Lawrence Wright, who went last, hit that point home while talking about Scientology, noting that “there are some stories that just won’t let you alone.” His Moth story flitted between the “laws of storytelling” and their application to his calculated work as an experienced teller to find the people he needed to do his craft, and a more ineffable, personal obsession with just getting someone to open up to him. And it says a lot about both the teller and the subject that Wright’s quest to eke the humanity out of then-Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis was met with Davis’s insistence that “I’m not a person. I’m a message.”

When you’re in a profession that so easily allows (and sometimes insists) that your identity be your work and vice-versa, strange things happen. You vomit on famous fashion designers. You talk about sources in terms of seduction and jealousy. You, like Rebecca Mead explained in her story, take decades as a journalist to figure out how to tell one story about yourself. Or maybe the juxtaposition of work and life is more insidious, like the slowly unwinding tale Anthony Lane let loose, complete with a perfectly respectable Werner Herzog impression, about how he literally “shot a movie” with an SLR - single loading rifle - long before he took aim as a critic.

Pretty much every journalist has at least one story like the ones on stage, just not about a New Yorker piece they’ve written. So while the evening did an effective job of opening up the work of some very gifted writers in a way that, to be sure, The New Yorker finds acceptable for public consumption, the truth it spoke to has a greater application and reach than as a gentle, playful tweak to the image of one of the most bepedestaled publications out there.


Abby Ohlheiser is a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire. She also contributes to the New Humanist and the Revealer