53rd Annual UND Writers Conference
Authors and Artists
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Hailed by The New Yorker as “an acute and compassionate observer,” Nomadland author 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, that haunt us long after we’ve finished reading.
Bruder’s Nomadland—the basis of the Oscar-winning film of the same name—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.
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.
With our nation’s economic future seemingly more unequal and unstable every year, Nomadland presents a “wonderfully humane and deeply troubling” (The Nation) look at how the American dream has failed some of our most vulnerable citizens. 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.
The Oscar-winning film adaptation―a “masterpiece” (Entertainment Weekly)―was directed by Chloé Zhao, starring Frances McDormand and David Strathairn alongside dozens of other real people featured in the book. “Overflowing with humanity and tenderness for its characters” (BBC), the film garnered numerous awards including the coveted Golden Lion at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, two Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA, and four Critics Choice Awards. Topping dozens of Best Films of 2020 lists, Nomadland took home Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress at the 2021 Academy Awards.
In her next book, Bruder will examine the marginalized communities working at the forefront of the modern labor movement. Expanding off of her cover story for WIRED about a tight-knit community of East Africans working at an Amazon facility in Shakopee, Minnesota, the book will follow their rise to the forefront of the American labor movement, examining their struggles through the prisms of race, immigration, economic inequality, and anti-Muslim sentiment in the modern American workplace. In 2019, the New America Foundation recognized Bruder’s work reporting in these communities with a fellowship.
In 2013, after agreeing to receive a mysterious package, Bruder became part of the human network that ferried the entire NSA archive leaked by Edward Snowden. Bruder and co-author Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dale Maharidge wrote about the part they played in bringing to light the massive surveillance apparatus assembled by the US government to spy on its own people, in Snowden’s Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance. Originally a piece for Harper’s Magazine, an engrossing narrative that reflects on the status of transparency and trust in the age of surveillance, suggesting what citizens and activists can do to protect privacy and democracy.
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, the New America Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. She speaks on income inequality, labor, the gig economy, social justice, subcultures, surveillance, the housing crisis, immersion journalism and other related issues.
Sarah M. Vogel is the first woman in US history elected Commissioner of Agriculture and is one of the nation’s foremost agriculture lawyers. The American Agricultural Law Association awarded her its Distinguished Service Award, and Willie Nelson honored Sarah at Farm Aid’s 30th Anniversary for her longtime service to family farmers. Hailed as “a giant killer in ag law” by The Nation, Sarah served for decades as co-counsel on the Keepseagle case filed to redress USDA’s race discrimination against Native American ranchers and farmers. An in-demand speaker and passionate advocate for farmers and Native Americans, Sarah lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.