July, 2021

Celebrating Marcia Chatelain and Clint Smith

This month we would like to highlight the exciting recent accomplishments of Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017, and Clint Smith, Class of 2020. 

Marcia was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.

And Clint's book, How the Word is Passed, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Congratulations, Marcia and Clint! 

Hot Off The Press

Three questions with...
2021 Fellow Cecilia Aldarondo

Your Fellows project, the documentary Landfall, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 13th. What drew you to explore the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, what stories from the film particularly hit home for you?

Like millions of Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, I watched Hurricane María unfold from afar while cut off from loved ones; my grandmother died six months after the storm. Those of us outside Puerto Rico had the doubly horrific experience of not being able to reach our families while simultaneously being subjected to a constant media fascination with Puerto Rican suffering. This media narrative was incredibly distorting and painful; we were portrayed as victims when Puerto Ricans had in fact sprung into action, with communities literally saving one another in the face of total abandonment by the federal and local governments. Landfall is full of affirming stories of Puerto Rican autonomy and mutual aid. From an abandoned school turned community living experiment, to the historic popular protests that removed a governor from office in 2019, Landfall is a portrait of Puerto Rican solidarity and agency in the midst of crisis.

You’ve described your documentary style as “kaleidoscopic.” Can you describe briefly what that means, and how it’s shaped your telling of Puerto Rico’s experience of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath?

Very early on in the development of Landfall, I could sense that Puerto Rico’s situation was so complex, and the stateside information on Puerto Rico so lacking, the film needed to take on a holistic, intersectional scope. I didn’t think I could do this moment justice otherwise. So the film operates like a series of refracting episodes that play off one another, demonstrating the connections between issues we’re conditioned to think of as separate. How does something like climate change rub up against tax breaks for the wealthy? What does government debt have to do with the everyday lives of regular people? How does a hurricane become an economic opportunity for disaster capitalists? My hope is that viewers will begin to connect the dots between these issues in surprising ways, and start to appreciate the global importance of Puerto Rico’s current reality.

The aftermath of the hurricane affected people on the island in myriad ways, from farmers to activists, real estate developers to long term residents, and even the governor at the time, Ricardo Roselló. What do you hope Americans stateside learn from the nuanced stories you tell in Landfall?

Since I began making this film I have been insisting to anyone who will listen that Puerto Ricans are not to be pitied; we are to be learned from. Puerto Ricans have been setting the bar for sophisticated, creative, even ingenious forms of recovery. I want viewers to see how, just as with the COVID-19 pandemic, in Puerto Rico it is the communities who are most immediately affected by disaster who know the most about how to respond in times of crisis. I also hope viewers will see that any just recovery policy must be led by communities rather than politicians or big NGOs. To me, watching Landfall is an emotionally resonant opportunity for solidarity and allyship, and I hope viewers will see a chance to listen, learn, and bear witness.

Two Cents

American ISIS

This new podcast tells the story of Russell Dennison, an American who converted to Islam and traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State.

By: Trevor Aaronson, Class of 2020

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What advice would you give to recent graduates interested in pursuing journalism?

1: Go work elsewhere and then pivot to writing and journalism. — Caleb Gayle, Class of 2020

2: Read everything. Dive deep into something. And keep doing both. Steve LeVine, Class of 2012

3: If you want to work in the U.S., learn Spanish.  If you want to work abroad, learn the language of whatever place you want to work. — Molly Crabapple, Class of 2020

4: Read very widely and try to find writers whose work you admire. Study their work (how do they make certain moves; what sorts of details do they pick out; why do you find yourself drawn to their writing). And at the same time, write constantly! There's no substitute for pitching, reporting, and writing. What and where you publish matters less than the fact that you're doing it at first. So much of this is trial and error; the sooner you get started the more you'll learn about your own strengths and weaknesses.
— Jonathan Blitzer, Class of 2021

Two Cents

Clint Smith's book How the Word is Passed was reviewed in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and NPR, among many other outlets. The book appeared on the Washington Post Best Sellers List. Clint was interviewed on CBS This Morning. He wrote about the phenomenon of plantation weddings for BuzzFeed News. Clint is also featured on the cover of the July/August issue of Poets & Writers

Annie Murphy Paul's book The Extended Mind was reviewed by the New York Times and the Washington PostThe Extended Mind appeared on Amazon Books's list of the best science books of 2021 so far. It was also reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, and Annie wrote about the theories behind her work for the New York Times and WIRED.

Joshua Yaffa won the 2021 Orwell Prize in Political Writing for his book Between Two Fires. 

Jill Filipovic's article "How US Politics Distorts Women's Lives in Conflict Zones" was published by the New York Review of Books.

Ted Johnson's new book When the Stars Begin to Fall was excerpted in the Washington Post. 

Caleb Gayle wrote the cover story for New York Times Magazine about the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years later. He also appeared on the Diane Rehm Show to discuss the article.

Shaun Ossei-Owusu co-authored a piece about the role of race in public interest law for the California Law Review.

Both Cecilia Aldarondo's Landfall and CJ Hunt's The Neutral Ground debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in June. CJ recieved the Special Jury Mention for the Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at Tribeca. His documentary also screened at AFI DOCS and was reviewed by Variety. 

Vann Newkirk II's podcast Floodlines won the 2021 Peabody Award in Podcast and Radio.

Reading this month

The top New America events we recommend you check out. Now.



Soleimani’s Shadow: The Fatemiyoun Division and Iranian Proxy Warfare Propaganda

Join the International Security Program for a conversation about their new report which draws upon the cultural production of the Fatemiyoun Division and its Iranian backers to examine the unit’s role and the role of its messaging. Learn more


Designing Universal Early Care and Learning in the United States

Join the Better Life Lab and Early and Elementary Education Policy programs for a discussion on the way forward for an equitable, high-quality universal child care system. Learn more

Free Swag

This is just essential reading. Drop everything if you haven't already read it, and do so. 
Steve LeVine,
Class of 2012

Learn More

I've read this book before, but I pulled it off the shelf the other day to check something and somehow got pulled right back in. Now I can't put it down! 
Jonathan Blitzer, 
Class of 2021

Learn More

Non-fiction book about the spiritual and religious revival in China. 
Yi Ling Liu,
Class of 2021

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