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Kerri Arsenault in conversation with Kurt Andersen
September 15, 2020 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm PDT
discussing two new books
Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains, by Kerri Arsenault
published by St. Martins Press
Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, by Kurt Andersen
published by Random House
This is a virtual event that will be hosted by City Lights on the Zoom platform. You will need access to a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet. If you have not used Zoom before, you may consider referencing Getting Started with Zoom.
Event is free, but registration is required.
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about MILL TOWN
A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?
Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for her seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town’s economic, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”
Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?
about EVIL GENIUSES
During the twentieth century, America managed to make its economic and social systems both more and more fair and more and more prosperous. A huge, secure, and contented middle class emerged. All boats rose together. But then the New Deal gave way to the Raw Deal. Beginning in the early 1970s, by means of a long war conceived of and executed by a confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right-wing zealots, the rules and norms that made the American middle class possible were undermined and dismantled. The clock was turned back on a century of economic progress, making greed good, workers powerless, and the market all-powerful while weaponizing nostalgia, lifting up an oligarchy that served only its own interests, and leaving the huge majority of Americans with dwindling economic prospects and hope.
Why and how did America take such a wrong turn? In this deeply researched and brilliantly woven cultural, economic, and political chronicle, Kurt Andersen offers a fresh, provocative, and eye-opening history of America’s undoing, naming names, showing receipts, and unsparingly assigning blame—to the radical right in economics and the law, the high priests of high finance, a complacent and complicit Establishment, and liberal “useful idiots,” among whom he includes himself.
Only a writer with Andersen’s crackling energy, deep insight, and ability to connect disparate dots and see complex systems with clarity could make such a book both intellectually formidable and vastly entertaining. And only a writer of Andersen’s vision could reckon with our current high-stakes inflection point, and show the way out of this man-made disaster.
Kerri Arsenault serves on the board of the National Books Critics Circle, is the Book Review Editor at Orion magazine, and Contributing Editor at Lithub. Arsenault received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and studied in Malmö University’s Communication for Development master’s programme. Her writing has appeared in Freeman’s, Lithub, Oprah.com, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune, among other publications. She lives in New England. Mill Town is her first book.
Kurt Andersen is author of Heyday and Turn of the Century and frequently writes for New York and Vanity Fair. He is host and cocreator of the Peabody Award–winning public radio program Studio 360. In 2006, he founded Very Short List, an email service for connoisseurs of culture who would never call themselves “connoisseurs.” He was cofounder of Spy magazine, and has been a columnist and critic for the New Yorker and Time. Andersen lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn.
Praise for Mill Town
“In this masterful debut, the author creates a crisp, eloquent hybrid of atmospheric memoir and searing exposé… Bittersweet memories and a long-buried atrocity combine for a heartfelt, unflinching, striking narrative combination.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“[A] powerful, investigative memoir….Arsenault paints a soul-crushing portrait of a place that’s suffered ‘the smell of death and suffering’ almost since its creation. This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home–“the heart of human identity”–is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
“In Mill Town, Kerri Arsenault has managed a literary hat trick, combining humanity, science, and capitalism, and the price paid not only by her own family in a single state, but across generations, industries, and geographies. She has laid out, in elegant prose and harrowing reportage, the price we may all pay, and in this, she has managed to create at once both a cautionary tale and a literary treasure.” —Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us
“[Mill Town] is about the better, more prosperous American life those industries afforded us before we fell ill, as well as the Devil’s bargain that made all this possible, maybe even inevitable. Mill Town is for anyone who’s ever wondered about the Calvinistic calculus whereby the elect become truly wealthy while the damned (read: poor, dark-skinned, newly arrived) find early graves.” —Richard Russo, author of Chances Are… and Empire Falls
“Mill Town is a powerful, blistering, devastating book. Kerri Arsenault is both a graceful writer and a grieving daughter in search of answers and ultimately, justice. In telling the story of the town where generations of her family have lived and died, she raises important and timely questions.” —Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance
“The book of a lifetime; a deep-drilling, quick-moving, heartbreaking story. Scathing and tender, it is written in a clear-running prose that lifts often into poetry, but comes down hard when it must. Through it all runs the river of Mill Town: sluggish, ancient, dangerous, freighted with America’s sins. This is a book about residues and legacies; I know that Mill Town will stay with me for years to come.” —Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland
“Kerri Arsenault’s pursuit of truth is as compassionate as it is relentless. The result, her book, is tender, enthralling, and, ultimately, devastating.” —Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn
In Mill Town, Kerri Arsenault probes deeply, searchingly, into webs of family and community, history and science, power and commerce and the price of loyalty to create what could be called an Our Town for the 21st century, updated and expanded to account for ecological horror… Arsenault’s relentless, unsparing exploration goes to the heart of American life, and I can think of no book that’s more relevant to this moment in time than Mill Town.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“[A] sweeping, brutal expose of American corporations’ ruining natural resources, poisoning the environment, endangering the health and safety of the working class, and hiding and denying their crimes. This book is full of love and sadness. It’s also breathtakingly wide-ranging, cogently angry, brilliantly written, harrowing, heartbreaking, urgent, and timely.” —Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man
“A tender howl about the graveyard of industry. This fierce and impeccable work really got my blood boiling about the plunder mechanism of capitalism and its blow against life.” —Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion
“This memoir-slash-history tracks the rise and mostly decline of Mexico, Maine, a small mill town on the Androscoggin River that has been the home of the author’s family for generations. Arsenault writes nonfiction with the density and beauty of poetry, in this telling of the costs and tolls (environmental, physical, cultural, medical) of industrialization and its aftermath.” —Mark Lamster, Architecture Critic, Dallas Morning News
“Profoundly important… Tender, angry, full of respect and bewilderment, it is a complex love letter to a hometown. It’s also a powerful glimpse of how corporate power, small town pride, and death are entwined in America: a vivid insight to the unbuilding of an American dream, this will be one of the major nonfiction books of a year in which the debate over what America is will rage.” —John Freeman, author of Dictionary of the Undoing
“Spanning ten years, Arsenault’s hand keeps moving as across the paper on some tombstone for a rubbing. Slowly, beautifully, terribly something comes to the surface.” —David Searcy, author of Shame and Wonder