So, this is strange: Dan Baum, whose contract with the New Yorker was not renewed back in 2007, has taken to Twitter -- today -- to chronicle a full-blown narration of the events leading up to his dismissal. It all started about three hours ago, with a series of tweets that read:
People often ask why I left the New Yorker. After all, I had a staff writer job. Isn't that the best job in journalism? Yes.
Nobody leaves a New Yorker job voluntarily. I was fired. And over the next few days, I'll tell that story here, in 140
And off he went! Without any regard for Twitter conventions, he dumped some sixty odd tweets, which, if read in the wrong order, come across like one long surrealist tone poem. He finally concludes today's outburst by saying: "Quick note, since there seems to be some confusion: I was fired in 2007, and just telling the story now because people on my book tour ask."
Baum did some superlative work for the New Yorker, most notable his excellent "New Orleans Journal," which was part post-Katrina chronicle, part love letter to New Orleans. As someone who worries that the cynics will be right about New Orleans - that the old city will never reflower - Baum provides a testment to the beating and irrepressible heart of that city, still capable of leaving a unique mark on those who seek it out.
Here's a nice example, from the "Journal's" final entry:
"Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?" an old song asks; another reminds us, "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." Since Katrina, I've often been asked (though never by someone in New Orleans) why the country should bother rebuilding it. Is it really worth the billions it would take to protect this small, poor, economically inessential city, which is sinking into the delta muck as global warming raises the sea around it? But the question of "whether" has been settled--New Orleans is rebuilding itself, albeit slowly, fitfully, and imperfectly. Now it's only a matter of how and how long. That is better news than perhaps the rest of America fully understands.
It's the American way to focus on the future--we are dreamers and schemers, always chasing the horizon. Looking forward has made us great, but it comes at a price. (Mexican immigrants often describe life in the United States as puro reloj, or "nothing but the clock.") New Orleanians, on the other hand, are excellent at the lost art of living in the moment. Étienne stopped at our house one afternoon to drop off some papers he wanted me to see. No, he said, he couldn't stay; someone was waiting for him downtown. But we got to talking, and gradually moved to the chairs on the porch. We had a beer. The shadows lengthened as the day cooled, the jasmine across the street smelled sweet, and a few houses away someone was practicing the saxophone. Margaret brought out a dish of almonds. We all had another beer. It was dark by the time Étienne left. And here's the true miracle of New Orleans: the person waiting for him downtown no doubt had an equally pleasant couple of hours, and Étienne surely paid no social penalty for being late.
Back in 2007, Doree Shafrir reported on Baum's dismissal:
All New Yorker writers are on one-year contracts. Baum, who's been a contributor since 2003, found out in January that his contract--which would be up in September--was not going to be renewed for a fourth year. Since Hurricane Katrina, he's been writing almost exclusively about New Orleans (he also wrote about the tsunami in Asia--here's a man who likes his natural disasters!), but has also covered immigration and the military extensively.
The contract called for him to write 30,000 words per year. When he was told that the magazine would not be renewing his contract, they also suggested that he finish out his current contract online, and not in the pages of the magazine--which is why he's been writing the New Orleans Journal online, and his byline hasn't appeared in the magazine since October 2006. (He's also working on a book about New Orleans, to be published in 2009, around the same time that city gets back on its feet maybe.)
We called Baum at his home in Denver and asked why the magazine had decided not to renew. "Remnick was not happy with my work," he said. "But I would like to go back there."
But instead of going "back there," he's rehashing the whole saga in brief, truncated online bursts. And what can I say? I enjoy using Twitter (this post will end with the suggestion that you follow me there!). But Baum reminds me that some stories will always be too big for it.
The Peculiar Arrangement of a Former New Yorker Writer [The American Prospect]