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Big Night at the National Magazine Awards

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From the Department of Damn Good News: Last night in Manhattan, executive editors Mimi Swartz and Pamela Colloff won National Magazine Awards for two magnificent stories we published last year. Texas Monthly is no stranger to these awards, but it’s been more than twenty years since we won two Ellies, as they’re called, in one year, and we’ve never won two in the coveted text categories. Mimi’s award, which came in the Public Interest category, was for her August cover story, “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives,” a public policy masterpiece that combined great reporting, powerful storytelling, and the passionate moral purpose that characterizes all of Mimi’s work (like her incredible 1995 story about health insurance companies, which also won a National Magazine Award for Public Interest). Pam was nominated for awards in two categories, Feature Writing and Reporting, so that’s already pretty impressive. Her award came in the former category for “The Innocent Man,” her epic, 28,000-word, two-part story about Michael Morton that was serialized in the November and December issues. It’s difficult to add to what’s already been said about this piece. Many readers wrote in after the story ran to say it was the greatest thing Texas Monthly has ever published. (It was certainly the longest.)

There are many satisfactions in editing a magazine, but, for me at least, none compare to the joy of working with excellent longform writers who are at the absolute top of their game. So I consider myself lucky beyond belief to work with these two.

I recall well the early conversations with Mimi as she sketched out her story, how she wanted it to get bigger and do more. Her ambition was great—she wanted to weave together the account of women’s health policy issues in the 2011 legislative session with the controversy around the Susan B. Komen Foundation’s decision (since reversed) to stop funding for Planned Parenthood, and to tell it all against the backdrop of the history of women’s rights in Texas. Or as I like to call it, just another day at the office for Mimi Swartz.

Pam, a.k.a. Tenacious P, was no less ambitious in her vision for her Morton piece, which I defy you to read without weeping. A memory from our work on that piece: since it was serialized, the editing process was unusual. As we finished Part One in November, Pam was turning in Part Two piecemeal, as she finished them. I knew how Morton’s story would end, of course, and knew how Pam planned to finish her piece too, but her storytelling prowess is such that I was hanging on every part she’d send me, waiting to see what would happen next. I will probably remember for the rest of my life the morning that I sat down to edit the very last section of the piece, the scene where Michael, now a free man, sits with his son, Eric, in the backyard of his lawyer’s house in Houston, and this father and child try, over a gulf of unimaginable pain, to forge a new relationship. It was early in the morning and everyone in my house was asleep. As I got to the final line of the piece—I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t read it yet; it’s very powerful—I realized I was crying into my keyboard.

The competition last night was fierce. Pam’s story beat out phenomenal stories from GQ and the New Yorker, among others, and Mimi was up against really important pieces from the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. Seeing the National Magazine of Texas knock off this competition and bring the trophies back to Austin never gets old. I’m hugely proud of Pam and Mimi, as well as everyone at Texas Monthly who works tirelessly to put out this magazine, in particular the dedicated fact-checkers who worked so hard on both of these pieces, Valerie Wright for Mimi’s story and David Moorman for Pam’s.

Photograph by ASME

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