Vol 2, Issue 1 January, 2020

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Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Jessica Bruder

Your Fellows Project focuses on a tight-knit community of East Africans working at an Amazon facility in Shakopee, Minnesota. Can you share the genesis of this project?

Over the past three years, a small, scrappy workers’ collective has emerged at the forefront of the American labor movement. The name of the group is Awood, which means “power” in Somali, and its members are mostly recent East African immigrants who are Amazon warehouse workers. Their achievements are unprecedented in North America, including strikes and walkouts, bringing management to the table, and building ties with labor groups all over the world.

I’d read shorter pieces about Awood—the New York Times, along with Minnesota and labor-focused publications, had done some great coverage—and my WIRED editor thought it would be an amazing subject for a longform, deep-dive, character-driven story. I’ve long been fascinated by the power of subcultures to move the mainstream, and in an age of corporate dominance, economic inequality, racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, the strength and bravery of these workers is inspiring. Immigrants have historically driven so much progressive change in America, making this the latest chapter of a much larger history. They’re a force for the kind of renewal we need so desperately right now.

That project and your recent cover story for WIRED, along with your previous book Nomadland, which followed groups traveling around the country in RVs looking for work, focus on subcultures. What interests you about these groups and how do you balance journalistic distance while still getting the deep stories?

I’ve always been obsessed with subcultures, groups that demonstrate internal cohesion, solidarity and a shared sense of meaning, often against staggering adversity. My passion for writing about them has only grown in recent years, during an age of social and political atomization. Doing immersion reporting on subcultures is always a tightrope walk. You get incredibly close to your subjects, but in the end, you go home and write. Your foremost responsibility is to the reader—the outsider you’re bringing into another world—and to getting the story correct. It takes a tremendous amount of trust to make these kinds of projects happen, lots of time on the ground.

I maintain a lot of boundary-building habits to reinforce that I’m on the scene as a documentarian—keeping my notepad out, using a large recorder, reminding people of what “off the record” and “on background” mean, never making promises I can’t keep. Often sources want to influence the narrative—the arc of the final story—and grill me about my angle. I have to remind them that part of the reporting process is learning and hunting for the story—if I arrived on the scene hoping to just report out my own preconceptions, what use would that be?  I try to be very patient. I don’t push people to talk to me when they don’t want to. Sometimes, if I hang out long enough, they come around.

Snowden’s Box, a book you wrote with Dale Maharidge about your involvement in Edward Snowden's revelations, is being published this April. What was the collaborative writing process like?

Dale’s my best friend and we’ve been working together for years, co-teaching journalism classes at Columbia, serving as readers for each others’ drafts and sharing other projects, too. The biggest challenge was finding the format of the book, since it’s such a personal story. We had to create spaces where we could both speak individually, and places where we could step back and address the reader together. We already had a solid basis of trust to build on—17 years of friendship—and that saw us through moments where we had to reconcile our different approaches to book projects. I joke that my writing style is “building a sandcastle with tweezers”—aka super-meticulous—while Dale is more likely to whip out a shovel, forge ahead fast and then go back for tweaks and fixes. I love collaborating with other storytellers and, if anything, I’m trying to do more of that, in new formats, because I find it invigorating. I love working on teams and solo writing can be very isolating.

Hot Off The Press

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

From civil rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America.

By: Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017

Learn More

Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia

A groundbreaking portrait of modern Russia and the inner struggles of the people who sustain Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Publication date: January 14th. Available for pre-order.

By: Joshua Yaffa, Class of 2016

Learn More

Two Cents

Fellows on their work-focused New Years resolutions.

1: At least 750 words on the page per day. — Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

2: My goal is to finish my book, and in the process eat more broccoli and fewer french fries. — Clint Smith, Class of 2020

Two Cents

Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing was listed as a Best Nonfiction Book of the Decade by Entertainment Weekly. It was also listed as one of the 10 best books of 2019 in the Wall Street Journal and as one of the 15 Best Books of the year in the Atlantic.

David Wallace-Wells was longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Marcia Chatelain was featured in Politico Magazine discussing how history will remember the 2010s. 

Read our Year in Review for an overview of Fellows' accomplishments in 2019.

Two Cents
Obama's Favorite Books of 2019
Go To This

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



Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop

Join Lee Drutman with the Political Reform Program for a discussion of his new book, Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop. Drutman will be in conversation with New America CEO, Anne-Marie Slaughter. Learn more


Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

Join Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017, for a discussion of her new book, Franchise, with Ted Johnson, Class of 2017. Learn more


Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia

Join Joshua Yaffa, Class of 2017, for a discussion of his new book, Between Two Fires, with Miriam Elder of Buzzfeed News at the CORE:club NYC. Learn more


The Biggest Problem You’ve Never Heard Of: Examining Heirs Property And Black Property Loss

Join the Future of Property Rights at New America, and Howard University's Schools of Business and Law to explore a critical and under-studied component of the racial wealth gap: property. Learn more

FEB (various dates)

Pop-Up Magazine

This winter, our friends at Pop-Up Magazine are heading on tour. Receive $5 off with code "NEWAMERICA". Learn More

Reading this month

The book is incredible in scope and detail but it is the elegance of the writing that is most astonishing to me.
— Suzy Hansen, 
Class of 2020

Learn More

This collection of non-fiction essays and other works by Walker was published in 1983 but remains timely. She offers insight on the experiences of Black women writers and expands on womanist theory.
— Sarah J. Jackson, Class of 2019

Learn More

A meditation on surviving dictatorship (Stalin's) through the artistic and biological power of music. — Kathryn Bowers, Class of 2015

Learn More

Free Swag

Fill out this tiny form for a chance to win a copy of Franchise by Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017!

(Please submit by COB Monday, January 13th to be considered.)

Get Swag!

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