Josh Levin, "The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth," with Aisha Harris
May 21, 2019, 7:00 PM
“In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation’s conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals, the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are. The Queen is an invaluable work of nonfiction.” — David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
In The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth, Slate national director Josh Levin unveils the full story of the misunderstood, demonized, and mythologized woman behind a vicious and enduring American stereotype. Linda Taylor was one of the most infamous figures of the 20th century. She’s now a forgotten woman, having faded from public view four decades ago. But while the real Taylor vanished from the nation’s consciousness, her nickname—the “welfare queen”—persisted. This is an exacting feat of investigative journalism as much as a chilling true crime narrative, in league with David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
“In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation’s conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals, the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are. The Queen is an invaluable work of nonfiction.” — David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
Levin spent more than six years documenting the life of the Cadillac-driving, fur coat–wearing Taylor, who was busted for welfare fraud in 1974 on the South Side of Chicago. Taylor’s thievery was publicized by the Chicago Tribune, then taken up by presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who regularly railed against this “woman in Chicago” who shamelessly stole from the public purse. But what Reagan didn’t know—or didn’t care to know—was that Taylor was trailed by even more shocking allegations, claims that she was a kidnapper and a killer. While these more serious crimes fell through the cracks, the welfare fraud allegations stuck.
At its heart, The Queen is a portrait of a complex and misunderstood figure. Raised in the Jim Crow South and shaped by her status as an outcast, Taylor was both abused and an abuser. While the reasons for her behavior may still be shrouded in mystery, what she came to represent is undeniable. Josh Levin’s The Queen is the first and only account that tells, in vivid and spectacular detail, the true story of Linda Taylor’s life and crimes, and how Taylor’s image has been exploited for nearly a half century.
Josh Levin is editorial director at Slate and the host of “Hang Up and Listen”, a weekly sports podcast co-created with Stefan Fatsis. Before working at Slate, Levin wrote for Washington City Paper, freelanced for the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, GQ, Men’s Health, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine. He graduated from Brown University with degrees in computer science and history and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on twitter: @josh_levin
Aisha Harris is the assistant TV editor at the New York Times. Previously, she was a culture writer and editor for Slate and the host of its podcast centered around representation in film and TV, Represent.