The Nonfiction Podcast

The Nonfiction Podcast digs into the art and science of nonfiction writing. We look at one nonfiction article every episode and break it down, talking with the writers about how they researched, reported, and put their stories together.
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Now displaying: 2016
Dec 23, 2016
In today’s show, I talk with Sabine Heinlein about her story, “Truther Love,” which appeared at in November 2016.

Sabine Heinlein is the author of the narrative nonfiction book Among Murderers: Life After Prison. Her work can be found in The New York Times, The Guardian, Psychology Today, Poets & Writers, Longreads, and many other publications. She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Margolis Award, a Sidney Gross Award for Investigative Reporting, and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

"Truther Love” looks at the social lives of conspiracy theorists, also known as “truthers,” and how one new dating site is trying to bring them together.   
Related links:

For the article I mentioned in the interview about a Sandy Hook victim's father (but couldn't remember the name of the article or the author), it's here: "The Sandy Hook Hoax" by Reeves Wiedeman for New York Magazine, 9.5.2016. Another good read.
And yes, the truther dating site in the story is real. If you're curious about it, or just "awake" and looking for love, here you go
Dec 9, 2016
On this episode, I talk with John Woodrow Cox about his story, “Telling JJ,” which appeared in the Washington Post in September 2015. "Telling JJ” is the story of a 10-year-old girl who is about to learn that she has been HIV positive since birth. The story explores the critical juncture she has reached in life as she is about to learn the truth.

John Woodrow Cox is an reporter at the Washington Post. Prior to joining the Post, he worked at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida and at the Valley News in New Hampshire.

For a follow-up on JJ, one year later, check out John's follow-up story from August 2016: 
Telling JJ: A year after learning she has HIV, an 11-year-old has a breakthrough
Nov 22, 2016

On this episode, I talk with Amanda Petrusich, author of “Fear of the light: why we need darkness.”  The story appeared in the Guardian in August 2016.  It explores the cultural impact of our increasing inability to see the night sky.  It asks questions about what it means when generations of people live in places where they can’t see the stars.

Amanda Petrusich is a contributing writer for Pitchfork and a contributing editor at The Oxford American.  Her music and culture writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Spin, and BuzzFeed. She is also the author of three books about music, including her latest work, “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records”


Related links:

Audio version of the Guardian article:
"Fear of the Light" (Audio longreads podcast, 29:01)

Longer, original version of Amanda's article:
"Night Moves" — VQR, July 5, 2016


Nov 7, 2016

On this episode, I talk with Sean Flynn, author of “The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear” The story appeared in GQ Magazine in July. The story looks at the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland on November 22, 2014, and how the system failed to hold police accountable for his death.

Sean Flynn is writer for GQ. He has also written for Boston Magazine, the Boston Herald, and Parade.


Up next week: Fear of the Light by Amanda Petrusich, about how it is increasingly hard for most of us to see the night sky.

Oct 12, 2016

This week, we look at “13, Right Now,” written by Jessica Contrera for The Washington Post in May 2016.

“13, Right Now” explores how teenagers use social media and the mobile web, focusing one 13-year-old girl who lives in the suburbs of Washington D.C. It’s part of a series of stories in the Post — “The Screen Age” — which focuses on kids today who “have never known a world without smartphones and social media… what it means to grow up in an era where learning, flirting and hanging out all happens on screens.”

Jessica Contrera is a staff writer at the Washington Post.


Another must-read by Jessica Contrera:
And everyone saw it

More stories from the “Screen Age” series in the Washington Post:
Who are these kids?
The disconnected

Jul 28, 2016

On this episode, I talk with Clive Thompson, author of The Minecraft Generation,” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine. It explores the phenomenon of the third-best-­selling video game in history — a game that has more than 100 million registered players. Thompson looks at the cultural, intellectual, and psychological meaning of Minecraft’s popularity. He and I talk about how he approached the task of understanding and explaining the massive impact of this game on millions of children.

Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. He is also the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better.


Jul 12, 2016


This week, I’ll be talking with Danielle Bacher about her story for Esquire: “My Autistic Brother’s Quest for Love." She explores her brother's challenges in finding a relationship that can last.
Danielle Bacher has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity FairMaxim, Men's JournalGQ, Billboard, and LA Weekly.
Jun 10, 2016

This week, we take a look at My Son’s Mystery Medical Condition and Our Family’s Brave New World written by Taylor Harris for Narratively.

Taylor Harris is a writer and stay-at-home mom living in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Toast, Babble, and other publications.


Next week: We stay focused on family with a look at “My Autistic Brother’s Quest for Love” by Danielle Bacher for Esquire. A great read — check it out.

May 20, 2016

Coyote Bros” by Flinder Boyd is about three hard-partying young men from Corpus Christi, Texas who made a small fortune smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States. Flinder and I talk about how he found this story and put it together for Rolling Stone.

Flinder Boyd is a former professional basketball player who played 10 years in Europe. His writing has appeared in The Classical, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, Newsweek, and BBC online. His story "20 Minutes at Rucker Park" appeared in "The Best American Sports Writing 2014."


Up next week: "My Son’s Mystery Medical Condition and Our Family’s Brave New World" by Taylor Harris.  

May 9, 2016

This week we look at “The Revolutionary Routine of Life as a Female Trucker," written by Jessica Ogilvie for BuzzFeed in March 2016. She profiles Melissa Rojas, a third-generation trucker who drives thousands of miles every week. We talk about how it went and what she learned along the way.

Jessica Ogilvie is a regular contributor to LA Magazine, Playboy and LA Weekly. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, VICE, The Hairpin, Complex, Conde Nast Traveler and LAist.


Apr 26, 2016

This week, we're taking a look at “Crowd Source," written by Davy Rothbart for The California Sunday Magazine, and published in March 2016. The story looks at a company that provides crowds to clients. For a fee, it can deliver a mob of cheering fans or a noisy crowd of angry protesters.

Davy Rothbart is a bestselling author, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, contributor to This American Life, and the editor/publisher of Found Magazine.


Up next week: "Rambln' Woman: A Week on the Road with a Female Trucker" by Jessica Ogilvie

Apr 19, 2016

This week, we look at “Fight," written by Dan Barry for The New York Times in March 2016. “Fight” tells the story of two fighters who faced off for their first professional boxing match, and the tragic result that followed. We talk about what it took to put together the story of what led both men into that ring, and what happened to the one who survived.

Dan Barry is a longtime columnist and an award-winning reporter for The New York Times and the author of four books.


For next week: Crowd Source by Davy Rothbart.

Mar 28, 2016

"The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous" looks at AA (and related treatment programs for alcohol and drug addiction) and asks tough questions about whether it works as well as many believe, and if there are better, more effective alternatives.  I talk with author Gabrielle Glaser about the challenges of reporting and writing about this controversial topic.

Gabrielle Glaser is an author and award-winning journalist who writes about issues of addiction and mental health. She specializes in long-form narrative and investigative writing, especially about social issues, health, and medicine. She has written for the New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, the Associated Press, The Economist, The Dallas Morning News, The Village Voice, and National Public Radio.   She is the author of three books, including her most recent work, "Her Best-Kept Secret."

Mar 21, 2016

"A Million Little Boxes" looks at the 39th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the battle between two of the greatest puzzle solvers of all time. I talk about the story with writer Oliver Roeder from

Oliver Roeder is a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight.  He's written about interesting corners of culture and competition, including The Westminster Dog Show, Rubik's Cube competitions, and the best Scrabble player on Earth.

Mar 14, 2016

This week’s episode looks at “The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck,” by Lane DeGregory for the Tampa Bay Times in January 2016.

The story looks at the life and tragic death of Phoebe Jonchuck, a five-year-old girl, murdered by her father, who dropped her from the side of a bridge. I talk with Lane about the challenges of exploring this difficult story.

Lane Degregory is a feature writer for the Tampa Bay Times. She has won dozens of national awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her story "The Girl in the Window."  


Some other great examples of Lane's storytelling:

A Message from Roger

At 99, a St. Petersburg man finds meaning in the working life

Driving headlong into a sunny paradise

Couple falls for the biggest game at the fair


For next week: A Million Little Boxes by Oliver Roeder

Mar 7, 2016

This week’s episode looks at “The Wreck of Amtrak 188,” written by Matt Shaer for the New York Times Magazine in January 2016.

The story examines one of the worst rail disasters in American history, which occurred just north of Philadelphia in May of 2015. It looks at the accident, the victims, and Brandon Bostian, the man who was driving the train that night.

Matthew Shaer is an author and award-winning magazine journalist based in Atlanta. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, New York, Harper’s, Fast Company, Wired, Men’s Journal, Popular Science, and Smithsonian Magazine.


For next week, check out "The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck" by Lane DeGregory.

Feb 29, 2016

"The Lonely Death of George Bell" tells the story of a man who died, alone, in his apartment in Queens, New York, and wasn't discovered until nearly a week later.  It looks at what happened next, how people were affected by his death, and lastly, what we know about the life of George Bell. 

Award-winning New York Times writer N.R. Kleinfield talks about the story and its impact.