If you want to understand what real journalism is and what it can do, you have to come listen to the gritty stories of Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson.
The two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of a 30-year study of the crumbling of the working class are back on the road and back in Detroit — updating their book Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression.
With a foreword by Bruce Springsteen, the book by writer Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael Williamson tells the stories of real people left behind when the nation’s industrial jobs vanished and its wealth concentrated into the hands of the 1%.
The pair lived and traveled with people who lost their jobs and families who’d lost their homes, like Bonnie and James Alexander. When Jim Alexander lost his job in a Port Huron salt mine, the couple and their two children lost their three-bedroom ranch to foreclosure. They descended from a $500 a month apartment to a campground near Houston, from real wage to minimum wage.
“It is the story of the deconstruction of the American dream, piece by piece, literally steel beam by steel beam, broken up and shipped out south, east, and to points unknown, told in the voices of those who’ve lived it,” Springsteen writes in his foreword.
Maharidge and Williamson are speaking at today’s General Assembly, noon at 5900 Michigan Ave., Detroit. They’ll be back to speak at the next session of the Radical Readings Discussion Group, 5:30 pm, Wednesday, April 4, also at 5900 Michigan.
Williamson is a staff photographer for the Washington Post. Maharidge is a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The two met at the Sacramento Bee in 1980 at the beginnings of their careers. By 1982, they were intensely reporting and photographing the Reagan-era recession. They’ve been covering the stories of the declines of workers’ lives ever since.
Springsteen says that he was nearly finished with the album ”The Ghost of Tom Joad” when he picked up the pairs’ previous book, 1995′s Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, and read it in one sitting. He wrote two of the songs, “Youngstown” and “The New Timer,” afterward. Tom Joad and his family are the central characters in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.
Together, Williamson and Maharidge also are the authors of And Their Children After Them, which earned them the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction; Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of American Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town; and Homeland.
Detroit’s Daymon Hartley took this photo (right) of Williamson in El Salvador in December 1989 while the two photographers were covering the bloody rebellion.