• Anne Ryan/zrImages, via Corbis

    Looking Back

    Gail Sheehy Books Passage to the Past

    The legendary journalist and ‘Passages’ author talks about her new memoir, the glory days of the new journalism, and the denizens of Grey Gardens.

    In the summer of 1971, reporter Gail Sheehy fled Manhattan every weekend for East Hampton, seeking an escape from what had become a six-month investigation into prostitution in New York City. But instead of tending to her verdant tomato garden, Sheehy found herself drawn down the road to Grey Gardens, a decaying mansion overrun by howling cats and home to Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, dotty and reclusive relatives of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

    Just a few miles away and 43 summers later, Sheehy sits in a Sag Harbor rental cottage and reflects on “The Secrets of Grey Gardens,” her now-infamous New York magazine cover story about the Beales, outcasts from the wealthy WASP culture that was their birthright. “WASPs are like the Alawites of America, a rare breed,” says the now 70-year-old Sheehy. Looking youthful in jeans and a turquoise linen T-shirt, a helmet of red hair framing her animated face, she is diminutive, quick-witted, and disarmingly warm. (She addresses me in various terms of endearment, as one would an old friend, and invites me to swim in her pool after lunch). It’s a quality that surely worked to her advantage while interviewing the Beales.

  • Allison Gilbert


    Connecting With Readers at 15,000 Feet

    Two authors led 16 of their readers on an arduous, life-changing journey to help the residents of a Peruvian orphanage high in the Andes.

    When author Hope Edelman and I started planning a trip that would take 16 of our readers to Peru to work in an orphanage and hike the Andes, we ignored concerns about bringing together a group of women who didn’t know each other and convinced ourselves it was a great idea. Our confidence bubbled up partly because our readers share an important bond that links them to each other and us: We’ve all lost our mothers, and many of us have lost our fathers, too. It also seemed like an exciting way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hope’s pioneering book, Motherless Daughters. But mostly, we just took an enormous leap of faith.

    The experience unfolded unlike anything I expected. It was better and far more meaningful. Women from across the United States and Canada—and from as far away as Thailand and Dubai—joined us for a nearly two-week odyssey called “Turning Loss Into Service: Motherless Daughters & Parentless Parents Unite to Help Orphans in Peru.” The trip combined a challenging trekking experience—hiking as high as 15,373 feet—and doing several days of service work at the Ninos del Sol children’s home about two hours outside Cusco. Because we had no experience putting a plan like this into action, we turned the logistics over to Trekking for Kids, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that leads purpose-driven treks to improve the lives of orphans around the world. This was the organization’s first custom trek in its nearly 10-year history.

  • RetroAtelier/Getty

    Poll: Women Are Better Writers Than Men

    Women write better, male writers get to the point faster, and both sexes are more likely than not to write about people like themselves, says a poll by the staff of Grammarly.

    The poll and graphic were produced by Grammarly, the world's leading automated proofreader. Using elite natural language processing technology, it checks writing for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations. Grammarly delivers a passive learning experience that identifies writing patterns and sends users personal recommendations to help understand their most common mistakes and opportunities to develop their writing skills. Grammarly is also the creator of GrammoWriMo, a collaborative writing project to celebrate National Novel Writing Month (November). Last year the project brought together more than 300 writers from 27 countries to create a group novel, which was then sold as an e-book on Amazon and benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

  • Shutterstock


    ‘Prozac Nation’ Turns 20

    Twenty years ago Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Prozac Nation’ ushered in a wave of confessional literature. While much-criticized at the time, we should hail her unflinching candor.

    It’s not easy being labeled the voice of your generation if readers don’t find you likable. You get criticized more than you should, and few of your writing peers want to stand up for you.

    Emily Gould, the former editor of Gawker and author of the much-talked-about new novel, Friendship, has learned this lesson the hard way in recent years. As a result of her penchant for oversharing her personal life and often that of her boyfriend, she has become the writer critics love to hate.

  • John Lund/Getty

    Sketchy Profiles

    Your Fake Followers Are Catfishing You

    On Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online, machine personalities are trying to influence your behavior. According to the new book ‘Virtual Unreality,’ they’re succeeding.

    The point of social media is to create platforms where you can interact with friends, colleagues, and family online. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have become communication hubs—and also places where you are getting manipulated by fake people.

    In 2012, Facebook announced that 83 million profiles—pushing 10 percent of the total number on the site—were phony. The real number is likely greater than that. On Twitter, if you’ve got an account with more than a few dozen followers, almost certainly you’ve been accosted—and probably followed—by robot accounts. They’re not so hard to spot once you recognize the signs.

  • Blue Rider Press

    In Vogue

    Shirley Jackson Stars in Her Own Novel

    An unclassifiable author whose popularity has ebbed and soared with time, Jackson is now more popular than ever—she’s even a fictional hero.

    German seems to have a word for every screwed-up specific emotion. If I were to pick one to describe the strangely compelling, deeply unsettling fiction of Shirley Jackson, it would be unheimlich. Freud coined the term to describe the uncomfortable feeling of the familiar suddenly turned foreign. Technically, it means un-home-like, but a better English translation might be uncanny, as in the “uncanny valley,” which refers to the sudden sharp jump in creepiness that occurs when computer animation gets too close to looking human. Jackson, best known today for her short story “The Lottery,” in which a sweet, semi-rural town gathers for a harvest festival / ritual stoning, seems to live in the uncanny valley. All throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s, as Americans embraced normal like it was our job, Jackson insisted on showing us the cracks at the margins of our communities, our sanity, and our very reality.

    Perhaps this accounts for the ebb and flow of her popularity. While often critically acclaimed and considered a “writer’s writer,” Jackson has faded from the public eye over time. She was too strange for the ’50s, and too apolitical and classically domestic (in her own way) for the radicals of the ’60s and ’70s. In the last few decades, the ho-hum short fiction of small epiphanies—MFA stories about cancer and divorce—have reigned supreme, and Jackson’s folkloric tales of the unexplained and unexplainable have been looked at with a jaundiced eye. If I were to compare her to anyone in contemporary American fiction, it would be Joyce Carol Oates, another prolific virtuoso of the strange.

  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape about the U.S.-South Africa partnership, in Cape Town August 8, 2012. (Reuters)

    Lightning Rod

    Choose Your Own Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton has been a divisive figure for decades. The controversies erupting around her new memoir promise more of the same down the road.

    I first interviewed Hillary Clinton in the fall of 1991, shortly after her husband announced for president, an era when political wives with ambition and a law degree were still rarities on the campaign trail. Her unflinching advocacy for issues that stirred women made her a target from the beginning, and the following spring, when Vice President Dan Quayle attacked sit-com character Murphy Brown for her fictional out-of-wedlock child, the culture wars flared and became part of the presidential contest between President George H.W. Bush, a Greatest Generation war hero, and the baby-boomer Clintons, “Buy one, get one free.”

    It seemed preposterous for Quayle to assail a made-up television newswoman for her “poverty of values,” but Democrats suspected it wasn’t the long-running CBS show that Quayle was after, but the hard-charging Hillary new on the national scene and a role model for women. Newsweek noted that cultural pioneers get high ratings in Hollywood, but make people nervous on the campaign trail. In a presidential race that could turn on the question of values, the magazine harrumphed that a candidate can ill afford to have a wife who somehow seems to symbolize the “wrong” ones.

  • Getty

    Ugly Resurgence

    Slut-Shaming Gets the YA Treatment

    Jennifer Mathieu has always identified as a feminist, but she couldn’t have anticipated the explosion of #YesAllWomen just before the release of her debut young adult novel.

    Rumor has it Alice Franklin had sex with two guys in one night.
    Naturally, that was all everyone was talking about.

    It sounds like a scenario straight out of a Monday morning high school hallway following a weekend of partying and promiscuity. And that’s why Jennifer Mathieu chose Alice as the protagonist for her debut young adult novel, The Truth About Alice: to battle the ever-present (and ever-growing) plague of slut-shaming girls.

  • Gary Hershorn/Reuters

    Living Memory

    Maya Angelou Will Never Stop Inspiring

    The African American author, dead at 86, led an extraordinary life and wrote about it in extraordinary ways.

    I called Maya Angelou expecting lament. She was having none of that. ‬

    ‪It was a little less than a year ago, after the verdict that set Trayvon Martin's killer free. I was writing a cover story for ‬Newsweek‪ about the chasm between white and black understandings of the Martin case. I had my own understanding, and it was an angry, hurting one. Shattered by the verdict, I understood our country to be in a dismal state.‬

  • Michael Ochs Archives

    Viral Vid: Maya Angelou, 'Still I Rise'

    The late renaissance woman performs her iconic poem

    Dr. Maya Angelou—renowned poet, actress, Civil Rights activist, professor, among many other prestigious titles—has passed away at the age of 86.

    As a tribute to her extraordinary life and work, here is Angelou herself, reciting one of her most enduring poems, the life-affirming ‘Still I Rise.’

  • Getty


    Maya Angelou Dies at 86

    Author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

    Maya Angelou, the award-winning author, poet, and civil-rights icon, has died at age 86. She was found by her caretaker on Wednesday morning, and had recently been struggling with health problems. Angelou had to cancel a recent appearance at an event in her honor. She had received more than 50 honorary degrees, and was the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the 1969 novel about growing up in the Jim Crow South. Angelou was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2010 and held the Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Angelou was born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, as Marguerite Ann Johnson. She had far from an uneventful childhood: raped at age 7 or 8 by her mother’s boyfriend. Angelou went on to a successful career not only as a writer, but was also nominated for a Tony for Look Away in 1973, and she played Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in the television slavery epic Roots. She had multiple romances, including  South African civil-rights activist Vusumzi L. Make and Paul du Feu. 

    Read it at New York Times
  • Interracial Love

    Lillian Smith’s Bombshell Novel on Race

    ‘Strange Fruit’ inspired obscenity charges, court decisions, and police action, but outrage peaked over the fact that the 1944 bestseller was written by a white woman.

    Strange Fruit was banned on charges of obscenity, but the novel’s critics were so offended by the true nature of this obscenity that they refused to make reference to it in their denunciations. In Boston, a district court judge forbid the sale of the novel, calling it “obscene, tending to corrupt the morals of youth,” a ruling that was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, though the court’s criticisms focused on Smith’s occasional use of profanity, sexual words like “orgasm” and “coition,” and the depiction of sex acts. These criticisms were echoed by the Detroit police, which attempted to ban the book in that city, and the United States Postal Service, which ordered newspapers and magazines not to advertize the novel (before being countermanded by Eleanor Roosevelt). But there were plenty of pulp novels being published in 1944 with far more lascivious prose and far inferior literary merit. What distinguished Strange Fruit was the subject matter: a star-crossed love affair between a white man and a black woman. Even more galling was the identity of the novel’s debut author: Lillian Smith, a highborn white woman from the South. For a black novelist to write about miscegenation would have been profane; for a white novelist to do so, particularly a female novelist, was unforgivable.

    For most readers, however, the censorship controversy was an enticement; the novel sold 200,000 copies in its first two months and became the best-selling novel of the year. What drew these readers, it turned out, was not Smith’s cavalier use of sexual vernacular but the frankness with which she describes the relationship between her young lovers, Tracy Deen, a college dropout from a good family, and Nonnie Anderson, a college graduate who is working as a maid. Apart from the color of their skin, there is nothing salacious about this romance. The two meet as children, after Tracy defends Non from a local bully, and intensifies when he returns from World War I. They sneak out after dark to see each other; have cautious, tender trysts on a riverbank under a live oak tree; and fail to communicate their emotions as strongly as they feel them. They are typical young lovers in every respect but one.

  • Munawar Hosain/Fotos International/Getty

    It Isn’t Pretty

    Diane Keaton Refuses to Give In to Aging

    At 68, the actress is dealing with the effects of aging—changing hair color, memory loss, retirement notices, and even an ‘old person’ voice. But they won’t stop her!

    Cher once said, “There is only value to having the look you have when you are young and no value to the look you have when you are older.” Who can argue with Cher? She’s not wrong. But she’s not right, either. What she is, is right for herself. Diana Vreeland claimed she approved of plastic surgery, noting that none of her friends could understand why she hadn’t had it done herself. But, Vreeland added, she had her own reasons.

    What were her reasons? I know what they were. They were hers. All of us over sixty-five have our reasons. I respect Cher’s choices as much as I respect mine.