February, 2021

Three questions with...
2017 Fellow Marcia Chatelain

Your fellowship project, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, examines the intersection of the post-1968 civil rights struggle and the rise of the fast food industry. Why was this story so important to tell?

As a historian, I always want to show how history is a helpful tool for activism, problem-solving, and for boosting our understandings of ourselves and others. So, I wanted to provide some context to the ways that the fast food industry has shaped so many elements of Black life and culture beyond the themes of overconsumption and obesity. We have a strong body of research that looks at health disparities across racial lines, but we don’t have enough analysis on the social and political conditions that have created this contemporary problem. In researching how McDonald’s, which was born in the suburbs, became such a fixture in urban America, I discovered a relationship between fast food and civil rights organizations. This connection is rarely understood in histories of both entities. My book is about how we got here in terms of nutrition and health as well as the intersections between racial justice and the marketplace.

Since your book's release in January 2020, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice. Has the renewed movement for Black lives changed the way you perceive your book's impact in the world?

I think in the winter of 2020, my book seemed like a hidden history, a novel approach to thinking about the history of civil rights after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Then, the George Floyd summer happened, and major corporations were signing on to statements declaring that “Black Lives Matter,” and there was a renewed call for more Black businesses and the support of Black creators. Then, I think people understood one of my main goals for Franchise; It’s a cautionary tale about turning to market-based solutions and processes to attend to the problem of racial injustice.  People took the streets to end police brutality and raise consciousness about the violence of racism. I think a number of institutions believed that solidarity statements or opening some opportunities was suffice in addressing serious, structural issues.  I think Franchise reminded people that the nation has been down this road before and it may be time to think about a different approach.

For your 2015 book South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, you uncovered research by Black scholars on the topic of girlhood that had been largely forgotten or neglected until now. How can today's writers better find and lift up scholarship from underrepresented voices?

I think writers need to think about the power dynamics that amplify some stories at the expense of others. I don’t know if all of my ideas are so original, but I know that I’m among a generation of Black women scholars who have a platform that previous generations could not imagine. I know that my research can find a home in publications and with publishing houses, and their work could only circulate so far because of the racism and sexism of academia, journalism, and politics. So, today’s writers really need to know how to use an array of archives, particularly the archives of communities of color, to tell more sophisticated origin stories about the world and the problems we confront.

Hot Off The Press

The Prophet's Heir

A nuanced, compelling portrait of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the origins of sectarian division within Islam.

Publication date: March 16th

Available for pre-order through our bookselling partner Solid State Books here.

By: Hassan Abbas, Class of 2017

Learn more

Two Cents

Fellows on how they cope with writer’s block.

1: Understanding it for what it is: fear of failure; fear of shame; that sort of thing.
— Daniel Bergner, Class of 2021

2: Writing something short is one way that I'm able to get unstuck from writer's block and return to larger projects. Another way I get the creative juices flowing is by listening to music. — Donna Patterson, Class of 2016

3: I'm nervous to jinx myself on this one. So, with a knock on wood: (1) I read books or articles on other subjects that make me enthusiastic about writing and the written word; (2) I try to create and stick to a firm schedule, which means stopping at the end of each day. It's a mistake to linger over a blank page past a set time. — Jonathan Blitzer, Class of 2021


Alexis Okeowo profiled Vice President Kamala Harris for the cover of Vogue. 

Louie Palu shared video and commentary from his reporting at the Capitol on January 6th for National Geographic.

Clint Smith wrote for the Atlantic about the Confederate flag.

Joshua Geltzer was named a special assistant to the President and special adviser to the Homeland Security Adviser on countering domestic violent extremism

Cecilia Aldarondo has been nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award in the Truer Than Fiction category. The film Nomadland, based on the book by Jessica Bruder, has been nominated for five awards, including best picture. 

Two Cents
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Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

Join Reuben Jonathan Miller, Class of 2019, for a conversation about his new book with Clint Smith, Class of 2020. Learn more


Wuhan’s “76 Days” with Hao Wu

Join Future Tense for a conversation with filmmaker Hao Wu, Class of 2015, about his latest film which chonicles the lockdown of Wuhan, China. Learn more


What We’ve Learned From the Vaccine Rollout So Far

Join Future Tense and New America's Public Interest Technology program as we check in with Dr. Helene Gayle and Dr. Atul Guwande about the vaccine rollout. Learn more

Reading this month

This book, in contrast to other recent impeachment titles of late, goes into the nitty gritty narrative of what happened in prior impeachments. It's good reading and good context for the editorials I've been writing and editing.
— Bina Venkataraman, 
Class of 2016

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A bit overlooked in the swirl of debate around Surveillance Capitalism, Frischmann and Selinger dive deeper into what the surveillance economy means for the individual. A grim but engaging read. 
— Josh Chin,
Class of 2020

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Arax explores the madness of having made California into the nation's leading farm state when water is distributed so unevenly there. But this isn't just a polemic; it's also poetic—beautifully told. 
— Rick Wartzman,
Class of 2007 

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