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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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.

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.

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.

Episode 63: Pamela Colloff

Pamela Colloff is a senior reporter at ProPublica and a writer-at-large at The New York Times Magazine. She was the third guest on the podcast back in January 2013, when she talked about her Texas Monthly series “The Innocent Man.” That episode has unfortunately been lost. Colloff ultimately won the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing for that story.

On this show, Colloff talks about her two-part series, “Blood Will Tell,” her first project for ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine. In this extraordinary project, Colloff tells the story of Joe Bryan, a former principal in Texas and a man many believe was wrongfully-convicted of murdering his wife.

Prior to joining ProPublica and the Times in 2017, Colloff was an executive editor and staff writer at Texas Monthly. Her work has also appeared in The New Yorker and has been anthologized in “Best American Magazine Writing,” “Best American Crime Reporting,” “Best American Non-Required Reading,” and “Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.”

She is a six-time National Magazine Award finalist. Her 2010 story, “Innocence Lost” — about a wrongly convicted death row inmate named Anthony Graves — was credited with helping Graves win his freedom after 18 years behind bars. One month after its publication, all charges against Graves were dropped and he was released from jail, where he had been awaiting retrial.

In 2014, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University awarded her the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.

Her oral history “96 Minutes,” about the 1966 University of Texas shootings, served as the basis for the 2016 documentary, “TOWER,” which was short-listed for an Academy Award in Best Documentary Film.

Episode 62: Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a freelance writer who, most recently, authored and hosted “Bundyville,” a four-part story series and seven-episode podcast, which was presented by Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The project is the deepest dive yet into the Bundy family — that’s the family that fought back against federal law enforcement officers out west not once, but twice, a few years ago — and how they have become a symbol for those who feel the government is keeping them from living their true lives.

Sottile’s features, profiles and investigative work has been featured frequently by the Washington Post, Playboy, California Sunday, Outside Magazine, Longreads, and many other publications.

Before freelancing, she was a staff writer at The Inlander, in Spokane, Washington, where she wrote about music, and was the host of two very late-night heavy metal radio programs.