December 2022

Class of 2024 Call for Applications

The application for the Class of 2024 National Fellows is now open!

More information and the application can be found here. The deadline to apply is February 1, 2023.

Three questions with...
2016 Fellow Monica Potts

Your Fellows project is the forthcoming book, The Forgotten Girls, in which you return to your hometown of Clinton, Arkansas and explore the lives of poor rural women, including your childhood best friend. Can you share the genesis of the project?

In some ways I started working on this book almost a decade ago, when I first reported on a drop in the life expectancies of the least educated white women, and, to a lesser extent, men. Any group that moves backward in life expectancy is experiencing something bad, and I thought this was due in part to increasing inequality. Not just income inequality, but inequality of opportunity. All of that is partly tied into geography, and I thought geographic inequality was an unexplored dimension of class in America. This is something that I felt I really knew intuitively because I’d come from a very rural part of Arkansas, raised by working-class parents—my dad was a plumber who died at 55 and my mom quit work when she had my youngest sister, and then picked up odd jobs throughout her life until she started working full-time again when my dad got sick—and then went to an elite college and lived kind of on the sidelines of a very elite world as an adult. Throughout my adulthood I could see the big and small ways that where we’re from shape our lives, and the inequalities that are kind of baked in early on, and as a journalist I’d been most interested in exploring those geographic and systemic inequalities.

You are currently the Senior Politics Reporter at FiveThirtyEight. What draws you to a story? How do you hope shifting focus in political reporting towards rural America will shape the national political discourse?

I think a lot about the divides in America that we see and those we don’t see. I don’t want to generalize too much because there is some diversity in rural America but the very, very remote rural regions, especially in the South, that are overwhelmingly white, dominated by evangelical Christians in positions of power—are just coming from a different place than almost everyone else. They have a different view of what it means to be American and what the U.S. should strive to be, they’re increasingly voting with one party, and they’re expressing their worldviews in their political choices. The people in those areas live in a bubble, so they think they’re the true majority of the United States, and don’t very often come into contact with someone who has an entirely different life experience or point of view. Rural America overall makes up less than 20 percent of the population, but they have outsized political power because of the Electoral College and gerrymandering and composition of Congress. So that 20 percent of the population can have a lot of power even as the actual majority of U.S. citizens, increasingly urban and diverse, is making completely different choices.

Earlier this year, you wrote about the anti-science attitude in rural America and growing sentiments of anti-intellectualism, which have now become a partisan issue. How do you see your book fitting into the national conversation around the rural-urban divide?

I hope that one of the things that people take from my book is a sense of the complexity of social life in rural America. I wrote about one person who struggled throughout her life, but part of the reason she struggled is that there is a culture of power here that works to enforce conformity and exclude people who don’t fit into what they think is an acceptable way of life. I think people have a romantic notion of what it means to live in rural America, but the truth is that it’s filled with people: some of them are mean, some of them are judgmental, some of them make mistakes they can’t recover from. Where I’m from there’s a constant, relentless pressure to worship as a Christian in the way people here define what that means. There isn’t a very vibrant civic life and so people’s week’s revolve around church, and that can become very atomized and isolating. The people who run the show in my hometown are extremely resistant to change. I hope my efforts to illustrate that complexity are useful to people who might be unfamiliar with it, and can shape how we approach things going forward.

Two Cents

Fellows on imagining an audience for their work:

1: Because I'm writing about communities who have been ignored for so long, I write in hopes that people who have never read a book will see themselves in the work and find it accessible. — Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

2: It's different for everything I write, but I'm big on imagining a very specific person—someone I know personally—and thinking through how they'll process the work, what questions they'll have, what they find boring. — Eve L. Ewing, Class of 2021

3: My ideal reader is myself, really. I write the things I'm interested in, hoping that there are enough people out there who are also interested in order to make the economics work. — Vann R. Newkirk, Class of 2020


Read our Year in Review for an overview of Fellows' accomplishments in 2022. 

Karen Levy published Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance. She will discuss the book at an event on December 13th. RSVP here

Clint Smith wrote a cover article for the Atlantic about Holocaust remembrance.

Albert Samaha wrote about the plight of minimum-wage workers exacerbated by rising prices and stagnant wages for BuzzFeed News.

Two Cents

Recommend this month

An unflinching examination of religious extremism in America, a story about two people caught up in a movement bigger than themselves, and a frighteningly relevant tale of how apocalyptic thinking has real-world consequences. 
— Jessica Pishko,
Class of 2023

Learn more

This is the moving story, never before told in full, of one individual's ingenious challenge to the Cuban state. 
— Philip Bennett,
Class of 2023

Learn more

I first read this tortured, imperfect book at 20, and then again at 40, when I was traveling through South Africa—it's a reckoning with what it means to be white in a country governed by white supremacy. 
— Eula Biss,
Class of 2023

Learn more

Free Swag

Fill out the form below for a chance to win a selection of New America swag including a shopping bag, popsocket, and notebook. 

Please submit by Monday, December 12th to be considered.

Get swag!

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 + Mallory McGovern + 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.