Monday, December 02, 2013

Great writing by Wollan for the NYT, Grann for The New Yorker and Junod, Warren & Granger for Esquire

Three feature stories I've seen recently that struck me as exceptional were written about a major street gang that took on the branding of a major university sports program, the authentication of art work as having been done by masters and the cutting edge of cancer treatment with one specific person as the test case.

The first of the features was "Fresno State Loves Its Bulldogs, but So Does a Gang" by Malia Wollan for the New York Times. It's maybe the most straightforward of the three pieces noted here, but remarkable nonetheless in how the branding of a university and it's sports teams was in many ways taken over.

The second piece of great writing to note here was by David Grann for The New Yorker. From 2010, "The Mark of a Masterpiece" was a 16,000 word story on the world of fine art and a man, Peter Paul Biro, who declared himself able to authenticate works of art as being done by a particular artist based on fingerprints within the works. It's a fascinating read and what Grann did so well in it was laying out details and facts for the reader to then form conclusions, rather that telling a story and stating what a reader should take from it. Additionally, it was fascinating to read three years after the piece was done some of the aftermath from it and the fairly recent ruling on a lawsuit that came out of the feature.

The last piece of exceptional writing to note was done for Esquire by Tom Junod and Mark Warren"Patient Zero" was about Iraq war widow and mother of two Stephanie Lee, her initial diagnosis of terminal cancer and subsequent groundbreaking treatment. While reading the piece, I was struck to see that the cancer research genius who took her on was Eric Schadt, the subject of another Esquire story I remember well, and the confluence of these two people and what their interactions could potentially mean for future cancer treatments is nothing less than amazing to think about. 

One thing I felt at the conclusion of the story was that it felt incomplete, an assessment that then made complete sense to me after I saw the front-of-issue note from Esquire editor in chief, David Granger, and realized that the story felt incomplete because that's precisely what it is. The narrative about Lee and her life and then Schadt and his research is captivating reading, but what will come of Lee's treatment unknown... and what could then carry over to the treatment of countless others as they battle cancer... unknown and tremendously exciting.

The aforementioned Granger one-page note is titled "A Second Chance" and while it's not something I typically do when writing about something, I've included roughly the first half of it below as it doesn't appear to be posted online now and for me provides great big picture perspective on the story (especially after having read the feature by Junod and Warren)... 

"October 18, 2013: We've never done anything like this before.
   I've been working at Esquire for more than 16 years. I've been doing magazine journalism for almost 30. I'ts not only that we-especially executive editor Mark Warren and writer-at-large Tom Junod-made a connection between two people. It's not only that a story we published two years ago, about an eccentric math-driven biologist, allowed us to introduce two people who needs each other very much. It's also that we, especially Mark and Tom, are all in on this one. We're involved. We saw an opportunity to arrange for a man in New York who is on the cutting edge of math and science and medicine and has endless resources to help a young mother of two girls from Mississippi whose husband was killed in the Iraq war and who was told earlier this year that her cancer is terminal... to maybe live.
We don't know how the story ends. We know Stephanie Lee has fought every way she knows, with the help of a military hospital in Mississippi, to stay alive for her daughters. And we know when we first talked to Eric Schadt, who runs the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai hospital, he told us there was virtually no chance he could help Stephanie. And we know that at each of the dozens of points at which hope and possibility could have been derailed, they were not. And now Stephanie is here, in New York, staying with Mark and his family, visiting the city for the first time, to hear what Eric and Several of the best minds in cancer treatment have to tell her about her cancer and about the course of treatment they developed for her through the application of a combination of techniques that she is one the first patients to receive, ever."