Barbara Ehrenreich

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Barbara Ehrenreich was a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine from 1999 to 2012.

Her bestselling book, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America (2001), originated as a piece of undercover reportage published in the January 1999 issue of the magazine, for which she received the Sidney Hillman Award in 2000. In her introduction to the book, Ehrenreich recalls how, during a lunch with Harper’s editor Lewis H. Lapham, conversation turned to how one lives on low wages. She suggested that someone ought to “do the old-fashioned kind of journalism—you know, go out there and try it for themselves,” after which “Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word, ‘You.’”

Ehrenreich is the author or co-author of, among other works, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (1998); Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005); Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (2007); and Complaints & Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness (2011), co-written with former Mother Jones editor Deirdre English.

Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Time, The Progressive, and Mother Jones, among others.

Readings — From the March 2018 issue

Running to the Grave

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Readings — From the March 2014 issue

The Trees Step Out of the Forest

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Readings — From the June 2012 issue

The animal cure

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Notebook — From the February 2007 issue

Pathologies of hope

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Article — From the November 2001 issue

Welcome to cancerland

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A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch

Article — From the April 2000 issue

Maid to order

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The politics of other women’s work

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In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.

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The Myth of White Genocide·

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The squatter camp outside Lawley township, in the southwest of Johannesburg, stretches for miles against a bare hillside, without electricity, water, or toilets. I visited on a blustery morning in October with a local journalist named Mophethe Thebe, who spent much of his childhood in the area. As we drove toward the settlement he pointed out land that had been abandoned by white Afrikaner farmers after the end of apartheid in 1994, and had since been taken over by impoverished black settlers who built over the former farms with half-paved roadways and tiny brick houses. You could still see stands of headstones inscribed in Afrikaans, all that remained visible of the former inhabitants.

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The Story of Storytelling·

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The story begins, as so many do, with a journey. In this case, it’s a seemingly simple one: a young girl, cloaked in red, must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother. Along the way, she meets a duplicitous wolf who persuades her to dawdle: Notice the robins, he says; Laze in the sun, breathe in the hyacinth and bluebells; Wouldn’t your grandmother like a fresh bouquet? Meanwhile, he hastens to her grandmother’s cottage, where he swallows the old woman whole, slips into her bed, and waits for his final course.

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Run Me to Earth·

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They were released.

For the first time in seven years, they stood outside in the courtyard of the reeducation center. They looked across at the gate. They remembered none of this. The flagpole and the towers. The cameras. Prany counted the sentries in the towers. He heard the rattle of keys as the guard behind him, wearing a green uniform, undid his handcuffs. Then the guard undid Vang’s. They rubbed their free wrists. Vang made fists with his hands.

Prany dug the soles of his new shoes into the dirt. He watched Vang’s hands and then turned to see the building they had exited. It resembled a schoolhouse or a gymnasium. The flag flapped in the wind. The sun on him. The immense sky. His neck was stiff. He knew that if they were forced to run right now his legs might buckle. Not because he was weak, but because in this moment, in the new environment, out in the open, his entire body felt uncertain.

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New Books·

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Ten years ago, a week after his sixtieth birthday, and six months after his first appointment with an oncologist, my father died. That afternoon, I went to my parents’ bedroom to clear up the remains of the lunch my mother had brought him not long before he collapsed. A copy of Yiyun Li’s novel The Vagrants, which he’d asked me for after I reviewed it in a newspaper, was open on his bedside table. He had gotten about halfway through it. The Vagrants isn’t what you’d call a consoling book—it centers on a young woman’s unjust execution in a provincial Chinese town in 1979—and I had mixed feelings about it being the last thing he’d read. Perhaps an adolescent part of me had been happy to let him have it out of a need to see him as a more fearless reader than he might have wanted to be just then. Still, my father had read Proust and Robert Musil while working as a real estate agent. There was comfort, of a sort, for me, and maybe him, in his refusal of comfort reading.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

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Classes at a Catholic school in Durham, North Carolina, were canceled in anticipation of protests against a lesbian alumna, who had been invited to speak at a Black History Month event.

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