Monthly Archives: February 2010

My interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS

I’ll be posting an update about the tour tomorrow–it’s been great!–but for now here’s an interview I did with Tavis Smiley in Los Angeles a few days ago.

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Off to Warm Weather

Right now in New York it’s 35 degrees but feels more like 25 according to weather.com. Normally time to bundle up for the bike commute, but not today: I’m about to get on a plane to Arizona! I spoke yesterday with the woman at Dole who hired me, letting her know that I’ll be speaking in the city on Sunday and asking her to try and get in touch with some of the folks I worked with in the fields. Towards the end of the conversation she told me that the temperatures were in the 80s. Ah, Yuma…

Tonight I’ll be in Tempe, near Phoenix, at an independent bookstore called Changing Hands. Photos of the place look great, and though it’s always hard to predict whether a crowd will show, I do know that CSPAN’s Book TV will be filming. So at the very least it’ll be me and an invisible crowd of folks who spend their weekends watching TV shows about books.

The entire book tour itinerary is posted at https://workingintheshadows.wordpress.com/events/. I’ll be blogging from the road (I’ve always wanted to write, “I’ll be blogging from the road”) about the tour, so definitely check back here if you’re interested. Wish me luck!

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Salon and WNYC Interviews

The past ten days or so have been pretty non-stop, capped off with a recent trip to Mexico for a wedding (not mine). The activity has left me with very little energy to do any substantial writing for the blog–which will change starting tomorrow–but I did want to mention two new pieces that have been published.

Last week Salon ran an interview I did with their food editor, Francis Lam. Francis was a great interviewer, and I’m happy with the result. One thing that I’m learning is that a key skill of the interviewer is to edit the interview in such a way that makes the interviewee (in this case, me) sound a lot more sensible and coherent than they actually are. The Salon interview is available here: Growers and Producers

Also, yesterday I did an interview with the Leonard Lopate show at WNYC. I was on Lopate once before, for There’s No Jose Here, and I again really enjoyed the mellow atmosphere of the studio and his intriguing questions. The interview, which aired yesterday at 1 PM, can be found here: Working in the Shadows

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Working America’s Unwanted Jobs

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New Report, and New Book Excerpt

Last week I went to a press conference where the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a new study about labor law violations in New York City. The report, Working Without Laws, is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 low-wage workers. I’ve put a link to the report below, but here are some of most notable findings:

– One in five workers were paid less than the minimum wage
– More than two-thirds of the workers who were owed meal breaks were not given them as required by law
– More than three out of every four workers due overtime wages did not receive them
– Bosses will do whatever they can get away with, and many ought to be tossed behind bars

Okay, that last point wasn’t in the report, but it’s what I was thinking as I read through it. You can find it at:
www.nelp.org/WorkingWithoutLawsNYC

Reading through it also caused me to flash back to my time working in Manhattan’s Flower District. Lack of meal breaks, unpaid overtime, sub-minimum wages: the storefront where I worked had it all. The Brooklyn Rail, one of my favorite magazines, just published an excerpt of Working in the Shadows that covers my time at that job. If you’re interested, I’ve linked the article below.

“Little Shop of Horrors”: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/02/local/little-shop-of-horrors.

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Overwhelmed (in a good way)

Here’s more or less my previous writing experience:
– I write something
– My parents like it
– My friends like it
– I write something else

For whatever reason, Working in the Shadows is getting–for me, at least–a lot of attention, and seems to be attracting a readership beyond the ten people closest to me. This is fabulous, and no doubt has a lot to do with the dedicated work of my publicist, Mary McCue. It’s also just a little crazy. Yesterday at this time, for example, a woman was putting makeup on me at a studio at 30 Roc before I went on a show on MSNBC called Morning Joe. (She spent a few minutes trying to cover up this very red zit on the side of my right nostril, so it wasn’t as glamorous as it might sound).

There’s also been a lot of help from NPR, and some nice reviews, which I’ll soon try to post all in one spot. For now, I’m just going to try and enjoy the very weird experience of people wanting to talk to me, and do my best to remember to highlight the real point of the book, which isn’t that what I did was so special (it was a short adventure) but to try and remind folks of the work that millions of people–both immigrants and US citizens–are doing everyday.

For now, I’ve put two pieces below–a new review from a progressive website called Toward Freedom, written by Micah Williams, and the clip from Morning Joe that I did yesterday. For me, the highlight was watching the show afterward and realizing that while I spoke one of the factoids they had on the screen was that “I admit to wearing a tie only twice in my life.” Also, I thought it pretty cool that one of the guys tried to compare me to whoever it was that tried to bug the Senator’s office in Louisiana.

(One note I would like to make about the MSNBC appearance, which I didn’t realize until watching it later, was that I appear to say that the jobs I did were very unskilled. In this case, I was talking about much of the work in a chicken plant, which to a large measure has been de-skilled. This actually can make the work harder to endure, because, as one of my coworkers put it, “It’s work that a trained monkey could do,” and humans generally crave some sort of challenge. But my time in poultry was the exception–most of the work was incredibly skilled…)

Toward Freedom review: http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1845/1/

Link to video of MSNBC: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100215/thompson_video

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Publication Day!

Today is the official publication date for Working in the Shadows! Of course, it has been out in bookstores for two weeks now–but still exciting, nonetheless.

Thanks to everyone who came to the book release party last Thursday, and for all who spread the word about the event. The turnout was crazy, and it was great to see so many people and hear so many kind words about the quality of my guacamole. It was also nice to be able to introduce Enrique, from my first book There’s No Jose Here, and to help support the very important work that La Union is doing (for more information, you can go to http://www.la-union.org).

If you’re a radio listener, today NPR should be airing an interview I did for a program called Tell Me More. I usually walk out of radio interviews pretty dazed, but I do recall that both the host and the producer had read the book, which is very unusual. Marketplace, another program on NPR, should be running an interview either tomorrow or Wednesday. I’ll post the audio files once they’re online. I’m also slotted to be on a show called Morning Joe on MSNBC this week, which promises to be terrifying/intriguing.

I’ve also been really, really lucky with press from last week, much of it completely unexpected. TIME magazine reviewed Working in the Shadows, instructing people to read it (other less happy instructions could have been to “skim it” or “skip it”–receiving a “skip it” review would have definitely ruined my day). A magazine called The Week excerpted a section of the book about lettuce cutting. They called it “A Gringo in the Lettuce Fields,” which was actually one of the earlier book titles I came up with. I picked up a hard copy of the magazine at Grand Central yesterday, and learned that they also included two color photos, which look great.

Two interviews also ran, one with the Yuma Sun and another with The Indypendent, conducted by a really cool writer named Micah Williams. Since I’m too tired to do much writing at the moment (I’m worn out from obsessively checking my Amazon ranking), I thought I’d just post links to new reviews and excerpts below.

TIME Magazine reviews the book

The Week, “A Gringo in the Lettuce Fields”

Yuma Sun, “In the Fields: Writer Works Jobs Held by Immigrants”

The Indypendent, “The Value of Work”

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