Only two things come from Texas ...
... great stories and great writers, evidently.
Let's dispense with the baseball card stats about awards and honors and pin Pamela Colloff's storytelling bona fides to the titles of the anthologies her writing has appeared in: “Best American Magazine Writing,” “Best American Crime Reporting,” “Best American Non-Required Reading,” and “Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.”
That list is from her Pro Publica bio and may be out of date. Chick's got chops. She does the deep dive reporting of the best investigative journalists, but her area of focus (or at least the part of her oeuvre I'm focusing on) is longform journalism (AKA narrative nonfiction AKA tasty mini-books printed on glossy magazine paper).
One of the cool things about Colloff is that she spent so much time at Texas Monthly. If you're not one of the twelve people who follows magazine writing like their weird friends followed pro wrestling back in the day, Texas Monthly is a hallowed institution responsible for some of the country's best literary journalism. Ever. Full stop.
A couple TM names of note (there are more than a couple, but here are a couple) are Skip Hollandsworth, about whom one might say such things as "oh my, he's the best magazine writer who ever lived," and Jake Silverstein, who wrote a cool half-fiction, half non-fiction book about how hard it is to be on the outside of the magazine world, and who then became EIC of the fucking New York Times Magazine.
Colloff spent her formative magazine writing years at Texas Monthly. She's currently at ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, where she continues to churn out great pieces. One of the reasons I wanted to do a deeper dive on her work is that she does both historically rooted narratives (which are always thematically relevant to contemporary life) and deep dives on timelier pieces (which are always timeless). I cut my teeth writing features about contemporary life, usually crime stuff that first appeared as capsule news items in newspapers. Lately, though, I've been writing a lot more historical stuff, predominantly because those stories are seeing lively second acts in Hollywood. But I have a foot in both worlds -- the present and the past -- and it's difficult to find others like that. (In part that's because historical stuff doesn't sell very well in magazine land, and it's tough to get those assignments.) Colloff, a master of the historical tale with deep relevance to today, seems like a great writer to study.
The three pieces of hers I'll be reading are "A Kiss Before Dying," about an Odessa High School student killed in the '60s, and the guy who did it, "Unholy Act," about the murder of another young woman ... and the guy who did it, and "The Reckoning: The Story of Claire Wilson," also about murders (and a survivor) ... and the guy who did it. (EDIT: I also attempted to read her deservedly lauded piece about a wrongfully Texas husband, but I had trouble with the subject matter ... more on that to come.)
In each case I'm going to be looking at story structure -- and particularly how tension and momentum are built -- as well as Colloff's reporting and the way she wields it in narrative. Enjoy!