As a 10-year-old in northern Idaho, Anne Helen Petersen was fascinated by celebrity culture. She’d tear through gossip magazines, giving ratings to different issues. Fast-forward 20 years, and she’s turned her obsession into a career reporting on media, writing about everything from the role of the paparazzi to Jennifer Lawrence’s “cool girl” image to the women in True Detective. Her forthcoming book, Scandals of a Classic Hollywood, was borne out of a series of essays for The Hairpin.
Petersen also teaches film and media studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington—her courses cover subjects from celebrity gossip to Mad Men to Hollywood stardom. She spoke with me about her approach to teaching media studies and why she’s leaving academia to write features for Buzzfeed.
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Author Mona Simpson talks about Chekhov’s ”Three Years,” which plays on rom-com tropes to convey just how grand a story of two people learning to appreciate each other can be.
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When the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications announced earlier this month that the late Hunter S. Thompson would be included among its 2014 inductees into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, journalists and bloggers reporting the story made a point to set Thompson apart from his fellow honorees. Thompson, a wayward Kentuckian, would be installed “along with six more traditional journalists,” noted his hometown Louisville Courier-Journal. “More traditional… Less inebriated… State it any way you want,” snickered Mediabistro’s FishbowlNY blog. “We double-checked,” a local radio station chimed in. “It’s not an April Fool’s joke.”
There’s no arguing that Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005, left behind an iconoclast’s legacy. In his middle and later career, the author of Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas earned a reputation as a literary profligate and a mild fabulist, owing to his unconcealed fondness for recreational drugs, hyperbole, Wild Turkey, fictionalized dialogue, explosives, and Ominous Capitalization—all crucial components to what he termed “gonzo journalism.” But as Thompson and his Hall of Fame classmates are inducted this week, it’s worth remembering that well before he was a “gonzo journalist” or a “New Journalist” or an “outlaw journalist,” Hunter S. Thompson was simply a journalist, just another twenty-something freelancer who spent most of the 1960s hustling his way from paycheck to unglamorous paycheck.
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Linn Ulmann spent her childhood trailing her famous parents as they traveled the world. As the daughter of director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, two legends of 20th-century cinema, her “home” shifted time and again. The one constant was a Swedish island, Fårö, where she returned each summer to visit her father.
Now, she’s fascinated by the way our surroundings shape us. In her interview for this series, the author of The Cold Song used a short story by Alice Munro to illustrate the way setting drives her writing, and how place and memory help dictate the stories we tell.
The Cold Song concerns a cast of characters affected by the disappearance of Milla, a 19-year-old au pair working in a coastal town south of Oslo. After two years, her body—and the grisly manner of its death—is uncovered by three boys searching for buried treasure. With this act of violence at its heart, the novel explores the unexpected ways a crime haunts people who knew the victim, inflaming their secret sources of guilt.
Linn Ullmann is the author of five previous novels, including Before You Sleep and A Blessed Child; her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Oslo.
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"Surrealism runs through the streets," the Colombian author, who died today at age 87, told The Atlantic in 1973. ”Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.”
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Marcus Burke, author of Team Seven and a former college athlete, learned from Carter G. Woodson that teaching yourself is just as important as being taught in the classroom.
One truth underlies the sprawling, sometimes contentious, freebie-filled Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference: Making a life in literature isn’t easy.
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Some pieces of news precipitate a kind of journalistic pile-on. This can be unfortunate, a reason to rue the deluge of opinion (see: drawn-out analysis of James Franco’s antics, again and again). Or, because there are many smart and shrewd voices out there, the same density of opinion can enrich our understanding of complicated issues (see: drawn-out analysis of Edward Snowden). The pile-on—of either variety—is good for convening dissonant points of view. But the hubbub tends to obscure the subtler strands of opinion: The people who mostly agree with one another are flattened into the same perspective, and the interesting gradations that separate, say, one kind of liberal or conservative from another are lost.
There is special pleasure, then, in reading writers narrower conversation. Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald sparred over the future of news in the New York Times last year, with provocative results. Roundtables like Slate’s Supreme Court Breakfast Table illuminate the less visible corners of controversy by forcing like-minded commentators to make agreement interesting and disagreement intelligent.
Over the past two weeks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait of New York have engaged in a comparatively spontaneous back and forth that has accomplished this to great effect, shedding light on the places were progressives thoughtfully but profoundly disagree. The conversation began with no particular rules in place or end in sight—and their debate has proceeded with the intensity and unpredictability that such an approach entails.
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