The Stories We Tell celebrates the work of twenty women who have made major contributions to the canon of American magazine writing.
While each has her own style, the women in these pages share the attributes of all good writers: meticulous research and reporting, attention to detail, a talent for choosing the perfect word. Above all, they are astute observers and sticklers for accuracy. Over the years, they have been both prolific and versatile, writing about a wide range of topics, including Joan Didion’s landmark story about a suburban California woman convicted of burning her husband to death in their family Volkswagen, Susan Orlean’s profile of a female bullfighter, Lillian Ross’s stylish Talk of the Town pieces, Janet Malcolm’s profile of the brilliant young pianist Yuja Wang, Gloria Steinem’s memorable piece about Jackie Kennedy after the death of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, and Robin Marantz Henig’s poignant account of the determination of one Alzheimer’s victim to end her life on her own terms.
Stories by: Madeleine Blais, E. Jean Carroll, Joan Didion, Melissa Fay Greene, Lis Harris, Robin Marantz Henig, Gerri Hirshey, Elizabeth Kaye, Jeanne Marie Laskas, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Jill Lepore, Suzannah Lessard, Janet Malcolm, Susan Orlean, Lillian Ross, Susan Sheehan, Gloria Steinem, Mimi Swartz, Joyce Wadler, Isabel Wilkerson.
The Stories We Tell is part of The Sager Group’s Women in Journalism series, which honors the contributions women have made (and continue to make) to the evolution of graceful literary reportage in America and around the world.
“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, non-fiction 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.
About the Author
Table of Contents
xiii Introduction by Patsy Sims
2 They Were Commandos by Madeleine Blais
After near-perfect seasons tarnished by losses in the state championships, the Amherst High School girls’ basketball team might finally change its story.
18 The Cheerleaders by E. Jean Carroll
The tiny town of Dryden, New York, endures a strange, five-year string of murders, car accidents, and suicides—all of it tied to two popular high school cheerleaders.
38 Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream by Joan Didion
In this New Journalism classic, a suburban California woman is convicted of burning her husband to death in their family Volkswagen.
56 Wonder Dog by Melissa Fay Greene
How a family struggling with a child’s serious cognitive and behavioral disabilities finds peace and reassurance with an assistance dog.
72 Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family by Lis Harris
A rare glimpse inside the Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York—how an ancient and traditional culture is adapting to life in the modern age.
82 The Last Day by Robin Marantz Henig
A compelling profile of prominent psychologist and professor Sandy Bem, who voluntarily ended her life before succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease.
102 On the Bus with B.B. King by Gerri Hirshey
On the road with the great blues man and his beloved guitar, Lucille. Classic music journalism by Rolling Stone’s first female contributing editor.
124 Nureyev Dancing in His Own Shadow by Elizabeth Kaye
Celebrated and famously volatile ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, captured intimately at the end of a glorious career.
148 The New Face of Richard Norris by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Richard Norris undergoes complex transplant surgery, giving him a new face and a new life, but leaving him with many of the same problems.
170 The Troubled Life of Boys by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
A look at high school boys as they struggle with the changing perceptions of masculinity in the feminist culture of the 1990s.
184 Prodigal Daughter by Jill Lepore
A writer researching a book about Ben Franklin’s extraordinary sister Jane finds illuminating connections to her own spirited, artistic mother.
200 The Split by Suzannah Lessard
In Manhattan, the opulent Upper East Side, one of the nation’s richest neighborhoods, gives way to Harlem, one of the poorest.
216 Yuja Wang and the Art of Performance by Janet Malcolm
The young pianist is known not only for the brilliance of her music, but also for her dramatic, often surprisingly sexy outfits.
234 La Matadora Revisa Su Maquillaje (The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup) by Susan Orlean
Every time Cristina Sanchez kills a bull, she presents an unforgettable tableau—a self-possessed young woman elegantly and lethally playing out an ancient masculine ritual.
250 Takes on the Town by Lillian Ross
For decades, Lillian Ross’s inspired short gems have set the gold standard for The New Yorker’s iconic Talk of the Town section.
266 Kid, Twelve by Susan Sheehan
The Tomberlind family represents millions of America’s working poor. They’re not on welfare, don’t live below the poverty line. And yet they struggle every day to get by.
288 Mrs. Kennedy at the Moment by Gloria Steinem
An intimate portrait of Jackie Kennedy as she confronts difficult decisions in the year following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.
304 Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives by Mimi Swartz
What happens to women in Texas as the state wages war on Planned Parenthood, cuts family planning funding, and passes new sonogram laws?
326 My Breast by Joyce Wadler
374 Soul Survivor by Isabel Wilkerson