Selected Stories

20th Century America Is Never Returning
— BuzzFeed News November 16, 2018

The 1950s nirvana of unionized manufacturing jobs is gone forever, no matter how successful the Trump agenda may be.

America’s geographic divides are becoming politically entrenched, as this election reminded us — and the economic forces driving the division aren’t going away. We’re not returning to a 1950s nirvana of unionized manufacturing jobs, no matter how successful the Trump agenda may be — and we’re not (yet) flourishing as a harmonious post-modern technological utopia.→ Read more

Living in Trump’s America: A West Virginia town looks for a fresh start
— America Magazine February 6, 2018

No matter what time of day it is, Phil Remke, the ebullient vice mayor of this West Virginia river town of 8,700, salutes every constituent the same way: “Top of the morning to ya.”

It is still early enough in Trump’s America for supporters like Mr. Remke to hope that the president can carry more of the fantasies he spun into triumph, and late enough to get a sense of what is actually happening. → Read more

A Catholic Guide to Your Mid-Life Calling
— America Magazine January 21, 2019

The day after I quit my job at The Wall Street Journal to take a midlife sabbatical, I had lunch with a former chief executive of U.S. Steel. Walking home, I slipped on an icy Pittsburgh sidewalk and broke my finger.

Laid up over Christmas at my parents’ house in Brussels, where I grew up, I was unable to pick my banjo, play basketball or ride a bike. That same month, my marriage had been annulled. Into a life without familiar hobbies, work and status came rushing strange vibrations.

Every morning, I woke up with warmth pounding in my chest, a quaking heart filling with bliss and terror. → Read more

My Ancestor Owned 41 Slaves. What Do I Owe Their Descendants?
— America Magazine November 28, 2018

A few years ago, Cheryl Benedict, an education administrator and historian from Virginia and my first cousin, discovered on that our great-great-great-grandfather, a Texas farmer named Augustus Foscue, had owned 41 slaves.

I was saddened, not surprised. Although I grew up in Brussels, the child of American musicians who did not inherit great wealth, my family is white and middle class, with branches rooted among the pre-revolutionary English immigrants who accepted slave-holding as a way of life.

My first thought was that I should research our family history more—and then write about it. → Read more

An Ear For Music And Life
— Pittsburgh Quarterly Summer 2018

On a Tuesday morning in Squirrel Hill, Ceinwen (pronounced Kine-​Win) King-​Smith taps out notes on her piano. I stumble along, up and down the scale, straining my voice to match pitches.

Ceinwen listens. She’s been blind since birth, and is so good at listening that according to her daughter she could hear from downstairs what her kids were doing in their rooms.

She doesn’t judge. At 72, she’s heard a lot of bad music. “You have to sing out,” she says. “Once you do that, we can talk about what can be better, but first, you have to sing out.”

Bad music is better than no music. Life without music, “well, that’s my idea of hell,” Ceinwen says. → Read more