The Sunday Long Read (with Jo Piazza and Christine Pride), 10/3/21

Hello again! This weekend, we have the rare pleasure of handing things over to two fantastic guest editors: Jo Piazza and Christine Pride.

Jo is a bestselling author, podcast creator and award-winning journalist, who has now had four of her books optioned for film and TV. (She’s also a previous SLR guest editor and the curator of our weekly podcast pick.)

Christine is a writer, editor and 15-year publishing veteran. Her first novel will be published this week, written with … well, we’ll let them tell you all about it.

Here’s Jo and Christine’s SLR!

This is a big week for the two of us as both friends and as colleagues. After more than three years of collaboration, our new novel We Are Not Like Them is being released into the world on Tuesday, October 5th. To some degree our book is ripped straight from the news cycle. While at its heart it’s a story about the lifelong friendship between two women, one white and one Black, the plot revolves around a “hot button issue”—police violence against Black men. Our protagonists’ lives and their friendship are upended when the white woman’s husband, a Philadelphia cop, shoots an unarmed Black teenager.

It’s an all too common headline—“police officers shoot unarmed black man”—but we wanted to dig deeper in our novel, to take readers behind and beyond the news stories that can pass in a blur, often testing our capacity for empathy (and attention). We wanted to offer a complex, nuanced, character-driven story that tackles race, social justice, bias and friendship. Our ultimate goal— well, besides creating a compelling, page-turning story—was to both shake up people’s preconceived notions and affirm their experiences; to challenge and expand perspectives while offering an entry point to thought-provoking conversations.

While writing We Are Not Like Them, we talked a lot about the purpose and higher calling of storytelling. Christine has been a book editor for twenty years while Jo has worked as a journalist and author. We’ve devoted our careers to the written word because we wholeheartedly believe in its power to shape (and change) our culture, our norms and our beliefs. This is why we’re both passionate fans and ardent consumers of long-form journalism, and thus thrilled to guest-edit this edition of The Sunday Long Read.

Those of us in publishing and media (as well as consumers, readers, and watchers) recognize that the industry is experiencing a critical point of reckoning. It’s been bubbling up for years, but has been accelerated in the wake of the so-called racial awakening spurred by George Floyd’s murder. Writers, journalists, editors, and gate-keepers are wrestling with important questions and self-reflections about the industry, its history and future: Whose stories matter? Whose voices get heard? Who tells which stories and what is their motivation? Who gets to be the heroes and the victims?

This certainly hit home for us while we were writing our book—the danger of relying on stereotypes, tropes and pleasing oversimplifications. There are well worn tracks that are easy for journalists and story-tellers to fall into, even unconsciously. Case in point: the recent feverish coverage of the search for white woman Gabby Petito, when we rarely see the same kind of reporting on Black subjects (last year alone a hundred thousand BIPOC girls went missing and we bet you’d be hard pressed to name one). Or take the media’s compassionate coverage of the victims of the opioid epidemic ravaging American towns and the need for treatment programs, versus the decades of condemning coverage of shiftless crack addicts and scary predators in dangerous ghettos and the need for incarceration. It’s a very different (and very subjective) slant.

These examples (and too many more) are a testament to how easy it is for bias and myopic viewpoints to perpetuate damaging narratives or exclude entire swaths of people and ideas from the cultural conversation. It is, ultimately, a reminder of just how vigilant, conscious and intentional we have to continue to be as both storytellers and as readers consuming news and profiles.

So our guiding philosophy with the content we’ve curated here this week was to bring you: marginalized perspectives, stories about story-telling, profiles that defy stereotypes, stories that spark conversation (and action) and expose injustice and, because we’re both sentimental fools, a few beautiful bittersweet tales about the power of love and friendship to make you cry (in a good way).

Click here to open this week’s edition of the Sunday Long Read.