AROUND OREGON: Oscar winner ‘Nomadland’ based on book by former Oregon journalist

Sunday’s big winner at the Academy Awards has an Oregon connection: The book that inspired “Nomadland” was written by a former reporter for The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“Nomadland,” which follows a woman in her 60s as she takes up a nomadic lifestyle after losing everything in the Great Recession, won Best Picture. Its director, Chloé Zhao, won Best Director, becoming the first woman of color and the second woman ever to win that award. Frances McDormand won Best Actress, her third such Oscar.

To write the 288-page book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” published in 2017, Jessica Bruder traveled for several years throughout the West and worked alongside her subjects at low-wage jobs.

Bruder worked in The Oregonian’s now-closed Clackamas County bureau for nearly two years between 2006 and 2008, primarily covering breaking news, crime and the courts.

In a recent virtual appearance hosted by Clark College’s journalism program, Bruder, who now teaches narrative writing at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, said of her book, “I would love to see it become less relevant. I would love for people to look at it and say, that’s crazy that things were that way.”

“Hopefully we will actually do something about it,” she said. “I’m worried that even if we do get to a better place, that it will come too late for some people.”

Noting that many of the people she met while reporting “Nomadland” were at or near retirement age, she added, “I did feel sadness for America. It was only leavened by the creativity and amazing spirit of people I met on the road, which is real and tangible.”

The people she met, she said, were at once homogenous and “incredibly diverse” – one person had been a McDonald’s executive in the 1970s, while others had been on the “low wage-earning treadmill” for decades.

“Every story was a new story and I tried to treat it that way in the writing,” she said.

Bruder called the book a “dream project.” She was credited as a consulting producer on the movie and said she occasionally spoke with McDormand on the set.

On her Twitter account Sunday night, she posted a photo of herself clutching an Oscar in each hand and wrote, “What a night.”

Jessica Bruder atop Halen, her van. She spent three years reporting on campsites, job sites and other domains of those who prefer to live a life without the burden of rent and mortgages. (The Oregonian/OregonLive)

This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. Salem Reporter is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.