Episode 96: John Branch

John Branch is a sports reporter at the New York Times, and the author of “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports.” The book was published on June 1 by W. W. Norton.

“Sidecountry” is a collection of stories Branch has written for the New York Times about sports and athletic activities that take place outside of the mainstream sports world. Included in the book is “Snow Fall,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2013.

There are other stories, like the one about a bowler who rolled his first perfect game and died just minutes later. Branch also includes his piece on a Rubik’s Cube competition (this story was anthologized in Best American Sports Writing 2019), and his series on the Lady Jaguars, a girls basketball team that never won a game. 

“I just love the idea of trying to illuminate a story that otherwise wouldn’t get illuminated,” Branch says. 

In 2010, Branch profiled the greatest horseshoe pitcher of all time, Alan Francis. Host Matt Tullis also profiled Francis in 2007 for the Columbus Dispatch, and later wrote about Francis’s main rival, Brian Simmons in 2012 for SB Nation. 

Branch has been at the New York Times since 2005. He won the Pulitzer in 2013, and was a finalist in 2012 for his series of stories on a professional hockey player who overdosed on painkillers. 

Sidecountry is Branch’s third book. “The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West” was published in 2018.

Episode 95: Travis M. Andrews

Travis M. Andrews is a features reporter at the Washington Post and the author of “Because He’s Jeff Goldblum: The Movies, Memes, and Meaning of Hollywood’s Most Enigmatic Actor.” The book was published by Plume on May 4.

The book is what Andrews calls a semi-biography, semi-celebration of Jeff Goldblum. It also looks into the shifting nature of fame and celebrity. The book came about after Andrews wrote a piece on Goldblum for the Post when the actor released his debut jazz album.

While Andrews didn’t talk with Goldblum for this book – the actor, or his publicist, passed, he did talk to upwards of 80 people who have worked with Goldblum. He also read every single interview that Goldblum’s given, and watched every single movie Goldblum has appeared in. 

Andrews writes for the Washington Post’s Style section, where he writes about the Internet, pop culture, and the ways we live now. He has recently written about Adam Sandler, Joe Rogan, and Andrew Yang. He often writes about TikTok, including a piece on the No. 1 TikTok poster in the world. 

Before joining the Post, Andrews was an associate travel and culture editor for Southern Living. He’s also written for Time, Esquire, GQ, and The Atlantic, among others. 

Episode 94: Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is the author “Why Peacocks? An Unlikely Search for Meaning in the World’s Most Magnificent Bird.” The book was published by Simon & Schuster, and went on sale on May 11.

Flynn’s book is certainly about peacocks, but also so much more. It’s a reported memoir that examines his life as a reporter and how it has impacted his family, and how the animals he takes care of fits into that. He gives credit for this book idea to his editor, Sean Manning.

Flynn has spent his life writing about traumatic events that involved other people. He won a National Magazine Award for his story “The Perfect Fire.” The story is about six firefighters who died in a warehouse fire in Massachusetts, and ran in the July 2000 issue of Esquire.

He’s written about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old Cleveland boy who police killed in a city park. He’s written about mass killings in New Zealand and Norway

Flynn has written three books. He’s a correspondent for GQ. Aside from books and magazine work, Flynn has also written for television, film, and audio.

Episode 93: Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a reporter, writer, producer, and host of the first season of a new podcast called The Opportunist. That first season was focused on a woman named Sherry Shriner, the leader of an online cult that believed most humans were alien reptiles out to kill them.

The Opportunist is produced by Kast Media. As a podcast, it will focus on true stories of regular people who turn sinister simply by being opportunistic. The second season is set to start in June.

Smith got started in the world of podcasting at Maximum Fun, working on comedy and interview podcasts. She worked on a parenting show called One Bad Mother, as well as the award-winning courtroom comedy Judge John Hodgman.

She’s worked in almost every kind of genre of podcasting, including news, comedy, audio drama, and narrative nonfiction. 

Smith is part of the Los Angeles live storytelling community, where she performs true stories from her own life. She is an Angelino who was raised in Middle America. This contrast of rural and urban, of culture and religion, informs her approach to storytelling.

Episode 92: Kevin Maurer

Kevin Maurer has written eight books, all of them focused on the military in some way. His most recent book is “Rock Force: The American Paratroopers Who Took Back Corregidor and Exacted MacArthur’s Revenge on Japan.” The book was published by Dutton Caliber.

In “Rock Force,” Maurer dives into one relatively small battle during World War II and shows us the men who were there. 

Maurer has frequently embedded with American soldiers. In 2003, he followed the 82nd Airborne Division during the initial invasion of Iraq and wrote articles for the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina. 

He returned to cover the soldiers more than a dozen times, most recently in 2010, where he spent ten weeks with a Special Forces team in Afghanistan. 

In 2012, Maurer co-wrote, with a former Navy Seal, “No Easy Day: The First Hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden.” That book was a New York Times best-seller.

Episode 91: Abbott Kahler

Abbott Kahler is the author of four books of historical narrative nonfiction. More recently, though, she wrote the story “How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life.” It was published simultaneously by New York magazine and The Marshall Project.

The piece is about how Gruen, the famed author of “Water for Elephants,” was left broke and seriously ill after fighting for six years to free an incarcerated man who she thought was innocent.

Kahler and Gruen are close friends. Kahler says it was cathartic for Gruen to talk about what she had been through. The story got a lot of traction when it was published on March 24, giving more attention to the case of Charles Murdoch, the man Gruen is trying to free.

This was definitely a different type of writing and reporting for Kahler. She’s made a name for herself as a New York Times best-selling author of historical narrative nonfiction. She’s done so under the name of Karen Abbott, although she legally changed her name in 2020, and will now write as Abbott Kahler.

Her first book, “Sin in the Second City,” is about two sisters who ran a famous brothel in Chicago in the early 1900s. Her book “Liar Temptress Soldier Spy” is about four women who worked undercover during the Civil War. Her most recent book, “The Ghosts of Eden Park,” is about a bootleg king in Cincinnati and a shocking murder in 1927. It was an Edgar Award finalist for best fact crime book.

Kahler has written for the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other publications. She also maintains the Wicked History Blog, which presents old photos and short reported pieces that describe the photos. She’s currently working on her fifth book, “Then Came the Devil.”

Episode 90: Elon Green

Elon Green is the author of “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York.” The book was published by Celadon Books earlier this month. 

The book is about men who were picked up in piano bars in New York City in the early 1990s, and then killed, dismembered and left outside the city. The book is about the lives those men led. 

“Last Call” was recently reviewed in the New York Times Book Review.

Green did a massive amount of reporting in order to write this book. He gathered trial transcripts, massive amounts of police files, and documents handed over by friends and family members. He also interviewed about 160 people, some of them many times. 

Green has written for the New York Times Magazine, The Awl, and New York. He’s been anthologized in Unspeakable Acts, which was edited by Sarah Weinman. She was a guest of the podcast on Episode 69. He recently published a piece in The Appeal headlined “The Dissenter.” That story is about former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. Green has also been an editor at Longform since 2011.

In 2013 and 2014, he did Annotation interviews with some of the best literary journalists of all time, including reporters like Tom Wolfe, Mike Sager, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and Gay Talese. He did those for Nieman Storyboard

Episode 89: Glenn Stout

In this episode, Matt Tullis talks with Glenn Stout about his new book, “Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid: America’s Original Gangster Couple.” The book is about a husband and wife who robbed jewelers and bankers blind over the course of one year in the 1920s. It’s published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is available on March 30. 

Stout has had an amazingly productive 2021. His book “Young Woman and the Sea” will be turned into a movie for Disney+. Production should be starting soon. The book is about Trudy Ederle, the first woman to swim the English channel. Ederle is going to be played by Daisy Ridley. She played Rey in the newest Star Wars movies.

As if that’s not enough, Stout has also found a way to make sure the best sports writing in the country will continue to be anthologized. “Best American Sports Writing” had its 30th and final year of production in 2020. Stout had been the series editor for the entire time.

He’s managed to create a new series called “The Year’s Best Sports Writing.” It will be published by Triumph Books. Stout will edit the first edition, and he’s created an advisory board that will carry the book forward.

That book will be available in October. 

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.