Hailed by The New Yorker as “an acute and compassionate observer,” Jessica Bruder reports on social injustice, subcultures, and the dark underbelly of American capitalism. Her clear-headed and empathetic stories are “stunning and beautifully written,” writes Arnie Hochschild in The New York Times Book Review, and they haunt us long after we’ve finished reading.
Bruder’s most recent book, Nomadland, documents the lives of itinerant Americans who travel from job to job out of economic necessity. Employers from big-box retailers to commercial farmers have found a new source of cheap labor: transient older Americans. When Social Security comes up short and their mortgages sink underwater, these overlooked casualties of the Great Recession take to the road in old RVs, trailers, and camper vans, forming a migrant community of self-identified “workampers.”
Nomadland follows Bruder’s unforgettable subjects as they clean campground toilets, scan products in warehouses, and harvest beets in a scramble to survive, often long past the age at which they expected to retire. After the 2008 financial crash cost them close to half a million dollars―their entire retirement savings―Chuck and Barbara Stout found themselves working in an Amazon fulfillment center alongside other “housing refugees” like Linda May, a grandmother in her sixties who lives in a trailer dubbed the Squeeze Inn. When we meet Linda, she’s working 10-hour shifts and walking as many as 15 miles a day, trying to close the gap between her modest expenses and her $424 monthly Social Security check. Yet she remains irrepressibly hopeful, dreaming of building her own home on her own land.
In a feat of immersive journalism, Bruder drove from coast to coast and from Mexico to Canada–a total of 15,000 miles–and spent months living in a secondhand camper nicknamed Van Halen to understand her subjects’ lives and experiences on a more personal level. She came away determined to shine a light on the urgency of providing affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, preserving Social Security, and decriminalizing homelessness. Her “devastating, revelatory book” (The Washington Post) foreshadows the precarious future that may await more of us, while still managing to celebrate the quintessentially American resilience and creativity of her subjects.
Louise Erdrich calls Nomadland “a calmly stated chronicle of devastation. But told as story after story, it is also a riveting collection of tales about irresistible people―quirky, valiant people who deserve respect and a decent life.” With our nation’s economic future seemingly more unequal and unstable every year, Bruder’s book presents a “wonderfully humane and deeply troubling” (The Nation) look at how the American dream has failed some of our most vulnerable citizens.
“This extraordinary book maps the chasm between what America wants to be and what it actually is.”
—Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Nomadland was a New York Times Notable Book and an Editors’ Choice selection. It won the Discover Award and was a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award. Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews both listed Nomadland among their top 10 titles of 2017. The book has been translated into four languages, with additional translations forthcoming, and has been adapted into a feature film directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, alongside Linda May and dozens of other people featured in the book. The film is slated for release with Fox Searchlight in fall 2020.
In 2013, after agreeing to receive a mysterious package, Bruder became the unwitting mule for the entire NSA archive leaked by Edward Snowden. When the box arrived on her doorstep, the sender had written a curious pseudonym―“B. Manning”―above the return address. Later, she and her best friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dale Maharidge, co-wrote a longform article in Harper’s Magazine about being part of the human network that brought Snowden’s leak to light. They recently completed a book about the experience―Snowden’s Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance―which is forthcoming from Verso in 2020.
Bruder is the also the author and one of the photographers behind Burning Book, a visually driven nonfiction exploration of Burning Man, the annual celebration of art and creativity that has been drawing tens of thousands of revelers to the remote Nevada desert for more than a quarter-century.
Bruder has taught narrative storytelling at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for more than a decade. A longtime contributor to The New York Times, she was the founding columnist behind Start, a blog profiling socially innovative startups. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Wired, Harper’s, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Nation, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Inc. Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Reuters, the AP, and CNNMoney.com. She is a former staff writer at The Oregonian and The New York Observer, as well as a former senior editor of Fortune Small Business.
For her longform magazine stories, Bruder has earned a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and a Deadline Club Award. She has also received support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. She was recently named a national fellow at the New America Foundation for her work covering marginalized communities at the forefront of the labor movement.
She speaks on income inequality, labor, the gig economy, social justice, subcultures, surveillance, the housing crisis, immersion journalism and other related issues.