News

Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House

 

I’m thrilled to share this news from Hugo House, where I will serve as the newest prose writer-in-residence for one of the longest running programs of Seattle’s hub for writers. Here’s their announcement:

Young is the author of the novel Subduction, a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas, forthcoming from Red Hen Press in spring 2020. She is known for bold and intimate personal essays that have appeared in the Guardian,Crosscut, Hobart, Moss, and the New York TimesNew & Notable book Pie and Whiskey. Her prize-winning investigations have been featured by the Guardian, the New York Times, KUOW 94.9-FM, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,and soon, the Washington Post.

“Kristen has not only been an important part of Hugo House but of the literary community at large,” noted Executive Director Tree Swenson. Co-organizer of the inaugural Seattle’s Writers Resist, and co-founder and board chair of InvestigateWest, an award-winning nonprofit news studio known for creative storytelling, Young brings multidisciplinary skills and knowledge to Hugo House along with her experience as a creative writing instructor.

As writer-in-residence, Young will organize and oversee outreach to communities with little access to the arts.

“Emerging writers – particularly women – need safe mentors. I look forward to creating mentorships between writers at different stages in their careers. I’ll also coordinate Spanish-language reading and writing circles to engage fellow Latinxs.”

Young will receive office space and a monthly stipend to meet Seattle-area writers for free hour-long appointments while working to complete her second novel and an essay collection.

“Fascinated by the interplay of ambition and assimilation, I’m drawn to the stories we tell to hasten or counteract our loss of cultural identity,” said Young. “My work investigates the body as a site of resistance and making.”

Joining poetry writer-in-residence Amber Flame, Young’s term begins September 15 and runs through June 2019 with an option to renew for an additional year.

 

About Kristen Millares Young

Kristen Millares Young is the author of Subduction, forthcoming on Red Hen Press in spring 2020. An essayist and journalist, her work has been featured by the Guardian, the New York TimesCrosscutHobartMossCity Arts MagazinePacifica Literary Review, KUOW 94.9-FM, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Miami Herald, the Buenos Aires Herald and TIME Magazine. Her personal essays are anthologized in Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze (Sasquatch Books), a New York Times New & Notable Book, and Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (forthcoming on Routledge).

Kristen has been a fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Knight Digital Media Center, the Jack Straw Writing Program, and the University of Washington Graduate School. Kristen was the researcher for the New York Times team that produced “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” which won a Pulitzer and a Peabody. Her reporting has been recognized by the Society for Features Journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Hailed by the Stranger as one of the “fresh new faces in Seattle fiction,” she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in History and Literature, later earning her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. She teaches at Hugo House, the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference and the Seattle Public Library. Kristen serves as board chair of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit news studio she co-founded in the Pacific Northwest. InvestigateWest’s reporting has led to the passage of more than a dozen new laws to improve the environment and the lives of foster families, people of color caught in the criminal justice system, health care workers, and advocates for government transparency.

 

About Hugo House

Hugo House opens the literary world to everyone who loves books or has a drive to write — giving people a place to read words, hear words, and make their own words better through writing classes, readings and events, residencies, resources, and youth programs.

hugohouse.org

Facebook.com/HugoHouse

Twitter: @HugoHouse

Open hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and during classes and events

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News

Investigative Journalism: Back to the Basics

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InvestigateWest has made a real difference in the eight years since Executive Director Robert McClure and I first gathered with a group of journalists to form a nonprofit newsroom for the Pacific Northwest.

For our most recent series, called Unequal Justice, InvestigateWest helped tell stories about how African Americans and Latinos in Oregon are arrested, charged, convicted and jailed at many times higher the rate than white people. Same crimes, different outcomes — which became clear because investigator Kate Willson amassed a database of more than 5 million documents through public record requests that spanned a year.

Analysis of that database showed that black people paid $22 million more in court fees than white people who committed the same crimes during the past decade.

So people of color were being fined disproportionately to support a criminal justice system that sent their community members to jail at higher rates than their white neighbors. Legislators and justices in Oregon professed shock and dismay over the numbers — maybe something will change.

Stay tuned to our coverage, produced in partnership with Pamplin Media Group, with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Loyal Bigelow and Jedediah Dewey Foundation. I admire InvestigateWest Managing Director Lee van der Voo for putting so much time and effort into this project alongside journalists John Schrag, Nick Budnick, Shasta Kearns Moore and Willson, whose database catalyzed the collaboration. Many thanks to the Portland Tribune’s web, graphics and editorial team, as well.

Deep reporting takes time and costs money. Newspapers continue to shed staff reporters and, with them, decades of knowledge. Foundations, newsrooms and readers need to collaborate to support investigations that protect the public.

Connect freelancers with resources and distribution partners. Keep an eye on key issues. Build partnerships to tell stories aimed at social justice. That’s what we do.

Traditional models for sustaining journalism have continued to fail since InvestigateWest first launched to supply reporting about vital issues that would otherwise go unacknowledged, such as crises in foster care and affordable housing, polluted schools, the sale of public lands – our story helped save green space in Seattle – and corporate lobbying against clean water.

Fake news. That’s what people get for free, but it costs our democracy so much. Be part of the solution and visit invw.org/donate today.

We do this work because it matters. InvestigateWest creates journalism to engage communities in civic life, which is why I am grateful to serve as board chair alongside Secretary Brant Houston, the Knight Chair of Enterprise and Investigative Reporting, and Treasurer Randy Robinson.

Please join us in welcoming Mike Green of Oregon and Don Smith of Washington to InvestigateWest’s board. Both former editors, Mike co-founded ScaleUp Partners to increase African American inclusion in technology and startups, and Don is retired from Boeing, where he managed 737 communications after an award-winning career at major metro daily newspapers.

We are grateful to our supporters for keeping our newsroom going through this wild winter, as Northwest Cable News and NBC’s Breaking News site both closed, and the Seattle Times suffered yet another round of layoffs. I want to give a special shoutout to the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Knight Foundation for their matching campaigns for InvestigateWest.

These high-caliber institutions support InvestigateWest because they know our stories can help create a better society. Join them. Columbia Journalism Review said InvestigateWest’s “impact consistently belies its size.” Your tax-deductible gift will support investigative reporting about the environment, criminal justice, affordable housing and much more.

 

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A few thoughts about what I do

Some people have asked me for the full text of my AWP panel presentation, Digging for Story: Research, Fieldwork and Creative Writing. Here goes:

I am an investigative journalist by trade, a novelist by vocation. Today I will focus not on my process of gathering data, but rather on how to bring truth, by which I mean accuracy, into fiction without becoming pedantic.

You want to go to as many sources as possible: reading and taking notes, informational interviews, walkabouts, drivethroughs and arounds. Hang out. To the extent possible, immerse yourself in the real world in which your fictional universe takes place.

But then, put those notes aside. Your job as a novelist is not to produce a piece of explanatory journalism, nor a dissertation. Your job is to leaven a scene with authentic details — which could take the form of a piece of dialogue in a regional dialect, a passing cultural reference, a brief mention of what seems like a chance object but whose placement in the text renders a historical, geographic or socioeconomic truth in one clean brushstroke.

In whatever time you have, don’t become too grim in your pursuit. Stay playful, and stay open – in both the research and the writing. Allow your characters to surprise you. That means they’re alive. In fiction, the story-truth – a term coined by Tim O’Brien to mean the emotional truth – is more important than the happening-truth of factual occurrences. The research guides the story, but it does not control it. Let small details bear the weight of your knowledge.

Research carries a story like water a boat. Keep it moving. Stay afloat.

Now, I do love essayistic digressions – consider the whaling chapters of Moby Dick or the definitions of knots that formed chapter heading in The Shipping News. But to weave research into fiction throughout the text, and not just interruptive deliveries of factual or meta-commentary, I’ve found the trick is to keep it lyric, by which I mean authoritative.

I am going to present a brief passage from the first chapter of my novel Subduction. Here, my job is to prepare readers to enter the landscape of the novel. We accompany a protagonist – Claudia, an anthropologist – as she makes her way out to the Makah Indian Reservation, where she will disregard her code of ethics and begin an affair with the son of her best informant.

I spent years studying the geology, economies, societies, history and environment of the Olympic Peninsula, the northwest corner of the lower 48. And while I will return to this landscape in the text, here, at first glimpse, I allow myself about a minute to present my findings.

            The Olympic Mountains loomed. The ferry neared Bainbridge Island, the first leg of a 160 mile journey that would take her west, along peninsulas carved by retreating glaciers and bridges built by enterprising men, until finally, she reached land’s end and its people – qwidicca?a.tx – who had claimed their place among gulls and rock for millennia.

She was merely passing through this world. Or above one, in any case, riding the back of an inland sea where creatures were fighting and fucking and occasionally being carried off by nets, their minds naked with terror.

A merciless place, acidified by the dank exhales of engines.

The wooded shores took shape along the sharpening coastline. Kelp twisted along dark beaches whose upper reaches sprouted mansions. Their banks of windows glittered, cold and steely as the early photos of homesteaders with severely parted hair and thin mouths.

It had all once been forest, right down to the water, the largest stumps serving as dance floors, fiddlers sawing sweet melodies as wood was shipped to whoever could pay, the roving bands of loggers more devastating than termites, than locusts, than anything that had come before.

Executives and their fleece-trimmed families lived there now, the latest in an oncoming wave of people.

Each word of that description was fact – but you may have noticed a fictive flourish. Few biographers would claim to know the minds of fish. And there is something gothic about my description of what is, in fact, a gorgeous landscape.

But the trick to bringing research into fiction is to make the truth felt. Something which has been felt is hard to forget. Part of that passage’s dark tone is reflective of the character’s state of mind. Her husband just left her for her sister. With this passage, I’ve set the groundwork for a trope essential to the story at the heart of my book – exploitation, which can be seen in history’s incessant march through atrocities of epic proportions against land and people alike – all of that concentrated in a ferry ride.

So I don’t say that Subduction is about a woman who sleeps with a man to gain access to his family secrets. That’s the happening truth. The story truth is that my book is about the lies we tell ourselves so we don’t have to change. That pivot – from plot to epiphany – is why I write. I research to build the authority to make that turn happen for readers, too.

Thank you.

Thanks to Maggie Messitt for organizing the panel, which also included Sheri Booker, Nomi Stone and Bronwen Dickey. A brilliant journalist, Messitt is author of The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa.

 

All text is subject to copyright by Kristen Millares Young.

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NYT’s Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Beginning in April 2012, I conducted research for The New York Times’ multimedia narrative feature entitled Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.  I am proud to be a small part of the team that produced the December 2012 story, which was written by John Branch.

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