First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Just watch.

All notes on "Highlights From the 2017..." >
A young woman works in the produce department of a grocery store
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Last week, my Instagram feed was filled with photos of teenagers wearing blue leggings covered in white stars and tank tops decorated with American flags. It was Olympics Week at my former summer camp, and these counselors were not shy about their support for Team USA. I spent a total of 13 summers at camp—seven as a camper and six as a counselor—and though many of my campers are now counselors themselves, the photos still made me nostalgic for bug juice and tie-dye T-shirts. We asked readers to tell us about their summertime experiences, and both teens and former teens responded with stories of their warm-weather follies.

Like me, a number of readers turned to summer camp to make the most of the months between school years. Rosa cited her job as Camp Leader as the first step toward a kid-centric career: “Those early summer experiences made a tremendous difference to helping me become the educator I became.” Abby, who spent six summers volunteering as a camp counselor,  described the selfless joy of making a child smile: “You don't do it for the glory, or the prestige, or the experience that's going to land you a C-level position, and certainly not for the money. We all do it for the kids.” For Daniel Yadin, who will return as a counselor to his camp in the Catskills this summer, camp is a critical part of his religious identity:

Camp’s most important role in my life is as my primary Jewish space. I don’t have many. After my Bar Mitzvah, my family began attending synagogue less and less, to the point that we stopped maintaining a membership. So, Judaism-wise, I am left with this: a congregation of secular Jews in the mountains of New York State, spending the summer living and educating according to Jewish values, if not law.

I certainly relate to Daniel’s response, not only because my camp is overseen by a Jewish nonprofit, but also because so many of my most vibrant summer memories are tied to that religiosity—making challah over a campfire; walking past older girls practicing their bat mitzvah Torah portions; and learning from our Israeli counselors. These experiences strengthened my religious identity because, quite simply, they were fun and social—a balance to my Hebrew school education, where I learned the nuts and bolts of the Old Testament and how to read Hebrew.

Of course, not everyone spends their summers canoeing and making friendship bracelets with campers. Nell, a 17-year-old from Massachusetts, will be wearing many different hats this summer:

I will be working on a huge research paper for an institute at my school. I will also be an intern at my state house of representatives. And currently, I’m in the second of three weeks in Russia, where I’m living with a host family and seeing lots of Putin imagery. Each of these activities is strategic. It allows colleges to know more about me just by looking at my activities list. And everyone at my school has a strategic summer planned out.

Last year, I worked at my local grocery store. I didn’t hate my job, but I felt so astoundingly bored. My summer this year promises not only to be intellectually engaging, but also will give me more free time and ability to see friends.

But Clover, who grew up in rural Idaho in the 1980s, learned a lot from her less-than-glamorous experiences working at a grocery store—part-time during the school year, and full-time in the summer:

My primary job was to clean the meat department each night. I scraped the floor, bleached the butcher blocks and cutting boards, and disassembled the hamburger grinder, carefully scouring each part. I also dismantled the chicken rotisserie and cleaned each part. I bagged up all the scraps, knotting the trash bags securely so they wouldn't attract vermin to the dumpster area.

Mike Blake / Reuters

When Michele Norris, journalist and founder of the Race Card Project, goes to the doctor’s office, her mother calls her to be sure she’s not planning to wear trousers. “She says, ‘You’re wearing something nice, aren’t you?’” Norris said during a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “She’s so worried about us wearing something presentable.”

Norris was hitting on a common fear people of color have when they interact with the medical system: That they won’t be taken seriously. Studies show African-Americans often receive inferior care to white patients, potentially because of racial bias. For example, white medical students hold false beliefs about racial differences in basic biology, which may contribute to the fact that black people are less likely to be treated for pain.

Norris’ strategy—and others like it—are intended to make sure doctors see her as they would their white patients. But sometimes not even these types of tactics are enough to quell racial bias.

As Angel Kyodo Williams, a mixed-race author who was also on the panel, shared, she’s had doctors write on her chart that she’s “intelligent and well-spoken.”

All notes on "Highlights From the 2017..." >
A worker removes the contents of the apartment where a man diagnosed with the Ebola virus was staying in Dallas, Texas, in 2014. Jim Young / Reuters

Recalling the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, lamented the attention lavished on the four patients who were diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

“The panic that that generated in this country diverted our effort and our attention from worrying about where the problem was,” which was in West Africa, Fauci said Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Fauci himself treated one of the American Ebola patients, and said his colleagues were skittish around him then, worried that they would contract the virus from him somehow, despite the fact that the virus is spread through bodily fluids and isn’t airborne.

“Your risk of dying on the [Capital] Beltway on the way to work at the NIH is thousands and thousands of times higher than the risk of getting Ebola from a health worker who treated a patient with Ebola,” he said he told them.

“The American public, I guess understandably, has an issue with the concept of a new risk,” he said. “You live with risks every day. [But] when a new risk comes in that’s far less risky than the risks that you’re living with, you get panicked about the new risk.”

All notes on "Highlights From the 2017..." >
Susan Walsh / AP

Since early June, Representative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has been calling for Congress to cancel its summer recess in order to pass a few key items on the GOP agenda, like health care and tax reform. But lawmakers are reluctant to give up their summer breaks, partly because the recess gives them time to meet with their constituents back in their home states.

This week we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers whether they think lawmakers should go on recess or stick around to focus on work. The responses were mixed. Stan Hastey breaks it down like this:

This is a hard one; I'm truly ambivalent, as was my fellow Oklahoman, [actor and newspaper columnist] Will Rogers. Once he said: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” So as to keep on humoring us, then, maybe Congress should stick around for the summer.

On another occasion, though, Rogers said: “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Perhaps they should go home, the sooner the better.

And as Jenette Settle writes:

If there were ever a time when Congress needed a recess to return home, it’s now. The country and party is so divided over healthcare, tax cuts, congressional salaries, immigration … Now more than ever our elected officials need to hear from their constituents.

In particular, Ginger Jefferson is worried about getting a chance to speak her mind about the health-care proposal Senate Republicans revealed on Thursday:

If they were wise, thoughtful, patriotic representatives of all the people of this country they would go on recess and allow the public to weigh in on their “Repugnant Care” bill. Give the public the opportunity to actually read it, ask questions, and assess how it will affect millions of Americans.

Joe Bookman thinks maybe lawmakers would learn something new at their town-hall meetings. When they get back, “each one can present the one issue or thought that they disagreed with but heard many times.”

But many other readers think lawmakers have had ample time to meet with constituents—and can do so whether they’re home on recess or not.

All notes on "Question of the Week" >
Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters

The late Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poet Galway Kinnell excelled at creating immersive moments. The stanzas and scenes of his plain-spoken verse are grounded in physical detail and acute psychological insight, even as they explore more abstract philosophical territory. From his dark preoccupations—mortality, and the familiar ugliness of everyday life—he draws a sense of beauty and wonder that always resonates with me when I go back to his poetry.

The Cellist,” from our October 1994 issue, exemplifies a lot of the things I love about Kinnell’s writing: that immersion in a scene, that empathetic insight into his characters, that entwinement of ugliness and beauty. In the poem, he describes a girl playing the cello as he watches from the audience. She’s nervous for her solo, both before she comes on stage and as the performance begins:

Her bow niggles at the string like a hand
stroking skin it never wanted to touch.
Probably under her scorn she is sick
that she can’t do better by it. As I am,
at the dreary in me, such as the disparity
between all the tenderness I’ve received
and the amount I’ve given, and the way
I used to shrug off the imbalance
simply as how things are

But as she plays, and as he watches, she becomes more confident and more passionately connected to her own music, until

At last she lifts off the bow and sits back.
Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat
screaming at night and the teary radiance of one
who gives everything no matter what has been given.

I love this ending, and this poem, and Kinnell’s poetic voice. For more of the second, you can read the rest of “The Cellist” here. And for more of the last, you can read “Everyone Was in Love,” from our September 2006 issue, here.

All notes on "Atlantic Poems" >
A man walks through the woods
Jim Cole / AP

Neutrogena spray sunscreen smells the best. Coppertone face sticks are waxy and heavy. And if a parent insists on the old-fashioned lotion, hopefully it’s not store-brand, because that stuff takes forever to rub in. Sun protection is very nuanced.

I’m a bit of an expert on the subject, having spent spent six summers mastering sunscreen—that most necessary of hot-weather evils—as a camp counselor. While some of my teenage pals scooped ice cream, sat in lifeguard chairs, and lugged around other people’s golf clubs, I spent my days shepherding a group of 15 third-grade girls around 100 acres of land in northern Illinois.

But our experiences are becoming increasingly rare. As my colleague Derek Thompson reported earlier this month, fewer and fewer teens are working paid summer jobs—the days of simultaneously earning a tan and minimum wage are being traded for hours spent studying and working unpaid internships. The explanation for why, as Derek notes, is multifold, ranging from an increasing drive to prep for the academic year during the summer to a decline in the “cool” factor associated with working a short-term gig.

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Before she was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Edith Wharton was unpublished and unmarried Edith Jones, a young writer still developing the “sharp eye” that British novelist Margaret Drabble praised in her short stories and the “empathy and ambivalence” that our own Ta-Nehisi Coates found, and loved, in The Age of Innocence.

Wharton’s transformation from teenage poet to acclaimed novelist can be charted in our archives, beginning with writing from the very start of her career. Her work first appeared in The Atlantic in 1880, when she was just 18, after a family friend sent some of her poems to our co-founder Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Accordingly, Longfellow sent them to William Dean Howells, the editor at the time, who ultimately published five of them.

In one of these poems, titled “Wants,” Wharton describes the evolution, and continual disappointment, of women’s desires over the course of their lives. “We women want so many things,” she begins: happiness, companionship, romance. “But,” she continues,

     when both love and friendship fail,
    We cry for duty, work to do;
Some end to gain beyond the pale
    Of self, some height to journey to.       

And then, before our task is done,
    With sudden weariness oppressed,
We leave the shining goal unwon,
    And only ask for rest.

All notes on "Atlantic Poems" >
President Ronald Reagan and stock-car driver Richard Petty enjoy some fried chicken at a Fourth of July picnic at the Daytona International Speedway in July 1984. Ira Schwarz / AP

June is “National Soul Food Month.” The cuisine, writes soul-food historian Adrian Miller, “has long been the foundation for home cooking in the White House.” President Ronald Reagan was a big fan of fried chicken, President John Tyler apparently used to serve hog jowl and turnip greens to his friends, and former First Lady Michelle Obama planted soul-food greens in the White House garden to eat for most of the year. We asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers what dish—soul food or otherwise—they would request from the White House chef.

Donna Brazile, a political analyst and former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, has a tasty menu already planned out for her hypothetical stint in the West Wing. She’d request “neck bones and gravy with green peas and a side salad. Fried catfish with potato salad. Smothered pork chops with collard greens and corn bread.”

As president, David Deufel would take a somewhat spicier route, with a meal he calls “healthy, exotic, and digestible”:

Basil-pesto stir-fried chicken with cabbage, carrots and Korean broccoli preceded by a spicy red pepper hummus covered by an Indian curry sauce. Sautéed brussels sprouts and cabbage on the side … Add a tomato bisque soup if necessary. Take the plunge!

Howard Cohen says he’d hope to have two “staples of ‘Jew Food’” while in office: matzo ball soup and corned beef sandwiches. He could make his own soup, but he’d have the chef whip up the sandwich:

Corned beef on rye: top quality brisket, sliced thin, juicy and mouth-watering; mustard (yellow not brown); kosher dill pickle; side of fruit; fries.

And if the quality is not good, I’d have Art’s Deli Fed-Exed to the White House.

Katharine Moore is daydreaming about dinner and a show:

Sweet tea, pecan pie, and homemade wine … so I could have the Zac Brown Band serenade my guests in the State Dining Room. Pablo Casals was just the right man for the Kennedy administration, but crazy times call for a fiddle, not a cello.

All notes on "Question of the Week" >
Vincent Kessler / Reuters

Last year, Mary Karr criticized high heels in an acerbically funny New Yorker piece, concluding with an appeal to women to shed their uncomfortable shoes:

Oh, womenfolk, as we once burned our bras could we not torch the footwear crucifying us? … Our feet and spines will unknot, and high heels will fade from consciousness along with foot-binding and rib removal to shrink your waist. The species may stop reproducing, but who the hell cares.

Our staff writer Megan Garber cited that essay in her own engaging discussion of heels, which considers the style in the context of the shoe-design firm Thesis Couture’s effort to produce stilettos with the height, but not the accompanying discomfort, of a typical pair. As Megan wrote, “Heels do—heels are—so much more than mere footwear”:

Heels at once lift women up and hold them—hold us—back. And, of course: We choose, day by day and week by week and Special Occasion by Special Occasion, to let them do it. Heels are both a claim of femininity and a test of it. They are the bindings of the willfully bound.

In that sense, while Thesis’s comfortable heel represents a small feat, so to speak, it also represents a very large one: a counterargument to a longstanding assumption—rendered in fashion as well as in many other areas of the culture—that womanhood is defined, in part, by the ability to bear pain. Not just in the sense of “suffering for beauty,” as the saying goes, but in the deeper sense that the collision of those two things is integral to feminine experience.

Karr explored these collisions—between style and suffering, femininity and restriction—in “Beauty and the Shoe Sluts.” The poem, from our January 1998 issue, comprises an intimate familial scene and powerful frankness reminiscent of her best-selling memoirs. As she watches her mother search through a closet of well-worn dancing shoes, Karr recalls the Greek tragedy of The Bacchae, in which the god Dionysus lures the women of Thebes out of civilization and into an ecstatic frenzy of pleasure and violence—until

           dawn spills light

on their blood-sticky mouths,
and it’s like every party you ever stayed
too late at. In chorus they sing and grieve:

“Will they come to me ever again,
the long, long dances?”
And Mother holding a black-patent ankle strap

like a shackle on a spike heel
it must’ve been teetering hell to wear glances
sidewise from her cloudy hazel eyes and says, “No,

praise God and menopause, they won’t.”

You can read the full poem here and find some of Karr’s other verse in our archives for more of her wry—and often affecting—insight.

All notes on "Atlantic Poems" >
Andrew Harnik / AP

Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, as part of the panel’s probe into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials. It was the first time the public heard from Comey since Trump abruptly fired him on May 9.

Ahead of the hearing, we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers what they would ask Comey if they were on the Senate committee. We’ve rounded up some of the most pressing questions, and included Comey’s answers where we can.

Several of you were concerned about why former Director Comey didn’t say something about his conversations with President Trump if he was concerned about their appropriateness. Here’s Jane Rupert:

How much, if any, of your concern regarding Donald Trump's contacts with you about your investigation did you share with Attorney General Sessions (before his recusal) and with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein before you were fired? And what were their reactions?

In his opening statement, Comey wrote that he did ask Attorney General Sessions “to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me.” He added that “what had just happened—[Sessions] being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind—was inappropriate and should never happen.”

John Consentino wondered why he didn’t go further:

Mr. Comey, if it’s true, as has been reported, that the president asked you to discontinue the investigation of Michael Flynn, why didn’t you report this to the appropriate congressional committees and the Justice Department immediately?

All notes on "Question of the Week" >

Ads are being blocked

For us to continue writing great stories, we need to display ads.

Un-block Learn more


Please select the extension that is blocking ads.


Please follow the steps below