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JESSICA BRUDER discusses her book NOMADLAND

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (W.W. Norton & Company)

In recent years, many Americans have had to face tough new realities in the midst of massive changes in the economy and a widening wealth gap. One particularly hard-hit demographic is senior citizens, a proportion of whom saw their stable middle-class lives disappear in the wake of the Great Recession and suddenly, in their retirement years, found themselves in need of a job in a new economy low on steady manufacturing and retail jobs and high on short-term seasonal labor. As a result, to survive they join an expanding group of modern nomads: men and women who have given up the stability—and costs—of a home life and have hit the road in RVs, campervans, and trailers.

In Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, award-winning journalist Jessica Bruder delivers a comprehensive and compelling portrait of this set of fighters, idealists, and adventurers trying to carve out a peripatetic existence.

“Millions of Americans are wrestling with the impossibility of a traditional middle-class existence,” writes Bruder. “In the widening gap between credits and debits hangs a question: What parts of this life are you willing to give up, so you can keep on living?” The answer, Bruder finds, can vary tremendously, but for those who abdicate the
comforts of home for life on the road, there is both risk and reward in the undertaking, as well as an affirming side effect: an eclectic community that comes together both online and in person to commiserate over the struggles of living on the road, to tell jokes and share puns (their vans get names like “Vansion,” “Van Go,” “DonoVan,” and “Vantucket”), and to support one another in their alternative lifestyles.

They work for employers seeking them out for low-wage seasonal gigs, from picking fruit to staffing roadside stalls that sell Halloween pumpkins, Christmas trees, or Fourth of July fireworks; scrubbing toilets in National Forest campgrounds; guarding the gates of Texas oil fields and running the rides at theme parks. (Adventureland in Altoona, Iowa, made headlines last year after one workamper, a former pastor in his sixties, was killed in an on-the- job accident.) And some serve the community, by blogging or by arranging places to gather, organizing teach-ins and potluck meals.

To write this affecting book, Bruder immersed herself in this diverse community, buying a van she dubbed “Halen” and driving more than 15,000 miles over the course of two years, meeting modern nomads. She worked alongside them in Amazon’s CamperForce team of low-wage, seasonal workers at the company’s fulfillment centers and at the grueling annual sugar beet harvest in North Dakota. And she followed them through stints of precarious employment in national parks, where they served as campground custodians in exchange for a place to park their houses-on- wheels and a near-minimum wage.

As Bruder discovers, much of the population of Nomadland is made up of resourceful Americans with a strong spirit of independence, and many of them are single women, as well as senior citizens, reflecting some of the hardest-hit members of the middle class. They gather in places like Quartzsite, Arizona, where the land is vast and available, and the local authorities are generally tolerant of long-term campers and their vehicles. But these modern nomads can also be found living in Walmart parking lots, and even on city streets, hoping that no police officer will come knocking.

On her travels Bruder meets a fascinating collective of colorful itinerants, people like Linda, a 65-year- old grandmother who lives in a trailer called “the Squeeze Inn,” and LaVonne, a 67-year- old former journalist who “found her people” among the nomads, “a ragtag bunch of misfits who surrounded me with love and acceptance.”

They all have a story, a clear reason for their transition from middle-class lives to the open road, for living out of a traveling box, for driving and working and persevering in a permanent state of flux in a world where homelessness is frowned upon, if not actually considered criminal behavior.

Elegantly crafted and compassionate in its approach, Nomadland is a singular work of in-depth narrative journalism, a view from the inside of the new American heartland—a land without a physical center, scattered across the country, in nearly constant motion.

Praise for Nomadland

“What photographer Jacob Riis did for the tenement poor in How the Other Half Lives (1890) and what novelist Upton Sinclair did for stockyard workers in The Jungle (1906), journalist Bruder now does for a segment of today’s older Americans forced to eke out a living as migrant workers. . . . [A] powerhouse of a book. . . . Visceral and haunting reporting.”—Booklist, STARRED review

“Excellent. . . . Engaging, highly relevant immersion journalism.”—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

“A must-read that is simultaneously hopeless and uplifting and certainly unforgettable.”—Library Journal, STARRED review

“Tracing individuals throughout their journeys from coast to coast, Bruder conveys the phenomenon’s human element, making this sociological study intimate, personal, and entertaining, even as the author critiques the economic factors behind the trend.”—Publishers Weekly

“People who thought the 2008 financial collapse was over a long time ago need to meet the people Jessica Bruder got to know in this scorching, beautifully written, vivid, disturbing (and occasionally wryly funny) book. Nomadland is a testament both to the generosity and creativity of the victims of our modern-medieval economy, hidden in plain sight, and to the blunt-end brutality that put them there. Is this the best the wealthiest nation on earth can do for those who’ve already done so much?”—Rebecca Solnit, author of The Mother of All Questions

“In the early twentieth century, men used to ride the rails in search of work, sharing camps at night. Today, as Bruder brilliantly reports, we have a new class of nomadic workers who travel in their RVs from one short-term job to another. There’s a lot to cringe at here—from low pay and physically exhausting work to constant insecurity. But surprisingly, Nomadland also offers its residents much-needed camaraderie and adventure, which makes this book a joy to read.”—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

“The campsite as the home of last resort, the RV used not for vacation but for survival: these are the makings of a new dystopia. Nomadland is a smart road book for the new economy, full of conviviality and dark portent.”—Ted Conover, author of Rolling Nowhere and Immersion

Jessica Bruder is an award-winning journalist whose work focuses on subcultures and the dark corners of the economy. She teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism and is the author of Burning Book.

Photo by Todd Gray

Event date: 
Saturday, October 21, 2017 - 5:00pm
Event address: 
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780393249316
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 19th, 2017