Vital Moments

Loss & Ground

Marking new territory this week: Sam Sussman, Charlie Tyson, Nicholas Thompson, Charles Duhigg, Kate Myers, Joanna Coles, Frank McCourt (no, the other one), Vinson Cunningham, Rachel Tashjian, Willy Staley, Jia Tolentino, Jennifer Wilson, Miriam Gordis, and many, many more…

In the lead-up to next week’s National Magazine Awards ceremony, a frenzy rippled through New York’s media community. On its course from a book party for a billionaire to a web magazine launch party for faux trust fund kids, from the most entrenched members of the journalistic establishment to people wondering how they got in the room, the stuff of life discerned and judged, but never looked away.


On Friday, February 2, at the imposing archaic mansion of the Salmagundi Club in Greenwich Village, Harper’s contributor and possible Bob Dylan oakling Sam Sussman and New Yorker contributor Charlie Tyson celebrated their birthdays. Sussman came on full chisel. “Why don’t you ask ‘How is being 33 better than being 25?’ The Knicks are better now. Are you going to quote me on that?” he nattered. “Here’s what you can say about the Salmagundi: Nobody has heard of this place, I am the only member.” Tyson took a more philosophical tack. “I want to take up my pandemic resolution that I abandoned, which is to learn how to do a handstand. George, my partner, he said, ‘No more handstand practice. You’re at risk of smashing all the lamps in our apartment,’” Tyson said. “You can always get more lamps. But the handstand, you carry that with you forever.”

After dinner, guests played a drinking game where they aimed blueberries at each other’s glasses. If they made it, the owner of the glass had to finish it off. Many blueberries missed their marks and were ground into the club’s historic carpet. Among or alongside the players were Not Your China Doll author Katie Gee Salisburyand her husband, One Signal executive editor Nick Ciani, Truant Media consultant and former Harper’ssenior editor Elizabeth Bryant, celebrity bestseller co-writer Sandra Bark, Reuters national affairs correspondent Julia Harte, Scribner senior editor Sally Howe, and Harper’s and New Yorker contributor Michael Ames.

Around 10, the party migrated to The Marlton Hotel, where, it’s said (sometimes loudly enough to arouse complaints from other patrons), Jack Kerouac wrote the original scroll of On the Road.

Birthday boys Charlie Tyson and Sam Sussman

On Wednesday, February 21, at Lavender Lake in Williamsburg, Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson and New Yorker writer Charles Duhigg hosted the first edition of their Drinks with Journalists series since they’d toasted Wired editor-in-chief Katie Drummond in October. The occasion was the launch of Duhigg’s book Supercommunicators. Some recent additions to the series invite list wondered how they’d ended up there. Thompson and Duhigg’s ascent through the journalistic establishment over the more than 15 years they’ve been hosting the series had obscured the inclusive ethos. “The one that I knew I was invited to was Katie Drummond’s. It’s not just like we worked together at The Verge, but we were pretty close. She likes me, I like her, positive vibes, and so I understand why Katie invited me to a party,” said Rest of World U.S. tech editor Russell Brandom. “I don’t understand why Charles Duhigg invited me to a party. I’ll take it, but I don’t know.” Maybe he’d been invited for his bright ideas? “I was biking on the way here and really what I was thinking is I would like to write a Cop Land of Hasidic private security forces,” Brandom mused.

Despite some slight anxieties on arrival, the crowd settled in for a chatty evening. Mingling were New Yorkerdeputy editor Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn and editorial director Henry Finder, New York Review of Books art editor Leanne Shapton, Educated author Tara Westover, New York Times Headway deputy editor Vera Titunik, former Gizmodo editor-in-chief Kelly Bourdet, Ridgley Walsh CEO and former Dick Cheney press secretary Juleanna Glover (who, noting that journalists with an open bar and no food was a dangerous combination, ordered a stack of pizzas), In Retrospect podcast host and former Vice head of global news Susie Banikarim, Planet Money executive producer Alex Goldmark, self-proclaimed “human guinea pig” and “not a jackassA.J. Jacobs, GQ articles editor Alex Hoyt, New York features editor Nick Summers (Was anything he worked on a finalist for an ASME this year? “We did a thing with ProPublica about this OB/GYN at Columbia. The trouble about that nomination is we’re up against several otherProPublica projects”), New York Times contributor Chris Beam, Runner’s World contributors David Almand Julia Lucas, Oprah Daily associate books editor Charley Burlock (On learning to rollerblade: “It’s really a bonding experience because I’m so clearly not good that everyone is pretty worried about me when they see me”), New York Times Magazine copy editor Daniel Fromson, then-Motherboard senior features writer and editor Maxwell Strachan, and Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast host Benjamen Walker.

This reporter wasn’t the only one flagging names. “This is the lead singer of Spinal Tap, this is the lead guitarist of Spinal Tap, this is one of their hits,” The Gist podcast host Mike Pesca said as he decoded the cocktail menu. “Goes to 11 was Nigel Tufnel’s amp.”

Photo by Terry Gruber

On Tuesday, March 12, Frank McCourt celebrated the release of his book Our Biggest Fight: Reclaiming Liberty, Humanity, and Dignity in the Digital Age with a party at Marea opposite Central Park. Excavationsnovelist Kate Myers had been invited by her friend, New York Times reporter Rachel Abrams. “She said Frank McCourt,” Myers recalled, “and I was like, ‘He’s dead! Am I crazy?’” She wasn’t. This wasn’t a party thrown by the late author of Angela’s Ashes. New York’s byline doppelgänger ghosts don’t hold quite that much sway. The Frank McCourt in question is the executive chairman of McCourt Global, owner of the soccer team Olympique de Marseille, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and very much alive. “Before I realized it was [Penguin Random House], I was like, is this a vanity press situation? And then I was like, does he own PRH?” Myers said. “It’s one way to get your book published. That’s the secret they don’t tell you.” (McCourt does not own Penguin Random House.)

We only had a quick dekko on the early side. Spotted were former Hearst chief content officer Joanna Coles, former managing editor of NBC News political programming Betsy Fischer Martin, New York Times senior political correspondent Jonathan Martin, Shift podcast host Jennifer Strong, Juleanna Glover, Crown executive editor Paul Whitlatch, CEO of McCourt Global, founding CEO of Politico Europe (and Iranian newspaper oakling) Shéhérazade Semsar de Boisséson, and Pokémon theme composer John Loeffler. But the snacks were the center of excitement. This was the first book party in the history of this column with an open raw bar piled and replenished with oysters. “Eat as much as you want,” urged a server, “I would.” Hors d’oeuvres of sea bass tartare, steak tartare, and tuna tartare circulated at an overwhelming clip, coming around so often it was hard to keep up a conversation. What decadence to celebrate a book aimed at solving some of society’s core problems! “Plenty of tartare to go around,” noted another server.

John Loeffler and Frank McCourt (Photo by Terry Gruber)

Later that evening, New Yorker theater critic Vinson Cunningham celebrated the release of his debut novel Great Expectations with a party at Commune on Classon Ave. in Brooklyn on the border of Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill. Book party speeches are often something to be endured, but at Cunningham’s party, they were vivid and enthralling. “Vinson lives his life — his whole life — as an artist,” said Chris Mizell, a friend of 29 years who works in education. “Like all true artists he is wide open, taking it all in. Over the years there’ve been many occasions on which I’ve been meeting Vinson on some corner of Manhattan. If I arrived there early, I might have the opportunity to just observe him for a second.”

“Oh God,” Cunningham interjected.

“Before he sees me, I’ve noticed the way he walks. You can check this out too. Any of Vinson’s friends can notice Vinson’s walk from three city blocks away. His jacket is unbuttoned, he’s got headphones. He’s a little bit duck-footed, so he’s got this open stance. And usually, if you watch closely, his head is tilted upward, maybe to the side, and he’s just ambling, wandering really, as if the tops of the skyscrapers are paintings in a museum and he’s noticing the brushstrokes. This is not how New Yorkers walk. We have our head down, we have a destination, we have a schedule, we’re focused. But this is why we miss a lot of the details that Vinson catches and he processes.”

In his own speech, Cunningham recalled his wife, Renée Chung, who passed away in February 2023. “There are some flowers around here and they’re here to remember somebody who should be here, Renée Chung,” he said, choking up.

“You got it,” called someone in the crowd.

“I just want to thank her because she made this happen. There’s no way that I would have finished this book without her. Me being like, ‘Let’s watch Netflix.’ And Renée being like, ‘Do your work.’ She was everything to me. She is a part of everything that I do and ever will do,” he said. “I want to thank all of you for coming, near or far. This is the best thing in my life, book or not, just all these faces. I love you. Thank you. Let’s dance.”

Vinson Cunningham and New Yorker staff writer Alexandra Schwartz

Was that the best book party speech New Yorker staff writer Julian Lucas had ever heard? “Low bar, but cleared by a mile.”

Among the faces in the crowd were Cunningham’s New Yorker colleagues, including staff writers Rachel Syme, Alexandra Schwartz and Jonathan Blitzer, Naomi Fry, Emily Nussbaum, Andrew Marantz, Tad Friend, and Katy Waldman, culture editor Alex Barasch (“I feel like I was underwater with the Oscars and now I’m emerging”), associate editor Marella Gayla, and fact checkers K. Leander Williams and Holden Seidlitz. Attending from The New York Times were critic Wesley Morris, pop music critic Jon Caramanica, movie critic Alissa Wilkinson, nonfiction book critic Jennifer Szalai (“I don’t go to a lot of book parties, because of my job”), Magazine staff writer J Wortham, and Magazine contributing writer Carina del Valle Schorske. Also present were Cunningham’s mother and sister, as well as London Review of Books U.S. editor Adam Shatz, Bookforum contributor Audrey Wollen, Artless author Natasha Stagg, publicist Kaitlin Phillips, Condé Nast executive producer for audio Steven Valentino, Death, Sex & Moneypodcast host Anna Sale, New York features writer E. Alex Jung (“If somebody had a book party at China Chalet that would have been lit”), Ordinary Human Failings novelist Megan Nolan, Drift co-editor Kiara Barrow, former Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read, Washington Post fashion writer Rachel Tashjian, and her husband, Artforum executive editor Lloyd Wise. “We were really hit hard by Flaco’s death,” Tashjian said several times over great, loud music. “Window collisions are a big issue in the community,” noted Wise, wisely. “Especially on tall towers,” Tashjian affirmed. “Billionaires are killing birds.”

New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino had made the unnerving discovery that she’d started going gray. “I had been blonde for so long that I couldn’t see the brutal passage of time,” she told New York Times Magazinestory editor Willy Staley. “But we were talking about people who look nice with gray hair, and we talked about you.”

“Oh nice,” he said. “You have to have a Sontag streak, or you’re all gray, or nothing if you’re a woman,” Tolentino said. “A food runner at Monkey Bar when I was 24 turned over to me and he was like, ‘This job stress you out?’” Staley recalled. “Just because I had a few grays in my hair, so it’s been going since then.”

New Yorker staff writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus initially said he’d gone gray early too, but wavered. “I have this memory: My parents were gray early, and I was gray early. But then, actually, I see pictures of myself when my older son was a baby, and I still was not nearly as gray,” he said. “I think my kids made me very gray.” “That’s what I’m saying,” Tolentino said. “Now I have this little thing.” She showed off her gray. “Don’t bring this to me,” Staley demurred. “That’s nothing.” “No, but it’s hard,” Tolentino said. “I know it’s hard,” Staley conceded. “It’s hard.”

After the speeches, Cunningham looked resplendent in the backyard in a suede Bode shirt. “Did it cost all your book money?” asked New York contributor Jasmine Sanders, wearing a scorpion necklace. “All my book money? No. If this was all my book money, I would have set this place on fire. Get the fuck out of here,” Cunningham said. “It’s a very expensive shirt, but I was like, it’s a big day. I’ve had these pants, I love these pants. They’re like sweatpants,” he added, showing off his Pleats Please Issey Miyake slacks.

“Let’s do a Vinson fit check,” said Sanders. “Who’s your barber?” “A guy named Jeff on Nostrand Avenue.” What’s the undershirt? “This is the Target brand.”

Warned he might end up at the bottom of a name stack because of the party’s abundant star power, Harper’sassociate editor and former Drift associate editor Lake Micah objected: “Every word I say is a quote.” He stood out back, lighting cigarettes with matches next to New Yorker contributing writer Jennifer Wilson. “The Robert Silvers Foundation needed my phone number to tell me I’d won the award. Of all the people in all of media, who they tried to get my phone number from, guess who it was?” Wilson said. “Lake had a great answer when I asked why they asked him: ‘I know all the hot black literary critics.’”

“Maybe I did say that,” he said. “They also wanted Harmony [Holiday]’s number from me.” “They really did go to you for all the hot black — oh my God,” she said. “I’ve not met anyone at the Silvers Foundation,” Micah said. “It was an email out of the blue.” Had he fallen off The Drift masthead? “I love everyone at The Drift,” he said, adding, “There’s a short list, I’ll tell you that.” Would he be at their party on Thursday? “I won’t be there. I’m seeing a movie,” he said. “Nostalghia closes.”

“Hello, welcome to the trust fund literary meetup,” said Greta Rainbow at the launch party for the web literary magazine Angel Food at Sisters in Clinton Hill on Wednesday, March 20, before reading her contribution. She was referring to a tweet that had gone mildly viral earlier in the day, which read, “If one thing ties the NYC Trust Fund Kid Literary World together, it’s a commitment to the formula ‘character = trauma + consumption habits.’ It’s an incredibly bleak view of human life, and one that could only be invented by people who have never actually thought about anything.” Along with a since-deleted subsequent jab at a “pink background,” it had seemed like a veiled Angel Food diss. But Miriam Gordis, who started the magazine with Sophia Kaufman, wasn’t operating on trust fund logic. How had she chosen Sisters? “They just don’t charge. Well, there’s a bar tab,” she said. “I live in the Lower East Side and I looked at places around there. We don’t have a budget.”

Perhaps the friction was preordained. “Aries season started today, and I’m already beefing with so many publicists, billion-dollar corporations, and people on Twitter,” said Esquire editorial assistant and Angel Food contributing editor Sirena He. “People woke up this morning and chose violence.” And yet, despite the room being filled beyond capacity, a friendly, if slightly nervous, air prevailed. Crammed like sardines at the party were Business Insider reporter Aaron Mok, Verge policy reporter Gaby Del Valle, Angel Food contributing editor Allison Claire, and Lake Micah, who had no cinematic conflicts.

“Thank you all so much for coming. The capacity of this space is 50, so … that’s cool,” Gordis told the crowd. “I think we had experienced feeling like we were too experimental — Sophia and I are both coming from corporate publishing — or feeling like we were maybe too feminine for some literary spaces, so I’m really thrilled that this has taken off and excited to see how it will go.” She added, not quite apologetically, “I said that we would never have readings, but we are going to have readings.” In addition to Rainbow, those were performed by Kameel Mir, Joana Urtasun, and Ali Rose Banach. “It’s really nice to just be a little bit shoestring,” Gordis told The Fine Print, “and be able to give space to people.”


Sunday, March 31
8 p.m. Heavy Traffic will host a reading by contributors Chris Kraus, Natasha Stagg, Olivia Kan-Sperling, Sierra Armor, and Cara Schacter at Earth on the Lower East Side.Monday, April 1
7 p.m. The Verge will host a funeral for Twitter that doubles as a book party for Platformer managing editor Zoë Schiffer’s Extremely Hardcore at a bar in Brooklyn. There will be, the invite promised, “zero speeches or readings.”Tuesday, April 2
5:30 p.m. The American Society of Magazine Editors will host the 59th annual National Magazine Awards at Terminal 5 in Hell’s Kitchen.Wednesday, April 3
7 p.m. Atlantic executive editor Adrienne LaFrance, deputy editor Jane Yong Kim, senior editor Gal Beckerman, and projects editor Ellen Cushing will discuss their magazine’s harmless “The Great American Novels” package in the Strand’s Rare Book Room.

Thursday, April 4
7 p.m. New Yorker and Wall Street Journal contributing illustrator Özge Samanci will discuss her new graphic novel Evil Eyes Sea with Verge creative director Kristen Radtke at P&T Knitwear on the Lower East Side.
7:30 p.m. Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner will discuss his graphic memoir Replay: Memoir of an Uprooted Family with New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger at the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene.

Sunday, April 7
4 p.m. Nonhuman Teachers will host a screening of short films by surfer George Greenough, followed by a discussion between New Yorker staff writers Susan Orlean and Naomi Fry at the Nine Orchard hotel in Chinatown.

Monday, April 8
7 p.m. Washington Post nonfiction book critic Becca Rothfeld will discuss her debut essay collection All Things Are Too Small with The Point founding editor and former Harper’s deputy editor Jon Baskin at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn Heights.