From The Last Days of Heath Ledger to Lebron James to the title characters of THREE WOMEN, writer Lisa Taddeo’s words have captured her subjects in extraordinary and enlightening ways. 

Wheat Field

Lisa Taddeo

AUTHOR

2019

WRITING / AUTHOR / THREE WOMEN / DESIRE / ANXIETY / ESQUIRE / DAVID GRANGER / HEATH LEDGER / REPORTED FICTION / RACHEL UCHITEL / GAY TALESE / THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE / SEX / RUTGERS / STEPHEN KING / TIGER WOODS / SHOWTIME / GOLF MAGAZINE

Lisa Taddeo’s prose is undoubtedly moving—and it moves.

That is especially the case with her intensely readable debut, Three Women, which Elizabeth Gilbert dubbed “a nonfiction literary masterpiece at the same level as In Cold Blood. I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.”

As this episode of Design Matters reveals, Taddeo spent a staggering eight years reporting the book, delving deeply into the lives of her trio of sources in order to fully inhibit their psyches on the page. She also parsed the 320-page volume down from 800,000 words (for comparison, War and Peace clocks in at a hearty 587,287). All of the effort appears to have been worth it: Upon its launch, the book hit No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and has received a wild amount of pre- and post-release hype.

Such books often seem to have burst forth from the literary void—but that belies the truth. Taddeo’s embrace of story goes back to her days as a kid poring over her parents’ mass-market paperbacks; her grand prize win from the National Library of Poetry when she was in grade school; the 350-page novel she churned out on a typewriter a couple of years later.

After studying at Rutgers, Taddeo took an entry-level editorial job and began freelancing and publishing short stories, and soon drew the eye of Esquire’s David Granger and other top pros. Her work from over the years reveals a wildly versatile writer—and viewed through the lens of that short fiction and nonfiction, Three Women comes as no surprise at all.

Here are five essential pieces spanning the past decade.

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief


“The Last Days of Heath Ledger” (fiction)
As Granger has recalled, “I met Lisa Taddeo after I got a call from a friend who she'd worked for. … When Heath Ledger died in 2008, I was baffled by the outpouring of emotion. I called Lisa and asked her to report as much as she could on it in a week. Five days later, I had the first draft of a story, and I thought it was good, but it just wasn't there. One of my editors called her and told her we couldn't use it. The next morning—eight hours later—we had a completely rewritten story in our inboxes. It was in first person, and we called it reported fiction. It was both funny and profound. We published it.”

“Lebron James: The Rise of the Superathlete” (nonfiction)
Featured in Best American Sports Writing
“The future of branding (and to a lesser extent, basketball) rests in the hands of the world's best basketball player and his 26-year-old best friend. Now all they have to do is put down the videogame controllers.”


“Forty-Two” (fiction)
Winner of a 2017 Pushcart Prize
“The world Taddeo gives us is funny and harsh, bleak, sad, and on-the-go, with ‘a silver lining, like the one in the oatmeal tin that cuts your finger if you aren’t careful.’ Her characters fully experience disappointments and sharp corners, dwindling and missed opportunities, though less so their hopes and dreams.” —The Review Review

“The Man Who Made Obama” (nonfiction)
Featured in Best American Political Writing
“When you have been to the moon, you can't come back to Earth and stand in line at Starbucks. You can't order a coffee, and pay for it, and drink it beside someone wearing Sarah Palin glasses and a cruise visor. The regression to mediocrity is stunning and sapping. You would die inside.”

“Beautiful People” (fiction)
Winner of the Andrew Lytle Prize
“The piece made me uncomfortable in the most stimulating sense—that is, in the fashion of all great art. The female narrator, Jane, a prop master on a feature film set, is ugly, not physically but spiritually—completely broken by a culture that prioritizes beauty over virtue.” —Stephanie Danler


Bonus:
“The Broke Broker: He’s Got Keys to the Best Apartments, But Lacks His Own” (nonfiction)
… Being the story of a homeless real estate agent—who subsequently introduced Taddeo to his son … her future husband.
 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman