4 Baltimore area residents win Guggenheim fellowships

April 13th, 2017

Guggenheim Fellowship & more

April 2017 has been an extraordinary month. First, my deep dive article for Spectrum on the challenges faced by young adults with autism was republished in SLATE. A few days later, I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. And then, an old project I thought was dead came back to life. I am deeply honored and grateful to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for the grant that will enable me to take a year off from teaching to focus on a major reporting project on families and addiction. 2017 has been a pretty amazing year so far!
Photo by Marlayna Demond for UMBC.

May 30th, 2016

Trans on the spectrum

20160419-DeepDive-844-2When I was researching The Riddle of Gender more than a decade ago, one of my sources mentioned the large number of trans women who were computer geeks. That was long before people started casually referring to themselves or others being “on the spectrum” so I thought nothing of it. But then I started hearing from friends in PFLAG and elsewhere that they were seeing an increasing number of gender non-conforming kids on the autism spectrum. So when my former colleagues at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) asked me to look into the overlap between autism and transgender identity, I was interested. My story about kids, teens and adults with autism who identify as trans, genderqueer or non-binary was published by Spectrum in mid-April and reprinted in Curve Magazine later that month. While I was reporting the story, the state of North Carolina passed the infamous “bathroom bill” which puts all trans people, but especially those on the spectrum, at much higher risk of harassment and assault. As Jes Grobman points out, “We need to create an understanding of the validity of trans experience and autistic experience,” Grobman says. “You are fighting for your own existence.”

Photo credit. J.M. Giordano

October 30th, 2015

Baltimore City Historical Society Honors


Thanks so much to the Baltimore City Historical Society for honoring ROOTS OF STEEL at the 15th Annual Mayor’s Reception and History Honors event on October 24, 2015. The ceremony was held at the Historic Orchard Street United Methodist Church. It was a fun afternoon, made all the more special because so many member of my family were able to attend!

May 22nd, 2015

Things American: Baltimore Authors Respond to the Death of Freddie Gray

Baltimore bench
Last month I was one of six Baltimore writers asked by Nate Brown, editor of American Short Fiction to share my thoughts about Freddie Gray, the young black man who died in police custody in April. Nate emailed me shortly after six Baltimore police officers were charged in Gray’s death and while the city was still on edge after the night of unrest that followed weeks of peaceful marches and protests. The six officers have just been indicted by a grand jury though some of the charges have been slightly altered from the preliminary filing.

May 11th, 2015

Are women taking too many psych meds?

Sad woman

My friends at Baltimore Style magazine asked me to take a look at some of the claims advanced in a new book by Manhattan psychiatrist Julie Holland, Moody Bitches: The Truth About he Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy. So I talked to some experts in women & mood disorders and found that Holland’s advice to ditch the meds may do some women more harm than good.

April 26th, 2015

A Lethal Nostalgia?

UBBS hats
Last summer I visited southern West Virginia with a friend who introduced me to activists fighting mountain top removal mining. I also visited some of the sites devoted to the history of coal mining in West Virginia — and the memorials to miners killed in the Upper Big Branch coal dust explosion in 2010. The graffiti etched on this memorial reads “God Bless Coal.” My visit to WVA and my ongoing reporting on the Sparrows Point shutdown led to this essay, “A Lethal Nostalgia,” which examines why people feel nostalgic for coal-powered smokestack industries that poisoned the environment and killed so many people.

January 15th, 2015

New Fiction: Sadie’s Dress

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 1.26.22 PM
Though I don’t really consider myself a fiction writer, I do occasionally get ideas for short stories and novels. A couple of years ago I dreamed up a story about a dress and the women who wore it over a 40-year period. As someone who has shopped vintage ever since I was in college, and who often wondered about the people who had owned the clothes I bought before they came into my hands, this idea resonated for me. I thought it would make a great novel. Well, I haven’t yet gotten around to writing the novel but the Loch Raven Review just published the first chapter, which introduces the four women who buy and wear “Sadie’s Dress.”

December 18th, 2014

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

In November I attended a tribute to Sparrows Point workers organized by the Point’s new owners, Sparrows Point Terminal. After the company carries out a $48 million environmental clean-up, they hope to lease space to various companies and turn the site into a 21st century manufacturing and distribution hub. But before moving forward they wanted to recognize the 125 year history of the Sparrows Point steelworks and invited a bunch of state and local politicians, including Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, to honor the workers who labored on the Point. And they have preserved the Star of Bethlehem that was displayed every year during the Christmas season on top of the Big L furnace. The star is huge and has been remounted on a 12,000 lb base. It’s not yet clear where it will be displayed in the future. But it’s nice to know that the new owners have taken the trouble to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. Merry Christmas!

October 25th, 2014

Sparrows Point Politics

SP presser

On Friday October 23rd, the first day of early voting in Maryland, Democratic officials joined Sparrows Point Terminal CEO Michael Padone for a press conference in the former cold mill at Sparrows Point to talk about economic development. The 126-year old steelworks has been shuttered since December 2012 and is being demolished. Five weeks ago, locally owned Redwood Capital Investments announced that they had bought the 3100 acre site and had formed a new entity, Sparrows Point Terminal, to develop the property.

“For generations, the Point was known as a hub of job creation for the region. Our goal is to bring that back,” Padone said. The company plans to make the site a hub for energy, manufacturing and distribution and port-related businesses. No leases have been signed yet.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, running a tight race for governor against Republican Larry Hogan, noted that the Point is a unique asset – 3100 acres with access to energy, rail lines, major expressways and a deep water port. He noted that Redwood Capital had just signed a $48 million environmental clean-up agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address air and water pollution from more than 100-years of steelmaking on the site.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, running for a seventh term representing Maryland’s Second District, which includes Sparrows Point, spoke of the decades of decline on the Point when employment dropped from 33,000 to about 2100 under Sparrows Point’s final owner, RG Steel.”We tried to save steel and we just couldn’t,” Ruppersberger said. “It got worse when out of state investors came in.” He compared his excitement when locally-owned Redwood Capital bought the property to “when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.”

Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz, also running for re-election, spoke of his sadness at seeing the once-might works nearly demolished but was up-beat about the prospects for the future. “The port expansion alone could lead to thousands of jobs in the short term,” he said.

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce president Jim Russell spoke of the impact of job loss on the community. “We’ve seen a lot families struggle,” he said. “Not just people who worked for the Point but others on the supply chain. We know that bringing jobs and new business to Sparrows Point will help the whole community.”

The speakers were backed by 50 hard-hatted employees of MCM Management Corp, which is demolishing the site. Ten of the men are former steelworkers, according to Ron Hooey, 58, who worked at Sparrows Point for 28 years as a heavy equipment operator. I asked him how he felt about helping to demolish his former workplace. “I’m just glad I’m working,” he said. “A lot of the guys still don’t have jobs.”

September 12th, 2014

Literary Baltimore

Stein in BaltimoreLast month I received an email from a British researcher who came across my 2008 piece about Gertrude Stein’s years in Baltimore. I also wrote a piece on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years in Baltimore for Baltimore STYLE in 2010. Next summer I’ll be teaching a course at UMBC called “Literary Baltimore” and we’ll cover these two great American writers as well as others who have lived all or part of their lives in Charm City. As co-curator of The New Mercury Nonfiction Reading Series (named for H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury) I’m continually amazed by the plethora of talented writers working in the city today. Come out to the Baltimore Book Festival, Sept 27 and 28, and see for yourself!