On Popular History 

Rebecca Traister, Jamelle Bouie, T.J. Stiles, and more 

When it comes to talking craft and process, history is a rare but esteemed guest of the American literary community. The Paris Review has interviewed Robert Caro but not Doris Kearns Goodwin or Henry Louis Gates, living legends in popular history. “I only became a novelist,” Hilary Mantel told the literary magazine, “because I thought I had missed my chance to become a historian.” Mantel, and other writers of historical fiction or journalists who write a history book are more likely to appear in The Paris Review or on The Longform podcast. Ken Burns and Erik Larson, but not Gates or Goodwin, can be found among 450 “interviews with writers, journalists, filmmakers, and podcasters about how they do their work.” I may be the only historian on novelist Jami Attenberg’s Craft Talk, a newsletter that, along with her #1000wordsofsummer, has helped so many writers. And that gave me an idea. 


Henry Louis Gates after he received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton in 1998. He has been the recipient of a MacArthur Award, a Peabody, and many other honors and prizes. 

In May, the newsletter will focus on popular history. We’ll start with two journalists held in high esteem by my kind: New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Traister and New York Times op-ed columnist Jamelle Bouie. They’ll be followed by NYU professor and biographer Pamela Newkirk, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author T.J. Stiles, and hosts of the podcast “This Day in Esoteric Political History.” I’ll send a couple bonus editions on Wednesdays, including an interview with Brian Wolly, the Digital Editorial Director for Smithsonian Magazine. And I left room for you, too. Send your burning questions to studymarrykill@gmail.com. 

See you next week! Until then, you can find me on MSNBC’s American Voices, Twitter and Instagram, and the books I’ve mentioned on Bookshop and Amazon. ICYMI: Last week, Guggenheim fellow Kaitlyn Greenidge wrote an original essay about Libertie, her latest book.