When Fracking Came to Town: In Conversation with Eliza Griswold

Talk Friday 2nd August, 7:00PM
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Drawing on seven years of immersive reporting, award-winning poet and journalist Eliza Griswold joins us to talk about her 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, which explores the devastating effects of fracking on a small town in Pennsylvania through the eyes of one of its residents.

Amity and Prosperity centres on the story of Stacey Haney, a single mother of two living on a family farm in southern Washington County. She sees the fanfare around fracking and decides to lease the gas rights under her land to to help pay for some much-needed upgrades around the farm. She’s also worried that if she doesn’t lease to the gas company, a coal company will undermine her land anyway. Haney starts to regret her decision, however, once her happy, athletic teenage son, Harley, begins suffering from an unexplained illness, and several of her farm animals die. Alarmed by her children’s illnesses, Haney joins with neighbours and a committed husband-and-wife legal team to investigate what’s really in the water and air. Against local opposition, Haney and her allies doggedly pursue their case in court and begin to expose the damage that’s being done to the land her family has lived on for centuries.

Griswold traveled to the region 37 times over seven years as she worked on the book, finding plenty to write about in southwestern Pennsylvania, from community quarrels to years-long legal battles that had state-wide implications. A poet-turned-journalist and contributing writer for The New Yorker, she continues to cover environmental issues related to the oil and gas boom.

Griswold will be joined in conversation with Steve Coll, a staff writer at the The New Yorker and the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Between 1985 and 2005, he was a reporter, foreign correspondent and senior editor at the Washington Post. He is the author of eight books of nonfiction, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.


“Expertly constructed . . . Griswold — the kind of reporter who can convince a subject to let her reveal the message inside a Valentine card, and who notices what color somebody’s refrigerator is — painstakingly builds the narrative amid its historical and social context . . . Her relentless, measured narration helped me understand my own blind spots — that sadness over ruined views is a kind of class privilege, the outgrowth of a particular stance toward the land . . . Griswold’s brilliant choice is to focus tightly on a small group of residents and let the details of their predicament speak for themselves. —Erika Howsare, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Amity and Prosperity is at heart a David and Goliath story fit for the movies. It has everything but a happy ending: bucolic setting concealing fortune and danger; poor but proud locals who’ve endured sequential boom bust cycles of resource extraction . . . tough, reluctant victim-heroes . . . and a courtroom drama, as a tenacious husband-wife legal team takes on the industry and the state . . . [a] valuable, discomforting book” —Jo-Ann Wypijewski, The New York Times Book Review


Eliza Griswold is the author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, which won the 2011 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. Her translations of Afghan women’s folk poems, I Am the Beggar of the World, was awarded the 2015 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. She has held fellowships from the New America Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and Harvard University, and in 2010 the American Academy in Rome awarded her the Rome Prize for her poems. Currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York
University, she lives in New York with her husband and son.

Steve Coll, a staff writer at the The New Yorker, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and reports on issues of intelligence and national security in the United States and abroad. For the magazine, he has written about the education of Osama bin Laden, secret negotiations between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the hunt for the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. He was the managing editor of the Washington Post from 1998 to 2005, having earlier been a feature writer, a foreign correspondent, and an editor there; in 1990, he shared a Pulitzer Prize with David Vise for a series of articles about the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is the author of several books, including “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power”; “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” for which he received an Overseas Press Club Award and a Pulitzer Prize; “The Taking of Getty Oil”; and “The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T.”