your dad,” he wrote. He explained that the Lord had forgiven him for his mistakes and wished I would forgive him too. He put into writing something I knew, had proof of in memories, but not in tangible evidence. I don’t know if the feeling I carry with me is forgiveness, but it is validation. That last letter from him was the closure I needed to move on.

I continue to heal through the work I put into finding the required amount of motivation, time, or resources always needed to get what I want and where I need to be. My father was saved by God; I was saved by the effort it took for me to hold more coins, often pennies and dirty nickels, that added up to the same total found in the hands of my peers who didn’t know the exertion of holding a dollar. My faith is in knowing that our best should not be defined by what we hold onto, whether it is given to us in an over-prepared baggie or a greasy cigarette wrapper.

* * *

Amber Leventry is a writer, partner, and parent. Her writing appears on Ravishly, The Next Family, Parent.co, Scary Mommy, Babble, Huffington Post, and The Washington Post.

Editor: Sari Botton


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/31/the-boy-with-the-coin-filled-cellophane-cigarette-wrapper-and-me/

Choire Sicha’s New Role: Editor of The New York Times Styles Section

Choire Sicha is a very special human being. Just look at these Twitter mentions congratulating him on his new role as editor of The New York Times Styles section. It’s a trip through the past 20 years of New York media featuring an all-star cast of writers, many of whom he helped shepherd to fame (or at least a steady job).

Choire makes people feel good about themselves and their work, and this of course is what makes an editor truly great. Like any other nobody with a blog, I have my own Choire story: I started Longreads shortly after he and Alex Balk started The Awl, and he was supportive and encouraging from the start. (He also condemned me for not having Renata Adler anywhere on the site yet.) Great editors will save you from future embarrassment. 

And now he’s going to the Times Styles section. (“A role he was born to play!” as my colleague Michelle Legro noted in Slack.) In honor of the occasion, here are a few Choire-written or Choire-inspired stories from over the years. Start with our entire Awl archive and work your way down:

Editors’ Picks from The Awl

Every story Longreads has ever recommended from the Awl, co-founded by Choire in 2009, which is the same year he chronicles in his book Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City.

“Ina Garten Does It Herself” (Eater, 2015)

Sicha’s much-lauded profile of the Barefoot Contessa:

That first cookbook has a foreword from Martha Stewart; Ina had a column in her magazine after the book did gangbusters. It reads straightforwardly as an endorsement — and yet, when you look at the actual words, they assemble themselves, as so much does in Martha’s world, into some kind of menace, an alpha act of undermining. Martha writes: “It took a while, but I finally understood what motivated Ina, realizing that here was a true kindred spirit with really similar but unique talents.” Exactly how long did it take, Martha?

Martha can’t help herself. In a video segment describing Ina’s Barefoot Contessa store, Martha intones: “But this feast for the senses was created not by a gourmand, but by a desk-bound bureaucrat who wanted a change.” Oh Martha!

An Interview with Full Stop, 2014

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing being insignificant. My best work is ephemeral, and was published on websites that don’t exist any more. The only good things I’ve written this year were things that I wrote for readings, and I haven’t published any of them. I suppose we could quantify significance online in a lot of ways but it seems like a lot of publishers are publishing not “best ofs” this end of year but are publishing “most-reads” which is sort of ultra-sads, right? How else has writing ever been assessed though? If it makes money it must be important. Or better yet, if it didn’t make money at first, but THEN made money much later, it’s both cool and re-cool.

I guess I think that writing becomes significant through labor. The cherished things online, whether they be profitable or not, clearly spring from a place of great effort, even if in the end that effort is, as it usually should be, invisible.

“Choire Sicha, The Anti-Blogger” (Alice Gregory, The New Yorker, 2013)

An editor at Gawker, then the New York Observer, then Gawker again, then Radar, and then his own site, The Awl, which he co-founded with Alex Balk in 2009, Sicha has spent the past decade developing what has become the lingua franca of the Internet: un-snobbish endorsements, presented in a candid, self-consciously hysterical tone. (A recent tweet: “Vicious news cycle today! Like many others, I just got bumped by Weiner.”) His humorously helpful parentheticals, doubt-inducing scare quotes, casual “like”s dropped carefully amidst otherwise competent sentences, and gratuitous exclamation points litter the online landscape. When typed by Sicha, though, these superficial markers of style—so easy to replicate!—communicate a set of core values that he’s carried with him from job to job: genuine egalitarianism, acrobatic diplomacy, unregulated intimacy.

Sicha likes Ursula K. Le Guin, cigarettes, and cats. He dislikes careerism and pokes fun at whatever it is other bloggers are myopically obsessed with on a given day.

An Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin (Interview, 2015)

SICHA: One day I’d told a friend that I’d written you a letter, and she said, “I just wrote her a letter too!” And we were both so happy. We expected nothing of it, of course, and I realized, thinking about that, well, it must be frightening at the other end.

LE GUIN: Well, it’s a lot less than it was, since more people simply don’t communicate on paper. The number goes down steadily. I’m kind of touched when people go through the trouble of writing me a letter instead of e-mailing me. I’d actually rather do e-mail. It’s a lot physically easier. You know, I’m 85—I look for shortcuts. But the paper mail from kids is so great. I do try to answer that. I can’t keep up with it, the lovely letters people write me. But I do try to answer the kids. I really do. They’re so insolent sometimes.

SICHA: They’re saucy?

LE GUIN: Well, they tell me how I should have finished the books or what the next Catwings book ought to be or something like that. They have no inhibitions. It’s cool. If I got that from a grown-up, I wouldn’t think it was so cool. I’d say, “Write your own book!” But somebody 8 years old, they identify so passionately with what they read. You can tell. They really are into it.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/28/choire-sichas-new-role-editor-of-the-new-york-times-style-section/

The Great Alt-Right Pile-On of Tommy Curry

Philosophy professor Tommy Curry’s work (and part of the reason Texas A&M hired him) asks, in part, whether violence is politically necessary for dismantling white supremacy — an exploration of “violent resistance in the context of American racism ‘not as a call to arms, but as an open-ended political question.‘” A frequent guest on a friend’s radio show, it was only a matter of time before the right-wing internet outrage machine found him. The repercussions are still reverberating through his professional and family lives, and shaking the foundations of academic freedom at A&M. Steve Kolowich walks through the story for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“You and your entire family of low-IQ, affirmative-action herpes-infected african monkeys might need to be put to death.”

There were dozens like that. The professor forwarded them to the campus police department. Mr. Curry says a detective told him some of the messages appeared to have been sent from within the county.

Police officers made a point to drive past his apartment building often for several weeks. But Mr. Curry worried about whether his 6-year-old was safe at her elementary school. Driving her home at the end of the day, he would circle the block a few times to make sure they had not been followed.

Nobody came to his door, knocked him down, disarmed him, fired a bullet between his legs, or made him beg for his life. The mob that came for Mr. Curry reflected his own time. It was digital and diffuse, everywhere and nowhere.

The goal, however, was the same as ever: fear. And it worked.

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/07/28/the-great-alt-right-pile-on-of-tommy-curry/