Journalist, The Atlantic
Co-author, Our Towns
“We're in a moment of history that will be what we all make of it.”
- James Fallows
Co-author, Our Towns
Author, Dreaming in Chinese
Emily Hanford of American Public Media Interviews Deborah and James Fallows
WHY THEM, WHY NOW? James and Deborah have previously expressed their optimism for the future of America based on the innovation they’ve observed in small towns. Is that still true? How will the coronavirus crisis and tensions over racial justice impact middle America? BACKGROUND The couple is known for their 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which examines civic and economic reinvention taking place in small towns across the U.S. The book is an outgrowth of American Futures, an immersive reporting project the couple undertook for The Atlantic beginning in Summer 2013. James and Deb relaunched an expanded “Our Towns” project in April 2019. An HBO documentary is in the works and is slated for release in 2021. James has written for The Atlantic for more than 40 years and has worked in Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Washington, Austin, Berkeley, and Seattle. He wrote his first Atlantic story in December 1974, became a staff writer in 1979, and has since written more than 100 cover stories. He’s almost certainly published more pieces in the magazine than any other writer: roughly 5,650 in online and print as of June 2018. He’s a former editor of U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly and has won the National Magazine Award, American Book Award, and a New York Emmy for a documentary series on China. He also once worked as chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. Fun fact: He’s a pilot and flew the plane he and his wife traveled in while reporting on small towns across America. Deborah is a writer, linguist, and fellow at New America. She’s written extensively on language, education, families and work, China, and travel for The Atlantic, National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, and The LA Times. She’s served as a senior research fellow at the Pew Research Center, the director of data architecture for Oxygen Media, and the assistant dean and assistant director of admissions at Georgetown University. She was a full-time stay-at-home mom while raising the couple’s two sons and wrote about the experience in her 1985 book A Mother’s Work.
DEGREES Both attended Harvard University, where they met on a blind date when they were 18. James concentrated in American history and literature and wrote 85 stories for the Harvard Crimson newspaper, which he eventually edited. Deborah majored in linguistics and later earned a Ph.D. in the same subject from the University of Texas at Austin.
MAJOR PUBLICATIONS James and Deborah are co-authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America. The couple crisscrossed America in a plane to report on how America’s small towns and cities are faring.
James has also written 10 solo books, including National Defense (for which he won the National Book Award in 1982), More Like Us: Making America Great Again (1989), Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System (1994), and Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq (2006). His 1996 book Breaking News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy sparked national debate about the problems in American journalism. Some of his most recent books are Postcards From Tomorrow Square: Reports From China (2009) and China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future (2013), which are based on his time reporting from China from 2006 to 2008. Deborah wrote the 2010 book Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, which is based on her three-year experience living and working in China.
“Our Towns: On the Road, In the Air,” James Fallows, The Atlantic, April 2019 James announces the relaunch and expansion of the couple’s Our Towns reporting project. He identifies several areas of focus, including tensions between local and national America, the role of local media, and economic dislocation and opportunity. INTERVIEWS ABOUT OUR TOWNS “The State of Our Union Is … Strong?,” Slate, May 2018 James and Deborah say that they’re surprised how optimistic they feel about the future of America. They do, however, lament that cable news is poisoning small-town political discourse and say that Trump could only have been elected under the combination of political and journalistic circumstances that occurred in 2016.
RECENT VIDEO INTERVIEWS “Our Towns: A Journey into the Heart of America,” The Aspen Institute, June 2018 “James & Deborah Fallows: 2018 National Book Festival,” Library of Congress, October 2018