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Contributor Archives: Nell Lake

Jacqueline and Amadeo

This is a disconcerting account of a young woman’s struggle to live independently after severe burn injuries. Hafetz’s closely reported story, covering several years, took nearly a year to research and write. To say this piece is “unflinching” seems cliched, but the word is apt: Hafetz, and thus his readers, really look, in this story, [...]

Chasing Shadows

There’s a subgenre in first-person works of journalism in which the “I” is the reporter on the trail of a story. This sort of story offers readers a look at the reporter’s process and is often about the narrator’s efforts to get access in secretive situations. In this piece, Altman tells the tale of getting [...]

On to Her Next Race

We liked, in this story about a woman struggling valiantly with cancer, that it begins thus: “On the big day everything that goes wrong for Jennifer Polo started with the letter C.” Looking beyond the tense switch in that sentence (and others farther along), we were engaged by the forceful and original approach to the [...]

A Desperate Mother Ignores the Odds

This story was reported and written by Christopher Goffard and Mai Tran. It is a complete narrative about a woman on a quest who achieves resolution—albeit a sad, not entirely satisfying one. The piece contains not a single quote nor any dialogue, which makes it more writerly: We readers feel we’re in the hands of [...]

When Pennies Fail To Pay the Bill, a Bronx Man Pushes for Change

A woman working at a Chinese restaurant refuses a man’s pennies when he tries to pay his bill. The man is indignant; a circus act of politicians and community leaders follows. All express outrage and call for change (so to speak). Clearly there is more than just pennies at stake. Fernandez handles this weird story [...]

A Deadly Hush in Room 211—Then the Killer Returned

The scene-writing is compelling in this tick-tock reconstruction of the experiences of the Virginia Tech class that lost the greatest number of people in the shooting. We found keeping track of all the characters a bit challenging—but the characters are well-rendered and three-dimensional. We particularly liked Hayasaki’s ending; it’s moving without being mawkish.

The Effects of War on the Homefront

Like “Thembi’s Diary“, this story takes us into its characters’ world without the use of a narrator. It’s an approach that can provide exceptional immediacy. In this piece, a soldier and his wife struggle to build a life after his return from the Iraq war. We’ve read quite a lot of stories about PTSD; we [...]

A Grisly Problem, Grateful Iraqis and a Grim Outlook

Finkel shows his knack, once again, for crafting newspaper stories with a writerly, particularly human point of view. He doesn’t just write technically compelling scenes; he lets his readers in on irony, wryness, attitude. We see the stance as daring, profound, even subversive, in the politically charged and deathly case of Iraq. His scenes get [...]

Mandela’s Children

This series follows three young people in their quest to pass their matriculation exams, tests that in many ways will determine their future. It’s an engrossing read; the stakes are clear and the characters engaging. We did think the first section had a basic weakness: The chapter builds toward a sort of non-climax, the taking [...]

Attacked by a Grizzly

This story reconstructs the experience of Johan Otter, who was attacked by a grizzly while hiking in Glacier National Park with his daughter. The first section tells the story of the attack and of Otter’s rescue. The second installment chronicles Otter’s recovery. Tom Curwen e-mailed us that his experience with the piece "convinces me that [...]