About a million years ago,1 I lived in Austin and wrote for the Austin Chronicle, the weekly paper that taught me that journalism could go beyond the inverted pyramid. I cut my teeth writing 2 or 3 reviews of live theatre each and every week.2 (Yes, there was a lot of live theatre in town. Most of it was pretty good.3) I wrote features and book reviews and anything else that needed to be written that I was vaguely qualified to write.
If weekly papers weren’t undergoing an extinction event, I’d highly recommend starting a writing career at one. It’s a great way to write a lot on deadline and have your work edited and read. Blogging isn’t the same, really, nor is a newsletter.4 You need actual feedback from actual people who had some sense of how to construct work that makes sense.
But this isn’t about that.
There are a bunch o’ writers whose careers I keep track of because we came of age in the same place at the same time — and we knew each other sorta. Not like besties or writing buddies but ran in the same circles.5 6
Two of them I met through a local theatre producer: Dan Dietz and Pam Colloff. Dietz, whose plays were funny and weird and deeply engaging both emotionally and intellectually,7 has gone on to write for prestige TV, like HBO’s Westworld. Pam8 is a major award winning9 journalist whose work has freed the innocent and debunked forensic science. For a primer, start here. For further reading (which involves less murder but equal amounts of Texas), this is one of my faves.
But this isn’t about them, either. Instead, this is about Sarah Hepola, whose career I’ve followed like a doting Auntie for years and years. We overlapped briefly at the Chronicle10. I’m a couple of years older and was on my way out of town when she was getting started.
Sarah’s work has shown up all over the place, from the New York Times to Glamour to Bloomberg. Her site has a bunch of goodies on it, including a blog. Her memoir about getting sober and resenting it came out a few years back and is a harrowing-but-funny read.
(and, not for nothing, her advice about becoming a writer is gospel.)
Texas Monthly just launched her podcast about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. I’m all in — and think you will be, too.11 What works most are the stories from the first cohort of cheerleaders themselves12 and Sarah’s laid-back interview style, which makes the story more intimate, like you are talking with all of these women, too. What will be more interesting, I suspect, is looking back on the first decades of the cheer team from a 2021 lens. Without these pioneers in spandex and the response to them, conversations about an American woman’s place in the world would be a much different one. So much has changed in 50 years and so little.
Because this post was so misty, watercolor memory-centric, Imma drop some unrelated tidbits here:
* If you have AppleTV+, watch ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas. The less you know going in, the better. But I can say that you’ll need to buckle up because it’s one heck of a ride.
* A thing I did not know: Queen Victoria survived eight assassination attempts.
* We should maybe stop glorifying war?
What have you enjoyed lately? Drop a comment:
1993-1997, which feels like a million years ago. We didn’t have cell phones! We barely had the internets! If you wanted a song, you had to buy a cassingle or record it off of the radio! Dark days, indeed.
If you ever meet me in person, ask me about the production of Godspell that incorporated all of the world’s religions. I mean, the show doesn’t even incorporate all of the Bible, much less Buddhism and Judaism and Paganism. But it is a story better told in person.
she said, while writing a newsletter.
In Austin in the mid-90s, those circles were enormously small. Name a developing artist who lived there at the time and I can probably connect myself to them in fewer than three steps.
To be transparent, I also used to keep track of them because I was so very jealous of their success. I’ve gotten older and finally realized that a) I can just be happy for other people and b) comparison is the thief of joy.
He’s also a pretty great actor. His performance in the Centaur Battle of San Jacinto is still in my head, years and years and years after the fact.
An aside: Pam once did me a solid and arranged an interview with Evan Smith, then the big assigning editor at Texas Monthly. Nothing came of it — my Texas knowledge is shallow, at best, and I was waaaaay too green — but I still appreciate the effort.
(not a leg lamp)
and I have some vague memory of driving to, like, Georgetown together but cannot piece together if that’s true
no. this isn’t a paid or otherwise coerced endorsement.
One of the women reminds me that I did not know the word “red” could have more than one syllable until I moved to Texas.