Essays and Journalism
I found a way into my own story as an investigative journalist, essayist, book critic and author. The trick is to be indefatigable. The world needs many tellings.
The Washington Post
“It’s September. School has begun. Entire kindergarten classes are practicing how to duck and cover. Soon, your sons will learn the quickest way to hide beneath a desk.
“You raise kids in America because you were born here, and you learned to love this country the hard way. You remember to lock doors. In the presumed safety of your home, you read “Bloomland,” a debut novel by John Englehardt, whose narrator speaks to you directly about what matters today.”
The Washington Post published my latest Book World review of a debut novel about a school massacre in September of 2019, a year that brought more U.S. mass shootings than days.
“Novels that consider the unflinching question of whether to die often bend toward showing us how to live. To read Juliet the Maniac is to confront our shared faith in the flawed logic of life’s meaning, and by so doing, become worthier of our humanity.”
To “honor the glimmering beauty of its teenage voice, sharpened by pain, without amplifying the siren calls of self-harm and suicidal ideation,” I dove into literatures of suicide, reading and citing Weil, Camus, Goethe, Shakespeare, Plath, Toews and Glasgow in my May 2019 Book World review of Juliet Escoria’s debut novel Juliet the Maniac.
“In the beginning, the word of God was mediated by men, and they believed patriarchy to be a celestial order, and the work of women went unrecognized.”
In Naamah, Sarah Blake’s fresh telling of the flood story as seen by Noah’s wife, “Blake lays bare the biblical tendency to shunt aside the women from whose bodies our society emerged.” I considered the Bible — “the most translated and enduring work of literary fiction” — in my April 2019 Book World review, also published in the Mercury News.
“Lost Children Archive is a work of fiction that daylights our common humanity and challenges us, as a nation, to reconcile our differences…Even now, she writes, children are ‘traveling alone on trains, crossing the desert, sleeping on the ground under the huge sky.’”
Having read Valeria Luiselli’s prior books in Spanish and in translation, I was delighted to review her novel Lost Children Archive in February 2019 and to reflect upon its truths at Elliott Bay Book Co. The Mercury News, Chicago Tribune and Star Tribune also ran this review, which was translated into Spanish for El Economista.
In fall 2019 and winter 2020, I have three forthcoming book reviews in the Washington Post Book World: the lyric memoir of a prize-winning novelist in November, a translated novel by an internationally bestselling author in January, and a highly anticipated second novel from a Booker Prize-winning author in February.
“Jessica Jung is all business.” My profile of the K-Pop star was part of a ten part series published online by the Washington Post & The Lily, a WaPo publication named for the first women-founded newspaper. “It can be hard to come back to the core of it all, the art-making, though what she does for a living, aside from running the businesses built from her brand, is entertain.”
Released as a bonus print section of the Washington Post on October 2, 2019, the project also became an immersive Instagram page. Stay tuned for the wide release of The Lily‘s 20-minute documentary featuring six of the subjects, which will premiere at the Bend Film Festival and air on PBS in December. Watch the trailer.
“Who benefits from designating a woman’s speech as a degradation of language?” Drawing from dozens of linguistic studies, I revealed gendered prejudice toward the ubiquitous word “like” in my August 2019 analysis for The Lily. “Dismissing women’s speech makes it easier to dismiss their experiences — and to doubt them when they’re wronged.”
I interviewed dozens of waste, packaging and recycling experts to write this February 2019 story about Amazon’s switch to plastic packaging that cannot be recycled at curbside.
Newspapers from the Chicago Tribune and Akron Beacon Journal to the LA Times, Mercury News and Seattle Times picked up the story about how the Seattle-based corporation’s waste is clogging taxpayer-funded recycling centers around the country.
By June, a MoveOn petition asking Amazon to “stop using paper and bubble wrap envelopes that can’t be recycled” had garnered 83,310 signatures; they’re aiming for 100,000.
“Washington state’s penchant for getting high is trashing the place.” My first enterprise for the National Desk revealed major waste streams created by the cannabis industry.
Syndicated in newspapers across the country, including the Portland Press Herald in Maine, the Columbian in Ohio and the Bulletin in Bend, the story catalyzed many conversations, from a Modern Farmer analysis to this interview featuring yours truly on NPR member station KUOW 94.9-FM.
Being a freelancer puts any day on a swivel. In the wake of a measles outbreak in Washington state, I watched 700 people, the majority of them against inoculation, participate in our democracy. I am honored to share a byline with National reporter Lena Sun, who wrote this February 2019 story, which also appeared in the Baltimore Post.
“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 helped spur a new robotics program at a Seattle public school.
Preparing my children for the second machine age helped 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 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. Jim Cantú’s interview aired on KVRU as an hour-long segment before appearing on KBCS 91.3-FM as a 7-minute installation of a #MMIW series about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women reported by Yuko Kodama. 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 essays. In November 2018, Proximity published my thoughts about making my way in a world that wants everything from women, and little for us. I’m grateful to editors Maggie Messitt and Paige Towers for making a space for true stories.
“Every woman keeps a flame against the wind.” was anthologized in Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge), gracias to editor Grisel Acosta. Listen to this Stories to Write Songs About podcast of my performance paired with an original song inspired by this most personal essay.
As the Epilogue of their penultimate issue, City Arts published “Follow Me” — about sisterhood and self erasure. Seattle will miss them.
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 sexual violence and white 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. It will be anthologized in Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, March 2021)
Hesitant to begin this journey toward revealing my true self, I found fellowship with other readers and writers. I am grateful for public support from media outlets like the Stranger, whose books editor Rich Smith called me a “mind-blowing nonfiction writer” and a “crack Seattle journalist and novelist” with “considerable vocal talents,” and Seattle Review of Books, which included me in a short list of “stunning” Seattle essayists.
Lately, I’ve been pouring my essayistic self into reviews like this one in Poetry Northwest, a paean to Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky.
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.