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.”

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 goes on sale on April 14.

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.

Justin Heckert (2013)

This is a rebroadcast of the original episode of Gangrey: The Podcast, featuring Justin Heckert. It originally aired in January 2013. Heckert talked with host Matt Tullis about his story “The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly,” which ran in The New York Times Magazine in November 2012. The story is about a 13-year-old girl who has a medical condition that makes it so she can’t feel pain. 

Since joining the podcast, Heckert has reported and written a lot of other amazing stories. His story, “Susan Cox is No Longer Here,” ran in Indianapolis Monthly, and was later republished by River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. It’s a haunting piece that looks at what happens when life, and death, don’t go the way we expect it to. 

In March 2014, he wrote a piece on Puddles the Clown for Grantland. In July 2018, he wrote about the last Blockbuster video store for The Ringer. And in August, he wrote about a year-long quest to save an injured loggerhead turtle. That story ran in Garden & Gun magazine.

Tullis also interviewed Heckert a second time in 2015 when he did an annotation of his Men’s Journal story “Lost in the Waves” for Nieman Storyboard.

Heckert has written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, GQ, ESPN The Magazine, Men’s Journal, and Sports Illustrated. He has twice been named the City and Regional Magazine Association’s writer of the year.

Kim Cross (2015)

This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Kim Cross in September 2015. Cross’s book “What Stands in the Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley” had been published by Atria Books in March of that year. The book is a reporting and writing masterpiece, as Cross went to great lengths to make sure the reporting was accurate, and the writing was compelling.

Since joining the podcast, Cross been included in Best American Sports Writing twice. She was included in the 2016 edition for her story The King of Tides, which ran in Southwest: The Magazine. And this year, Cross will be in BASW 2019 for a story she wrote for Bicycling Magazine. That story is about a prisoner in California who spends his time restoring used bicycles.

Cross has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Outside, Southern Living, Cooking Light, SB Nation Longform, Bicycling, Runner’s World, the Tampa Bay Times, ESPN.com, and many more publications.

Episode 76: Rachel Monroe

On this episode, Rachel Monroe talks with host Matt Tullis. Monroe’s first book, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession, was published by Scribner. It went on sale today, August 19.

 The book tells the stories of four true crimes that had women intimately involved in them, but all in different capacities. 

Monroe is a freelance writer based in Marfa, Texas. She also serves as a volunteer firefighter there. She’s written about crime, communes, utopias, drones, small town, firefighters, haunted houses, really just about everything. 

She was a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2016 and was named one of 56 women journalists everyone should read by New York Magazine.

She’s been published by The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Outside Magazine, The Atlantic, Texas Monthly, and Esquire, among many others. Her essay about murder, fandom, and adolescence, “Outside the Manson Pinkberry” was originally published in The Believer, and was anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing 2018.