Backstory: When I was six I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been at it ever since. I started my writing career in newspapers, and I think I probably would have paid them, instead of the other way around, for the thrill of seeing my byline in print. As a newspaper reporter, I gravitated toward stories that allowed me to dig behind the scenes and beneath the surface, looking for questions others hadn't asked or imagined. For me, the job amounted to this: license to find out the things I had always wanted to know, about anything and everything that interested, touched or outraged me. Then, within the space and time limitations of a daily newspaper, I had the chance to mold it all into a story to pass onto others. I loved that work.
When I left newspapers to write nonfiction books, I suddenly had weeks or months, rather than hours or days, to immerse myself in the inner workings of the places, characters and events I seek to understand and write about. I had found the greatest job I can imagine.
Lately – in Garbology, Force of Nature, and Eco Barons – I’ve focused on narratives about the environment, sustainability and the critical issue of waste embedded in our economy and culture. I believe the environment to be the most important story of our age – for ourselves, and for our children.
- Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash
- Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution
- Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers & Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet
- Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice & the Dixie Mafia
- Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion & the Battle for America’s Soul
- Over Here: How the GI Bill Transformed the American Dream
- School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School
- Baby ER: The Heroic Doctors and Nurses Who Perform Medicine’s Tiniest Miracles
- Mean Justice: A Town’s Terror, a Prosecutor’s Power, a Betrayal of Innocence
- No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
- Murderer With a Badge: The Secret Life of a Rogue Cop
- Buried Secrets: A True Story of Serial Murder, Black Magic and Drug-Running on the U.S. Border
Speaking: For booking a speaking engagement, please visit the Penguin Speaker's Bureau website.
I enjoy speaking about my work, and have been invited to address a wide range of groups and organizations:the National Education Summit, the National Steinbeck Center, the ALOUD series, the National Association of District Attorneys, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the National Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Dole Center for Politics, the National High School Journalism Conference, the National College Newspaper Convention, the National Association of Teachers of English, the California Department of Corrections, the California Appellate Project, the American Psychology and Law Society, the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Poynter Institute, the Crichton Club and numerous universities and other schools. I was called to testify about my reporting on juvenile court before the U.S. Senate and a joint session of the California Senate and Assembly. I've had the pleasure of delivering a commencement address at Hampshire College in Amherst, my alma mater, and have enjoyed speaking at venues throughout California as a contributing writer to My California, an anthology from which all proceeds were donated to the California Arts Council to support arts and writing programs for the state’s school children. I served as a Regents Lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, and taught writing workshops at the University of Oregon graduate program in literary nonfiction.
Honors: I received a Pulitzer Prize for my newspaper coverage of the military, a PEN Center USA award for No Matter How Loud I Shout, a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for “The Forgotten,” my LA Magazine account of life inside Los Angeles’s nightmarish home for neglected children, and a Silver Gavel honor for Monkey Girl. The Washington Post named School of Dreams a best book of 2003; the Los Angeles Times named Mean Justice a best book of 1999.
Education: Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass.
Current whereabouts: Southern California
Favorite authors: John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Harper Lee, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, Tracy Kidder.
Reads that wowed me (a sampling): Dispatches, by Michael Herr; Tapping the Source, by Kem Nunn; The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy; Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Dune, by Frank Herbert; Encounters with the Archdruid, by John McPhee; Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser; Common Wealth, by Jeffrey D. Sachs; Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang