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 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 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.

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 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.”

Episode 80: Eva Holland

Eva Holland is the author of the book “Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear.” 

Nerve is a hybrid of memoir and reported science. It’s focused on Holland encountering and overcoming the things she was most fearful of, and the science behind it all.

The book came about after a few things happened back in 2015. First, Holland’s mom died unexpectedly. That was one of Holland’s greatest fears in life. And then, she was in a series of serious car crashes. 

“I rolled my car into a ditch in April 2016, and I had been thinking about the idea of a book about fear actually that day while I was driving on the highway,” Holland says. “That night in the hospital, I was like, yeah, okay, you’ve got to do the book about this now because obviously the universe is sending you some kind of sign.”

This is Holland’s first book. Most of what she has done as a writer over the last decade are magazine pieces. She is a successful freelance writer, working as a correspondent for Outside magazine. She’s also written for Esquire, including a piece that helped pave the way to the book, Wired, Pacific Standard, AFAR, Smithsonian, and National Geographic News

This is Holland’s second visit to Gangrey: The Podcast. She was on the show back in March 2014

Nerve is now available.

Episode 78: Bronwen Dickey

Bronwen Dickey is a contributing editor at The Oxford American and the author of Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon.

In October 2019, her story “The Remains” was published by Esquire. The story looks at forensic anthropology, and one case in particular.

“The story is about a young man named Christian Gonzalez, who came to this country when he was very, very young with his family, and grew up in East Texas and considered himself, as did his friends and family, to be American,” Dickey says. “And then he was deported after kind of a weird conflagration of events, and he was deported to Mexico. He really did not know his home at all and felt very lonely there. He tried to get back into the United States, and he died in the South Texas desert.

Dickey opens The Remains with a scene that is very detailed, showing the forensic anthropologists doing their work on the remains of Christian Gonzalez. That work was done many years ago, though, which means Dickey had to recreate the scene through solid reporting.

“Recreation is one of the parts of writing that I enjoy the most,” Dickey says, “Because it’s kind of like going on a historical scavenger hunt a little bit, trying to find the details that’ll fit into the puzzle of the picture you’re trying to build.”

Dickey has written for The Oxford American, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Journal, Garden and Gun, the New York Times, and so many more publications. She’s received the Hearst Editorial Excellence Award in reporting, and a Lowell Thomas Award in travel journalism. 

Her story “Climb Aboard, Ye Who Seek the Truth,” was published by Popular Mechanics, and was a finalist for the 2017 National Magazine Award in feature writing.