A Punk Feminist Escapes Russia and More: The Week in Narrated Articles

This weekend, listen to a collection of narrated articles from around The New York Times, read aloud by the reporters who wrote them.

Written by Valerie Hopkins and Misha Friedman | Narrated by Valerie Hopkins

Maria V. Alyokhina first came to the attention of the Russian authorities — and the world — when, in 2012, her punk band and performance art group, Pussy Riot, staged a protest against President Vladimir V. Putin in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

For that act of rebellion, she was sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism.” She had remained determined to fight Mr. Putin’s system of repression, even after being jailed six more times since last summer, each stint for 15 days, always on trumped-up charges aimed at stifling her political activism.

But in April, as Mr. Putin cracked down harder to snuff out any criticism of his war in Ukraine, the authorities announced that her effective house arrest would be converted to 21 days in a penal colony. She decided it was time to leave Russia — at least temporarily — and disguised herself as a food courier to evade the Moscow police.

It’s a hard time to be a utopian writer, or any sort of utopian. Disaster-filled dystopian stories abound in movies, television and fiction; news headlines verge on apocalyptic. Other masters of utopian speculative fiction — giants like Ursula K. Le Guin and Iain M. Banks — are gone, and few are filling the void. At the same time, utopian stories have never felt so necessary.

At 70, Kim Stanley Robinson — who is widely acclaimed as one of the most influential speculative fiction writers of his generation — stands as perhaps the last of the great utopians. It can be lonely work, he said. But lately, his writing has been having an impact in the real world, as biologists, climate scientists, tech entrepreneurs and C.E.O.s of green technology start-ups have looked to his fiction as a possible road map for avoiding the worst outcomes of climate change.

Written and narrated by Katherine Rosman

Since last summer, a start-up in beta mode has been soliciting volunteers to take part in 55-minute sessions called “gathers,” where strangers discuss their deepest hopes and fears. The fledgling company, Peoplehood, is led by the entrepreneurs Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, who combined sweat and spirituality in their last venture, the high-end fitness chain SoulCycle.

Ms. Cutler and Ms. Rice see Peoplehood as a natural successor to SoulCycle, which became a phenomenon because it made its customers feel as if they were sculpting not just their bodies but also their selves. The chain’s devotees wear SoulCycle gear as they pedal in unison on stationary bikes in candlelit rooms under the tutelage of guru-like instructors who shout out messages of empowerment.

Peoplehood is a company centered on workouts for the self.

Written and narrated by Ruth Graham

For decades, Kevin Thompson, 44, had been confident that he knew the people of Fort Smith, Ark., a small city tucked under a bend in the Arkansas River along the Oklahoma border. He was born at the oldest hospital in town, attended public schools there and grew up in a Baptist church that encouraged him to start preaching as a teenager. He assumed he would live in Fort Smith for the rest of his life.

But then things changed. “Jesus talks about how he is the truth, how central truth is,” Mr. Thompson said in an interview. “The moment you lose the concept of truth you’ve lost everything.”

A political moment in which the Supreme Court appears on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade looks like a triumphant era for conservative evangelicals. But there are deepening cracks beneath that ascendance.

Across the country, theologically conservative white evangelical churches that were once comfortably united have found themselves at odds over many of the same issues dividing the Republican Party and other institutions. The disruption, fear and physical separation of the pandemic have exacerbated every rift.

Written and narrated by Jamie Lauren Keiles

Phalloplasty, or surgery to construct a penis, is one of medicine’s most complex procedures. Though it technically refers to one step in a long process — the construction of a phallus from a flap of one’s own skin — the term is used more generally to describe a suite of modular surgeries, each attending to a different penile function.

The surgery for trans men and nonbinary people — known in medicine as gender-affirming phalloplasty — has existed in some form since at least the 1940s, but until recently it was rare in the United States, where insurance coverage was unreliable and few surgeons catered to the needs of trans patients.

Today, both access and attitudes are changing, thanks to efforts in peer education, recent advancements in surgical technique and, most consequential, the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits health programs that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of certain federally protected criteria, including sex.

With a steep rate of complications, however, phalloplasty remains a controversial procedure.

The Times’s narrated articles are made by Tally Abecassis, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Aaron Esposito, Dan Farrell, Elena Hecht, Adrienne Hurst, Elisheba Ittoop, Emma Kehlbeck, Marion Lozano, Tanya Pérez, Krish Seenivasan, Margaret H. Willison, Kate Winslett, John Woo and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Ryan Wegner, Julia Simon and Desiree Ibekwe.


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