Longform You Have to Read: Jeanne Marie Laskas’ American Visions


In a world where you have more options for satisfying longform reading than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism and longform has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, being classic pieces of work, or just by a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading. This week, we’re looking at the work of Jeanne Marie Laskas.

Currently a contributing writer for GQ, writer and professor Laskas has had a long, storied career, ranging from a regular column in The Washington Post to contributing to magazines like Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. The author of six books, including 2012’s brilliant Hidden America, Laskas is equally as handy with getting the poetic out of a pedestrian celebrity profile or diving into the blood and guts of what makes “real” America run.

America Is Bull,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, Esquire, January 1999

What’s it like to be an American bull rider? In this absorbing piece, Laskas takes us behind the scenes, capturing the voice of 22-year-old Billy, a young man who’s at his best when he’s at a rodeo.

Underworld,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ, May 2007

“It was tough getting used to identifying people, in the darkness, just as feet, shoulders, chin, teeth.” Laskas is so, so talented at putting you right in the middle of a situation while capturing the specific regional voice of people, and in this piece, she takes you into the earth’s core, feeling exactly what it’s like to work in a coal mine.

Guns R’ Us: Buying Guns in America,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ, September 2012

This story starts from the question of how do you buy a gun in America? Laskas clerks at a gun store in Arizona to spend some time right in the middle of America’s gun culture — where it is terrifyingly easy to buy a gun.

Game Brain: Football Players and Concussions,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ, October 2009

Nowadays, we have lots of reasons to be against football, but Laskas was ahead of the curve, writing a fascinating epic about one neuroscientist, his discoveries regarding a dead football player’s brain, and the reverberations those discoveries would have in the league.

The Dark Side of the Moon,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ, January 2015

Laskas is wonderful at profiling famous figures (including a delightful profile of Joe Biden), and in this lengthy work on the after life of the first man on the moon, she pivots between “the melancholy of all things done” and how that shows in Aldrin’s life and the waxing and waning of spaceflight’s role in American culture.