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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.