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New Stories We Tell: True Tales By America's New Generation of Great Women Journalists

New Stories We Tell: True Tales By America's New Generation of Great Women Journalists

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New Stories We Tell: True Tales By America's New Generation of Great Women Journalists

Länge:
504 Seiten
7 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Sep 12, 2019
ISBN:
9780999633885
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

New Stories We Tell is the third in a series of women-centric journalism text/anthologies created to celebrate the great women of American longform writing. New Stories features stories by sixteen of the most talked-about contemporary magazine writers.

Each chapter features a landmark story, a bio, and an interview with the writer. We learn about lives, careers, writing philosophies, tricks of the trade, and backstories. Taken together, the assembled articles—republished from both legacy and new media--paint a picture of the shifting role of the genre known variously as longform, creative or literary nonfiction, and the New Journalism.

Writers include: Rachel Aviv, Anne Babe, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Pamela Colloff, Sara Corbett, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Brooke Jarvis, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sheelah Kolhatkar, Jaeah Lee, Lizzie Presser, Janet Reitman, Lisa Taddeo, Jia Tolentino, Amy Wallace, and Elizabeth Weil

While journalists today, as always, are pledged to intellectual honesty and a true reporting of the facts, more than ever the genre is seen as an outlet for agency and a tool of social justice. Almost all of the women featured in New Stories We Tell aim their considerable journalistic talents at pressing issues of our day.

Maybe someday soon, books like this won’t be necessary. Written by women or not, these stories are simply great work.

Praise for New Stories We Tell:

“A well-selected anthology of potent stories by formidable women writers.” –Kirkus Reviews

"I would have killed for this book when I was a young and obsessed reader. I'm now an old and obsessed reader and I can't wait to read (reread) the stories and especially the As Told Tos. I'm honored to be in such amazing company.”—Sara Corbett, coauthor, Becoming by Michelle Obama

“New Stories We Tell is a collection of true stories written by American women journalists. It is a known fact that men dominate the world of nonfiction. This book is different because it brings together the excellent contributions of women journalists on varied topics. I appreciate how the editors celebrate the differences between the writing styles of authors from varied backgrounds. Every story begins with a short biographical account by the writer that helps you to understand the underlying passion and focus of her journalism. This is a praiseworthy aspect of the structure of New Stories We Tell. The “Editor’s Note” reveals the need to promote the work of women in this field and is thought-provoking.

“People who like to read inspiring writings on social issues will enjoy this book. It may also appeal to journalists, educationists, and social workers, especially women. I am happy to award this anthology a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I did not give it a lower rating because of its excellence and innovative concept in the field of journalism. Some of the stories are still lingering in my mind after reading the entire book.” 4 OUT OF 4 STARS. --OnlineBookClub.org

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Sep 12, 2019
ISBN:
9780999633885
Format:
Buch

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New Stories We Tell - The Sager Group

I would have killed for this book when I was a young and obsessed reader. I'm now an old and obsessed reader and I can't wait to read (reread) the stories and especially the As Told Tos. I'm honored to be in such amazing company.

— Sara Corbett, coauthor, Becoming by Michelle Obama

"New Stories We Tell is a collection of true stories written by American women journalists.

"It is a known fact that men dominate the world of nonfiction. This book is different because it brings together the excellent contributions of women journalists on varied topics. I appreciate how the editors celebrate the differences between the writing styles of authors from varied backgrounds. Every story begins with a short biographical account by the writer that helps you to understand the underlying passion and focus of her journalism. This is a praiseworthy aspect of the structure of New Stories We Tell. The Editor’s Note reveals the need to promote the work of women in this field and is thought-provoking.

People who like to read inspiring writings on social issues will enjoy this book. It may also appeal to journalists, educationists, and social workers, especially women. I am happy to award this anthology a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I did not give it a lower rating because of its excellence and innovative concept in the field of journalism. Some of the stories are still lingering in my mind after reading the entire book.

— OnlineBookClub.org

"A well-selected anthology of potent stories by formidable women writers.

"In an editor’s note, Teen Vogue columnist Ralph and Demkiewicz, the marketing director of small press Milkweed Editions, trace their book’s origins to a 2012 panel that they attended at the Missouri School of Journalism. The panel was part of two-day seminar celebrating the release of a different long-form anthology. The six panelists were male, and 16 of the 19 anthologized stories had been written by men. The student audience was mostly made up of women, and the editors note that ‘bitter whispers ran through the crowd.’

"This anthology—the third in a series—offers a satisfying rejoinder to that panel’s focus on men. The editors preface each piece with a bio and short introduction by the writer, in which she provides thoughts on the writing process, her career, and her story topic. The subjects range widely and include school segregation, Jerry Lewis, the vaping industry, hate crimes, the Islamic State group, and campus sexual assault. A few stories stand out: Aviv’s terrifying piece on Nevada’s flawed system of guardians for the elderly from the New Yorker, and Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s hilarious, detailed profile of Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle brand, Goop, from The New York Times Magazine."

Kirkus

"The caliber of work makes The Stories We Tell a master class in long-form journalism."

Kirkus Reviews

"It only took fifty years for the women of long-form journalism to really get their due in an anthology, the newly published The Stories We Tell: Classic Tales by America’s Greatest Women Journalists. . . . The anthology is a feast of great writing by twenty journalists at the top of their game."

Harvard’s Neiman Storyboard

"Newswomen is an excellent start to catch us up on where the women are and what they’ve been doing all these years, namely, writing award-winning literary journalism that can inspire our students."

Literary Journalism Studies

What a treasure trove! The fact that these stories are all written by women makes this book even more intriguing. How wonderful to be part of this vibrant and beautiful anthology.

— Susan Orlean, author of eight books, including The Orchid Thief

This is the collection I wish I’d had when I was starting out as a writer. Back then, nonfiction was the purview of men; here’s an unequivocal affirmation that it no longer is.

— Elizabeth Kaye, author of six books, including Lifeboat No. 8

At long last, the contributions of women as leaders in this field are being fully acknowledged.

— Madeleine Blais, author of To the New Owners

Here’s the book you’ve been missing, the only one you’ll need for the next week or two, brimming with tall tales, hairpin turns, and poignant moments, all of them true, and with deftly captured personalities brought vividly to life in these pages.

— Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock

This is an amazing collection of journalists who just happen to be female—it’s a must read for any and all young writers, a much-needed road map for how to report, write, and think about stories.

— Mimi Swartz, author, editor and two-time National Magazine Award winner

"I’m so honored to be included in these pages with some of the true masters of our genre. I’ve been waiting for a book like this for the longest time. The Stories We Tell belongs in the permanent collection of anyone who loves reading and writing reported stories and essays."

— Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Concussion

I won’t be here to witness it, but won’t it be a fine day when anthology specifically focused on women journalists won’t make any sense?

— Adrian LeBlanc, author of Random Family

Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists

Artful Journalism: Essays in the Craft and Magic of True Storytelling

Everybody Leaves Behind a Name: True Stories by Michael Brick

The Stories We Tell: Classic True Tales by America’s Greatest Women Journalists

Newswomen: Twenty-Five Years of Front Page Journalism

New Stories We Tell: True Tales By America’s New Generation of Great Women Journalists

Copyright © 2019 The Sager Group LLC

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published in the United States of America.

Cover designed by Stravinski Pierre and Siori Kitajima, SF AppWorks LLC.

Cataloging-in-Publication data for this book is available from the Library of Congress

ISBN-13: 978-0-9996338-8-5

ISBN-10: 0-9996338-8-0

Published by The Sager Group LLC

www.TheSagerGroup.net

Table of Contents

Editors’ Note

Rachel Aviv, The Takeover

Under the guise of benevolent paternalism, Nevada and other states allow guardians to profit by robbing senior citizens of their homes, possessions, pets—even families. How one couple lived through displacement and escaped with the help of their daughter and the drawings of their deceased son.

Ann Babe, On the Other Side

Among the highlights of So Won’s childhood in North Korea were used clothing smuggled from China and clandestine encounters with black-market eye makeup. But when she escaped to freedom in South Korea, So Won had no inkling how difficult it would be to adjust.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million

Some thought actress Gwyneth Paltrow had gone nutty when she started her lifestyle website Goop. But today it is a health and beauty megalith that manufactures clothing and products, distributes content, and much more—a portal of health-and-healing information viewed as gospel by millions.

Pamela Colloff, The Beating of Billy Ray Johnson

Billy Ray Johnson was a familiar fixture in the small East Texas town of Linden, where people politely called him slow. But after his brutal beating at a local party, the criminal trials of his white aggressors showed once again that race often trumps justice.

Sara Corbett, The Unbearable Lightness of Being the Boarder Queen

Pro skateboarder and snowboarder Cara-Beth Burnside is one of the elite women athletes in a sport dominated by males. She can hit frontside 50-50s all day long, snag half-pipe titles with her eyes closed, and stretch her hang time to the edge of forever. But what will she do when it’s time to grow up?

Vanessa Grigoriadis, A Very Different Sexual Revolution on Campus

When a Columbia University undergraduate began carrying her mattress around campus to protest the school’s handling of her rape case, she became internationally known as the Mattress Girl, a de facto poster child for the issue of campus rape, an important piece of tinder that became the fire of the #MeToo movement.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City

In this eye-opening piece, the author, an African American newspaper writer, seeks for her six-year-old daughter a viable public school in Brooklyn, New York. What she finds is astounding: Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, separate and unequal is still a reality in one of America’s greatest cities.

Brooke Jarvis, Unclaimed

After an accident in the California desert left an unidentified migrant in a persistent vegetative state, he was kept alive in a San Diego hospital. A tale of two countries, thousands of hopeful families with missing sons, and a sixteen-year quest to identify a silent man in a bed.

Sheelah Kolhatkar, The Tech Industry’s Gender-Discrimination Problem

The dramatic gender imbalance in pay and power in the tech industry has created the conditions for abuse. More and more, women are pushing for justice. Melinda Gates and others weigh in on the efforts of women to fundamentally change tech industry culture from the inside.

Jaeah Lee, After the Shooting

Mario Woods was the 906th person in the United States to be shot and killed by police in 2015. Woods, a black man, was killed by police in San Francisco. This is the story of a mother’s grief, a year in the life of Gwen Woods. She is a member of a growing club nobody ever wants to join.

Lizzie Presser, Whatever’s Your Darkest Question

As women’s choices to have abortions become more limited around the nation, an underground network provides safe and inexpensive home abortions for women marginalized by mainstream medicine, prohibitive laws, or personal situations.

Janet Reitman, The Children of Isis

Why did three siblings from the suburbs of Chicago try to run away to the Middle East to join the fight for an Islamic state? A look inside the minds of American-born teens and the effects of national policies (written and unwritten) about Muslims inside and out of the country. They thought they were doing a religious duty. Should they be tried as terrorists?

Lisa Taddeo, Rachel Uchitel Is Not a Madam

The most famous of golfer Tiger Woods’s alleged mistresses is Rachel Uchitel, who occupied a position of power in a celebrity-and-money-driven network of modern-day courtesans. As VIP concierge and director of hospitality at high-end hotels around America, she became a much-publicized ambassador of client desire.

Jia Tolentino, The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul

When her editors asked if she wanted to write a story about teen vaping, says the author, "It was like, I thought you would never ask. I’ve been waiting my whole f**king life." Sold as a healthier alternative for adults addicted to cigarettes, vapes come in such teen-friendly flavors as mango and mint. What’s the story hidden behind the smoke?

Amy Wallace, Jerry Lewis: The Essence of Comedy; My Two Days With Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis was a showbiz superstar, one of the last surviving links to the bedrock of American humor—vaudeville, burlesque, and slapstick. A rare marathon interview with the King of Comedy, followed by an appreciation, written on the occasion of his death at age ninety-one.

Elizabeth Weil, What Really Happened to Baby Johan

Johan was an infant when his father slipped and dropped him a short distance to the kitchen floor. The baby fell into a coma and died a few days later; dad was charged with child endangerment and homicide. Later, Johan’s mom discovers that the hospital’s missteps—not her husband’s—were more likely the cause of death.

Permissions

About the Editors

About the Publisher

More Books by the Sager Group

Seven years ago, when Joanna and I were seniors at the Missouri School of Journalism, the faculty organized a two-day seminar to celebrate the publication of an anthology of promising longform writers under forty years of age—Next Wave: America’s Next Generation of Great Literary Journalists. As it happened, the book included five Mizzou grads, all men. Four of them had returned to campus for the occasion, along with the two male editors of the collection. In all, the volume included nineteen stories. Three were written by women.

After a number of smaller sessions, the grand finale was a panel discussion. The six men took their seats behind tables at the front of an audience of about 250 journalism students—the majority of whom were women. With graduation and job hunts fast approaching for many of us, bitter whispers ran through the crowd.

Of course, this panel was hardly the first time we’d been presented with a syllabus of male longform writers. A huge percentage of the longform we’d been handed in classes had been written by men for men’s magazines—GQ, Esquire, ESPN. It was starting to become a little discouraging.

When the time for questions arrived, one of the more brazen souls among us asked: Why are there so few women in this anthology?

The editors of the book, Walt Harrington and Mike Sager, did their best to explain away their choices: Men’s magazines commissioned most of the stories in the genre and wanted male voices. There were few women under forty writing primarily in third person, one of the book’s qualifiers. There were precious few pages in women’s magazines given over to actual literary or journalistic content. The two researchers who initially prospected all the candidates were both women—it wasn’t that they hadn’t tried to include women; their sampling reflected the realities of the writing scene at the time.

Following the panel, Joanna and I marched up to Mike, whose fledgling company had published Next Wave, and bopped him on the head with our paper programs (at least that’s how I remember it).

Now that we had his attention, we told him about our idea for a magazine called The Riveter, a women’s publication that would feature longform written exclusively by women. If more outlets published longform by women, we reasoned, the archetype of a longform journalist could evolve to become more inclusive.

Mike was enthusiastic. He encouraged us and pledged to make his own amends as well. We agreed to keep in touch.

After graduation, Joanna and I moved to Minneapolis. We launched The Riveter in both print and online. The learning curve was steep. The hours were long. But the feedback and the satisfaction was great as we saw our dream become a reality and our subscriber list grow.

Meanwhile, we also worked as paid researchers on the first book in a series of women-centric journalism text/anthologies Mike had pledged to publish as his part of the deal. Newswomen: Twenty-Five Years of Front-Page Journalism, edited by Joyce Hoffmann, featured stories by seventeen great female literary and investigative reporters whose newspaper writing has garnered awards. Each chapter featured a bio, a selected story, and an author’s afterword; Joanna and I did the bulk of that work. Probably the best part was the opportunity to interview all the great women journalists. To assist in curating a collection of the very work that served as the bedrock of what we were attempting to showcase with The Riveter was an invigorating, heady experience.

We ended up publishing six issues of The Riveter over a two-year period before moving on with our respective careers. But the experience of creating something from scratch was amazing. It was truly, as we had hoped, a publication couched in a movement that inspired women of all generations and emboldened our contemporaries to declare themselves the longform writers they aspired to be. It was the best first job experience we could have asked for (minus the part about not paying ourselves—live and learn).

In the ensuing years, The Sager Group published volume two of its woman’s series, The Stories We Tell, edited by Patsy Sims, which celebrates the work of twenty women who have made major contributions to the canon of American magazine writing, including Joan Didion, Lillian Ross, Susan Orlean, Gloria Steinem, and Jeanne Marie Laskas.

When it came time for a third volume, this one featuring America’s greatest and most impactful contemporary longform writers, Mike asked us to take the helm. By this time Joanna had become well established as a marketing director for an independent book publisher in Minneapolis. I was working in the trenches as a freelance writer in Chicago, covering everything from politics to literature, and whatever popped up in between.

We spent the first summer reading . . . a lot. We went back and forth with Mike. We juggled and pared the list, made new lists, gave Google Drive a run for its money. Now, two years later, we are so pleased to bring you New Stories We Tell, the third in a series that is still the only one of its kind. In it, we feature some of the well-celebrated women who have been writing great magazine stories since the end of the last century, accompanied by a selection of younger writers whose careers have only just begun to gel in the midst of the rapidly shifting media landscape.

Along with their fabulous stories, every chapter includes a bio and a first-person interview with the author. We hear about their lives, careers, writing philosophies, tricks of the trade, and the backgrounds of their articles.

The assembled stories paint a picture of the shifting role of the genre known variously as longform, creative or literary nonfiction, and New Journalism. Call it what you will, the genre seeks to employ the literary techniques of the novel—scene, setting, character, description, point of view—to render complex and deeply reported nonfiction stories. While journalists today, as always, are pledged to intellectual honesty and a true reporting of the facts, the trade seems to have become a bit more personal these days—today more than ever it is seen as an outlet for agency and a tool of social justice. Almost all of the women featured in New Stories We Tell aim their considerable journalistic talents at pressing issues of our day.

To my way of thinking, journalists who cover issues like, for example, women’s rights, should be thinking critically about what’s working and what’s not working for the advancement of women’s rights, says Ann Babe, a relative newcomer to the scene, whose story, On the Other Side, follows a North Korean woman’s journey to freedom in democratic South Korea and her struggles to assimilate once she arrives. If you can take these lessons and include them in your reportage, others who are reading it can actually gain actionable insights.

Babe’s approach is more or less reflected in all the pieces we’ve included, which belies a larger trend in longform toward stories that seek to enlighten, to tackle important issues, and to document injustice. Like the New Journalism of old, great reporting and a keen facility for storytelling is a must. But also present today is a sense of urgency, as if to say: in a world of diminishing resources, if we’re going to spend the time and money to tell a complicated tale, the result should not just entertain and inform, but also have socially redeeming value.

A Very Different Sexual Revolution on Campus, written for New York, by Vanessa Grigoriadis, is pioneering work on campus sexual assault. The Takeover, written for The New Yorker by Rachel Aviv, dives into the murky waters of elder exploitation. Janet Reitman’s The Children of Isis, for Rolling Stone, takes a look at teens who flee their comfortable American homes to fight overseas for radical Islam. Sheelah Kolhatkar’s The Tech Industry’s Gender-Discrimination Problem, for The New Yorker, uncovers systemic gender bias in Silicon Valley and beyond. Nikole Hannah-Jones’s New York Times Magazine feature, Choosing a School For My Daughter in a Segregated City, relates the personal journey of an African American seeking the best educational opportunity for her child.

The Beating of Billy Ray Johnson, written by crime-writer extraordinaire Pamela Colloff for the Texas Monthly, tells the story of an intellectually disabled black man in Linden, Texas, who was beaten and left for dead by four white men. Elizabeth Weil’s investigation into an infant’s death, What Really Happened to Baby Johan, was written for Matter.com, one of a contingent of welcome new avenues for great longform.

And speaking of promising new publications, accompanying Babe’s story in this anthology are three others that were also first published in The California Sunday Magazine, a San Francisco-based content brand that has refreshingly disrupted magazine publishing on multiple platforms (and on stage with live shows), winning awards, turning heads and attracting important benefactors along the way.

Lizzie Presser’s Whatever’s Your Darkest Question, uncovers and profiles a secret network of at-home abortion providers. Jaeah Lee’s After the Shooting tells the story of a mother whose son was killed by San Francisco police officers. Unclaimed, by Brooke Jarvis, looks deeply at one Mexican American family’s missing persons nightmare.

Some of my favorite stories included in this anthology manage to spin yarns out of pop culture, common knowledge, and the daily news cycle.

Lisa Taddeo’s Rachel Uchitel Is Not a Madam, written for New York, a bastion for women writers over the decades, tells the story of the alleged mistress of golfer Tiger Woods, who occupied a position of power in a celebrity-and-money-driven network of modern day sex workers. Jia Tolentino’s deep dive into the culture and business of the vape cigarette company Juul was entertaining and enlightening in its portrayal of a ubiquitous product turned lifestyle turned cultural touchstone.

Taffy Brodessor-Akner told us she thinks of her best profiles as personal essays about another person. One of her most culturally relevant is her story, for The New York Times Magazine, about the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million. Sara Corbett’s profile of skater Cara-Beth Burnside beautifully breaks gender stereotypes on both sides of the keyboard—a female writing in a typically male genre about a woman killing it in a sport that is typically dominated by males.

Finally, it is left to veteran Amy Wallace to turn in a classic performance of that longform staple, the profile. With Jerry Lewis, The Essence of Comedy, and My Two Days With Jerry Lewis, both written for GQ, Wallace renders in fine detail America’s longtime King of Comedy. Even if you never knew Lewis, Wallace’s piece helps us remember that journalism, however potent as a weapon of investigation and agency, has deep roots as a form of entertainment. The pleasure of a fantastic read, as well written as it is reported, is always welcomed and transforming, and a big reason why this series has been created.

Taken together, the work in this book—and in the entire Women’s Series by The Sager Group—represents an evolving canon, one that showcases women’s range as storytellers, their incredible value to cultural commentary, and their roles as arbiters of relevance and urgency.

As we’ve come to learn working on this series since the beginning, women have always been writing longform but they haven’t been celebrated, awarded, or collected in the same fashion as their male contemporaries, though that is rapidly changing. Even on the eve of this third decade of the twenty-first century, to have these women anthologized together in this book feels like both a personal and a professional victory.

Maybe someday soon, books like this won’t be necessary. In the meantime, I hope this book, and the whole series, is inspiring and enjoyable. Written by women or not, it is simply great work.

Kaylen Ralph

Joanna Demkiewicz

I hadn’t realized that nonfiction could unfold like a novel.

I’m not sure when I started considering myself a journalist. I graduated from Brown in 2004 and began writing book reviews for the Village Voice and The Believer. At some point, I started writing stories for the Village Voice’s education supplement, then a year later for The New York Times education supplement. Over time, I learned to report based on what was required by the story I was writing, and gradually I had written enough stories that I realized reporting had become the central part of the process for me, the main event.

When I was twenty-two, I read Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and it completely changed my understanding of what nonfiction can do. I hadn’t realized that nonfiction could unfold like a novel. I felt similarly, in my early twenties, about Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder and everything I read by Janet Malcolm and Katherine Boo.

I have a vivid memory of being a sophomore in college and reading a David Grann story in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. It was about an old man in prison who kept escaping. I was riveted and also remember wondering how he had gathered all these details. The whole process seemed kind of magical.

The first magazine story I wrote was a piece for Harper’s about young teenage evangelical missionaries who spent the summer knocking on doors of housing projects, trying to bring young children to Christ. I followed them for weeks; I became very attached to the young pastor who ran the mission and to the teenagers tasked with converting children. I was really interested in how young children made sense of the idea of Christ and their own sins. But, as I wrote the piece—and after it was published—I felt tension between my goals in reporting the article and the goals of the pastor who had given me access to his program. He hoped it would be a story about how I was saved. When he read the article after it was published, I don’t think he knew what to do with it. We never spoke again. After writing the story, I decided that from now on I wanted to have a clearer sense of how and why (or why not) my own aim is in alignment with the goals or desired outcome of the people I write about.

I usually come to story ideas one of two ways: I have a general idea or theme or policy I want to expose or understand, and then I look for the right person to follow, in order to tell that larger story. Other times I come across a story that I am drawn to because the story itself or the person at the center of it feels singular and compelling. Then I try to figure out how and where that specific story intersects with larger social or cultural or political forces.

My editor has pointed out that there comes a point in at least half the stories I’ve written when I inform him that I’m not sure my story has a point. I start to despair about its relevance. He has helpfully pointed out that this is a phase I often pass through, but the doubt is real and sometimes excruciating. I don’t like the idea of asking someone to devote hours of their life, sharing private details and memories that are often painful, unless I feel there is something in it for them, too—that their story will provide others with some kind of solace or inspiration or motivation to act, or a broader view of a social or political issue.

Elder care and abuse are subjects that are rarely examined by journalists. I came to this story kind of by accident. At first I was looking into the divorce case of InfoWars host Alex Jones. I had requested some of the transcripts from his divorce trial because I had seen his wife write online that the proceedings were unfair, and for a long time I’ve been interested in the flaws in the family court system. I didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly, but I found the transcripts both compelling and bewildering. I was struck by the tremendous power given to the court-appointed guardian in the case. It was her role to decide which parent was more fit to have custody. She had been arbitrarily vested with this incredible authority.

From there, I started thinking about writing a story about guardians for children in family court cases. Originally I was limiting my research to children, but I kept coming across complaints by family members, on Facebook and blogs and in local newspapers, about guardians for the elderly. I was amazed how consistent these claims were and how intense the damage to the family had been. It was through blog posts and fairly dinky-looking websites that I started to realize this was a real issue. The complaints, coming from people in different counties and in different states, were eerily similar.

In every story I report, I find that, after a long, seemingly aimless process of reading through academic literature on the subject, I am usually able to find one or two academic scholars—whether it is a historian or anthropologist—who help guide me in terms of the intellectual arguments or questions that I think the story I am telling raises. Often it requires many days of reading academic journal articles and their lists of citations before I find a scholar whose thinking resonates. I look forward to those moments where the larger issues shift into focus, and I realize I do have an opinion. I also like to read novels and short stories about subjects similar to the stories I am reporting. In the process of imagining those worlds and contexts better, new questions occur to me. Reading fiction gives me more concrete ways of generating conversations about the texture of people’s lives.

I love writing about people who have also told their own story in their own words in some way—through diaries or journals or letters or interviews in medical records. I like having the opportunity to write about a person from multiple intimate angles. One of my favorite stories was about a woman named Linda Bishop who was released from a mental hospital in Concord, New Hampshire, and ended up surviving for three months in a farmhouse subsisting on apples, before dying. She kept detailed diaries of her time alone. It was a privilege to peer into her mind during her period of isolation.

I remember teaching a course to medical students several years ago in which they often described their interactions with patients as a privilege (presumably before they become disenchanted or overexhausted)—it was a privilege, they said, to be in a position where people felt comfortable or motivated to share raw and private stories about their lives. That expression stayed with me, and it often comes to mind.

The Takeover

Under the guise of benevolent paternalism, Nevada and other states allow guardians to profit by robbing senior citizens of their homes, possessions, pets—even families. How one couple lived through displacement and escaped with the help of their daughter and the drawings of their deceased son.

For years, Rudy North woke up at 9 a.m. and read the Las Vegas Review-Journal while eating a piece of toast. Then he read a novel—he liked James Patterson and Clive Cussler—or, if he was feeling more ambitious, Freud. On scraps of paper and legal notepads, he jotted down thoughts sparked by his reading. Deep below the rational part of our brain is an underground ocean where strange things swim, he wrote on one notepad. On another, Life: the longer it cooks, the better it tastes.

Rennie, his wife of fifty-seven years, was slower to rise. She was recovering from lymphoma and suffered from neuropathy so severe that her legs felt like sausages. Each morning, she spent nearly an hour in the bathroom applying makeup and lotions, the same brands she’d used for forty years. She always emerged wearing pale-pink lipstick. Rudy, who was prone to grandiosity, liked to refer to her as my amour.

On the Friday before Labor Day, 2013, the Norths had just finished their toast when a nurse, who visited five times a week to help Rennie bathe and dress, came to their house, in Sun City Aliante, an active adult community in Las Vegas. They had moved there in 2005, when Rudy, a retired consultant for broadcasters, was sixty-eight and Rennie was sixty-six. They took pride in their view of the golf course, though neither of them played golf.

Rudy chatted with the nurse in the kitchen for twenty minutes, joking about marriage and laundry, until there was a knock at the door. A stocky woman with shiny black hair introduced herself as April Parks, the owner of the company A Private Professional Guardian. She was accompanied by three colleagues, who didn’t give their names. Parks told the Norths that she had an order from the Clark County Family Court to remove them from their home. She would be taking them to an assisted-living facility. Go and gather your things, she said.

Rennie began crying. This is my home, she said.

One of Parks’s colleagues said that if the Norths didn’t comply he would call the police. Rudy remembers thinking, You’re going to put my wife and me in jail for this? But he felt too confused to argue.

Parks drove a Pontiac G6 convertible with a license plate that read "crtgrdn, for court guardian." In the past twelve years, she had been a guardian for some four hundred wards of the court. Owing to age or disability, they had been deemed incompetent, a legal term that describes those who are unable to make reasoned choices about their lives or their property. As their guardian, Parks had the authority to manage their assets, and to choose where they lived, whom they associated with, and what medical treatment they received. They lost nearly all their civil rights.

Without realizing it, the Norths had become temporary wards of the court. Parks had filed an emergency ex parte petition, which provides an exception to the rule that both parties must be notified of any argument before a judge. She had alleged that the Norths posed a substantial risk for mismanagement of medications, financial loss and physical harm. She submitted a brief letter from a physician’s assistant, whom Rennie had seen once, stating that the patient’s husband can no longer effectively take care of the patient at home as his dementia is progressing. She also submitted a letter from one of Rudy’s doctors, who described him as confused and agitated.

Rudy and Rennie had not undergone any cognitive assessments. They had never received a diagnosis of dementia. In addition to Freud, Rudy was working his way through Nietzsche and Plato. Rennie read romance novels.

Parks told the Norths that if they didn’t come willingly an ambulance would take them to the facility, a place she described as a respite. Still crying, Rennie put cosmetics and some clothes into a suitcase. She packed so quickly that she forgot her cell phone and Rudy’s hearing aid. After thirty-five minutes, Parks’s assistant led the Norths to her car. When a neighbor asked what was happening, Rudy told him, We’ll just be gone for a little bit. He was too proud to draw attention to their predicament. Just think of it as a mini-vacation, he told Rennie.

After the Norths left, Parks walked through the house with Cindy Breck, the owner of Caring Transitions, a company that relocates seniors and sells their belongings at estate sales. Breck and Parks had a routine. We open drawers, Parks said at a deposition. We look in closets. We pull out boxes, anything that would store—that would keep paperwork, would keep valuables. She took a pocket watch, birth certificates, insurance policies, and several collectible coins.

The Norths’ daughter, Julie Belshe, came to visit later that afternoon. A fifty-three-year-old mother of three sons, she and her husband run a small business designing and constructing pools. She lived ten miles away and visited her parents nearly every day, often taking them to her youngest son’s football games. She was her parents’ only living child; her brother and sister had died.

She knocked on the front door several times and then tried to push the door open, but it was locked. She was surprised to see the kitchen window closed; her parents always left it slightly open. She drove to the Sun City Aliante clubhouse, where her parents sometimes drank coffee. When she couldn’t find them there, she thought that perhaps they had gone on an errand together—the farthest they usually drove was to Costco. But, when she returned to the house, it was still empty.

That weekend, she called her parents several times. She also called two hospitals to see if they had been in an accident. She called their landlord, too, and he agreed to visit the house. He reported that there were no signs of them. She told her husband, I think someone kidnapped my parents.

On the Tuesday after Labor Day, she drove to the house again and found a note taped to the door: In case of emergency, contact guardian April Parks. Belshe dialed the number. Parks, who had a brisk, girlish way of speaking, told Belshe that her parents had been taken to Lakeview Terrace, an assisted-living facility in Boulder City, nine miles from the Arizona border. She assured Belshe that the staff there would take care of all their needs.

You can’t just walk into somebody’s home and take them! Belshe told her.

Parks responded calmly, It’s legal. It’s legal.

Guardianship derives from the state’s parens patriae power, its duty to act as a parent for those considered too vulnerable to care for themselves. The King shall have the custody of the lands of natural fools, taking the profits of them without waste or destruction, and shall find them their necessaries, reads the English statute De Prerogative Regis, from 1324. The law was imported to the colonies—guardianship is still controlled by state, not federal, law—and has remained largely intact for the past eight hundred years. It establishes a relationship between ward and guardian that is rooted in trust.

In the United States, a million and a half adults are under the care of guardians, either family members or professionals, who control some $273 billion in assets, according to an auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County. Little is known about the outcome of these arrangements, because states do not keep complete figures on guardianship cases—statutes vary widely—and, in most jurisdictions, the court records are sealed. A Government Accountability report from 2010 said, We could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, state or local entity, or any other organization that compiles comprehensive information on this issue. A study published this year by the American Bar Association found that an unknown number of adults languish under guardianship when they no longer need it, or never did. The authors wrote that guardianship is generally permanent, leaving no way out—’until death do us part.’"

When the Norths were removed from their home, they joined nearly nine thousand adult wards in the Las Vegas Valley. In the past twenty years, the city has promoted itself as a retirement paradise. Attracted by the state’s low taxes and a dry, sunny climate, elderly people leave their families behind to resettle in newly constructed senior communities. The whole town sparkled, pulling older people in with the prospect of the American Dream at a reasonable price, a former real estate agent named Terry Williams told me. Roughly 30 percent of the people who move to Las Vegas are senior citizens, and the number of Nevadans older than eighty-five has risen by nearly 80 percent in the past decade.

In Nevada, as in many states, anyone can become a guardian by taking a course, as long as he or she has not been convicted of a felony or recently declared bankruptcy. Elizabeth Brickfield, a Las Vegas lawyer who

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