Tightrope book

‘Tightrope’: A working class in tatters

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn will make a series of local appearances to talk about their book, "Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope"

Many Yamhill County residents will recognize the street scene on the cover of Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope as downtown Yamhill. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof grew up in the 1970s on a farm outside the tiny town and rode the bus to school with people whose stories are told in the book written by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

The couple, the first husband and wife to share a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, will visit McMinnville on Friday to talk about the book, which, despite its title, largely focuses on Americans who have lost hope after decades of vanishing blue-collar jobs.

Tightrope is the latest in a growing body of journalistic work examining what George Packer in 2013 called The Unwinding in his book of that name: The seismic economic shifts that have left the working class in tatters, trying to find a way in an economic world very different from the one their parents grew up in.

Yamhill County native Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, are authors of “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” which chronicles the epidemic of loneliness that has overtaken the American working class. Photo by: Michael Lionstar, courtesy Penguin Random House

What distinguishes Tightrope, however, is its deeply personal nature. Kristof is writing — with great respect and obvious affection — for many of his former classmates. He estimates that about one-fourth of those kids he grew up with died in adulthood from drugs and alcohol, suicide or reckless accidents — “deaths of despair,” as they have come to be called. One official quoted in the book talks about the epidemic of loneliness, a social phenomenon that’s hardly surprising in a society coming apart at the seams.

A few weeks ago, piles of Tightrope appeared at Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville and also at the McMinnville Public Library, in anticipation of the latest MacReads, a community-wide book discussion series that traditionally culminates with an appearance by the author.

Kristof and WuDunn will appear at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, in the McMinnville Community Center. Additional discussions will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19 in Linfield College’s Nicholson Library and at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in McMinnville Public Library’s Carnegie Room. All those events are free. In addition, the couple will appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, in Portland’s Newmark Theatre in a ticketed event.

I caught up with Kristof by email, and he was gracious enough to respond to a few questions. Our exchange appears below:

Not that it’s important to fit Tightrope into a neatly defined genre, but given that you’ve known some of these folks for most of your life, it occurs to me that it has elements of memoir or autobiography. Maybe that’s a stretch, but beyond the straightforward work of reporting, did you ever think of it in those terms?

Yes, we did. Tara Westover, author of Educated, is a friend, and I hugely admire not only her journey but also her book. I also knew that a personal story would be more accessible than an analysis from 30,000 feet about Americans left behind. But Sheryl and I were also clear that we didn’t just want to write a memoir, and we wanted the focus to be on the issues and solutions, and not on my journey. One of my frustrations with Hillbilly Elegy was that it didn’t offer enough in the way of solutions.

Continues…

Yamhill County calendar: From tea to ‘Tightrope’

Gallery shows focus on glasswork, the Rogue River Wars, and tea service; Linfield hosts a one-night play reading; and a native son is coming to town

Yamhill County’s lively gallery scene continues to intrigue this week with a couple of new openings, and we’ve also got a one-night theatrical affair at Linfield Theatre. Finally: Have you read Nicholas Kristof’s new book? There’s still time before he comes to town.

Let’s get to it:

“Ancient Cedars at Fort Orford Site,” by Rich Bergeman. The U.S. Army fort housed more than 200 men and more than 1,000 Indigenous prisoners during the peak of the Rogue River Wars in 1855-56. Nothing of the fort remains.

CHEHALEM CULTURAL Center has several shows ready for your viewing pleasure. Hanging River, an installation of glasswork by Takahiro Yamamoto and Andy Paiko, occupies the Parrish Gallery, visible to visitors as they enter the Newberg center. You’ll marvel at both the glass pieces themselves and the exquisite care it must have taken to install them. In the Founder’s Gallery at the rear of the building is a collection of Fretta Cravens’ stunning botanical photography, titled Intimate Conversations.

Down the hall to the right is a new exhibit that’s been traveling around Oregon: Rich Bergeman’s collection of photographs documenting the landscape of the mid-19th-century Rogue River Wars of Southern Oregon. The Land Remembers is both an exhibit and a handsome book (available for sale). Bergeman used infrared light for the images, which are mostly void of any sign of human presence. “I felt that the haunting quality of infrared would help transport viewers to another time,” he writes in the introduction to his book. “And because the infrared spectrum is invisible to the human eye, it seemed especially appropriate for photographs that follow in the footsteps of ghosts.” The show runs through Feb. 28. Highly recommended.

Tea is the theme of a show by ceramicist Jonathan Steele in George Fox University’s Minthorne Gallery. Photo courtesy: George Fox University

A FEW BLOCKS AWAY at George Fox University, we find … tea! I haven’t seen this one yet, but it looks inviting: In the Service of Tea features ceramic work by Jonathan Steele in  the university’s Minthorne Gallery in the Hoover Academic Building. A reception for the show, which opened last week, will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, in the gallery. Steele will perform a Chinese tea service at the free event. An artist’s talk follows from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Chehalem Cultural Center.

“Tea is a quiet joy – art is a fervid one,” Steele said of his exhibit in the press materials. “I make the tea to be still, to observe the present moment, to watch slowly unfurling leaves, feel the weight of the warm cup pressing against my fingertips, steam rising through my nostrils, the sweet, light astringency of the perfect steep welling on my tongue. I make the teapot, the cup, the tray and boat, the floral arrangement, the interior décor, the room and the house itself – all to the same end.”

Continues…