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Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning

Alan Maimon, author; Joe Stephens, Journalism

October 6, 2021 · 6:00 pm7:00 pm · Labyrinth Books and Livestream

Labyrinth Books; Princeton Public Library; Humanities Council

From investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Alan Maimon comes the story of how a perfect storm of events has had a devastating impact on life in small town Appalachia and on the soul of a shaken nation. Maimon is joined in discussion by the director of Princeton University’s Program in Journalism, Joe Stephens.

This event will be hybrid: it will take place in Labyrinth Books in front of a masked, vaccinated, and socially distanced audience, but you can register here to watch the livestream.

When Maimon received the assignment in 2000 to report on life in rural Eastern Kentucky, his editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal told him to cover the region like a foreign correspondent would. And indeed, when Maimon arrived in Hazard, Kentucky, fresh off a reporting stint for The New York Times’ Berlin bureau, he felt every bit the outsider. He had landed in a place in the vice grip of ecological devastation and a corporate-made opioid epidemic—a place where vote-buying and drug-motivated political assassinations were the order of the day.

While reporting on the intense religious allegiances, the bitter, bare-knuckled political rivalries, and the faltering attempts to emerge from a century-long coal-based economy, Maimon learns that everything and nothing you have heard about the region is true. And far from being a foreign place, it is a region whose generations-long struggles are driven by quintessentially American forces.

Resisting the easy clichés, Twilight in Hazard gives us a profound understanding of the region from Maimon’s years of careful reporting. It is both a powerful chronicle of a young reporter’s immersion in a place, and of his return years later, this time as the husband of a Harlan County coal miner’s daughter, to find the area struggling with its identity and in the thrall of Trumpism as a political ideology.

Twilight in Hazard refuses to mythologize Central Appalachia. It is a plea to move past the fixation on coal, and a reminder of the true costs to democracy when the media retreats from places of rural distress. It is an intimate portrait of a people staring down some of the most pernicious forces at work in America today while simultaneously being asked: How could you let this happen to yourselves? Twilight in Hazard instead tells the more riveting, noirish, and sometimes bitingly humorous story of how we all let this happen.

Maimon is an award-winning journalist, who worked in the Berlin bureau of The New York Times and is currently a staff investigator for Centurion Ministries, a NJ-based nonprofit that works to vindicate and free wrongfully convicted prisoners. In 2004, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. Stephens is director of the Program in Journalism and a Ferris Professor of Journalism in Residence at Princeton University, as well as three-time winner of the George Polk Award and three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former staff writer for The Washington Post.

Part of the Labyrinth and the Library Live series of events, this discussion is co-sponsored by Labyrinth Books, the Princeton Public Library, and the Humanities Council.

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