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 95: Travis M. Andrews

Travis M. Andrews is a features reporter at the Washington Post and the author of “Because He’s Jeff Goldblum: The Movies, Memes, and Meaning of Hollywood’s Most Enigmatic Actor.” The book was published by Plume on May 4.

The book is what Andrews calls a semi-biography, semi-celebration of Jeff Goldblum. It also looks into the shifting nature of fame and celebrity. The book came about after Andrews wrote a piece on Goldblum for the Post when the actor released his debut jazz album.

While Andrews didn’t talk with Goldblum for this book – the actor, or his publicist, passed, he did talk to upwards of 80 people who have worked with Goldblum. He also read every single interview that Goldblum’s given, and watched every single movie Goldblum has appeared in. 

Andrews writes for the Washington Post’s Style section, where he writes about the Internet, pop culture, and the ways we live now. He has recently written about Adam Sandler, Joe Rogan, and Andrew Yang. He often writes about TikTok, including a piece on the No. 1 TikTok poster in the world. 

Before joining the Post, Andrews was an associate travel and culture editor for Southern Living. He’s also written for Time, Esquire, GQ, and The Atlantic, among others. 

Episode 94: Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is the author “Why Peacocks? An Unlikely Search for Meaning in the World’s Most Magnificent Bird.” The book was published by Simon & Schuster, and went on sale on May 11.

Flynn’s book is certainly about peacocks, but also so much more. It’s a reported memoir that examines his life as a reporter and how it has impacted his family, and how the animals he takes care of fits into that. He gives credit for this book idea to his editor, Sean Manning.

Flynn has spent his life writing about traumatic events that involved other people. He won a National Magazine Award for his story “The Perfect Fire.” The story is about six firefighters who died in a warehouse fire in Massachusetts, and ran in the July 2000 issue of Esquire.

He’s written about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old Cleveland boy who police killed in a city park. He’s written about mass killings in New Zealand and Norway

Flynn has written three books. He’s a correspondent for GQ. Aside from books and magazine work, Flynn has also written for television, film, and audio.

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 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 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.