The names Amity and Prosperity seem ill-suited for such tough-luck towns.
Eliza Griswold’s “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America” follows a group of rural Pennsylvania residents and the resource extraction company that nearly broke them.
“It’s not really about fracking that interests me as much as that larger story of how, over a century, rural people have paid the price of urban America’s energy appetite,” Griswold said.
For seven years, Griswold followed Stacey, the focal character in the book, and her family.
The two came across each other in 2011, years after the fracking began. From the moment they met, Griswold said she felt Stacey’s story deserved to be heard.
Stacey drove Griswold through Amity and Prosperity, places that hold 150 years of Stacey’s family roots—a place she no longer calls her home.
“Red and white drill rigs dotted the hillsides planted with timothy,” Griswold wrote, describing the scene of the neighborhoods. “Sandy access roads snaked through the clover fields. Green condensate tanks shimmered in the distance.”
Dust from the numerous trucks (one resident counted as many as 250) began to build up against Stacey’s old home, hummingbird feeder, tire swings, trampoline and other childhood objects. The dust at times was so thick that, even in the winter, it would find its way through the windows. Somedays, Stacey said she could feel it on her teeth.
According to Griswold, Range Resources, a national resource extraction company, pumped a total of 3,343,986 gallons of water and chemicals into the properated pipe. Though some were harmless, other chemicals such as ethylene, glycol, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene posed a greater risk.
Only months in, the chemical effects began to wear on the town. Black sludge trickled down the hills of their neighborhood and made its way into Stacey’s dishwasher and even her tap. Smells described as “rotting sewage” pervaded her house, so terrible that no amount of Febreze could cover them.
Harley, the oldest of Stacey’s two kids, was the first to get sick. Some nights, he’d wake clutching his stomach and screaming for his mother because he was in so much pain. The frequent canker sores in his mouth stopped him from eating even his favorite meals. It got so bad that Stacey pulled him out of school and began to home-school him.
“Exploiting energy often means exploiting people,” Griswold wrote. “In Amity and Prosperity, as elsewhere, resource extraction has long fed a sense of marginalization and disgust, both with companies that undermine the land and with their urbanites who flick on lights without considering the miners who risk their lives to power them.”
Once the book was finalized, Griswold sat at Stacey’s kitchen table and read her the entire thing.
“It was incredibly intense,” she said. “I felt that I didn’t have the right to exist so intimately in someone’s life. It was hard for her to hear. It…it was not easy.”
Still, Griswold is no stranger to the world of immersion journalism. The author, reporter and poet has traveled across the globe investigating some of the world’s most taboo topics.
Her first book “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam,” examines the geographic borders between Christianity and Islam and where the two collide. Her reporting in the book earned her the Anthony Lukas Book Prize in 2011.
“Wideawake Field,” her collection of poetry, is a personal account of mental health and what it’s like to feel at home in a wrecked place and lonely in another.
“I am interested in exploring worlds or issues,” Griswold said, “whether it’s resource extraction or other issues that are going on in the world today, how they affect human lives.”
This Saturday, Griswold will read bits from her book at Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and will discuss the complexities of resource extraction and the Americans who pay the price for those resources.
“I hope that [readers] understand the complexity and the sophistication of life for rural Americans when it comes to resource extraction,” she said. “I look forward to coming and talking about this history of conservation and how it plays out on the ground today.”
Eliza Griswold will be at Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg, on Saturday June 23, 6 to 8 p.m.. For more information, visit www.midtownscholar.com. Follow her on twitter @elizagriswold.