Recently published books by alumni

And faculty, plus recommendations

Author and New York Times reporter Jason DeParle '82

We asked Jason DeParle ’82, a New York Times reporter and author of A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century, about what he learned about global migration from following a family for thirty years.

On why he wanted to write this book, and how the rapid news cycle affected it: I wasn’t even thinking of migration when I moved in with them. I was thinking about slum life and poverty. And I was just taken by the dignity and grace with which they responded to their difficult situation in life. In fact, when I started the project, I had the mental framework that migration had been less politically divisive in the U.S. than it had been in Europe, and that somehow the U.S. had been spared some of the rancor that had spread across the rest of the globe. And for some of the questions I was asking, “Why was that? What was it about the United States that might explain why migration hadn’t become quite as divisive here as it was elsewhere?” Then, in 2015, when Donald Trump declared his candidacy, the U.S. narrative changed, and the book had to change to accommodate that. I wrote it because I was drawn to the courage and grace of this family. And whatever thoughts, whatever position a reader might bring on immigration to this book, I think they could appreciate the story of the grace and sacrifice of this family.

On the aspects of migration that often have gotten lost in news coverage: The light-bulb moment for me in understanding how economically important migration is to poor people around the world was when I discovered that remittances, the money that migrants send back to their families, is three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. So, migration is the world’s largest self-help program, the world’s largest anti-poverty program. It’s hugely important to the people who are relying on the money they get for education, for health care, for food, for shelter. One of the interesting things about Rosalie’s experience was that she came and she got a very good middle-class American job, but she didn’t take it from an American. She went to an underserved hospital that hadn’t been able to attract enough nurses back on to Galveston Island because it’d been hit by a natural disaster. Galveston, a kind of struggling, blue-collar town, just couldn’t compete with the market in Houston. They offered $5,000 bonuses to try to get nurses from Nebraska and Florida to come to Galveston Island, and they couldn’t get them to stay, so they hired people from the Philippines. And rather than take an American job, Rosalie’s moving to the U.S. brought services to Americans who otherwise might not have them. I don’t want to pretend that there’s never any cost to migration or that it never takes away jobs. There are winners and losers. There are costs to migration. But the political conversation so heavily dwells on the negative conversation on whether migrants are taking jobs away from Americans that I thought it was important in this context to point out that this hospital had tried for years.

On the differing views of America’s identity: The question of whether the U.S. should think of itself as a nation of immigrants is very much up in the air. I think one of the goals of the Trump administration is to challenge that idea. So, what they’re doing is they’re looking not only to change policy, but also to confront the idea of whether that’s a meaningful part of American identity. Stephen Miller [’07], President Trump’s immigration adviser, has made the point in the White House Briefing Room that he thinks the Statue of Liberty shouldn’t be thought of as a symbol of welcome to immigrants. The Trump citizenship agency has removed the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. And I think they have a philosophically different view that the U.S. shouldn’t think of itself that way. Critics of immigration fear sometimes that new immigrants aren’t assimilating in a patriotic fashion. You hear that a lot. They’re not learning American history, American civic history. They’re not studying our heroes. That is not at all what I found, certainly not in the public schools in Texas. I mean, the second-graders that I was following came home from school and taught me about Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller, and Jane Addams, and Abraham Lincoln. The notion that somehow America’s civic values aren’t being conveyed is belied by what I saw.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

RECOMMENDATIONS from Karla Holloway A.M. ’05 

In A Death in Harlem (Triquarterly), Holloway tells of a murder on the side streets of Jazz Age New York that will test the mettle, resourcefulness, and intuition of Harlem’s first “colored” policeman, Weldon Haynie Thomas. Below, the James. B. Duke Professor Emerita of English and law shares the books that influenced her first novel:

Passing by Nella Larsen is my novel’s origin story. It’s the novel that most often made its way onto my Duke syllabi, and the one my classes could never finish discussing. Larsen’s simple and elegant story ends with a death that a local policeman pronounces a “death by misadventure”; but was it? Rather than continuing Larsen’s narrative, my novel insisted on its own characters. Olivia Frelon, the woman who dies, is wrapped into Harlem’s mysteries of color, class, and kinship. Instead of Passing’s enigma, Harlem’s first colored policeman, Weldon Thomas, actually solves A Death in Harlem’s mystery.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois. Harlem’s first colored policeman is a deep reader. When tragedy strikes, he’s actually reading DuBois’ Souls. This twentiethcentury philosopher and sociologist developed a critical notion of “twoness”—being able to see within and without race—that helped me compose the inside/outside frame of my novel. In fact, DuBois’ principle helps solve the mystery.

The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Weldon Thomas prided himself on using Holmes’ method of deductive reasoning. He read Holmes voraciously, so I did as well. Although no particular book by Doyle was critical, Holmes’ method is mighty helpful in Thomas’s investigation into Olivia Frelon’s death.

Finally, Toni Morrison’s Jazz gave me narrative license; her insistence in allowing her narrative to lay claim to the whole of its imagined terrain inspired me. So, in those moments when voices in my book seem to come from something inanimate, consider the instruction from Jazz to “Look where your hands are. Now.” They grasp the book. Following African-American literary traditions, A Death in Harlem is a “talking book.”


A Marriage of Equals: How to Achieve Balance in a Committed Relationship (She Writes Press) Catherine E. Aponte A.M. ’77

The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women (Princeton University Press) Kate Bowler Ph.D. ’10, associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America, Duke Divinity School

The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific With an Ancient Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life (Little, Brown, and Company) Doug Bock Clark ’09

Life and the Fields (Turning Point Books) George Keithley ’57

The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles (Duke University Press) Charles Piot, professor of cultural anthropology, with Kodjo Nicolas Batema

All the Water in the World (Scribner) Karen Raney B.S.N. ’78

Idolatry and the Construction of the Spanish Empire (University Press of Colorado) Mina García Soormally A.M. ’03, Ph.D. ’07

Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (UNC Press) Amy Murrell Taylor ’93

Circa 1903: North Carolina’s Outer Banks at the Dawn of Flight (UNC Press) Larry E. Tise ’65, M.Div. ’68

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) Jacob Tobia ’14

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