I’ve recently added several paid subscription newsletters to my inbox – which is hilarious because if you told Past Sarah that Present Sarah was going to be paying for more email, she’d have erupted. My inbox used to give me a LOT of stress, but now that I’ve managed it more aggressively, I have time, space, and eagerness for deliberately and carefully reading newsletters from journalists and writers I respect and admire on topics I want to know more about.
Newsletters are a form of decentralized media that I’ve come to absolutely LOVE. There was a Twitter post going around this past week (month? What is time, again?) about how if a show like The Wonder Years were going to be made now, with the same difference in time, it would be set in 2001. This prompted a debate in our household: are there more differences between 1968 and 1988, or has more changed in the world between 2001 and 2021?
I don’t know if there is a definitive answer, but one topic I brought up was the current and increasing prevalence and reach of decentralized new media options that have become available globally, and to a wider community of people since 2001. This may be historical myopia on my part, as I am not as fluent in the period of time between 1968 and 1988, as I was only alive for half of it and conscious and aware for even less of that timespan. That said, right now, connectivity and connection are easier to create and have a lower barrier to access. A person with time and said access point (which isn’t universal, dammit, but can and should be) can start a blog, a channel, a social media feed, or, ahoy there, a newsletter to connect directly and globally with many other people.
As a result, I can curate and choose the topics I want to learn more about and access information directly from individuals who are doing the investigation and work, whether it’s in podcast format, image curation, or arrives as text in my inbox once a week. What writers do I look forward to reading? Whose bylines and topics always make me think? Who is doing the difficult, sometimes impossible work of researching and then reframing things I take for granted, allowing me a new way to see the world, and how I can create change and improvement around me?
I asked the review team here at SBTB HQ about their favorite newsletters, and whoo-yeah, we have some suggestions to share. Some of these are paid subscriptions, but many allow you to preview issues already published before you pay to subscribe. Others are free resources for everyone supported by Patreon or alternate means of direct support. And wow, do we have topics.
“Read the news and do something about it. Each day, we offer an overview on current events and apply an anti-racism lens. Learn how practices embedded in our politics, criminal justice system, and workplaces enforce systemic oppression – and what you can do about it.”
I read this every morning, and it’s led me to research local mutual aid organizations, and to contact my local and federal representatives about current legislation and issues. I like that each issue examines a specific news item or problem, offers background and context, and always has suggestions for actions and next steps to address it. I can’t fully explain how inspiring it is to be presented with “This sucks,” immediately followed by, “And here are some options you can take right now to address this particular suck.”
The newsletter is always fascinating, and the writers involved in each issue sometimes have newsletters of their own. You can read the archives before you subscribe.
Bonus! There is also a current project, 28 Days of Black History, “a virtual exhibition of 28 works that celebrate Black legacy in the U.S. Delivered each evening in February via email.” It’s curated by Camille Bethune-Brown and Shanaé Burch, and it’s brilliant.
“People curate what they put from their lives into the public sphere but a good writer makes what they curate one hell of a story. That’s what I hope to do with this newsletter—tell one hell of a story about the world we’re living in, the culture we consume, the things that bring me joy, the things that infuriate me, the things I think we should talk about.
I am also going to use this space to feature the work of others. Every two weeks, I will publish an essay from an emerging writer, someone with three or fewer publications) and share a brief interview with them about their work, who they are, who they hope to become. Yes, they will be paid a good and fair wage for their work.”
This newsletter just started on January 11, and is already one of my favorites. The first book club discussion of Black Futures, edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, has taken place in several posts and discussion threads, and the weekly round-up of links and topics is a newsletter I save until I take a break so I can savor each link (and open all of them in a browser window of sequential tabs that makes my computer give me a mighty side-eye). There’s a free and paid level, and readers can gift subscriptions, too.
If you like random, sometimes silly celebrity gossip, here you go. Celebrity is weird, and celebrity gossip is weird, and nevertheless it’s fascinating, so this arrives in my inbox and I go hide so I can read it in peace.
“Madwomen & Muses is a diaristic exploration of the art I am currently absorbing and whatever is on my mind.
I’m a Miami born, proudly black and queer critic/essayist for New York Magazine’s site, Vulture. I’m obsessed with classic film, acting, noir and superhero comics, reading voraciously, cooking adventurously, and living lushly. This newsletter is meant to be a space of play. I use it to document what art I’ve been absorbing as well as experimenting with form as a writer. “
Amanda recommends this newsletter for the pop culture. You can read the archive online.
This was the first newsletter I paid to subscribe to, and I love it. There are threaded discussion questions (you’ll see me in there recommending books, and I know you’re positively shocked about that) and twice weekly longer essay editions that are always interesting, thoughtful, and, as I said above, do the hard, hard work of reframing the bullshit we take for granted as immutable (it’s not). The latest issues about the panic trolling about video games reminds me so much of the tired concern trolling about romance fiction – and my two teens were very into hearing about the discussion as well.
Recommend by Amanda: Kate is cooking her way through the family cookbook. As Kate says,
“Welcome to Favorite Chicken, a newsletter where I cook through the dozens of recipes in my family cookbook. Every bit of the money from your subscription will be donated to different food-centric organizations each month. You’ll also get an extra newsletter each month on what else I’ve been eating and enjoying, in case you’d like to eat and enjoy that too.”
If you check out the archives, you will find pierogies. YES.
And I am of the firm food opinion that cultures that take a Food Item and then Wrap The Item in a Dough, and then Cook the Dough Item are among the very greatest and this is what connects as humans. We take the food, we put it in a dough, we do the cooking to it, and we create love and compassion and peace. This has been, “Food Inside Dough = Beautiful Humanity” with me, Sarah, who likes dough foods.
(Seriously, think about it: how many names in how many different languages are there for A Food Inside A Dough? This is the essence and expression of human love.)
A family recipe blog and newsletter recommended by Lara.
“We’re a family of 4 living between the US & China. When we’re not packing or unpacking suitcases, we’re sharing our culinary exploits and travels w/ each other here!”
Outstanding Pun Title is Outstanding.
Recommended by Sneezy, who says, “I signed up for Feminist Giant and it is Yes.” From the description:
“Welcome to FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter by me, Mona Eltahawy, a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy.
Sign up and once a week, you get an essay by me, original and exclusive to FEMINIST GIANT, delivered to your inbox. Twice a week, you’ll get brief Global Roundups of feminist resistance to patriarchal fuckery.”
I signed up for this one so fast, I’m sure my email address is peeved at me. It’s Mona Eltahawy. She says “Fuck” a lot and likes to yell about Patriarchal Fuckery. What’s not to subscribe to?
Harvin is a beauty editor and writer, in Harvin’s words:
“The BEAUTY IRL newsletter covers beauty at the intersection of politics and pop culture through breaking news, trends, and personal experiences.
Beauty is a global, multi-billion dollar industry. It should be relentlessly monitored and reported on with the same fairness and passion as politics, tech, and health. I realized I could help fill this void by applying my skills as a journalist to the beauty industry and showing everyday folks why they should care, and what’s at stake. This is how the BEAUTY IRL newsletter was birthed.”
I first learned about Beauty IRL from The Anti-Racism Daily – a newsletter inside another newsletter. Newsletter inception! I love the idea of applying rigorous interrogation and investigation to the beauty industry like it is to politics and health (just like I enjoy applying rigorous critique to romance fiction the way it’s applied to other genres).
Recommended by Shana, who says that Lo “often talks about writing, race, and queer history.” Described as “a biweekly newsletter from author Malinda Lo on writing and culture,” this year sounds AWESOME:
“For the first half of 2021, I’ll be publishing a series about the 1950s, focusing on issues I researched while writing my new novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which is set in 1950s San Francisco. Among the stories and topics I’ll explore are: queer history, midcentury lesbian bars, life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and how I embedded my research into the novel.”
I’ve mentioned this before, but subscribers to Rose Lerner’s Patreon receive a newsletter every Wednesday, and it is a Gosh Darn Delight. This past week, there was a whole list of links about inglenooks, and that was an entire hour of tea-sipping, photo-gawking wonderment. Each issue features something different, whether it’s a spoiler of an upcoming book or another author’s work in progress, or the tiniest, most intricate historical detail Rose has discovered in the research process. I love when people enthusiastically nerd out about the details they’re most passionate about, and that’s what this is: contagious nerd joy.
This newsletter explores how the idea of “belonging” has changed, and gained (or lost) meaning:
“Isolation continues to accelerate as millennials and Gen Z report declining real and meaningful relationships with people who really understand and connect with them. These generations have turned away from consumerism and the rush to acquire physical possessions as minimalist culture and climate action dominate cultural narratives amid a backdrop of declining economic and social mobility. Lastly, evaporating community institutions like libraries, houses of worship, public squares, and social clubs in an era of declining trust means fewer and fewer people don’t see any institution as competent, ethical and inclusive.
This newsletter will explore principles of technology development that build and reinforce real and meaningful relationships missing IRL.”
Talk about reframing! Take a dip in the archives, definitely.
I am an endlessly curious (or nosy, depending on whom you ask) person who likes to learn more about all the (millions of) things I don’t know enough about. But I only have so much time and attention and (especially now) brain energy to devote, so I want to be clear that you don’t have to, nor should you, subscribe to every single thing. A newsletter in your inbox isn’t doing its thing if you aren’t reading it.
So please don’t interpret this post as “you MUST subscribe to ALL of these.” I think it helps to ask yourself instead, What are you interested in? What do you want to learn (or unlearn)? What writers can you connect with to find out more?
And, if you’ve got newsletters to share: what are some of your favorite newsletters? Drop those links in the comments! I love learning what you’re learning about!
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