Alta Editor Picks 2020

These “lucky 13” articles, ranging in subject from pandemic history to the global future, especially resonated with our readers.

editors pick, 2020, alta
Alta

To select our favorite articles of the past year, we considered web traffic, social media interactions, reader feedback, and which pieces are most likely to be read in the decades to come. Here are some of our top picks from 2020.

The Tomb of the Unknown ‘Wetback’
a black headstone marks the grave of juan peña diaz, an undocumented worker from mexico who was killed by anaheim police in 1953
JOHN GILHOOLEY

Fate leads a journalist to discover a long-forgotten grave in Orange County—and the sad secrets it keeps. By Gustavo Arellano

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L.A.’s Forgotten Civil Rights Champion
los angeles civil rights leader floyd c covington, 1942
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, ON BEHALF OF THE USC LIBRARIES SPECIAL COLLECTIONS.

As executive director of the Los Angeles Urban League, Floyd C. Covington made a difference in the lives of the African American workers he fought for—not only in the workplace, but in housing, in education, and at the voting booth. By Catherine Womack

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She Blew Open Doors
clora bryant played jazz with skill and authority “i didn’t want them to feel like i was a mamby pamby little tippy toe female”
MISHA ERWITT

“Trumpetiste” Clora Bryant embodied the fireball energy of Central Avenue’s jazz scene. By Lynell George

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London’s Newest Queen
alta editor and publisher will hearst left and writer armistead maupin enjoy pints of ale at comptons of soho, a london pub
CHRISTOPHER TURNER

A recent London transplant, Tales of the City writer Armistead Maupin tells Will Hearst why he left his beloved San Francisco, what his next big book might be, and how much he likes his new surroundings (spoiler: a lot). By Will Hearst

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The Forgotten Babies
matt mahurin
MATT MAHURIN

Why do we so often fail at protecting our most vulnerable? By Melissa Chadburn

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The Hopis of Alcatraz
MENNONITE ARCHIVES, BETHEL COLLEGE

Long before Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly were inmates, 19 “subversive” men were incarcerated at the notorious prison. This is the story of the largest band of American Indians ever held on the Rock. By Laurie Ann Doyle

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The Curious Case of the Giant Boole
the boole sequoia is one of the world’s largest trees
ALAMY

One of the biggest trees in the world—the Boole—is thriving despite a devastating logging in Converse Basin, a massive sequoia grove 60 miles east of Fresno. The bigger mystery is why it was named for the man who supervised the forest’s destruction. By Matt Jaffe

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Dear Inga, Love Jack
john f kennedy, as a navy lieutenant junior grade, during the time of his romance with inga arvad, circa 1942
FRANK TURGENT/GETTY IMAGES

Danish beauty Inga Arvad was a scoop-driven journalist courted by royalty, the Nazis, and a young John F. Kennedy—before finding peace in the West. An unlikely tale of reinvention, redemption, and enduring love. By Geoffrey Gray

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A Mother’s Road
route 66 mary melton
Alta Journal

Alta's editor at large searches for a deeper connection with her autistic son—and with a divided country—on a 15-day journey along Route 66. By Mary Melton

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Buster Keaton’s Last Stand
in what would be the most expensive scene in silent film history, buster keaton constructed a bridge, set it afire, drove a steam train onto it—and then had everything collapse into a river 34 feet below keaton had only one chance to get the shot right, and he nailed it
© BUSTER KEATON PRODUCTION

Production for The General involved guns, bombs, fires, and the blowing up of a bridge in a tiny Oregon town. When the filming was over, the comedic legend’s career was in tatters. Forty years later, the movie was hailed as a masterpiece. By Julian Smith

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The New California Curriculum
john freeman california canon
ILLUSTRATION BY VICTOR JUHASZ

A new wave of literature represents the glorious wonder and humanity of the Golden State. By John Freeman

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Having His Cake and Eating It, Too
wayne thiebaud at his studio in sacramento
JASON HENRY

Wayne Thiebaud shook up the art world in 1962 with paintings that were joyous, confectionary, and uniquely Californian. Since then, he’s worked steadily, producing sought-after pieces noted for their originality and impact on American art. On the eve of his 100th birthday, the artist says he’s “trying to learn to paint” and put a smile on people’s faces. By Jessica Zack

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One Coyote
coyote
JAMES RANSOME

Coming of age during the 1990s in an Inland Empire suburb amid dogs, snakes, scorpions—and racism. By Keenan Norris

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