On this episode, host Matt Tullis talks with Carson Vaughan, the author of the “Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream,” which focuses on a small-town zoo in Royal, Nebraska, and its eventual downfall.
Vaughan started reporting and writing this book as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He then took the project to graduate school, where it was his master’s thesis in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MFA creative writing program. That’s the same program that Tullis graduated from in 2005.
“Zoo Nebraska” was published by Little A, an imprint of Amazon Publishing that focuses on literary fiction and nonfiction.
Vaughan is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about the Great Plains. He wrote “My Cousin, the Cowboy Poet” for the New Yorker. He’s also written for the New York Times, The Guardian, The Paris Review Daily, Outside, The Atlantic, Roads & Kingdoms, and Runner’s World, among others.
Seth Wickersham is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN right after graduating from the University of Missouri. While he primarily covers the NFL, he has also covered the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.
Since joining the podcast in 2014, Wickersham has gone on to write several noteworthy stories, including two stories he co-wrote with Don Van Natta Jr., “Spygate to Deflategate” and “The Wow Factor.” He has a profile on John Elway in the September 7, 2016 issue of ESPN: The Magazine that is getting great reviews.
When Matt Tullis talked with Wickersham, he had just started writing some wonderful longform literary journalism for ESPN. He wrote about a runner from Kenya who went to college in Alaska, but suffered his own private torment, something that changed his life forever. He wrote about legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh’s attempt to write a book that would teach everyone how to coach in the NFL. And he wrote about vets who have to put racehorses down after catastrophic injuries, a story that was anthologized in the book “Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.”
In this episode, we talk with Wickersham about two stories in particular. In “Awakening the Giant,” Wickersham wrote about legendary quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who suffers from dementia. He also wrote the story “Out Route,” which chronicled Atlanta Falcon’s tight end Tony Gonzalez in the final season of his hall of fame career.
Earl Swift is the author of “Auto Biography: A Classic Car, An Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream.” The book tells the life story of a 1957 Chevy that, at the beginning of the book, is falling apart.
Swift profiles the car’s thirteenth owner, Tommy Arney, who has led an extraordinary life, one that started with a brutal childhood, proceeded into a life of crime and ended up as a somewhat successful and controversial businessman. Arney sets out on a quest to restore the car to its former glory, and Swift is there for all of it. Through that narrative, Swift manages to also tell the stories of every single person who had ever owned the car. In the process, he captures America’s strange and abiding relationship with the automobile.
This is Swift’s fifth book. Since 2012, he’s been a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia. Before that, he was a newspaper reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, where he was nominated five times for a Pulitzer Prize.
Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and the author of “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.”
Montgomery’s book focuses on Emma Gatewood, who at the age of 67, through-hiked the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. She was the first woman to ever do so, and later became the first person, male or female, to hike the trail two and then three times. Montgomery’s book doesn’t just chronicle Gatewood’s hikes, but seeks to understand why she took to walking at such an advanced age.
Since joining the podcast, “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and Montgomery has written another book. “The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II” is being published by Chicago Review Press, and will be available on Oct. 1, 2016.
As a reporter, Montgomery was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series of stories called “For Their Own Good.” Those stories examined abuse at Florida’s oldest reform school, at times called the Florida School for Boys and the Dozier School for Boys.
He is also the founder of Gangrey.com, a blog devoted to sharing and talking about the best narrative journalism being done in magazines and newspapers around the country. The podcast is a spin-off of that blog.
You can follow Montgomery on Twitter @gangrey.
Wil S. Hylton wrote the book “Vanished,” which focuses on the modern-day search for one American bomber that crashed over the Pacific Islands during World War II. That bomber carried 11 men, who for decades, were listed as missing in action. Finding that lost bomber gave closure to the families of those men, but it also took an amazing feat of detective work and amazing modern technology.
“Vanished” came out in November 2013 and has garnered praise from newspapers and magazines around the country. Time Magazine said the book contains “passages so expressive that we’re constantly reminded we’re in the hands of a phenomenal writer.”
Hylton is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. His work has also been featured in Harpers, GQ, Esquire and Rolling Stone, among many others magazines. He’s profiled US Attorney general Eric Holder among many others and written about the doomed Air France Flight 447. He’s also written about mothers who make the agonizing decision to abandon their children at safe havens.
Since talking with Matt Tullis on the podcast, he has continued writing for The New York Times, including the piece “The Mysterious Metamorphosis of Chuck Close,” which was published in July 2016.
You can also find out more about Hylton by visiting wilshylton.com.