Essays and Journalism
I found a way into my own story as an investigative journalist, essayist and author. The trick is to be indefatigable. The world needs many tellings.
City Arts published “Follow Me” — my essay about sisterhood and self erasure — as the Epilogue of their fall arts issue. Also in September, Tom Rorem made this Stories to Write Songs About podcast of my performance paired with an original song inspired by my essay. “Every woman keeps a flame against the wind.” is forthcoming from Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge) with gracias to editor Grisel Acosta.
The Washington Post
“Washington state’s penchant for getting high is trashing the place.” My first byline for the Washington Post, published in August 2018, revealed major waste streams created by the cannabis industry.
Syndicated in newspapers across the country, the story catalyzed many conversations, from a Modern Farmer analysis to this interview featuring yours truly on NPR member station KUOW 94.9-FM.
Next up, a byline for the Business Desk.
“Automation is a social justice issue, and if history is any teacher, it tells us that vast swaths of disenfranchised peoples are a harbinger of war.” My Guardian essay about automation, education and social justice was published in October 2017.
Preparing my children for the second machine age made me examine the contradictions inherent in Seattle, Washington, where a progressive reputation belies the nation’s most regressive tax structure.
My prior investigation for the Guardian revealed police negligence in response to the disappearance of Misty Upham, a Blackfeet actress who appeared alongside Meryl Streep in August: Osage County.
Misty went missing on October 5th in 2014. Eleven days later, friends of her family found her body in a forest within walking distance of her apartment. To build a narrative about how the police mishandled Misty’s case, I interviewed fifty people and read thousands of documents obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.
Published in the Guardian’s US, UK and Australian editions, the story was shared online 7,600 times and featured in the Guardian’s list of long reads united by ”damn good writing, damn good storytelling.” In 2016, the Society for Features Journalism recognized the story with an honorable mention for Diversity in Digital Features.
KUOW 94.9 FM’s Jeannie Yandel and I talked about Misty in an interview which aired on The Record and All Things Considered. The story was translated into German to appear in Stern Crime, a true crime storytelling magazine.
I’ve called my investigation “the story” — but it is one which truly belongs to Misty, whose talent deserved a better end. She braved her life.
I honor her memory.
As a freelance journalist for the Guardian, I have written about legal marijuana, the Oso mudslide, the death penalty, migrant hunger strikes, Catholic students protesting the termination of their gay vice principal and his subsequent lawsuit against the school.
Very Personal Essays
Though a radical departure from the journalism I’ve long been hired to produce, my personal essays are also investigations that interrogate my own lived experience as a site of resistance and making.
I spent decades accrediting my brain so I’d be allowed to rise from my body and be seen for my mind. As a writer, I’ve turned to the great wisdom of my womanhood. Informed by being a Latinx Southerner who calls Seattle home, I’m drawn to the stories we tell ourselves to hasten or counteract our loss of cultural identity. These explorations are my American inheritance.
My voice is direct and unsurprised by cruelty. I’m also shocked by the beauty of the natural world, sensitive to the pull of history, and in search of grace from humanity.
Still, it felt dangerous to share these stories. Many thanks to Crosscut for soliciting this piece about liability, harassment and Lyft. I’m also grateful to the editors of Moss for publishing “On Being Driven,” my inquiry into violence and privilege.
Seattle Review of Books had some kind words for “On Being Driven”: “an ill-met drive on a small island in the Bahamas; a trade of threats; a tangle of considerations involving sex, race, money, and history. Her voice — conversational, warm, relentless — comes through as clearly on the page. A rich and difficult and exceptional piece.”
“Straight, No Chaser” — a personal essay about pregnancy and pressure — came out in Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze. Editors Kate Lebo and Sam Ligon gave my work a home at Sasquatch Books alongside Anthony Doerr, Kim Addonizio and Jess Walter in this anthology, selected by the New York Times as a New & Notable Book.
Praise for Pie & Whiskey * “eclectic, drunk and delicious” in The New York Times * “there’s magic in this mating of sweetness and sin” in Salon * “surprising, unexpected” in San Francisco Book Review * “seriously talented writers” in Foreword Reviews
“A Few Thoughts While Shaving,” a personal essay about pregnancy and pre-existing conditions, was selected for Hobart by editor Jac Jemc.
The New York Times
As a freelancer for the NYT, I covered federal judge James Robart’s decision to block the Trump administration’s travel ban and Washington state’s 2015 Democratic caucus. I also helped Michael Luo dig up court documents for his excellent series on gun violence.
In 2012, I contributed a significant amount of multimedia research to a digital narrative feature story entitled Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, which was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.
The NYT published “Snow Fall,” written by John Branch and viewed online by more than 3 million people, as its own special 14-page section and launched a new partnership to sell the package as an e-book.
“Snow Fall” also won a Peabody that praised the package as “spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling” that “combines thorough traditional reporting of a deadly avalanche with stunning topographic video.”
The NYT made “Snow Fall” a focus of its reading club, citing media reports calling its creation “truly fantastic,” a “beautiful” integration of video, photos, and graphics “that makes multimedia feel natural and useful,” the “best designed big Web story ever” and even “the future of Web storytelling.”
KUOW 94.9 FM
KUOW-FM 94.9, a Seattle NPR station, awarded me a Program Venture Fund grant to underwrite my Addicted on the Reservation feature story and photo slideshow about tribal measures to fight Native youth substance abuse. The story aired on Morning Edition and All Things Considered and was the subject of an hour-long discussion featuring Lummi tribal leaders and yours truly on Weekday, a talk show hosted by Steve Scher.
As a beat political and business reporter, I wrote nearly 700 news stories for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a daily newspaper published in Seattle from 1863 to 2009.
Below are a few stories that won prizes or led to policy reform.
The events described in this exclusive story became the focus of a federal criminal investigation. As a result of public interest in this reporting, the Port of Seattle’s most senior commissioner was subject to a recall petition whose validity was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. In response, the commission began taping its closed-door executive sessions to allow for judicial review.
This story, one of a long series of scoops about the corrupt internal workings of the Port of Seattle, traced the chain of responsibility for civil fraud from the middle manager blamed by the port to the executive staff the agency protected.
The Society of Professional Journalists awarded my investigation of Seattle’s cruise industry profits (part of a series co-written by Ruth Teichroeb) with 2006 First Place in government reporting in the Pacific Northwest.
Public outcry about this story led the Port of Seattle to send PCB-contaminated Superfund site dredge spoils to a landfill rather than dumping it into Puget Sound as planned.
I dedicated a sizable portion of my time to reporting environmental aspects of my beat, which yielded economically relevant and historically rich stories that led to policy review and revision.
It wasn’t all cronyism and bad business deals, though fraud investigations abounded. Here’s a story that shows the side of the maritime community that I came to cherish.
As a bilingual member of the metro and business desks who also moonlighted in features, I travelled around the Pacific Northwest reporting stories unique to the region and its many peoples.
Stories of loss and struggle became commonplace during the recession. Although I often met people going through hard times, the opportunity to listen to their concerns has been one of the greatest honors of my career.
A series of drownings at the docks led to increased port scrutiny of a common class of deckhands: fishing boat live-aboards.
Project costs often ballooned at the Port of Seattle, which implemented more controls of its procurement and contracting policies during the time I spent reporting its doings.
I was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s retail reporter from 2004 to 2006, covering some of Seattle’s global companies while writing local economic analyses and a weekly small business column.
I wrote reviews because I love food, music and travel. The form encourages a personalized approach.