Vol 1, Issue 9 September, 2019

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Today, we welcome 15 Class of 2020 National Fellows to New America. This class of National Fellows includes writers, educators, an artist, filmmakers, a doctor, editors, and scholars who are dedicated to enhancing conversations around the most pressing issues of our time. 

Meet the the Class of 2020! 

September serves as both an inflection and reflection point as we look forward to supporting the professional journey of our new class (featured throughout this issue of the Fifth Draft) while also pausing to reflect on the impact made by last year’s class.

Since last fall, the Class of 2019 had a remarkable year. They published and produced work that will shape our understanding of a number of issues that include climate change, activism on Twitter, criminal justice reform, the difficulties of getting off psychiatric drugs, and more. Take a moment to review highlights from the Class of 2019 here.

Awista Ayub
Director, Fellows Program

Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Clint Smith

For your Fellow’s project you are completing your book, How the Word Is Passed, a narrative nonfiction project that explores the relationship between place and public history. Could you tell us a little more about it and why you chose it?

Before graduate school I was a high school teacher, and I became really interested in exploring how we can teach certain subjects beyond what is offered in our textbooks. This drew me to public history and what stories different museums, monuments, and memorials, and other historic sites can tell us about our past. Today, we find ourselves in a moment where we are being told that the country needs to reckon with its history of racism. And it absolutely does. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become increasingly curious what this reckoning looked like in places that had a direct relationship to the history of slavery. Were they discussing it? Were they avoiding it? What was animating those decisions? Who are the people behind those decisions? So about a year ago I visited Monticello, Mt. Vernon, and Montpellier—the former plantations of Jefferson, Washington, and Madison respectively—and the project just took off from there. I’ve visited dozens of sites across the country and hope, with this book, to tell a fuller story of how places like these are thinking about and engaging with their relationship to that part of our history.

You tweeted a thread recently about plantations as tourist destinations reckoning with their history and mentioned that you had been researching the topic for your book. What, if any, impact does the website have on your work? Have your feelings about Twitter changed over time?

In Twitter’s earlier days it was a place where I, and others, could sort of think out loud and wrestle with ideas I might have been unsure about. That space doesn’t really exist anymore. Part of it is because my following has gotten larger and part of it is because the site itself has changed and become more saturated than it used to be. Additionally, the space has, I think, become much less forgiving than it once was. Whereas five years ago I might have posted something in a stream of consciousness, now I always think twice about what I do or don’t say and if there is a way that what I say might be misinterpreted. In some ways I think of Twitter as a micro-blog, and in that sense what I posted or don’t post is much more intentional than it used to be. In terms of its relationship to the book project itself, I’ve actually been surprised by how helpful it’s been. For example, after I tweeted the thread about the plantations I had a few folks who work at different plantations reach out to me to share their perspectives and there were other people who shared resources that ended up being incredibly helpful. That’s when Twitter is at it’s best I think. That and the memes.

Can you speak to your average work week and how you share your time between your work and family lives?

I have two young kids, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, so part of what I’ve learned is that, at least for now, there is rarely going to be a perfect time to sit down and write for extended periods of time and that I have to find time when there’s any time at all. So I bring my laptop everywhere. I’ll write while waiting at the DMV. I’ll write while the kids are asleep in the carseat in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s. I’ll write during nap time. We recently started the youngest in full time childcare with her brother so that will certainly be helpful in terms of opening up more time. Having a family has also made me put up boundaries about my work time. For example, I don’t work on weekends anymore. Ultimately, I think it creates a much healthier balance than I used to have and it puts the entire family on the same page in terms of expectations for what certain days will look like which I think is good for all of us.

Hot Off The Press

Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

A gripping account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Publication date: September 10. Available for pre-order.

By: Azadeh Moaveni, Class of 2018

Learn more

Two Cents

Fellows from the Class of 2020 on why they applied for a New America Fellowship

1: Exposure to brilliant, committed and passionate people who are developing solutions to our many challenges. — David Rhode 

2:  I deeply admired previously classes of fellows, and I saw how the fellowship sharpened their work and also helped support vital and challenging inquiry, and as I worked on my current project, I hoped it would be marked as one that would also merit that support. — Vann R. Newkirk II

3:  As a doctor, I’ve done most of my writing in isolation, during free minutes between patients or in an overnight call room. I applied for the fellowship of colleagues and mentors from whom I can learn and bring my writing to a broader audience. — Daniela Lamas 

4:  Trying to write a book about China for an American audience after more than a decade living outside the U.S., I was hungry to engage with as many smart, passionate people doing inspiring work back home as I possibly could. The Fellowship serves that up in huge portions. New America as an organization also takes an approach I respect to topics I think are worthy of attention. It was a perfect fit. — Josh Chin

5:  Many of the writers I admire most have been Fellows at one point or another in their careers, and I'd heard from friends how beneficial the fellowships had been to their research. Another big draw: The idea of being part of a community of journalists and thinkers and policy people, and being able to draw on all that combined expertise. — Matthew Shaer 

6:  I wanted to pursue a bold and unusual impact campaign with my film Border South.  I knew of New America's support for ambitious endeavors from talented artists, academics and journalists, and I felt my proposal would benefit greatly from the fellowship. — Raúl O. Paz-Pastrana 

7:  I wanted to be part of a community of journalists and researchers trying to tell the stories that are hardest to tell. — Trevor Aaronson 

8:  Community! Writing narrative nonfiction can be isolating, especially when you’re not out on the road reporting. — Jessica Bruder 

Two Cents

Clint Smith, Trymaine Lee, and Reginald Dwayne Betts' work appeared in the New York Times 1619 Project led by Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

David Wallace-Wells' book The Uninhabitable Earth was reviewed by the New York Review of Books

Christopher Leonard's book Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America made the New York Times bestseller list

Two Cents
Go To This

New America events we recommend you check out. Now.



Jason DeParle: A Good Provider is One Who Leaves

Jason DeParle, Class of 2016, will discuss his new book, A Good Provider is One Who Leaves, with Cecilia Muñoz. Learn more


Azadeh Moaveni: Guest House for Young Widows

Azadeh Moaveni, 2018 ASU Future of War Fellow, will discuss her new book, Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS. Learn more


Bina Venkataraman: The Optimist's Telescope

Bina Venkataraman, Class of 2016, will discuss her new book, The Optimist's Telescope, with Wajahat Ali and James Fallows. Learn more

SEPT & OCT (various dates)

Pop-Up Magazine

This fall, our friends at Pop-Up Magazine are heading on their first themed tour—The Escape Issue. Join for an immersive night of storytelling devoted to escapes big and small, daring and mundane, physical and mental. Receive $5 off with code "NEWAMERICA". Learn More

Reading this month

Gessen's narrative is such an inventive way to write about the recent history of a country and its collective psychology and national identity—I understood Russia so much better after reading it.
— Suzy Hansen, Class of 2020

It’s a phenomenally written 1979 book about the first astronauts selected for the NASA space program.
— Patricia Evangelista, Class of 2020

Link Here

A granular, passionate, partisan 1700-page brick of a biography, detailing the life of the Bolshevik revolution's doomed and brilliant co-creator.
— Molly Crabapple, Class of 2020

Link Here

Free Swag

Fill out this tiny form for a chance to win a cop of The Optimist's Telescope by Bina Venkataraman, Class of 2015 & 2016! Read the New York Times review of the book here.

(Please submit by COB Monday, September 9th to be considered.)

Get swag!

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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 + Elizabeth Pankova + Awista Ayub

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