"A reminder that even the smallest newspapers can hold the most powerful among us accountable."—The New York Times Book Review
Watch the documentary Storm Lake on PBS.
Iowa plays an outsize role in national politics. Iowa introduced Barack Obama and voted bigly for Donald Trump. But is it a bellwether for America, a harbinger of its future? Art Cullen’s answer is complicated and honest. In truth, Iowa is losing ground. The Trump trade wars are hammering farmers and manufacturers. Health insurance premiums and drug prices are soaring. That’s what Iowans are dealing with, and the problems they face are the problems of the heartland.
In this candid and timely book, Art Cullen—the Storm Lake Times newspaperman who won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on big corporate agri-industry and its poisoning of local rivers—describes how the heartland has changed dramatically over his career. In a story where politics, agriculture, the environment, and immigration all converge, Cullen offers an unsentimental ode to rural America and to the resilient people of a vibrant community of fifteen thousand in Northwest Iowa, as much survivors as their town.
Pulitzer Prize winning editor Cullen reflects on his 28 years chronicling small-town Iowa for the Storm Lake Times (which he co-owns) in this memoir that gracefully illuminates the challenges facing the American heartland. Composed of political history, tales of civic controversies, and human interest stories, the subject matter is elevated by Cullen's passion into parables relevant to all Americans. The changing demographics of Storm Lake and agricultural decline serve as primary points of tension ("The wrench of efficiency turns and squeezes and turns. Every year farms grow larger and people fewer"). Cullen shows compassion for newly arrived immigrants ("Back when Latinos were starting to arrive, a bunch of good-hearted people in town set up a community get-to-know-you potluck") and longtime residents that transcends partisanship, although he demonstrates a clear disdain for Republican congressman Steve King, "who had an uncanny way of getting his zany views of history and European (read that white) culture on national television." At times Cullen dives too deeply into the minutiae of Storm Lake's history, but he nevertheless remains informative. Journalism buffs will understand the struggles he faces of keeping a small publication in print with a circulation of just 3,000 and will marvel at his resourcefulness. Cullen's portrayal of the daily livelihood of Midwesterners gives a window into small-town America.