There aren’t enough outlets in the UK for longform non-fiction. This is a shame, because it’s one of the best mediums for finding reliably great writing. There are two reasons you will enjoy reading something: it deals with an interesting topic or the writing gives a new perspective. Great writing will do both.
Due to the fact that longform tends to be written by people who have to convince magazine editors to publish their work, there’s a strong pressure to make sure at least one of the two ingredients is there in a big way.
It’s something the USA gets very right. The best in the world are the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, but great non-fiction comes from all over the country. For proof look at Longform.org, a website dedicated to promoting the best writing for free.
My plan is to begin publishing original longform from new writers on here (email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be involved), but in the meantime I’ll be posting collections of links to the best writing on the web every week.
To kick off this blog, here are three of my favourite articles. Please let me know what you think and come back next week for the next lot. If you’d like to hear about new posts via email, enter your details here.
Click the titles to read the full articles
The man known as ‘El Chapo’, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, is the biggest drug lord of all time. He has featured more than once on Forbes’ list of the most powerful people in the world and, according to some sources, he is worth roughly $1bn dollars. Two months ago, he escaped from prison. Again.
(In a ridiculous side note, shortly after escaping from prison El Chapo took to Twitter to criticise Donald Trump for his comments about Mexican immigrants. The story is here.)
This story is a little frustrating in that the sources who form the backbone are anonymous, and much of what is said is pure speculation, but under the circumstances this is hardly surprising. What it does well is illustrate the seeming impossibility of the war on drugs to effectively curtail the trafficking of drugs and the near-mythic status of some of the top crime bosses.
‘A few days earlier, Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficker, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, had escaped again from one of that country’s maximum-security prisons. No one in this deeply sourced group was surprised. Nor were they particularly interested in the logistical details of the escape, although they clearly didn’t believe the version they’d heard from the Mexican government.’
In the UK, GQ is primarily a fashion/lifestyle magazine, but in the US it is the home of some of the best writers in the business. I could name dozens of examples (and will, in coming weeks), but the best place to start is with Zach Baron’s profile of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
The angle, as the title suggests, is 50 Cent to imparting his wisdom on life, love and business. What ends up happening is he shows a subtle self-awareness entirely unexpected from the man who came into the public eye after being shot and a song called “In da club”.
‘That first morning, I’d arrived at his office wearing jeans and sneakers, and, in time, I asked him what he thought about the outfit. He looked me up and down. “Look, GQ may send you to interview 50 Cent because you come dressed casual,” he said diplomatically. Around him and his friends, I blended right in. “But they would send the guy in the suit to go fucking interview George Clooney in a heartbeat.”‘
This is, clearly, a little different from 50 Cent talking about vision boards, but it’s brilliant for a whole other set of reasons. Lynsey Addario is a very successful photojournalist and the author of a book called “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”. This article was adapted from the book for the New York Times Magazine.
The life of a journalist covering combat zones sounds, frankly, fucking terrifying. The thought of continuing working as one while pregnant, therefore, is absolutely incomprehensible to me (not least because I don’t have a womb). It does make for bloody good reading though.
‘All the men around me momentarily paused. They looked at my face and then down at my stomach, and the seas parted. Spontaneously, they made a human gate around me, cocooning me from the crowd. And I continued shooting with my new bodyguards keeping watch over my unborn son and me.’