How Taffy Brodesser-Akner created a brand-new standard for feature-writing

#50: Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Taffy Brodesser-Akner (photo credit: ERIC TANNER)
Taffy Brodesser-Akner
(photo credit: ERIC TANNER)
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Gay Talese’s 1966 article in Esquire, is considered the gold standard of celebrity profile writing, the article that invented the genre. Award-winning journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner, currently at The New York Times’ Magazine, hasn’t just followed in Talese’s footsteps – plenty of writers have tried that, with varying degrees of success.
Brodesser-Akner has created a brand-new standard for feature-writing in the 21st century. Reading her profiles make you want to cook acclaimed actors’ favorite Bolognese recipe (Tom Hiddleston) or reorganize your closet (Marie Kondo). We cringe when another A-lister – Bradley Cooper – doesn’t seem to want to answer any of her questions, and are awed by how she still managed to get such an intriguing article out of it. Brodesser-Akner’s writing is just as engaging when it’s not about celebrities. She’s mined her own life for essays that have readers thinking about how they’ve lived, whether it’s rejecting The Rules, the famous ‘90s-era guide to dating, or her struggle with weight loss.
And Brodesser-Akner doesn’t shy away from her Judaism. She’s written about her experience of leaving Orthodoxy and about the broader phenomenon.
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In 2015 she tweeted: “Ask me about my Jewish privilege. It includes having only 5 blood relatives, since the rest were murdered.” She then expanded the tweet into a chilling and moving essay titled “I probably won’t share this essay on twitter: Some thoughts on being Jewish in contemporary polite society,” about how it’s become taboo in liberal circles to talk about being pro-Israel, and the ways anti-Israel positions have allowed people to be openly antisemitic.
Now, Brodesser-Akner has jumped from being an acclaimed journalist to a best-selling author, with her novel Fleishman Is in Trouble, a thought-provoking tale of love, marriage, divorce, parenting and gender roles in contemporary society. That her protagonist is Jewish and the narrator is his best friend from his semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem make it even more fun for those who get the tropes of that experience – like beggars in Jerusalem’s Old City who come up with creative curses for those who don’t give them money.
A talented and powerful writer, Brodesser-Akner will surely continue to write books and articles that the Jewish world and everyone else will continue to discuss for years to come.