This week on Gangrey: The Podcast, I talk with Seth Wickersham, a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN right after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2000.
Wickersham writes frequently for ESPN.com and contributes to Outside the Lines and E:60. Although he primarily covers the NFL—profiling the likes of Peyton and Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Eric Mangini, Albert Haynesworth, Tank Johnson, Michael Vick and Deion Sanders—Wickersham has also written about gay rugby, the plight of a fired college basketball coach, suicidal Kenyan runners in Alaska, and NCAA compliance officers. He also suffered the laborious task of traveling to London to interview legendary Queen guitarist Brian May about “We Will Rock You,” the most-played stadium anthem ever.
Wickersham has read, lectured or served as a panelist at New York University’s School of Law and School of Journalism, University of Michigan’s School of Public Policy, University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Journalism, mediabistro, 92Y Tribeca, Pop-Up Magazine, Varsity Letters, and the College Media Association Convention. His work has been cited numerous times as an honorable mention in The Best American Sportswriting anthology, and he’s won several awards from the Pro Football Writers Association. He’s part of a staff at The Magazine that twice won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
We’re talking with him, however, because of the longform, literary journalism he has produced for ESPN. He’s written about a runner from Kenya who went to college in Anchorage, attempted suicide and then had to have his feet amputated because of frostbite. He’s written about legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh’s attempt to write a book that would teach everyone how to coach in the NFL. And he’s written about vets who have to put racehorses down after catastrophic injuries.
We’ll discuss two stories specifically. In “Awakening the Giant,” Wickersham writes about legendary quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who is suffering from dementia. He also wrote the story “Out Route,” which chronicled Atlanta Falcon’s tight end Tony Gonzalez in the final season of his hall of fame career.
This week, I talk with Earl Swift, the author of Auto Biography: A Classic Car, An Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream. The book tells the life story of a 1957 Chevy that, at the beginning of the book, is falling apart.
Swift profiles the car’s thirteenth owner, Tommy Arney, who has led an extraordinary life, one that started with a brutal childhood, proceeded into a life of crime and ended up as a somewhat successful and controversial businessman. Arney sets out on a quest to restore the car to its former glory, and Swift is there for all of it.
Through that narrative, Swift manages to also tell the stories of every single person who had ever owned the car. In the process, he captures America’s strange and abiding relationship with the automobile.
This is Swift’s fifth book. Since 2012, he’s been a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia. Before that, he was a newspaper reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, where he was nominated five times for a Pulitzer Prize.
Eli Saslow is a reporter at the Washington Post. Earlier this year, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his series of stories on food stamps in a post-recession America.
Over the course of 2013, Saslow reported and wrote six extraordinary stories that focused on everything from a town in Rhode Island where one-third of the residents receive food stamps to a program that uses school buses to take lunches to kids in rural Tennessee during the summer.
Now he’s writing a series of stories on another hot-button issue – immigration.
Saslow was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing in 2013 for his story “Life of a Salesman.” That story looked at the suffering American economy through the eyes of a man who sells swimming pools.
In 2008, Saslow covered the presidential campaign, and he’s also chronicled the president’s life inside the White House. As if his work at the Washington Post doesn’t keep him busy enough, Saslow also occasionally writes for ESPN: The Magazine, and has been included in Best American Sports Writing twice.
Walt Harrington is a former staff writer for the Washington Post Magazine. He’s now a journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Harrington has written a number of award-winning books, including "The Everlasting Stream," which was turned into an Emmy-winning PBS documentary.
His book "Intimate Journalism," has been a staple of journalism writing classes for more than 15 years. Last year, he co-edited an anthology called "Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists." He produced that book with Esquire writer Mike Sager, a former podcast guest. The book features 19 stories written by journalists who are all under the age of 40.
On May 1, Harrington's newest book, "Acts of Creation: America’s Finest Hand Craftsmen at Work," was published by The Sager Group. It consists of 14 portraits of people who work with their hands, including a fireplace maker in Maine, a cabinet maker in Maryland and a locksmith in Ohio.
Mac McClelland is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications like Time Magazine, The New York Times and Mother Jones. She’s reported from every region in the United States, gone undercover in industry and the sex trade and reported internationally from places like Thailand, Haiti, Australia, Burma, Uganda, Turkey and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
McClelland has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Hillman Foundation, the Online News Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Association for Women in Communications. Her book “For Us Surrender is Out of the Question” was a finalist for the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Price. She’s been nominated for two National Magazine Awards for Feature Writing. And her work has been anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing, Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best Business Writing.
She has written about a lot of human rights issues, including reporting from Haiti after the deadly earthquake in 2010. She often immerses herself in her stories, like when she worked in a massive warehouse for an online retailer for several weeks. Most recently, she’s written about Syrian refugee camps in Turkey for The New York Times.
McClelland is currently working on a book titled “Irritable Hearts,” which focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder in reporters who have covered traumatic events. It should come out sometime in 2015.
We've linked to many of her stories at www.gangreythepodcast.com
Jackie Valley is a reporter at the Las Vegas Sun. Just about one year ago, she published a seven-part series called “Grace Through Grief.” The series followed Arturo Martinez and his two young sons as they dealt with the brutal murder of their wife and daughter, their mother and sister. The murders happened in April 2012, and Valley covered it as breaking news on her cops beat. She got to know Martinez through her reporting, and he eventually allowed her remarkable access as he recovered from the murders, both physically and emotionally.
This was Valley’s first foray into a large project. She studied journalism at Kent State University, and completed a Dow Jones copy editing internship at the Virginian Pilot in 2009. She joined the Las Vegas Sun one year later.
Eva Holland is a freelance writer and editor based in Canada's Yukon Territory. She writes for a lot of different publications, including Vela Magazine and SB Nation Longform. She is the co-editor of World Hum, a website devoted to the best travel stories on the Internet. 2013 was a great year for Holland.
She had pieces from Vela Magazine listed as notable in both Best American Essays and Best American Sports Writing. She’s written two stories for SB Nation Longform that were aggregated by Longform.org. One focused on the handlers who help sled dog racers in the one-thousand mile Yukon Quest. The other story is about called “Wilderness Women” and is about women who go to Alaska to compete in one of the wildest and strangest competitions ever.
Her story "Chasing Alexander Supertramp" looks at the increasing number of people who make the pilgrimage to the bus where Christopher McCandless of Into the Wild Fame died. The hike to that bus includes a dangerous crossing of the Teklanika River in Alaska, and continues to strand hikers on a regular basis, and sometimes claim lives.
Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and the author of “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.”
Montgomery’s book focuses on Emma Gatewood, who at the age of 67, through-hiked the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. She was the first woman to ever do so, and later became the first person, male or female, to hike the trail two and then three times. Montgomery’s book doesn’t just chronicle Gatewood’s hikes, but seeks to understand why she took to walking at such an advanced age.
As a reporter, Montgomery was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series of stories called “For Their Own Good.” Those stories examined abuse at Florida’s oldest reform school, at times called the Florida School for Boys and the Dozier School for Boys.
He is also the founder of Gangrey.com, a blog devoted to sharing and talking about the best narrative journalism being done in magazines and newspapers around the country. The podcast is a spin-off of that blog.
This week on the podcast I talk with Wil S. Hylton. Hylton wrote the book “Vanished,” which focuses on the modern-day search for one American bomber that crashed over the Pacific Islands during World War II. That bomber carried 11 men, who for decades, were listed as missing in action. Finding that lost bomber gave closure to the families of those men, but it also took an amazing feat of detective work and amazing modern technology.
“Vanished” out in November 2013 and has garnered praise from newspapers and magazines around the country. Time Magazine said the book contains “passages so expressive that we’re constantly reminded we’re in the hands of a phenomenal writer.”
Hylton is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. His work has also been featured in Harpers, GQ, Esquire and Rolling Stone, among many others magazines. He’s profiled US Attorney general Eric Holder among many others and written about the doomed Air France Flight 447. He’s also written about mothers who make the agonizing decision to abandon their children at safe havens.
You can also find out more about Hylton by visiting wilshylton.com.
Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter who has been called the beat poet of American journalism. He currently works as a writer at large for Esquire Magazine, and is also the editor and publisher of The Sager Group, a consortium of multimedia artists and writers.
Sager recently co-edited the book, "Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists." He’s also released a collection of his own magazine stories called "The Someone You’re Not," as well as a novel titled "High Tolerance."
Sager began his journalism career in the Washington Post newsroom, working for Bob Woodward. He went on to write for dozens of high profile magazines, including GQ, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Vibe, Spy and Interview, among many others. In 2010, he won a National Magazine Award for profile writing for his story on former NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich.
As usual, we’ve linked to many of Sager’s stories on our website. You can find that at gangreythepodcast.com. You can also find out more about Sager at mikesager.com