Below is a curated list from the Story editors and staff of the 10 most powerful narratives of 2015. This list is biased, stories pulled from our Twitter feeds and the messy stacks on our nightstands. These are the stories from essays, books, tragedies, and wonders this past year that we thought about for months after—in checkout lines, at the dinner table, repeated to friends and neighbors. These are stories that define a moment in time, unpack a perspective, expose important truths, and are certain to live on beyond the year in which they were told.
The 10 Most Powerful Stories of 2015, Selected by Story Editors and Staff
1. “Lottery Tickets,” by Elizabeth Alexander. A devastating, elliptical essay from The New Yorker about the loss of a husband and father.
I lost my husband. Where is he? I often wonder. As I set out on some small adventure, heading for some new place, somewhere he does not know, I think, I must call him, think, I must tell him, think, What would he think? Think what he thinks. Know what he thinks.
2. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A memoir told from a father to his son about what it means to black in America.
I was born among a people, Samori, and in that realization I knew that I was out of something. It was the psychosis of questioning myself, of constantly wondering if I could measure up. But the whole theory was wrong, their whole notion of race was wrong. And apprehending that, I felt my first measure of freedom.
3. The New York Times coverage of the European refugee crisis. An international crisis gripping the hearts and minds of the globe.
But more often, history unfolds incrementally. For months, we have watched it do so in literally millions of steps, as hundreds of thousands of people trudge from some of the world’s most conflict-ridden and poorest regions toward Europe and what they hope will be more secure and prosperous lives.
4. #BlackLivesMatter. In a year of continued shootings of and violence against black men and women in America, the importance of the work of #BlackLivesMatter has only increased.
I believe that Black Lives Matter has changed the visceral experience of being black in America. I see this in the way it has become a community reflex to record interactions with police—a habit that is empowering, even as it highlights black vulnerability. I see it in the rise of a new group of black public intellectuals and in the beginnings of a new political language. [from Wired]
5. The November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris. A bewildering, tragic attack on the citizens of Paris.
The attacks in Paris on the night of Friday 13 November by gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars, almost simultaneously – and left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. [from BBC]
6. The “Call me Caitlyn” issue of Vanity Fair. The transgender Olympic champion told her story to an enraptured nation.
The gold medal for winning the decathlon, which Caitlyn had left in the safe in the home in Hidden Hills where she and Kris had lived, had finally been retrieved. It was on the table in front of her. “That was a good day,” she said as she touched the medal. Then her eyes rimmed red and her voice grew soft. “But the last couple of days were better.”
7. Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. The Disney film reminding us sadness isn’t something to be avoided, but rather it is an essential part of our humanity.
One of the things I really resonated with is that we have a naive view in the West that happiness is all about the positive stuff. But happiness in a meaningful life is really about the full array of emotions, and finding them in the right place. I think that is a subtext of the movie: The parents want Riley to just be their happy little girl. And she can’t. She has to have this full complement of emotions to develop. I think we all need to remember that. This is a weakness in Western culture and the United States. You need sadness, you need anger, you need fear. [from Pacific Standard]
8. Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The hip-hop infused musical recasting America’s founding fathers in a more diverse light, with a soundtrack on many best album of the year lists and creating the most expensive resale ticket market in history.
In Miranda’s telling, the headlong rise of one self-made immigrant becomes the story of America. Hamilton announces himself in a signature refrain: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot,” and these words could equally apply to his dramatizer. [from The New Yorker]
9. Jon Stewart’s final episode of The Daily Show. The last hurrah of the leading news voice of the 21st century.
On Jon’s last episode of The Daily Show, he revisits The Best F#@king News Team Ever, gets a send-off from his top political targets and says goodbye after 16 years as host.
10. “There Was Once a Girl,” by Katy Waldman. At the end of the year of identity came this essential essay at Slate on the narratives surrounding disappearing female bodies.
The narrative impulse is one entwined with anorexia itself. Being sick means constructing an alternate reality, strapping it in place with sturdy mantras, surrendering to the beguiling logic of an old fairy tale: There once was a girl who ate very little. There once lived a witch in a deep, dark wood. Anorexics are convinced that they are hideous, bad, and unlovable. At the same time, they are constantly soliloquizing about their sacrifice, their nobility, their ethereal powers.
Other powerful stories from 2015:
The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante [final book of the Neapolitan novel series]
WTF with Marc Maron, episode 613: President Barack Obama [podcast conversation between a comedian and the President]
“Lost Voices,” by Darius Simpson and Scout Bosley [spoken word poem]
Harper Lee publication of Go Set a Watchman [event]
An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir [first novel of a series]
“All the Time Every Minute,” by Catherine Eves [a The Rumpus essay]
“The Immigration Illiad,” by Dan-el Padilla Peralta [a Matter essay]
The Familiar: Volume 1, One Rainy Day in May and Volume 2, Into the Forest, by Mark Z. Danielewski [volumes in novel series]
“Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled with Shrieks,” by Christopher Citro [poem in Rattle]
U.S Women’s National team winning the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup [global soccer event]
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon [movie]
Mad Men, season 7 part 2, “The End of an Era” episode; show created by Matthew Weiner [final television series episode]
Fun Home: The Musical, by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron [Broadway musical]
“The Trapeze Swinger,” covered by Gregory Alan Isakov, original song by Iron and Wine [song]
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, by Florence + The Machine [album]
“Discovering the Lost Photos of a Psychiatric Hospital,” by Austin Collings [interview/photo story]
Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro [comic book series]