Once Upon a Time at Bennington College

In October, Donna Tartt’s lawyer sent a threatening letter to the creator of the podcast Once Upon a Time at Bennington College, perversely stimulating interest in the 14-part series. What could the author of the scandalously confessional novel The Secret History have left to hide about her undergraduate career?

Lili Anolik has indeed gotten the goods about not just Tartt but two of her 1986 classmates: Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than ZeroAmerican Psycho) and Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn). She weaves decades-old hot gossip into an insightful generational portrait of how upheaval in media and academia enabled fresh ways of telling stories.

Anolik’s story began life as an assignment for Esquire, but podcast listeners hear the project evolve in real time—early interviews are marred with café noise and interruptions, later tapes are polished—making the podcast itself a chronicle of our own chaotic media moment and an example of the sprawling, compelling storytelling that is newly possible.

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