Episode 67: Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is the author of “The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search For Meaning in the Great Depression.” The book was published by Little, Brown Spark in September, and tells the story of a man named Plennie Wingo, who in 1931, attempted to walk around the world, backward.

This is the third time Montgomery has been on the podcast. He was the guest on Episode 21, when he talked about his first book, “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.” That book went on to become a New York Times Bestseller.

He was also one of five guests on Episode 45, which was focused on the work of the late Michael Brick, which was contained in the book, “Everyone Leaves Behind a Name.” The other guests on that show were Wright Thompson, Michael Kruse, Tony Rehagen, and Thomas Lake.

Montgomery created the website gangrey.com, which was the namesake for this podcast. For years, he was one of the top enterprise reporters at the Tampa Bay Times, where he wrote about everything from one of the last spectacle lynchings in Florida to why cops shoot at suspects.

He left the Tampa Bay Times in October 2017 to focus on writing “The Man Who Walked Backward.” Now, he finds himself teaching student journalists at the University of Montana as the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Montgomery’s latest book is his third. His second book was titled “The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II.”

He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting in 2010 for his series of stories on the decades of abuse at a Florida reform school for boys. He won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for the same series.

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Janet Reitman (2013)

On this episode, we’re rebroadcasting an interview that Matt Tullis did with Janet Reitman in October 2013. During this episode, Tullis and Reitman talked about her story, “Jahar’s World,” which ran in the Rolling Stone. The story was about Jahar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers.

Rolling Stone was criticized at the time because they put a glossy photo of Tsarnaev on the cover. But journalistically, the story that Reitman wrote was lauded as an excellent piece of reporting and writing, including by the New York Times’ David Carr.

Reitman is being lauded again because of a piece she reported and wrote for the New York Times Magazine. The story, “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.” was published in early November.

A few days after the story was published, Terry Gross interviewed Reitman for Fresh Air on National Public Radio.

Reitman is a contributing writer for the New York Times, and a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. She is also the author of the book, “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion.”

Episode 66: Brin-Jonathan Butler

On this episode, host Matt Tullis talks with Brin-Jonathan Butler. Butler wrote the book, The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match that Made Chess Great Again, which will be released on November 6. The book takes a look at the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was held in New York City just before the 2016 election. It also dives deep into the type of personality needed to be a chess champion.

Butler’s first book, The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing With Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba, was shortlisted for the PEN/ESPN Award for literary sports writing, and was a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015.

His story, “Ghost of Capablanca,” published by Southwest: The Magazine, was included in the 2018 Best American Travel Writing. He’s also been a notable selection in that book, as well as Best American Sports Writing, multiple times.

Butler has written for Esquire, Bloomberg, ESPN The Magazine, Playboy, Harper’s, the Paris Review, and Roads and Kingdoms.

Episode 65: Jeff Pearlman

Jeff Pearlman is the author of “Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.” The book takes a deep dive into the United States Football League, which existed from 1983 to 1985. The league existed when Pearlman was a kid, and he was in love with it. The book is something that Pearlman has called a labor of love.

Pearlman interviewed 430 people for this book. Only two people with ties to the USFL that he reached out to refused to talk to him. One of those people was Donald Trump. Trump was the owner of the New Jersey Generals in 1984 and 85. Pearlman was doing the reporting for this book during the 2016 election season. One thing he started realizing was the Trump was making the same types of promises as a presidential candidate, as he did as a USFL owner. That includes the time he signed quarterback Doug Flutie to a huge contract, and then sent a letter to the other owners of the league, telling them all that they had to actually pay for Flutie themselves.

“Football For A Buck” is Pearlman’s eighth book. He’s written books about Walter Payton, the 1986 New York MetsBrett Favre, and the Los Angeles Lakers Showtime years. He currently writes a weekly column for The Athletic, and is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s also written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, and many others.

Pearlman is also the guest editor for this year’s edition of The Best American Sports Writing. The series editor of that annual anthology is Glenn Stout, who has twice been a guest on the podcast.

Earl Swift (2014)

On this episode, we’re rebroadcasting an interview Matt Tullis did with Earl Swift in November 2014. At the time, Swift’s book “Auto Biography: A Classic Car, An Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream” had just been published.

Swift has a new book out now. “Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island” was published by Harper Collins, and is getting rave reviews.

Auto Biography is also a fantastic book. It tells the life story of a 1957 Chevy that, at the beginning of the book, is falling apart. He also delves deep into the life of the current owner, Tommy Arney. Arney had a brutal childhood. He dropped out of school in the fifth-grade, and lived a life of crime. But had also become a somewhat successful and controversial businessman.

The story of this car started as a five-part series for the Virginian-Pilot, where Swift had been a reporter for many years. In this interview, he talked about the differences between reporting for newspaper work and reporting for a book project.

Swift is a former Fulbright fellow in New Zealand, and is currently a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Luke Dittrich (2013

This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Luke Dittrich in September 2013. At the time, Esquire had just published his story “The Prophet,” a story about a neurosurgeon who claimed to have visited heaven in a best-selling book. Dittrich’s piece pretty much debunked those claims.

Dittrich also talks about his story about the Joplin, Missouri, tornado. The story — “Heavenly Father! I Love You! I Love Everyone,” was about 23 people who rode out the storm in a convenience store cooler. The store was destroyed, but the people within all survived. Dittrich ultimately won a National Magazine Award for the piece.

Since joining the podcast, Dittrich turned another piece that was discussed in this interview — “The Brain That Changed Everything” — into a book. “Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets” digs deep into that Esquire story and unveils the life of his grandfather, the doctor who treated Patient HM and performed lobotomies on untold numbers of people. The book is one of the best science-related books that I’ve read in a long time, and easily holds rank with “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot.

John Woodrow Cox (2013)

On this episode, the podcast replays the interview Matt Tullis did with John Woodrow Cox from October 2013. Cox was the 12th guest on the podcast, and, at the time, was a general assignment reporter in Pinellas County for the Tampa Bay Times. On this episode, he talked about the short, narrative stories he was writing for the Floridian Magazine. The series was called “Dispatches from next door.” They were short pieces – just 500 words – but painstakingly reported. He talked about two such pieces; one about a woman who is only able to find peace out on the ocean, and another about a senior citizen who is always on the look for a younger woman who will save him from loneliness.

Cox left the Times in 2014 and went to the Washington Post. He’s an enterprise reporter with a focus on narrative journalism there. This year, his series about the impact of gun violence on children in America was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. He is currently working on a book that will expand on that coverage.

He’s also written about a flawed sexual assault investigation in the Marines and about a 10-year-old who has HIV.

Since joining the podcast, Cox has won several prestigious awards. He has won the Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest in Storytelling, the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Columbia Journalism School’s Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for human-interest reporting, and the Education Writers Association’s Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting. He’s also been named a finalist for the Michael Kelly Award and for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. His stories have been recognized by Mayborn’s Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing contest and the Society for Features Journalism, among others.