The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

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1. Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica & The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

2. Fire on the Mountain

Justin Heckert | Garden & Gun | Jul 1, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,530 words)

The surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. Started by kids playing with matches, the fire began small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten residents as they slept in their beds. It took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

3. The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts

Peter Vigneron | Outside | May 24, 2017 | 15 minutes (3,789 words)

In California, massive nut heists were underway for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, thought to be linked to a Russian organized crime ring.

4. Love and Death

Michael Lista | Toronto Life | May 17, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,626 words)

When a controlling Canadian neurosurgeon was charged with murdering his wife, a brilliant family doctor, Canada had to stare in the violent face of the patriarchy one more time.

5. Remembering Mr. Rogers, a true-life ‘helper’ when the world still needs one

Anthony Breznican | Entertainment Weekly | May 23, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,906 words)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.

from Longreads

The Great, Ongoing California Nut Caper

In California, massive nut heists rattled the state for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, which are thought to be linked to a Russian organized-crime ring.

At 11:22 a.m. on Thursday, June 20, 2013, an orange Freightliner tractor-trailer arrived at Crain Walnut Shelling in Los Molinos, California. The truck’s driver, a man in his mid-thirties wearing a gray T-shirt, introduced himself as Alex Hernandez. He said he was from K and G Transport Services, a company contracted to take a load of Crain’s walnuts to Bulk Barn Foods Limited, a Canadian food retailer ­located 2,600 miles away in Ontario. Hernandez had arrived before the pickup had been scheduled, which initially made Crain’s logistics director suspicious. But after double-checking the paperwork that he provided, she directed employees to load 630 cartons of walnuts, worth $85,000, into Hernandez’s trailer.

In November 2015, Horizon lost a load of pistachios worth $450,000. Kirk Squire, Horizon’s grower-relations manager, said that the theft was embarrassing for the company. “You have to imagine, you’re handing someone half a million dollars.”

Boudreaux assigned half a dozen detectives to a new unit—the Nut Theft Task Force. I met most of them at a conference for nut processors in Modesto last year. The men were barrel-chested and serious, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and blousey white dress shirts. They looked as if the department had just then switched their assignment from bailing hay to organized crime.

“We think the bad guys learned that food is a great ­category,” he told me. “There’s no serial number. You can’t locate these things over the Internet. The evidence is consumed.”

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A Chance Meeting With Mr. Rogers

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood ran until 2001, but I lost touch with it as I got older. That’s how it goes. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it, just when I needed it.

We rode down in silence, and when the doors opened, he let me go out first. I stepped out but quickly turned back around. “Mr. Rogers… I don’t mean to bother you. But I just wanted to say thanks.”

Then he opened the student union door and said goodbye. That’s when I blurted in a kind of rambling gush that I’d stumbled on the show again recently, at a time when I truly needed it. He listened there in the doorway, the bitter Pittsburgh winter wind flowing around him into the warm lobby bustling with students.

When I ran out of words, I just said, “So … thanks for that. Again.”

Mr. Rogers nodded. He looked down, and let the door close again. He undid his scarf and motioned to the window, where he sat down on the ledge.

This is what set Mr. Rogers apart. No one else would’ve done this. No one.

He said, “Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you so?”

So I sat. And I told him the truth. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift. Brokenhearted.

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Learning to Swim in a Sea of Uncertainty

Katie Prout | Longreads | May 2017 | 12 minutes (2,916words)

This semester, I’ve been learning to swim. When I told her I didn’t know how, Stephanie laughed at me.

“John can’t swim either,” she said. “The people in your family don’t have enough body fat, you muscle-y freaks.”

Stephanie is John’s wife, my sister-in-law, and Stephanie can swim; she grew up in Michigan’s thumb, a remote place called Port Austin where freighters from Ontario still pull in. We grew up farther south in the state but still, my dad used to take us to watch them, longer than football fields; bigger, he said, than the Titanic. Further in along the boardwalk we’d go, skin sticky against the piping of the metal fence, and my dad would jump into the water my mom forbade us to enter, and come up clean.

When he was born, I hated John’s guts. Eventually, there were six of us kids, but for all of my memory it had just been me and my brother Steve, two years younger, and that was how I liked it. I was three years and 363 days old when my parents brought John home, and from his first adorable cry, the hot hate of cruel little animals coursed through my body, directing my actions toward him for the next two years.

When he was six months old, I watched John roll off the couch and onto our unfinished hardwood floor and did nothing; when he was two and got spanked for something he didn’t do, I smiled, and then felt resentful when my dad knelt down and apologized to him. It didn’t matter if John was guilty of no specific crime, he still deserved it. He took my mom, and he was beautiful.

As he grew into toddlerhood, the worst trait John displayed was, absurdly, a fear of grass, and adults found it to be endearing: no sooner would my mother set him down to pour lemonade at a picnic than John would lift one terrified, dimpled baby foot from the offending green earth and wail. Grills and beers abandoned, adults would jostle for the chance to scoop him up. All gooseflesh and baby fat, John was perfect for holding, or so everyone said. I tried not to touch him.

John is in the Navy now, working on an aircraft carrier called the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. He’s been on deployment since January, his fourth in as many years. I live in Iowa City where I teach and write and feel impossibly landlocked, even with a river running through town. I don’t know who Carl was or is, and usually misspell Vinson as venison. I don’t know what John does, even though I’ve asked; every time he answers, the words slip right through my ears.

At the beginning of the semester, when the professor of our writing workshop challenged us to spend the semester learning a new skill, any skill, so long as it was entirely fresh to us, I picked swimming.

I think it’s ridiculous that he can be in the Navy and not know how to swim. After my phone conversation with Stephanie, I tell him so over Facebook messenger. A few weeks later, when his ship gets steady signal, John responds. It’s February now. He’s somewhere near Guam, and I still haven’t gone near a pool. “Ha, yeah, well,” his message reads. “I don’t really need to.” John’s always been like that; a steady man of few words. By the time he was four, he’d had tubes in his years for two years. “He hears like he’s underwater,” the doctor told my mom, explaining why he talked so funny, and when I overheard it, I became fascinated with the idea, and as a six-year-old spent hours lying in the tub with my ears submerged but my eyes dry and open, looking around. Once doing this, I lulled myself into sleep, and when I woke up it was because a red-footed pajama leg was sunk next to my stomach. There was John, half-in and half-out, baby face looking serious, but cautiously optimistic. Thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so, I screamed.

When it comes to swimming, it’s not body fat that I lack; it’s chill. Floating is hard for me and always has been. So, as a matter of fact, is being bad at things: I give up a lot, grow furious and then despair; I sulk, I weep. To avoid learning new skills, I cut corners until my life looks like a tattered snowflake. At the beginning of the semester, when the professor of our writing workshop challenged us to spend the semester learning a new skill, any skill, so long as it was entirely fresh to us, I picked swimming. Older and possessing the maturity that being repeatedly bruised by your own flaws gives you, I approached this project with more patience than I would’ve in the past, but still warily. I ordered and returned many bathing suits. I scoured Racked articles about after-pool hair care. For research, I purchased and read Jaws in my bathtub.

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Growing up, I didn’t like John precisely because he was so likable. In the tub reading Jaws, I encounter blue collar brothers and small-town bullies, and think about the bloodlust of childhood that exists even without toothy predators prowling the sea. Because he couldn’t properly hear, John spoke funny; his first sounds were echoes of a deer in pain he absorbed from a hunting tape our dad used to pop in on van rides up north. I had no patience for his strange speech, and frequently made him the monster in our backyard games, but Mike, a preemie with a bowl cut whose glasses magnified his blue eyes so that he looked like a beautiful alien, translated for him.

“Nee-neee-neeeyah,” John would flute. From behind, Mike would pipe up. “John’s hungry.” Irish twins, the younger Mike dragged around a rubber chicken, his comfort object, and followed John wherever he went. Fifteen years later, after John pulled a sink from their dorm room wall in a display of whiskey-fueled exuberance, Mike followed him to jail, where they spent the night. This past spring, I talked him out of following John into the military: Mike was thinking Army. John, easily the best behaved of any of us besides our youngest brother, has been to jail the most: cops don’t like his size, how his friends call him Rocky, how his muscles stretch in his shirt when he stops and turns their way. Later, when I asked him why the sink had to go, he laughed and shrugged. “I was excited,” he says.


Finally, after a “gentle reminder” from our professor that we’ll be presenting on our new skills at the end of the semester, I am ready. Over spring break, I go to the pool alone: I watch from the corners of my eyes as parents teach their tiny children to swim. “That’s it!” they say to their splashing offspring. I try to do what they do, and I try to float on my back. I hit my head on the wall and cry about it.

I think about giving up, but then my friend Molly gives me my first swim lesson. We come up with a plan: a few lessons from her and other friends, plus me practicing at least twice a week in the school natatorium, plus me keeping a swimming journal so I can track how it all goes. To begin, Molly and I meet in a rec center a couple miles out of Iowa City. “Baby belly,” she says, “baby belly,” and then lays on her back, blinking and serene, to demonstrate. Except for when one of the mysterious waves that indoor pools possess gently knocks her about, Molly doesn’t move. It looks like the most natural thing in the world, but when I try it, I gulp and thrash, hold my breath and yelp, swallow air. I don’t know what it means to use your belly like a baby’s; I try to keep my abdomen up and almost give myself a hernia. Beatific with patience, Molly stays at my side, adjusting here, encouraging there, and by the end of the lesson—well, I still can’t float, but Molly has taught me backstroke and some sort of weird side crawl for dragging bodies to shore. I leave feeling excited. I use my swimming journal, and I start a letter to John.

For the next few weeks, when I practice swimming and floating, I think about John. It’s late March now, and I’ve finished Jaws. I rewatch the movie. There is a scene in the film where Quint, the Captain Ahab-esque shark hunter played by Robert Shaw, recounts the real life World War II sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, and gives a play-by-play of all the men who were eaten while waiting for help. He could’ve been one of them; he saw a shark’s eyes. “Like a doll’s eyes” he says in the film, the s becoming a slur of zz, and we loved that line, all of us; us kids marching around shouting it, my dad saying it to me when I was in college before hanging up the phone. Because it takes place on the 4th of July, Jaws was considered a holiday film in our home, and growing up we’d watch it on TBS after wading in our neighbor’s filmy, chest-high pool, where sometimes I’d smack on goggles and plunge my head underwater and stay under long enough to imagine what it’d look like to see a shark suddenly burst through the rough wall and plunder through the blue pool, legs in its mouth and a streak of cloudy red in its wake.

As I swim in the university pool now, I hear underwater the tickings of the gym, the grunts and hiss of pipe, and imagine that they are the sounds of a ship, and then before I know it, that ship is sinking and sailors are shrieking and fins are not far away. I splash at that thought, try to imagine John on a toy ship like one from the Battleship board game. In my mind, I zoom in. He’s safe inside, working out—his last message tells me he can bench-press 460 pounds. He reads sci-fi, he plays video games. He is profoundly, depressingly bored, but he is safe.

‘I can’t wait to swim with John in the ocean,’ I text my boyfriend. But then, his orders changed, and now I’m going to the water alone.

As a little boy, John possessed a heart-shattering tenderness; kept a palm-sized baby doll he named Baby wrapped in tiny shreds of handkerchief and snuggled up at his side; favorite movie was The Snowman, a wordless thirty-minute musical animation exploring the relationship between a snowman and the boy who built him that would send me running from the room in a seizure of melancholy, and one time, almost unspeakably grave, he came out of the house in the yard where I sat on my eighth birthday eating cake and gave me his zebra Beanie Baby, wrapped up as a present in his favorite hankie. He was four. His generosity, straight and true, provoked something in me different than the usual bite. Before we went to sleep that night, I gave the zebra back to him, and asked him to keep it safe. He nodded, and tucked it under his chin.

There is no trace of the speech impediment he once had when I talk to him now, but it’s been so long since we spoke. Even before he left, John and I didn’t really talk much. I feel guilty—I meant to send a care package or actually mail one of my letters—and yet, impossibly, it’s April. My tax refund comes in and I buy tickets to see his ship come to port in May, so I can give him the letters in person, and I tell myself that’s better. Also, thrillingly, I may be giving myself black eyes from my boyfriend’s shitty high school goggles but I’m doing it, I’m swimming twice a week, and after another few more lessons, it doesn’t matter if I can float or not, because if I don’t stop I don’t need to, and so I breaststroke for half an hour, a mile, an hour, more.

April is also when John’s orders change. I hear about it on the radio, listening to NPR and doing dishes with my screen door open to let in an early evening breeze; it’s such a mythically American scene I can’t quite believe it means anything to me until I hear Steve Inskeep say, again, my brother’s ship’s name.

When John called me four years ago to say he was joining the Navy, I was pouring water from my rain boot into the kitchen sink. I lived in Chicago then, performing in storytelling shows and working crappy jobs; he had dropped out of college. I sat on my bed in my wet clothes and listened to his reasons: the structure, the job training, the help with school. Growing up, recruitment was big in our area of Michigan, a used-to-be farm town not so far away from Detroit that the people who lived there didn’t suffer when GM went bust. It’s not all the usual rust-belt story: the area is working on an arts renaissance, and yet there I was, living in Chicago, soaked through my jeans because I had biked in the rain looking for both housing and jobs. I understood the need to get away, to restart. When I was 23, I quit my job and went to work on organic farms in Ireland. But John; he joined the U.S. military. The differences between these things felt impossible, and yet here my younger brother was calling me, telling me calmly, and after our parents, telling me first.

The distance between us is widening, and I cannot see across it. I skyped him a year ago while he walked with his dog and his wife down the street to a bodega; I watched him purchase and consume an enormous burrito. I’ve never visited him in his new home, in his new life. I can’t wait, I text my boyfriend, to swim with John in the ocean. But then, his orders changed, and now I’m going to the water alone. Since April, the Trump administration has been playing a game of incompetent chicken with my brother and the rest of his crew. John’s ship, once on its way home, is now heading in the wrong direction; he’s now floating in the Korean Peninsula, his return date unknown. He will miss the test he needed to enroll in a nursing program next fall; he will miss our youngest brother’s 90th major surgery for spina bifida. He misses his wife. I’m excited to see her, to spend time with someone who misses him as much, although differently, than I do. I think, if I ask, that she’ll swim at my side.

In class this semester, whenever I felt bored or furious, I wrote letters to him or diaries about swimming. The diary entries sit there now, left off in late March. The letters filter between them, remain unsent; the backside of one I unintentionally scribbled my to-do list. I feel embarrassed as I sit and write this, to admit that.

Beyond that half-hearted attempt to track the daily, there is fear: I am scared of how few memories of John I really have. There is the time he tried to buy me the portrait of Hank Williams painted on black velvet that hung on the wall of the bar near my apartment in Chicago, where he and some of his buds came to visit the weekend before he left for boot camp. When the bartender refused, John asked if I wanted him to steal it. Later, he slept next to me on top of the covers and in his coat. The time John carried Angel, my friend from high school, through the garage, into the kitchen, and down the basement stairs where he put a pan under her head so she could drunkenly puke if she wanted. Once, when our dad was in the hospital, we took out his canoe and snuck it across our hometown to the local lake. I was 18 and he was 14 and it was just the two of us, shaky with nerves, swim-less wonders with life jackets tossed on the canoe’s floor, busting out to play for just a little while. We found an island, covered in trash and condoms, but it still was a wonder to pull that boat ashore together. I remember that. And, submerged, a treasure: a memory of his impulse to know me, too. I remember my mom telling me, years ago, that John had confessed to reading through a box of my writings one afternoon, sitting in our dusty basement where he had been searching for something else. “I probably shouldn’t’ve,” he told her in his slow, grinning way, “but they were really good.”

The last time I messaged him on Facebook, I asked him how the ship’s crew took their new orders. John is generally pretty reticent, but he told me they were all frustrated. I asked him how he was doing. “I just want to get the hell home,” he replied. I know what he means when he says home, because it’s what I mean too: it’s not San Diego, and it’s not Iowa. It’s Michigan, the land of Great Lakes and sharkless pools. It’s where we are most often together. I imagine as I write; I close my eyes and lean forward. I can almost smell it. My brother and I kneel on the shoreline, looking for rocks and crayfish. The sun is high and bright, warm enough to swim. The water is close and clear.

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Katie Prout is a writer, runner, and MFA candidate in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Her work has been featured in LitHub, The Toast, Runner’s World, and elsewhere, and she has a forthcoming micro-chapbook with Ghost City Press, out in summer 2017.

Editor: Sari Botton

from Longreads

If You Think You Understand the Montana Special Election, You Probably Don’t

I’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten the reason for the Montana Special Election, which takes place today. It’s for a single congressional seat—the state has only one House representative due to its population—which was vacated earlier this year by Ryan Zinke when he was chosen by Trump to become the Secretary of the Interior.

Anne Helen Petersen has been reporting for BuzzFeed from Montana for months, and her definitive feature on the special election is a careful, compassionate, and clever look at the Montana voter—a true political unicorn who won’t be pandered to or told how to vote.

The special election may seem like a tantalizing chance for Democrats to turn a red state blue—56 percent of voters swung for Trump. “But that same election, 50.2 percent also voted for their Democratic governor, Steve Bullock,” Petersen reminds us, and “in 2012, 48.6 percent voted for Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat.”

The Montana special election won’t be a referendum on Trump. It won’t even necessarily tell us what will happen in the midterms. But it, and Montana politics in general, does offer a master class on something even more important: namely, how to cultivate and actually sway one of the most valuable, and increasingly rare, of political entities — the independent voter…

Montanans don’t like big government, but they also have very little tolerance for getting screwed over. One way to prevent that is by preventing any one political party from obtaining too much power. “Montanans tend to be more independent,” Andy Shirtliff, who works with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, told me. “They hopscotch on the political map. Voting for both Dems and Republicans means checks and balances, and that’s what you get with the way we vote.”

Checks and balances are rare nowadays in government—even in a system specifically designed for them—and the chaos in Washington shows what happens when untrammeled power mismatches the diverse needs of the people. Montana has only a few levers of power and it likes to keep things blended: There’s currently a Democratic governor, one Democratic senator, one Republican senator, and the congressional seat up for grabs was held by a Republican.

On the ballot are Greg Gianforte and Rob Quist. Both candidates are new to politics, and their backgrounds are…different. Greg Gianforte is a tech billionare who sold his company to Oracle, and Rob Quist is a career musician who uses his life-saving gallbladder surgery to argue for universal health care. In a big state like Montana, it’s essential to know the population intimately—voters who are literally few and far between:

Even if the idea of a “real Montana” is increasingly difficult to live or pin down, Montanans still wants legislators who still seem to embody it. This “real Montana” leader promises to remain independent, to protect the 2nd Amendment, to protect public lands, to resist DC forces, and to do right by Montana, whatever it takes.

Quist is spectacularly easy to frame this way. Whereas Gianforte has a section of his website devoted to pictures of “Montana Moments” — essentially documenting that he and his family spend time outside — Quist’s site is filled with shots of him smiling balefully in his cowboy hat. Gianforte’s a billionaire, with investments and interests all over the world; by contrast, Quist comes off as a humble troubadour, whose actual job is listening to and telling the stories of people who live here. Quist even explicitly addresses the “real Montanans” who generally get overlooked: he’s pledged to support a better quality of life for Native Americans; he explicitly supports women’s reproductive rights and will fight the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Gianforte’s a billionaire, with investments and interests all over the world; by contrast, Quist comes off as a humble troubadour, whose actual job is listening to and telling the stories of people who live here.

“In Montana, there’s a real premium on knowing people.” So says Deirdre McNamer, a novelist from Missoula who grew up with Quist. “It produces a different way of judging candidates: Do they know what life is like?”

With a population that knows just about everything about everyone, Montana is state politics with the intimacy of a local election. Which is why when something goes wrong, it can go wrong with a great speed.

The day before the election, something went wrong. When Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs approached Republican candidate Greg Gianforte and persisted in asking him about the recent CBO score on the heath care bill, three Fox News reporters described the scene:

Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Now, hours before the election, Gianforte has been charged with assault and the Missoulan and other Montana news organizations have rescinded endorsements of the candidate. Local news is taking the situation seriously.

I would recommend following Anne Helen Petersen on Twitter as the day’s events unfold. (She’s currently following a group of native residents as they explain the conditions that make it harder for them to vote.) While the Montana Special Election may not be a referendum on Trump, it may be a referendum on something voters have lost sight of: The politician who serves a complex populace with complex needs, and the necessity of a system that checks these politicians whenever they no longer serve the people.

from Longreads

‘The fire burned sideways in the cold, red dark’

At Garden & Gun, Justin Heckert tells the surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. The fire — started by kids playing with matches — started small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten people as they slept in their beds. The fire took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

The fire burned sideways in the cold, red dark. When it found the little cabin on the mountain, it broke through the front window first, then curled up the wall, and eventually ate the cedar hope chest made from a tree on Linda Morrow’s family’s farm in Sebastopol, Mississippi. The sound of breaking glass startled her awake: her husband’s suncatcher, scraps of stained glass strung on fishing line, knocked off a window by the fire and onto the floor.

As she scrambled past them, those trees were on fire, crackling and groaning, the noises of being eaten alive. The fire reached them on the ground in leaf litter and on the wind as embers, the pines and spruces and hemlocks, taking them—the forest of her inspiration dying in luminosity.

She wore a cotton nightgown that flayed from her in wind gusts that topped 80 m.p.h. She put her hands above her head, holding her long red hair back, praying it wouldn’t catch fire, too. Everything else was on fire. The grass and the ground. Embers swirled through the air. More flames bent toward her as reflections on the creek. Behind her, she could see that the roof of the cabin and all the stacked wood on the bridge for the winter were burning.

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Forgotten Women Writers: A Reading List

For every Edith Wharton and Jane Austen, there are numerous women writers whose works aren’t found in the typical literary canon or school-required reading list. I’ve come across a handful of people who claim to be die-hard Anita Brookner or Theresa Hak Kyung Cha fans; these writers instill a certain kind of fervor among their devotees. It’s as if the authors themselves had reached out from the bookshelf and chosen their readers rather than the other way around. Their relative obscurity is what makes their fans so passionate — these are voices that never quite found the right audience when they were alive.

Perhaps now, thanks to the megaphone of the internet, they’ll find their disciples with a bit more ease. These five stories focus on women whose work has been overlooked, forgotten, or misinterpreted.

1. “Anita Brookner, The Art of Fiction No. 98.” (Shusha Guppy, Paris Review, Fall 1987)

British novelist Anita Brookner was often accused of writing the same story over and over again: tales of quiet, middle-class desperation and loneliness. But this dismissal is hardly noticed by those who relate to her quiet, fiercely independent characters. “It is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market,” Brookner explains. “Hares have no time to read — they are too busy winning the game!”

2. “The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset.” (Morgan Jerkins, The New Yorker, February 2017)

The questions that American novelist Jessie Redmon Fauset’s work raises are just as relevant today as they were during the Harlem Renaissance. “Does a black artist have to reflect the larger ideals of his or her community? Is individuality reserved for white people?”

3. “The Fight Against Silence in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” (Sophia Usow, Uncovered Classics, March 2016)

At Uncovered Classics, Sophia Usow examines Korean American writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s 1982 novel, Dictée. “What is most haunting about Dictée, other than its many martyr narratives and Cha’s own untimely death, is a recurrent theme of urgency, an insistent ‘fever to tell’ that would make Karen O’s forehead cool in comparison. There seems to be something biting at her heels as she writes, a prescient fear of being silenced.”

4. “Zoë Heller on Nancy Mitford.” (Zoë Heller, The Telegraph, March 2010)

Zoë Heller writes that the subjects of Nancy Mitford’s novels “condemn [them] to inconsequentiality.” But among the parties, courtships, and the witty asides, Heller finds a level of calculated discretion in Mitford’s prose that elevates it to the discerning reader.

5. “Lost no More: Recovering Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s* Forest Leaves.” (Johanna Ortner, Common-Place, Summer 2015)

Johanna Ortner shares her research and rediscovery of Forest Leaves, Frances Harper’s lost collection of poetry from before she became one of the famous black women activists of the 19th century.

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