Current Home: Brooklyn, NY
Place of Birth: Clifton, NJ
Education: Columbia University, New York, NY: M.S. Journalism, co-valedictorian, Oct. 2004
Amherst College, Amherst, MA: B.A. English and French, summa cum laude, May 2000
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
The English department was legendary. The campus and surrounding area was gorgeous. The five-college network drew tons of great culture to the area. I loved the idea of small classes, close relationships with professors. Also: I was shy and worried I’d drown at a larger school. When I opened the acceptance letter — it was terrifyingly thin — I was so elated that I jumped up and stubbed my toe on the doorjamb to my room.
Most memorable or most influential professor
Andy Parker, my thesis advisor.
Subcultures and social justice
Awards and Prizes
James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism (Winner, 2015: “The End of Retirement,” Harper’s Magazine, August 2014)
Deadline Club Award/Society of Professional Journalists (NYC) (First place, 2014 (magazine/personal service): “The Price,” Inc. Magazine, September 2013.)
“Evicted" by Matthew Desmond
Tips for aspiring writers?
Listen to your obsessions. If a story — or the germ of one — has you in its grip, pay attention. My best story ideas are the kind that have haunted me with questions each night, often when I was on the verge of sleeping, until I began chasing them, which, in my case, meant digging into research and interviews.
At the same time: Be open to writing about things that AREN’T your obsessions. I used to tell myself: My favorite writers could take a story assignment about a clod of dirt and find a way to make that interesting. My first full-time journalism gig was supposed to involve writing engagement columns. Blecccch! While I was willing to cover that mind-numbing topic to score a writing job, once I got hired, I managed to pitch my way into doing political stories and oddball features instead. In the years that followed, alongside doing projects I loved, I also churned out piles of words for numerous publications on all manner of obscure things that didn’t much matter to me, from caffeinated beef jerky to a custody battle over a deer. I believe those experiences made me stronger. They forced me to be creative and resourceful in ways I wouldn’t have devised alone. They also helped me develop a writing discipline, win editors’ trust and clear the path toward spending more time on stories I care about deeply.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
It’s zig-zagged all over the place. I’ve always loved writing but, as an undergrad, I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist or an author. I wrote poems, edited the literary magazine. I didn’t fall in love with narrative nonfiction until a few years after I graduated. Nowadays, I seem to have tipped into author territory because I get hooked on particular themes and stories and I want to stick with them, see how they grow. Both Nomadland and my next book — Snowden’s Box, co-written with my best friend, about becoming the unintentional mule for Snowden’s leaked NSA archive — started out as articles for Harper’s Magazine. Both outgrew their containers, spilling into books.
Jessica Bruder is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia Journalism School, where she has been teaching since 2008. Jessica has written for publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, WIRED, The Guardian and The Washington Post. In addition to Nomadland, she is also the author of Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man. Her next book, Snowden’s Box, co-authored with Dale Maharidge, is scheduled to be published with Verso Books in the fall of 2018.
Learn more about Nomadland on Jessica's website.
Photo Credit: Todd Gray