Shortly after Cory Leadbeater enrolled in Columbia University’s M.F.A. program in 2012, he landed any young writer’s dream job: personal assistant to famed author Joan Didion. The Uptown Local: Joy, Death, and Joan Didion is Leadbeater’s loving tribute to the iconic author, but it’s also a complex family drama and an often painfully revealing story of his early artistic and personal struggles.

Leadbeater didn’t merely work for Didion for nearly a decade: He also lived in the back bedroom of her spacious and elegant apartment on the Upper East Side for the first two years of his employment. In addition to attending to the author’s needs, he spent countless hours in her company, listening to Chopin and The Andrews Sisters, reading aloud W.H. Auden and other favorite poets, and accompanying her on walks through the neighborhood and outings to art museums.

But even as Leadbeater’s affection for Didion blossoms in these quiet moments, he harbors an ugly secret: For several years, his father has been the subject of a federal mortgage fraud investigation that culminates in a guilty plea and five-year prison sentence. As Leadbeater joins his mother and brothers on monthly trips to a Pennsylvania penitentiary, he must deal with the shame of his father’s notoriety and come to terms with the realization that his costly private college education had been financed by criminality.

Leadbeater also frankly relives the mounting frustrations of his early literary efforts, haunted by a murderous character named Billy Silvers, the protagonist of one of the four unpublished novels he writes while working for Didion. Alongside these artistic challenges, he confronts his lifelong obsession with death, including persistent and frighteningly real thoughts of his own suicide, heightened by the sudden passing of his best friend from college shortly after his employment with Didion begins.

Leadbeater describes how only a few months before Didion’s death in December 2021, she experienced the pleasure of holding his newborn daughter. It’s a lovely moment of grace in a memoir that’s full of dark ones. Though Didion didn’t live to see this work, one senses she would have been equally delighted with her protégé’s literary talent and, not least, his unblinking honesty.

In The Uptown Local, Joan Didion’s assistant recounts his relationship with the iconic author, as well as his complex family history and obsession with death.

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.
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In her memoir-in-essays, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: (But I’m Going to Anyway), Emmy-nominated comedy writer Chelsea Devantez recounts her rise to success through a series of moments that range from comical to harrowing. She came up in Chicago’s highly competitive improv club The Second City, whose alumni list boasts everyone from John Belushi to Tina Fey. Eventually, Devantez became the head writer of The Problem With Jon Stewart, but the road there was not easy. She toiled for years in the grueling improv/comedy industry. Often when opportunity knocked, like one to create a television show, things never quite panned out. According to TV execs, she was too ethnic or not ethnic enough; too funny or not funny enough.

Devantez is no stranger to finding humor in the absurd and traumatic around us. Growing up in a family that was often tumultuous, and at the mercy of her mother’s romantic partners, Devantez learned how to make even the most difficult situations comedic. There were bright spots amid her personal and career woes: other women. Throughout I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, Devantez shows how she couldn’t have made it in the business or in life without the complicated women and girls who surrounded her. From Devantez’s mesmerizing comedy partner who broke her heart, to the gossipy adversary she aptly names Shitbitch, to her ever-supportive mother who often struggled to free herself from abusive men, each taught Devantez something critical about the world and herself.

Devantez excels at exploring the interiority of her mind while conjuring a colorful cast of characters. As her career and life develop, she’s inspired by drag queens, evangelizing Mormon girls, cruise ship theater troupes and the memoir of comedy legend Rachel Dratch. Readers will also appreciate her frank discussions about money. In the memorable “Roger Roger,” Devantez proudly calls herself “glamorous trash” and examines the true cost of not benefiting from nepotism. Her adept critique extends beyond her lack of “a cousin who had a cousin who had a cousin who knew the accountant for Jennifer Aniston” but truly considers the reality of how race and gender play into comedy success. How does one “make it” in Hollywood—or anywhere—when you aren’t the type of person who usually does?

In I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, Devantez answers this question and many others with acute honesty as she romps through personal embarrassments, traumas and triumphs, often proving that success is not only measured by what you do, but by who joins you along the way.

Comedy writer Chelsea Devantez romps through personal embarrassments, traumas and triumphs in her memoir, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.

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