The Best American Newspaper Narrratives Volume 3 Reviewed By Norm Goldman of
Norm Goldman

Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of

He has been reviewing books for the past twenty years after retiring from the legal profession.

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By Norm Goldman
Published on July 11, 2016

Editor: Gayle Reaves

Publisher: University of North Texas Press

ISBN: 978-1-57441-636-7 (Paperback): 978-1-57441-645-9 (E-Book)

Editor: Gayle Reaves

Publisher: University of North Texas Press

ISBN: 978-1-57441-636-7 (Paperback): 978-1-57441-645-9 (E-Book)

Mea Culpa. I admit to be a news junkie and particularly when articles are informative and well-written.

Editor Gayle Reaves has put together in The Best American Newspaper Narratives Volume 3 an anthology of the ten winners of the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest that was run by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.

This event is hosted by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas and co-sponsored by The Dallas Morning News. The contest honors exemplary narrative work and encourages narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the United States.

As Reaves mentions in the introduction: “the stories gathered in the book are more than articles. They are stories in the best sense of the word, in the way stories were back before most people could read or write, and history was oral, and spoken and sung and memorized. They carry you along, at a footsore walk or a gallop, as their characters move.”

The book begins with the first prize winner, Dan Barry's, “The Boy's in the Bunkhouse” initially published in The New York Times. In Barry's story we learn about the plight of abused men with intellectual disabilities -affecting their reasoning and learning- as they worked in Atalissa, Iowa in a processing plant where they eviscerated turkeys. In return, they received food lodging, the occasional diversion and sixty-five dollars a month for more than thirty years.

Second place was awarded to Christopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times who tells us about the son of a California assembly speaker who entered into a plea bargain after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The surprising outcome was the reduction of his sentence by the then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger making us wonder if their different kinds of justice depending on who you know. The winner of the third prize, Stephanie McCrummen of the The Washington Post wrote about a Virginia state senator who was stabbed multiple times by his mentally ill son suffering from bipolar disorder. It is a story that we often hear today and for the past several years where unfortunately the mental-health system neglects the small percentage of people with the most serious mental illnesses.

The seven remaining runner-up stories include the rebirth of Detroit, a troubled romance in a rural town in Virginia that were behind seventy-seven arsons, a North-Atlantic whale called Bayla that had been caught up in a fisherman's rope and the work of Dr. Michael Moore who for over three decades had dedicated himself to the study of these whales, the horrible experiences of homeowners whose homes were built with unsafe materials imported from China, the manner in which our social policy and our mental health laws and system fail to serve the interest of patients and society, and being able to die with dignity.

Each of these narratives showcase outstanding master storytellers and observers who have shared their research, honest depictions and opinions with their readers through vivid and startlingly fresh essays.

To say the writing is good would be an understatement and it is easy to understand why they have been chosen as the ten winners. The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference has done us a great service as it affords recognition of some of the outstanding nonfiction narratives that have already been published, bringing it together into one body. Some of these stories are quite a challenge to read particularly when we know that the ending will not be pleasant. Nonetheless, they are stories that must be told. Bravo!