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Call for Submissions: Frenemies

"Frenemies": friends with fewer benefits. It's often an apt term to describe our working lives, where polite interactions mask fierce competition. But it applies to other domains as well: from the love-hate relationships of siblings and lovers, to the tangled web of international relations (take, for example, longtime allies Germany and the US, recently in a bitter spat over American espionage). Yet having a frenemy is not necessarily a bad thing. Musical rivalries produce great songs (see the hit musical Beautiful). One-time political opponents sometimes become the most formidable of allies (see Bush v. Gore veterans/gay-marriage crusaders David Boies and Ted Olson).

RIP Robin Williams

RIP Robin Williams

Yesterday, the world lost one of its great talents. Robin Williams was found dead in his home Monday from an apparent suicide. The sadness of his loss is matched only by the joy he brought the world over his life.

While early obituaries I've read have lauded his acting triumphs (i.e., Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet's Society), equally important to my childhood were Robin Williams' less acclaimed works, from Jumanji (50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) to Hook (31 percent) to Flubber (23 percent). Few actors have achieved such generational impact, making his death all the more painful.

The Poetry of Pussy Riot: A Review of Words Will Break Cement

The Poetry of Pussy Riot: A Review of Words Will Break Cement

Journalist Masha Gessen wrote a well-received biography of Russian president Vladimir Putin two years ago. In her new book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, she profiles Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk activist group whose members have become the international faces of anti-Putin protest.

In recent years the group has won a global following—including the likes of Madonna and Paul McCartney—for their offbeat acts of civil disobedience against the Russian government. One of their best-known protests—a controversial “punk prayer” performance in a Moscow cathedral in 2012—eventually landed three of its members in jail. Gessen, a Russian American journalist and herself a critic of Putin, follows the personal histories of these three members: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Stanislavovna Samutsevich (Kat). Most of the book was culled from Gessen’s reporting from their trial and her correspondence with Nadya and Maria while they were in prison.

Messy and Beautiful

Messy and Beautiful

Diversity in literature is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. Last month I attended a workshop run by the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA), which sponsors programs for writers of color working in a variety of genres. I sat at the orientation looking around in disbelief at more than 150 writers crammed into a room at UC Berkeley, thinking, “Holy fuck, I had no idea there were so many of us.”

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Speaking at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama touted his administration’s response to Russia’s recent belligerence in Ukraine. “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away,” he said. The public outcry and the pressure exerted by international institutions, he added, have served as an effective “counterweight” to “Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” In spite of the crisis Ukraine has gone on to hold elections—“without us firing a shot.”

Unfortunately, Obama is mistaken. The momentum is still on Russia’s side. It has forcibly seized and annexed the strategically valuable peninsula of Crimea. It has succeeded in destabilizing eastern Ukraine through a proxy war­—secretively supporting ethnic Russian rebellions against the Ukrainian government there. It is quite possible Ukraine will end up losing more of its territory.

May Is the Cruelest Month

May Is the Cruelest Month

May in Los Angeles is breathtaking. I know this because it’s all people talk about when the city explodes in Technicolor and flowers rip open. Everything is lush and living, or so they say. I live in Los Angeles too, but I don’t see it the same way. Not anymore. The sunshine is harsh. The colors unkind.

When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.

I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.

The Lethal Snows of Everest

The Lethal Snows of Everest

Today, twelve Sherpas died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, the worst accident in the mountain's history. (Four are still missing.) The Sherpa community, an ethnic group in Nepal renowned for their mountaineering skills, has long guided foreign visitors up the world's tallest peak. "Sherpas bear the real burden of climbing Mount Everest," American mountaineer Conrad Anker told National Geographic. "They're the ones who take the biggest risks."

Last year we published a story by Stephanie Lowe that described the growing dangers of the mountain and the concerns of the Sherpa guides, whose very job is to risk their lives on Everest's slopes.

Call for Submissions: Resistance

Ukraine. Venezuela. Thailand. The Arab Spring. We are living in a time of vibrant protest, captured and magnified by cellphone videos and Twitter feeds. On both the political right and left, grassroots movements have emerged everywhere—including America and Europe—to resist authority and overturn the establishment.

We want to hear your stories of resistance: from powerful mass movements to personal relationships.

Losing Mama

Losing Mama

At the height of my teenage apathy, my mom made me squeal with delight by smuggling a kitten into our home in a cardboard box she’d found at work. She burst into my bedroom excitedly and shoved the box toward me. When I saw its tiny, grey nose and bright, yellow eyes, I fell in love just like my mom.

My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.

Best of In The Fray 2013

Best of In The Fray 2013

Out of everything we published this year, our editors chose the following pieces from each section for being standouts among their peers. As we see it, they best represent what In The Fray is all about: stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion.

Click here to read our best commentary, news, photo essay, culture, and blog pieces from 2013.

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

I am writing to ask you for your support. For twelve years, In The Fray has published stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion. The staff work hard — for me and others, on a strictly volunteer basis — to bring you original reporting, photo essays, personal narratives, and reviews that we think are timely and compelling on a global scale.

Our small nonprofit urgently needs your help to continue our mission to be a forum for real, honest discussion and provocative, informed storytelling.

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

I am a writer who recently noticed I spend more time reading articles about writing, absorbing Top Ten lists of famous authors’ work practices, and laughing at clever memes than doing any writing. Social media is an infinite playground for intellectual stimulation. It is an unhinged door with no threat of being closed.