Michael Greenberg is the author of Hurry Down Sunshine and Beg, Borrow, and Steal: A Writer’s Life.
 (December 2018))


In the Valley of Fear

Tomato harvest, Firebaugh, California, 2014
Measured by yearly production, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the highest-value stretches of farmland in the country, and is dominated by large growers who preside over a labor force of migrant workers in a way that has not changed much since Carey McWilliams described it in his 1939 book, Factories in the Fields. The Fresno-based writer Mark Arax likens it to a Central American country. “It’s the poorest part of California,” he told me. “There’s almost no middle class. To find its equivalent in the United States you’d have to go to Appalachia or the borderlands of Texas.”

Tenants Under Siege: Inside New York City’s Housing Crisis

A view from 7 DeKalb Avenue, an apartment tower in Downtown Brooklyn. Eighty percent of its 250 apartments are subsidized units, for which there were 87,754 applications when it opened.

New York City is in the throes of a humanitarian emergency, a term defined by the Humanitarian Coalition of large international aid organizations as “an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people.” New York’s is what aid groups would characterize as a “complex emergency”: man-made and shaped by a combination of forces that have led to a large-scale “displacement of populations” from their homes. What makes the crisis especially startling is that New York has the most progressive housing laws in the country and a mayor who has made tenants’ rights and affordable housing a central focus of his administration.

On the Town

Garth Risk Hallberg, New York City, February 2016

City on Fire

by Garth Risk Hallberg
Every American decade since at least the 1920s is eventually reduced to a handful of images—photographs, news headlines, movie stills, cartoons, posters—that become the clichés of their time. For New York City of the 1970s, the images include weary and hemmed-in subway riders on a train every inch of which …

The Passions of Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa, Lima, Peru, October 1994

Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society

by Mario Vargas Llosa, edited and translated from the Spanish by John King

The Discreet Hero

by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Even among his extraordinary generation of Latin American literary figures, Mario Vargas Llosa has had an unusually prodigious career. He is nine years younger than his most famous contemporary, Gabriel García Márquez, yet his first two novels had an electrifying effect on Latin American literature when García Márquez was still …


Ricketts to Reporters: Drop Dead

Former DNAinfo reporter Ben Fractenberg speaking at a rally at City Hall Park hosted by the Writers Guild of America to support the journalists and other staff members who lost their jobs after they voted to form a union, New York City, November 6, 2017

Was the shutdown of the online news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist purely an act of spite? Ricketts’s acquisition of Gothamist in March suggests that he had been determined to make the business work. He seemed willing to continue to try to “crack the code” of profitability at DNAinfo only if his reporters had no bargaining power. News organizations’ only recourse at present is to hope that Congress may enact antitrust legislation that takes into account the monopolistic evolution of the Internet.

The New Resistance

The first weeks of the Trump administration have felt at times like the onset of a kind of cold civil war. Everything about the present moment feels different than protests of the past. In 2003, protests against the invasion of Iraq received virtually no support from elected representatives and were dismissed by most news outlets as knee-jerk pacifism and therefore inconsequential. Today, the opposition to Trump’s policies from a broad range of present and former elected officials has been immediate and appears to be spurred on by, and in visceral agreement with, protesters on the street.

Caught in the Act

A sampling of meticulous mug shots, along with about forty crime-related images from American tabloids, police files, security cameras, and photographers both anonymous and widely known, comprise the fascinating exhibition “Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The curators have set up an interesting dialogue between celebrated victims and assassins, on the one hand, and the unknown on the other: Robert F. Kennedy seconds after he was shot on June 5, 1968, provokes a predictable ache; an anonymous, plebian bank robber, ferociously tries to shoot out a security camera in a burst of smoke and light.