Episode 88: Mirin Fader

This episode features Mirin Fader, a new staff writer for The Ringer. Prior to joining The Ringer, Fader spent four years writing for Bleacher Report’s BR Mag

On January 14, The Ringer published her story “Davante Adams is Peaking in Every Way Possible.” The profile of the all-pro wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers was her first piece for The Ringer.

The story goes deep behind the scenes of Adam’s life. That’s something that doesn’t happen often in profiles of star athletes. Fader spent a great deal of time talking with Adams, his wife, and his mother, and came away with a story that shows exactly how the wide receiver has been impacted by becoming a father.

In Fader’s last year at Bleacher Report, she wrote two pieces about the heart-breaking deaths of two athletes. One of those stories was focused on Gigi Bryant, Kobe’s daughter, who died in the helicopter crash one year ago. The other story was about California Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2019. Fader said learned so much about empathy in reporting those pieces. 

Fader has been noted in Best American Sports Writing twice. She was also a finalist for the Dan Jenkins Medal in 2020. 

She is currently writing a book about Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. That book will be released in August 2021 by Hachette Books.

Episode 87: Andrea Pitzer

Andrea Pitzer is the author of Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World. The book was published by Scribner, and went on sale on January 12.

Icebound is a gripping piece of narrative journalism focused on European arctic explorers in the 16th century. At the center is William Barents, one of the greatest navigators of the time who’s obsessive quest to sail through the most remote regions of the Arctic ended in both tragedy and glory.

Pitzer did an amazing amount of research in order to tell this centuries-old tale. For Icebound, Pitzer made three trips to the Arctic herself. She spent a great deal of time in archives and libraries. She even walked through a replica of the yachts that sailed in the 16th century. 

Icebound is Pitzer’s third book. Her first book was The Secret History of Vladimir Nabobkov. After that, she wrote One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps

In 2009, Pitzer founded Nieman Storyboard, the narrative nonfiction website for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. She stayed on as the editor until 2012, but the site is still going strong. 

Pitzer has written for The Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, Outside Magazine, GQ, Longreads and others.

Episode 86: Bradford Pearson

Bradford Pearson is the author of “The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America.” The book was published by Atria Books of Simon and Schuster. 

Pearson’s book tells the story of Japanese internment camps during World War II, and a very special high school football team. That team offered hope to those who were being held in an internment camp on the outskirts of Cody, Wyoming.

Pearson spent a lot of time in historical archives to tell this story. It’s something he’s always enjoyed doing. He likes looking for a needle in a haystack, for a bit of information that ties everything together. He went to the National Archives, as well as archives in Wyoming and at UCLA. 

Pearson has been on the podcast before. He was on Episode 40 in November of 2015. At the time, he was an editor at Southwest: The Magazine. We talked about his story, “My Kidnappers,” which was published by Philadelphia Magazine. 

He has also written for the New York Times, Esquire, D Magazine, and Salon, among other publications.

Jeanne Marie Laskas (2013)

This is a rebroadcast of the November 2013 episode in which Matt Tullis talked with Jeanne Marie Laskas. They talked about her profile of President-Elect Joe Biden, who was then serving as vice president. She spent a day with him being driven around his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. That story ran in GQ.

Since joining the podcast, Laskas has written two books, bringing her total to eight. In 2015, “Concussion” was released. That book expanded her 2009 story “Game Brain,” which is also discussed in this show. The book was turned into a feature film starring Will Smith.

In 2018, “To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope” was published. For this book, Laskas interviewed President Obama as well as the people who wrote him letters.

She is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, a correspondent at GQ, and a two-time National Magazine Award finalist in feature writing.

Mike Wilson (2015)

This is a rebroadcast of the talk that Matt Tullis had with Mike Wilson in May 2015. Wilson was just named a deputy editor for enterprise in Sports at the New York Times. When we did this interview, Wilson had just been named editor of the Dallas Morning News

Wilson has a long track record of supporting journalists who write narratives. When he was at the Tampa Bay Times, he worked with a number of reporters who have been on this show: Ben Montgomery, Lane DeGregory, Michael Kruse, Kelley Benham French, Leonora LaPeter Anton, John Woodrow Cox, and more. They’re all excellent storytellers. That, in Wilson’s mind, is important, especially in news organizations.

“Stories are how we understand the world, or how we share our experiences,” he said in the show. “They’re how we communicate with loved ones. So it’s very elemental stuff for human beings. So it’s only natural that telling stories as journalists would also be really important.” 

When Wilson was a top editor at the Tampa Bay Times, the newspaper started publishing Encounters. The front page series consisted of short, interesting stories that one would not define traditionally as news. 

“It was supposed to be a really enjoyable five to six minute read for readers,” he said. “The Michael Kruse story about the guy teaching his daughter to ride a bike, there was absolutely nothing special about that story and then everything was special about it. It described this moment that probably just about every parent has been through of setting up your child on two wheels for the first time and letting go and watching them take those first few kind of halting pedaling steps forward and it was just this absolutely beautiful capturing of a universal moment. 

Other stories mentioned in this episode:

• Nathan Thornburgh’s The Root of All Things

• Lane DeGregory’s Encounter on a rodeo rider

Episode 85: Wright Thompson

Wright Thompson is a senior writer at ESPN, and the author of Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things that Last. That book just came out earlier this week. It’s published by Penguin Press.

Pappyland had a strange route to publication. It was initially supposed to be a book Thompson ghost-wrote for Julian Van Winkle. Van Winkle is a bourbon genius who found a way to rebuild a business that was built by his grandfather and lost by his father. 

In the process, he’s created a bourbon that people pay more than $3,000 a bottle for.

But ultimately, Thompson saw the book become something more, a book about a man who makes bourbon, and one who drinks it.

The book is also about fatherhood. It’s about both Thompson’s father, who passed away several years ago, and Thompson, who in the book, is in the process of becoming a father. 

It’s almost magical that just five days before Pappyland was released, Thompson’s second daughter was born.

Pappyland is actually Thompson’s second book. His first, The Cost of These Dreams, is an anthology of his best work from ESPN. He’s still writing longform narrative pieces for ESPN. He’s also producing the TV series True South, which focuses on southern food and culture. The show airs on the SEC Network.

Thompson was a guest in the early days of the podcast. He was featured on Episode 11 in October 2013. At the time, we talked about his profiles of Michael Jordan and legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable.

Episode 84: John Woodrow Cox

John Woodrow Cox is an enterprise reporter for the Washington Post. He’s currently writing stories focused on how the COVID pandemic is impacting children. 

On October 7, the Post published his latest story, about the Marquez-Greene family in Connecticut. They lost their daughter Ana at Sandy Hook, and recently had to make a hard decision as to whether they would send their 16-year-old son Isaiah back to school in the middle of the pandemic.

Cox was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 2018 for his series of stories that look at gun violence and how it was impacting children. His book — Children Under Fire: An American Crisis — expands upon that coverage. That book will be available on March 30, 2021.

Cox was on Gangrey: The Podcast way back on Episode 12 in October 2013. At the time, he was a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times. In that episode, we talked about his series of stories for the Floridian titled “Dispatches from next door.” They included one about a woman who was only able to find peace on the ocean.

We also talked about his coverage of cops, and one story in particular, about a 9-month-old who drowned in a family swimming pool. Cox said that story has had a lasting impact on him as a reporter. 

Since he was on the show, he’s won Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest Storytelling; the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma; and Columbia Journalism School’s Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for human-interest reporting. 

As usual, I’ve linked to a lot of Cox’s stories on our website. You can find that, along with his original episode, at gangrey the podcast dot com.

Episode 83: Alex Belth

Alex Belth is the curator of The Stacks Reader and the editor of Esquire Classic. He’s also the creator of Bronx Banter, a website that focuses on New York City sports, arts and culture and more.

The Stacks Reader is a treasure trove of classic magazine journalism and other writing that otherwise might be lost to history. Belth has built this archive largely by himself, reaching out to writers and their families and obtaining the rights to republish.

Most recently, Belth has been adding stories to The Stacks Reader written by Ron Rosenbaum, who has written for The Village Voice, Esquire, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and many more publications.

There are stories in The Stacks Reader that go all the way back to 1932, like Westbrook Pegler’s Chicago Tribune story headlined “The Called Shot Heard Round the World.”

One of the writer’s whose work has been preserved on the site is a man named O’Connell Driscoll. Driscoll’s first magazine piece was a 13,000 word profile of Jerry Lewis. He wrote it for Playboy, while he was still in college.

Belth recently received the 2020 Tony Salin Memorial Award from The Baseball Reliquary. He was honored for his work on The Stacks Reader and Esquire Classic, as well as his own baseball writing. 

He wrote “Stepping Up,” a biography of St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Curt Flood. In 2012, he wrote the essay “The Two Rogers” for SB Nation Longform. That piece was about the death of Belth’s father, but also the writings of Roger Kahn and Roger Angell. 

Belth was included in Best American Sports Writing 2012 for his Deadspin story on sportswriter George Kimball. He often writes for Esquire.com, including a piece on Tim O’Brien and his latest book, “Dad’s Maybe Book.

Episode 82: Chris Jones

Back in November, podcast host Matt Tullis talked with Chris Jones. Tullis wanted to talk with him about writing for a book he’s working on, a book focused on how to report and write narrative journalism. 

Tullis talked with Jones about writing for about 30 minutes. They talked about how Jones wrote “The Things That Carried Him,” which Jones won a National Magazine Award for in 2009. They talked about his Zanesville zoo story and his Roger Ebert profile and his Kenneth Feinberg profile

They also talked about Jones making the move to screenwriting. 

Jones made quite a career for himself at Esquire. He was regularly included in Best American Sports Writing for work he did for ESPN The Magazine. Now he’s a writer for the Netflix show Away. The show is loosely based on Jone’s Esquire story with the same title. That show will likely be released later this year.

Jones was on the podcast back in January 2014. At the time, he talked about his Feinberg piece, as well as a story he wrote about what happened on Air Force One immediately after President John F. Kennedy was killed.

Episode 81: Kim Cross

Kim Cross is a freelancer who writes for a number of publications. Most recently, Bicycling Magazine published her story “Noel and Leon: What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe.” 

The story is about two bicyclists who were riding in opposite directions on thousand-mile journeys. They just so happened to cross paths in the middle of a desert. Cross first heard about these two men five years ago, and fought long and hard to find a home for the story.

This is the second time Cross has been on the podcast. She was on in September 2015, when we talked about her book What Stands in the Storm: A True Story of Love and Resilience in the Worst Superstorm in History. 

Cross has written for a number of publications, including ESPN, Outside, Bicycling Magazine, Garden and Gun, and more. She has been included in Best American Sports Writing twice, including in 2019, for her story “The Redemption of Artis Monroe.”