Vol 2, Issue 5 May, 2020

Share this on twitter Share this on twitter Share this on twitter

Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Vann R. Newkirk II

You wrote recently in the Atlantic about the unique threat COVID-19 poses to the South. Are there lessons to be learned from your reporting about previous catastrophes that can be applied now? Any lessons learned for resilient communities?

One I would like to stress now that we’ve learned from previous disasters is that disasters have timelines that stretch way before and after the actual catastrophic event. I’m proud of my reporting on the South, but at base it’s a rather elementary extrapolation of things we already know—the “novel” coronavirus is basically exacerbating an existing public health disaster in somewhat predictable ways. That’s what I mean with the timeline lesson. COVID-19 might’ve started with a virus in Wuhan and it might end with a vaccine, but the totality of this pandemic’s effects began decades ago and will be felt for decades more. And that’s also instructive for understanding “resilience.” It’s built or eroded by generations’ worth of intentional policy. Disasters don’t affect everyone equally. They uncover our existing faults and frailties.

In March you released a podcast with the Atlantic, called Floodlines, which covers the aftermath of the day the levees broke in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Why did you choose to tell this story through a podcast?

I have always been interested in Hurricane Katrina and what we can learn from it. It had always been a struggle to do something in writing that felt right. It was too immense of an event to capture in a way that did it justice, and the actual detail of what went wrong and why was so granular that I could get lost on individual topics for thousands of words.

But audio felt like the perfect way to convey gravity, nuance, and detail in a way that the written word can’t do as compactly. So much of the importance of any disaster is emotional, and emotions are so much better illustrated by voices, by pauses and hiccups and tears. And New Orleans is such an aural city, with so many born storytellers, that the medium just felt perfect.

A lot of your reporting has covered the fate of communities on the front lines of climate change and disasters. How do you get people to open up about traumatizing events?

Lots of times I don’t. Sometimes people just don’t want to share, and the first part of the job of doing the reporting is understanding that, and being hyperaware of trauma. One most common destructive force of trauma is that it takes people’s agency away, and my job is to respect and enhance agency, whether it means I’m getting the story or not.

Beyond that, when people do want to share their stories, my goal is to always talk about way more than just the traumatizing experience. I want to know about families and communities before and after a disaster, and I want to ask about how people have processed things. I find people generally more willing to talk about trauma if we just converse like normal people about other things first.

Hot Off The Press

The Longest War

The Longest War is an examination of the human stories and drama behind America's involvement in Afghanistan, now the longest war in U.S. history.

By: Greg Barker and Peter Bergen

Watch on Showtime


Sergio is a sweeping drama set in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where the life of top U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello hangs in the balance during the most treacherous mission of his career.

By: Greg Barker

Watch on Netflix

Two Cents

Mo Scarpelli, Didi Kuo, and other Fellows on how they make physical space and headspace for working at home.

1: Headspace and physical space; silence is paramount, and now more than ever, possible. Use it.  Mo Scarpelli, Class of 2018

2: I have a spin bike at home and a simple desk that slides over it. Peddling while working is especially helpful when reading dense, scholarly work. I also use Ambient Noise for Sleep by Parsame. It helped me drown out noisy neighbors when I lived in NYC. It's helped me sleep in hotels. It even allows me the headspace to work in stadiums. When my brain hears it, it settles for both sleep and work. — Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

3: My transition to WFH has required shifts in both physical space and headspace. I have work-spaces set up both upstairs and downstairs (with two separate laptops) depending on whether I need a quiet place or if I need to engage in virtual meetings and interviews. These separate spaces help me transition mentally between the different types of work. — Donna Patterson, Class of 2016

4: Headspace: I rigidly compartmentalize time with my husband so that one of us is totally on with the kids while the other works. When we try to work and parent simultaneously, nothing gets done. — Didi Kuo, Class of 2018

Two Cents

Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary for her essay in "The 1619 Project" for the New York Times. 

George Packer was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his book Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. He also received the Los Angeles Times 2019 Book Prize for biography for Our Man.

Jeff Goodell was awarded a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Bartow J. Elmore was awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for his forthcoming book Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and the Future of Food.

Sheri Fink wrote three articles for the New York Times, one about the coronavirus that arrived in Seattle, and where scientists discovered it went from there, the second about the federal initiative to study the coronavirus genome, and another about a field hospital in Central Park treating COVID-19 patients. She was also featured on the New York Times podcast The Daily.

David Rohde was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air, MSNBC, and CNN about his new book In Deep. His book was also excerpted in Literary Hub, and reviewed in the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post. Our partners at ASU also wrote about David's recent New America book launch event.

Evgeny Morozov was profiled in the Correspondent regarding the Syllabus, a growing collection of the best articles, podcasts and videos about the political, economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, compiled daily by Morozov.

Vann R. Newkirk II's Atlantic podcast Floodlines was featured in New York magazine's Vulture, calling it "the right podcast for this moment." The podcast was also reviewed in the Financial Times.

Patrick Radden Keefe's book Say Nothing spent eight weeks on the New York Times paperback bestseller list.

Jessica Bruder and Dale Maharidge's new book Snowden's Box is out now.

Two Cents
Go To This

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



[ONLINE] The U.S. Response to Coronavirus

Join the International Security Program and Rear Admiral Susan J. Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A. (ret.) for a discussion of the government’s response to COVID-19. Learn More


[ONLINE] Free Speech Project: Symptoms May Include Censorship

Join Future Tense to discuss how to defend journalism against encroaching censorship. Learn More


[ONLINE] Daniel Markey, China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia

Join the Fellows and Political Reform programs in welcoming Daniel S. Markey in a conversation on his new book, China's Western Horizon. Learn More

Reading this month

At a time of such uncertainty, Allende's epic story that braided the realities of war and exile with fictional characters rich with resilience was both an education and an inspiration. 

— Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

Learn More

Rilke writes about silence, carving and protecting yourself from the world. Brilliant and honest.

— Mo Scarpelli, Class of 2018

Learn More

This is a political biography of Helen Hamilton Gardener, a little known intellectual and activist who was the force behind the passage of the 19th Amendment.

— Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017

Learn More

Free Swag

Our monthly swag give-away continues to be on hold until further notice. We hope you're all staying safe and healthy.

If you're looking for ways to pass the time and support small businesses, consider purchasing your next read from our bookselling partner Solid State Books.

Shop Now!

footer logo


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

Join the Conversation

Subscribe to this newsletter

Thoughts or questions?

Privacy Policy|Email designed by Iced Coffee Please

You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive newsletters from New America. Click to update your subscription preferences or unsubscribe from all New America newsletters.