The Art of Threading

A Conversation with Teri Kanefield

Teri Kanefield aka @Teri_Kanefield is an author and lawyer. She writes nonfiction, novels, short stories, essays, and legal briefs. She also wrote political commentary for CNN and appeared in many publications.

Interview published on May 28, 2019

Q. You write political threads. As an author and lawyer, this content is at the intersection of these two worlds. Why did you choose this specific format for this topic?

A. I took Twitter thread writing seriously after I read this fabulous—and hilarious—thread.

After reading that thread, I started making jokes that Twitter threads could become a new literary form: We’ve gone from epic poems, to tragic plays, to novels, to short stories, and now to Twitter threads.

Twitter threads allow for more creativity than, say, essays or Op Ed pieces. We can add images. Links show up as pictures. The spacing allows for emphasis. The tweets create bite-sized morsels of information. Twitter forces us to condense. Nobody likes dense paragraphs, anyway.

Q. You said you were bored during civic classes in high school. Then you got really interested in this subject during law school thanks to the way it’s presented, with real-life cases. Is that what you’re trying to achieve with your threads?

A. I decided to go to law school during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trials. I was fascinated by the Senate trial, and wished I understood the Constitutional issues.

Now here we are, in an actual constitutional crisis. I see my task to help people understand the legal issues, the way I wished I had understood them in the late 1990s.

Q. You also write books for children, how is that different from other types of writing?

A. For the past twenty years, I’ve mostly written appellate briefs, books for adults, and books for readers between seventh and ninth grades. The only difference between writing for middle schoolers and, say, appellate justices, is that I have to stop and explain more terms. The terms I explain in my Making of America series are things like “due process” and “mercantilism” and “tariffs.” They’re not easy concepts, but I don’t think you can understand American history without some constitutional law and economic theory.

When I wrote appellate briefs, I also had to break things down to the basics. The judges were unfamiliar with my clients’ cases, and often unfamiliar with the applicable law. I did criminal and dependency defense work, so my clients are generally not sympathetic, which made my work harder.

I often joke that writing for middle graders and appellate justices is not that different—except that I’ve often found eighth graders to be more open minded and more fun.

Q. What are your favorite Twitter accounts?

A. Ted Lieu. He knows how to do Twitter.

Q. If you had to choose one, what book would you recommend?

A. The book I most often recommend is Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom, which I think offers the best explanation of how we got here.

Follow Teri on Twitter and read her threads here.


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