December, 2020

Class of 2022 Call for Applications

New America’s Fellows Program invests in thinkers—journalists, scholars, filmmakers, and public policy analysts—who generate big, bold ideas that have an impact and spark new conversations about the most pressing issues of our day.

Does that sound like you or someone you know? If so, then don’t miss the chance to advance your ambitious idea as a Class of 2022 New America National Fellow!

Fellowships will begin in September 2021 and run through August 2022. The deadline to apply is February 1, 2021, @ 11:59 p.m. EST.

Learn more here.

Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Matthew Shaer

Your Fellowship project will be a book about the criminalization of poverty in the United States. Can you tell us about this project and if it has evolved since this summer’s reckoning with racial injustice?

I’d say that the evolution has actually happened along a couple different tracks. The first is the one you mention here: the increased focus on racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. The other is the pandemic, which has laid bare all sorts of socioeconomic faultlines, and made clear exactly how close to financial ruin many Americans are. In my original book proposal, I wrote that “for millions of Americans from every region of the country and from every ethnic background, economic survival has become a never-ending juggling game. Rent or the power bill. The co‐pay for a doctor’s appointment or groceries.” That was in 2019. A bunch of statistics published this fall show that since the start of the pandemic, poverty rates have since skyrocketed. And yet courts around the country are still dumping all kinds of fines and fees on defendants—in fact, there’s evidence that fines and fees collection has increased in some jurisdictions as a way of offsetting pandemic-induced revenue decline. I need to account for all of that.

You recently wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine about a community, centered around a suburban Atlanta highway, that has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Can you talk a bit about your process in choosing and reporting this piece, especially with the limits on reporting caused by the virus?

This one started with a statistic, or a set of statistics, I guess: COVID-19 has not affected all Americans equally. Not in a medical sense, not in an economic sense. It’s been especially hard on people of color; especially hard on minorities. I was talking to my editor at the magazine, and he was like, “Let’s focus on one community, and try to bring the issue to life.” In Atlanta, Buford Highway is famous for its diversity, and its large immigrant population, so we settled on that as a backdrop pretty quickly. And in March, I started driving back and forth to the area, talking to residents. The Times was a big help with PPE training, and the magazine was good enough to provide N95 masks; I never felt unsafe. Still, I tried to do most of my interviewing outside, or in well-ventilated areas, and once I’d identified four main subjects/protagonists, I started to use more Zoom calls/Skype sessions, etc. At first, I figured those forms of communication would be a terrible replacement for in-person communication, but sometimes they were a help—a distraction-free setting for a source to really dig into a topic or line of questioning.

You’ve written a number of in-depth pieces this year, including for Slate and Esquire. How do you balance working on these pieces and launching a podcast studio with your book project? How do you stay organized and on deadline?

This question made me laugh. Because I do not stay organized, and I do not stay on deadline. My wife and I both work full-time, and we’ve got two small children at home, neither of whom is doing in-person school, and everyone is home ALL THE TIME, and
our living room typically resembles an overturned ball pit, with, like, a couple stale pizza crusts sticking up like cacti. That said, I tend to divide work tasks into different buckets. Bucket one is the reading or emailing or research organization—I’ve learned to do that with a five year old hanging off my back, demanding to watch a fourth episode of Bluey. But for writing, I need quiet. I need a closed door. So I try to steal hours in the mornings or evenings to do that, and just give myself over to chaos during the day. And then I try to be patient/forgiving with myself. This year is a Bad, Crazy Year. It’s okay to not hold yourself to the expectations you’d had in January, before all the insanity began.

Two Cents

National Fellows on what book or movie they think best captures their field.

1: Gattaca—that film absolutely holds up all these years later, posing a still-unanswered question in post-industrial cultures: Whose life matters? Where does human dignity find its foundation(s)? — Sara Hendren, Class of 2018

2: I will have to nominate the books of my heroes, Janet Malcolm and Joan Didion—not because they describe the activities of a newsroom or an editorial meeting, but because they model the internal processes of a journalist: the questioning, the wondering, the probing, the searching for answers and the finding of patterns. Also: the intimate and sometimes fraught process of interviewing others. — Annie Murphy Paul, Class of 2014


Cecilia Aldarondo's documentary Landfall was awarded DOC NYC's Viewfinders Grand Jury Prize. She was also interviewed in Moveable Fest about her film.

Lauren Redniss' new book, Oak Flat, was released on November 17th. It was reviewed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

Julian Zelizer's book Burning Down the House and Reginald Dwayne Betts's poetry book Felon were both listed on the New York Times’s "100 Notable Books of 2020."

Vann R. Newkirk II's Atlantic podcast Floodlines was listed as one of TIME's "10 Best Podcasts of 2020."

Suki Kim wrote for the New Yorker about an underground movement trying to topple the North Korean regime.

Raúl O. Paz-Pastrana’s film Border South is coming to OVID.tv, a streaming service for documentaries, art-house and independent films, this December.

Yi-Ling Liu will write a regular column for Rest of World, getting inside the walled garden of China's internet to examine how its apps, digital phenomena, and subcultures are radically reshaping the everyday lives of people in China and beyond.

Nomadland, a film based on Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland: Surviving in the Twenty-First Century, won the Golden Frog and Fipresci awards at the 2020 EnergaCAMERIMAGE International Film Festival.

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Reading this month

Flynn's book takes us straight inside the mind of his homeless father, who isn't seeing the same reality most of us see.

— Daniel Bergner,
Class of 2021

Learn More

In an imaginary future where, one day, every Palestinian has disappeared from Israel. The Book of Disappearance is a haunting magical-realist novel about what happens next.

— Molly Crabapple,
Class of 2020

Learn More

A Chinese science-fiction novel, set in 2201, following the conflict between two rival worlds—capitalist Earth and collectivist Mars.

— Yi-Ling Liu,
Class of 2021

Learn More

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We are storytellers who generate big, bold ideas that have an impact and spark new conversations about the most pressing issues of our day.

The three who put this together

Sarah Baline + Sophie Nunnally + Awista Ayub

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