tv 2018 Printers Row Lit Fest - Eliza Griswold Amity and Prosperity CSPAN June 10, 2018 11:18pm-12:07am EDT
two good afternoon and welcome to the 34 annual chicago row printers lit fest and thinking to our sponsors broadcast live on c-span2 there is tat the end for q&a session with the authors please use the microphone loced in the center of the room so the home viewing audience can hear your question please silence your cell phone. please welcome today's moderatorr moderator. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
and then prosperity is out due next week and it is absolutely is such one -- essential to_ and then to send a number of years and the neighbors and then to reckon with the deleterious effects of but it is much more of a book than fracking but it real is about what holds us together. and trumps haven that the place to begin if i should read this short section from the book. >> and i have to say it is like a dream come true to sit here with you the first person i ever interviewed my whole
life i think in high school coming to the macarthur foundation and i cannot eat terrified and you give the time to a high school student to say sure, on in. it is a real honor. thank you. [applause] >> this is how this works. so i will read you a little bit and his name is harley and he was 14 when the boat began and this is about him march 2010 and down the hill harley was ill and waking up sick to his stomach with diarrhea
because of those canker sores in his mouth he did not want to eat. cooking his favorite foods grilled cheese and finally missing so much that she enrolled him into the homebound program once a week she tried everything she had learned over 23 years to make trips to the children's hospital where she worked and was tested for crohn's disease ibs, cat scratch fever after one of the siamese cat scratched his lip. rocky mountain spotted fever, >>ine flu even came back negative.
so i'm curious as to how you even found them and how they decided to t their story? >> because primarily in africa and asia so a bridge collapsed in a tiny town when i was in nigeria and i had to get to the tiny town across the river but a couple of people had died but it was two weeks after the bridge in minneapolis collapsed killing
13 people. something about that moment and then to look at where the collective poverty. because they are not just happening and then wanted to write and then with the most crumbling bridges in america with southwestern pennsylvania. and then those flashers on the highway and i could not tell the i-beam from my fingernail but one day i just headed out to a community meeting and all of these questions of public poverty with private industry circled around fracking and
for the first time and only time she ever spoke publicly she did in a different way but the first tim time, stacy stood up at the airport and told the story of the beginning of the mystery and knew that she and her kids knew that they had been exposed tot arsenic and found some in their home there was a massive industrial waste pond but that is all she knew. so afterwords at the time she thought her water was contaminated but the gas company who owned the pond supplied her drinking water and she was afraid they would be tallied to take the water away. when i approached her after the meeting the idea that i
didn't have to s write something but i could just go hang out with her and we could talk i think thatry made her feel safe and that is why she decided to talk to me. >> one of the things for, me that you do so beautifully as you see the journey that she takes. initially, with a little back story she lives in a farmhouse and rural pennsylvania right near these two towns and up on the hill is where they do the fracking which is an incredibly toxic process is the retaining pond that eventually clears leaking and overflowing but as you heard in an excerpt, her son is facing these medical issues but yet she's getting pushback in theth town because it is
worth all this money into the community and one of theo things that is so striking intentional or not but now it completely fractures this community that were lifelong neighbors. >> truly. so this area, i would say what really interest me about this area is how over a century the rural americans have paid the energy costs beginning with cole to be a big coal mining area prosperity so her family began in prosperity then moved andd those who are just around the park. the word isri undermined. industrial coal mining is underneath it and those farms they have lost their access to water. so the coal company buys up a the farm and they pay a lot of money. more than you may pay for thehe farm and people love it they
callrt it the lottery it is a particular type of mining. some people don't like it. so you have this process. they the loan -- lose everything so long-standing process of what is the cost this industry will take from us? the reason that fracking is different is that people would make substantial amounts of money to sign the ceases. not incredibly sophisticated people but one thing i hope the book restores the sophistication and intelligence of rural america. they knew what they were signing and why. and also to say i need a new roof on my barn or i lose that entirely so particularly larger land owners make a lot of money hundreds of thousands on thiss process when those
that who have smaller chunks of land from the beginning have left. so definitely it is a divided community turning neighbors against one another for the first time in a long time. >> there is a moment when one of the neighbors on a horse farm so they wereth equally impacted and at one point in a deposition talks about how he has kept to himself all these years and said it hasn't been working so well. >> that is one of the tensions that runs through this community. . .
>> by journalists like me, who are coming to knock on their doors. >> what is interesting to me is, there is a lot of distrust towards government from these people. a lot of distrust for outsiders. what surprised me is the exception of stacy and her neighbors, people were accepting and trusting of this company that came in. is that because of the money that exchanged hands? they have many supporters in the area. i write about them substantially in the book. >> range has brought in jobs as
well as support from local nonprofits. so, the supporters would argue witches if they were sitting here, which is why want to make sure following through with what others would say. i did not understand before i wrote the book. i'm think about ray, a particular farmer. what farming regulation has met two people living in this area. jason clark, a small pig farmer says, every time i have to give my pig a shot, a vet has to come out and it cost me $100. we are not allowed to drive a tractor into the field, our cows cannot walk across that stream, we have to have it fenced. yet others can come in here and regulation does not face them in the same way. the impact of government regulation on small farms is more profound than what i
understood. because of that, many people understand the federal government to be against their interest. corporate interests are at least paying something back and giving them something. that is a lot of the complex calculation that i had trouble with. so many people at a distance say, can you just not to adequate regulation? you say the word regulation, regulation is a very bad word. i do not think we understand that message. >> that is part of what stacy was up against. getting these regulators to come in and do their job and do it well. range resources is the company doing the fracking. they're very deliberate about how they deal with the community.
there is a moment that feels like a metaphor and it's early in the book when it is clear that harley has arsenic poisoning. they meet with some of the representatives from range resources, while they are there one of the representatives suggest a harley maybe he got arsenic poisoning from woodwork classes in high school. there is also a guy sitting there in the meeting with his gofeet up on the desk scrolling through his cell phone. stacy and her son are there to talk about the metal poisoning that has been so critical that the local doctors now testing everybody for metals. >> that moment has shaped harley's life. in the course of reporting in the book, harley went -- harley was sick, he still wanted to go to college and become a veterinarian.
by the end of the book, he has given up on not just medical school but college also. he also wanted to go into the military but because of his illnesses he did not think he would be up to it. he is now working on a suburban gas pipeline. he is living in his monster's man. harley's understanding is that the world has turned against him and has impacted who he is. >> it is the arrogance of this company that gets this higher up. >> in the early, in the first book, the tenth parallel which is a beautiful exploration of the intersection of religion. the first opening chapter in central sudan, you are meeting with a village chief. his big concern is that soldiers from the north will come and
take over his village because of the oil. you talk about this resource, can you talk about that? it feels relevant. >> the chief, who is warning the soldiers are coming. in fact, they do come and sweep the people off their land in order to claim the rights to the oil beneath. basically since the '90s economists have looked at the resource curse. why is it that people who live on land richest and natural resources are some of the poorest? there are various factors for that. we typically look at it in a global cell. why is it norway nigeria?
we see a pattern of weak governments, basically people supporting lack of investmentn educion and to other protective long-term investments in favor of cashing out mineral resources. we don't look at that in america as well. the idea of the resource curse were for centuries people have paid the cost of our energy. we do not know what that means. what does it mean to live on top of a coal mine or coalfield? what does it mean to have your kid subjected to these industrial pressures when people living some distance don't know what it's like to flip the lights on. i see this as an urban american, we have to understand what rural people have paid for the rest of us who have lived our daily
lives. >> there's a book that came out in 1962 about appellation and about there's a line and i went back to take a look at it. there is a moment where it says we will continue to ignore them. they're talking about those in appellation. at peril to ourselves and our prosperity. >> one thing that i love, someone who is commenting today on the book and they said, clean air and pure water are not a liberal or conservative issue,
they are a practical issue of common sense. we need to return to that. what has happened with fracking is that it has become a political football. if you say fracking and you say that to a liberal or conservative persian you know what you will get back. how can we find our shared values and the things we need to survive and for our kids to survive? >> when you are in this town did you sense why people in these communities would vote for trump? >> 1000%. i was read in the book so many years before trump fever arrived in the area. there were many reasons, one is this disenfranchisement. trump came to pittsburgh and said, you are going to make so much more money off of fracking. he was talking about people in new york are going to be driving
cadillacs. this promise that is an age-old promise that wealth and prosperity are just around the corner. what has been keeping them from you is the federal government and i will get out of your way. it was a fantasy. we can see in the epa a level of human disregard that begins with the necessities and secondhand mattress buying where we can look at these things as absurd. but it plays out in a real and destructive ways of rural americans who are relying on the federal government to keep their kids safe. >> one thing that was despairing was that the federal government not so much involved as the state agencies. nonetheless, government. and how ineffective they were. the department of economic protection had their budget/by
third in the years preceding the fracking. how do we restore people's faith in government? this notion that government is there to protect the most vulnerable? >> that is the billion-dollar question. what really fails the people in the book is the government. the lawyers who take on this industry. john and kendra smith are wonderful. >> they are husband and wife. >> she is a corporate defense attorney for exposure cases to the railroad. she has said to me, a corporation will do what it does but the government has a responsibility both state and federal.
as journalists we are often asked when we do long-term projects that look at trouble in america, what is the solution here. the first solution is to understand the naturef the problem. i hope i is not a copout to say that is where the book begins. it is such a quiet story. it is a daily tragedy. it is on lots of americans. hopefully by paying attention we can look at the larger nature. >> i want to switch gears for a moment. you talk about processes. you are a poet. i am curious how your poetry, or your inclination to write poetry, how it impacts your nonfiction writing? >> i think what poetry, nonfiction and poetry have in
common one it's rewarded for payi attention. whether you're paying attention to the exterior or interior landscape, there is a sense of what is going on here. i think that definitely corresponds. with the poetry, the poetry is often what cannot go on a page because it is too uncertain. i have a book of poems coming out next year. i use that to explore space where i'm implicated in ways and i'm uncomfortable but i don't quite understand. i am a nonfiction writer who is not afraid of the eye. do not embrace it all the time
because i don't see myself as a witness to others. >> the truth is, in this book, you are a little but in some ways it's for mechanical reasons. we don't really learn anything about you. >> you and i are those old-school types. it is not a memoir. it's their story, if i've done my job right we call it immersion reporting. how do you hang around long enough that people forget you are there. that is what the book is about. also, i use the eye when it would be disingenuous to not be there. it's clear if i wasn't there would not be happening. >> to convey the seed.
>> you spend a lot of time with stacy and the neighbors. from my personal experience it is a hard process. people who have never told their stories before or never told them in this public way there is an implicit trust. how do you wreck it with that. your loyalties to your reader. in fact, you dedicate your book to the kids. >> clearly they became a part of your life. >> absolutely. it is incredibly complicated to spend time in people's lives over a number of years.
i've done a lot of immersion reporting. going into people's lives but for shorter times also where they see the results faster. stacy and her kids were in the battle of their lives and they wanted someone to write about that. here i was showing up and they did not know what i was doing. that was really challenging. when i finish the book i had never done this before, there are some ground rules that we cannot change anything. i sat at her kitchen table and read her the entire book. i thought, i don't have the right to show up this intimately in someone's life if i'm not going to take the responsibility to sit face-to-face. >> how was that experience? >> it was pretty profound. the thing that's remarkable, she is a citizen hero. her whole family voted for trump. she -- she took a responsibility
and listening to it, she did not want to hear i wasn'tike great there's a book about me, but she feels is her responsibility to share what she has been through. >> one of the beauties of this book is the empathy that comes across. i'm going to open to questions. i want to read -- i fell in love with stacy, scrappy does not to her justice. there is a moment, at some point she is forced to abandon her farmhouse. one of the things that happened in this community when you leave your land is scavengers come and take all of the copper out of your home. she left a note for the scavengers. we will avoid some of the.
>> to the ignorant who keep breaking into my house, it's bad enough i've been this cost me over $35000 in damages, as of january 1 my mortgage payment goes up $500 a month. i hope you feel good about what you have done. and the contamination in here causes cancer. keep coming back, i hope you rot with cancer. i love that note that she left. let's open it up to questions. >> anybody? we have a microphone here. >> thank you for the presentation.
could you spend a little bit more on the elements of the failure of the government in this case, was it under budgeted, not sure. >> there are multiple layers of government failure within the book. on the highest level, or the highest state level, the governor brings forward amendments to the state oil and gas law. nnsylvania has one of the oldest laws in the country. it was 1851, it's the beginning of oil. he brings forward the amendments saying that local towns in pennsylvania are incredibly stng.
little local townships you can have that many trus on the road this time of night. you have to be further from the stream. they put forward rules. the governor put forward a law that said he will no longer have the right to give any rules at all. will decide where they can work and in response you'll get more money. pennsylvania still has the lowest tax and payback from industry. it's pathetic. this law goes before the legislature. stacy's lawyer, having seen what happened up close when fracking came through decided with other attorneys across the state to
take on the governments legal amendment. they took this case all the way up to the state supreme court. they said, we need to have the right as small towns to make rules that govern. first, we have the responsibility to protect our citizens. second, in the state constitution there's the environmental amendment which gives people the right to clean air and pure water. spent on the books since 1972. and never had teeth before. they fight this out. the conservative supreme court in pennsylvania decides in their favor. they decide that pennsylvania has the right to clean air and water. the governor and the state has no right to violate that.
that is the principle win in the book. that is pretty hopeful. the chief justice who's a conservative republican who actually lost his leg he stands up" stacy story. for stacy, watching the law change based on her experience, she believes that is the most important thing she has ever done. that is one layer of government failure. the idea that the government would be willing to sell out the all towns. another has to do with the basic issue public poverty. they're woefully underfunded. and understaffed. in the book, one of the characters is standing there while an employee asks an oil
and gas employee if there any jobs available. state impact in pennsylvania has done an excellent job tracing the door between working through the state agency and working for private industry. there is so little money with this knowledge that people going to private industry. that's another level of government failure. the regulation is terrible, they don't have the money to go out and do the regulation properly. the book deals with some technical issues. this is changed now because they exposed it, when they would go out and test for what's in your water, they were testing for a
wide range of possible contaminants. but they were only reporting a small number. even the guy who came out and read your water results would not know if the rest of them were in your water because the test results were incomplete. that gives you a little bit of a sentence. >> so we talk about how some of the book is technical, but i don't think that does it justice. the opening in the book is the most lucid explanation fracking i have ever read. >> there's a certain thing about publishing the book now. it still seems to me there might be more to the story.
>> in this area yes. >> both philosophically and geographically. >> where they live, their is industry going on. i don't want to say all that happen. they do come to a settlement on the terms are undisclosed. i do know they are frustrated and disappointed. but they have settled by the end of the book. you can learn more about that. >> part of your question is wondering what kind of impact the book might have,. >> well, yes. clearly you said it is being published now.
>> so here we are, this is a finite point. but, it doesn't seem to me this story is over. >> this story is far from over. you are right, this is quite an interesting time and i am handling with a really sensitive understanding of what's going on in the great responsibility to do so accurately. book does have impact in people's lives. i really do not want the book to become a political position when it is so much more important than that. so the impact the book will have, the ongoing development in these areas, these are open questions. >> i came into the room thinking what is she going to do now
after this. naturally i had not read the book yet but i have read the tenth parallel which i felt stunning. then, all of this came up and wondering if you thought you would be following up on this. >> 1000%. that's something we could have another discussion about. what are once responsibilities after the fact. there is an incredible young co- activists. >> i wrote about her from the new yorker. she would never have taken me into her home and talk to me if i had not spent this time in the area. she said to me in the course of our time, resources are not the
only thing that can be exploited. stories can be exploited to. i already feel this way, that's i hope how i work. but what we did is i merely go back to washington. i wonder if there's ever been a book tour in washington but we are going to do an event to share stories with people who live them. you could say the same for sudan or somalia. to i just because one more person taking? how do people benefit for having their stories told? >> so you'll go back and do a reading. >> on june 20 i'll be in washington. >> are you nervous?
>> yes but that's my responsibility so i will stand up and do it. >> your anxious about how your book will be received and how the critics will review it. in the end, the most anxious about what you have written about. i suspect while you have read the book for stacy you have not read it for everybody. a number of other substantial characters. there are really differing points of view. that was my responsibility, to make sure i went out and got those points of view. that requires that people keep talking. a remarkable character ran a barber salon and he is a cattle
farmer. his family is involved in the industry. the first time i showed up he said where my front. i said i'm from new york city knowing that would go over well. but i'm from philadelphia thinking it might turn me points and he said that's two strikes against you. it was not easy report in this book. it took some doing. >> i'm curious about the environmental groups in the story and assuming many of the urban rural divide is present and if you have seen any failures or any that to a better job in handling and? >> that's a great question. ronnie's organization is both human and environmental.
part of the reason were having the event in washington is that it is difficult to get environmentalist in a b city an hour away, to come out show up. for stacy and for others who support fracking and have made a good deal of money off of it, the idea that urban environmentalists would come out waking their fingers at them, their ability to sign a lease when that's the only reason they can hold onto their firms that's enraging to say the least. so, getting beyond the easy political positions and investing in lives, listening to both sides is our duty as americans. for environmental groups doing better jobs, we can talk after about that.
i don't want to name names. i have not done a deep dive in that and i would not want to have missedomething. >> how do you see your book and the question of fracking and the much larger perspective of the degradation of the united states and the world, but especially given who is the head of the epa and how dangerous that has become. i'd like to hear your perspective on. >> let me think about that for a minute.
one of the very basic problems with fracking in the book is simply how close it is done to people's houses. could you build any industrial site 300, or 800 feet for someone's house where 200 diesel trucks go by any dirt road everyday. i cannot imagine a situation in which that's possible. so, do we need to look at more defined structures near people's houses? that would be one basic question. i hope i'm answering your question. essentially, the epa has been gutted for a long time. it is not just under the trump administration that we have seen major budget cuts that endanger people's lives. now what's going on is a travesty. that's not really a political position that both people would support.
what scott pruitt is doing now is a problem for america. not just for the daily removing of regulations, but what are the impacts in the longer term we will deal with. i think i will leave it at that. >> i think the fear is that much of the damage is irreversible. in part that's why it makes your book essential in these times. an extraordinary book. i love it in part because eliza, i sense is a writer where she ends up in this. this this is a story in narrative. as a reader you feel swept away on this journey with stacy, her family and neighbors and are left to your own devices to figure out where you land at the end o it. i urge people to tweak to pick
up a copy. >> thank you. >> i think we have time for another one. >> a fall sending. >> can you compare and contrast challenges that arose in comparison to this novel? >> i'm going to answer my god since question with complete objectivity. that's a very good queion. i found it harder to be honest reporting in appalachia than in eastern congo. one of the reasons is because i'm implicated in the story in the way am with foreign policy abroad. but come home to america and go out to communities where i rely on resources without thinking much about the communities that supply them, one of the amazing
pieces but i had no idea about was that the role divide really begins in pennsylvania. withhe irish settlers going all the way back to the revolutionary war and before. showing up as a good old quaker from pennsylvania. my family lived on the same lan since the 1700s. washington troops came to my family's land. that was not really a history where george washington led an army of people. it's a place for the federal government is not loved. >> thank you so much. it was wonderful. [applause]
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