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.

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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.

Brooke Jarvis (2015)

This episode features an interview Matt Tullis did with Brooke Jarvis in May 2015. In the interview, Jarvis talks about her story “The Deepest Dig,” which was included in the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015 anthology. That story ran in the California Sunday Magazine. She also talked about her piece “Homeward,” which also ran in the California Sunday Magazine. That story is about a young man from the jungles of Ecuador, whose village sent him to the United States so he could be educated and come back to save the village from the oil industry and colonization.

Since joining the podcast, Jarvis won the Livingston Award in National Reporting — she won that in 2017 for her story “Unclaimed.” In 2016, she was the recipient of the Reporting Award from NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and a finalist for the PEN USA Literary Award in Journalism and the Livingston Award in International Reporting.

In November of 2017, her story “How One Woman’s Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her” went viral after being the cover story on Wired Magazine. And in December, she had a piece in the New York Times Magazine about the children of undocumented immigrants whose parents had been deported, and yet they were left stateside.

In June, Jarvis’s story, “The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger,” ran in The New Yorker. The Tasmanian Tiger has long been thought extinct, but now there is hope that it is still alive.

Episode 64: Stephen Rodrick

On this episode, host Matt Tullis talks with Stephen Rodrick, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a writer-at-large for Esquire. In the third week of June, both of those magazines published profiles of two very different celebrities that Rodrick wrote.

Esquire published Rodrick’s piece on Taylor Sheridan, a writer and actor who is reinventing American Western storytelling through movies like “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” on June 19.

Two days later, Rolling Stone published his fascinating profile of Johnny Depp. That piece got all of the attention because Rodrick spent a sometimes sad, sometimes fun, sometimes weird 72 hours with the man who has played everyone from Willy Wonka to Jack Sparrow. It also chronicled the troubles that Depp has been face, troubles that are primarily financial despite the amount of money he has made in his illustrious career.

Rodrick was the guest of the podcast on Episode 5, back in February of 2013, when he talked about his story “The Misfits,” which was about the filming of the movie “The Canyons,” and what happened when Lindsay Lohan was cast in it. He’s written for a number of big-time magazines, like Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Men’s Journal, The New York Times Magazine and New York.