Jessica Bruder | Columbia Journalism School

Jessica Bruder

Adjunct Faculty

Writing

Jessica Bruder is a New America fellow and a journalist who reports on subcultures, economic justice and social issues.

For her most recent book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (W.W. Norton & Co.), she spent months living in a camper van, documenting itinerant Americans who gave up traditional housing and hit the road full time, enabling them to travel from job to job and carve out a place for themselves in a precarious economy. The project spanned three years and more than 15,000 miles of driving—from coast to coast and from Mexico to the Canadian border.

Nomadland has since been adapted for an eponymous feature film starring Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, along with Linda May, Charlene “Swankie” Wheels and many of the same people who appeared in her book. The film is directed by Chloé Zhao (The Rider) and Fox Searchlight plans to release it in the fall of 2020.

Bruder is also the co-author, with Columbia Journalism Professor Dale Maharidge, of the forthcoming book Snowden’s Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance (Verso, Feb. 2020). In May 2013, Bruder was the unwitting recipient of Edward Snowden’s entire leaked NSA trove, which arrived on the doorstep of her Brooklyn apartment. Snowden’s Box recounts the strange analog backstory of two close friends thrown into one of the most significant whistle-blower dramas of our time, exploring the importance of human trust and connection in times of intensifying corporate and governmental surveillance.

Bruder is a co-creator of several short films on her work. They include “CamperForce” (dir. Brett Story, Field of Vision, 2017), which features undercover footage Bruder shot in an Amazon warehouse while reporting for Nomadland, and “Days of Black and Yellow” (dir. Lotfy Nathan, Field of Vision, 2019), which was based on “Driven to Despair,” her New York Magazine feature about the suicide of Doug Schifter, a longtime black-car driver in the age of Uber.

With support from New America, she is developing a new book about the tight-knit community of East Africans working at an Amazon facility in Shakopee, Minnesota. Most are Somali Muslims. Many are refugees. Her reporting follows their rise to the forefront of the American labor movement, examining their struggles through the prism of race, immigration, economic inequality, and anti-Muslim sentiment in the modern American workplace.

Bruder has written for publications including Wired, Harper's MagazineThe NationThe Washington PostThe New York Times Magazine, The Associated PressThe International Herald TribuneThe Christian Science MonitorO: The Oprah MagazineInc. Magazine, Reuters and CNNMoney.com. She has worked as a staff writer at The Oregonian and The New York Observer and a senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine. Starting in 2004, Bruder was a regular contributor to The New York Times, where she became the founding columnist behind START, a blog profiling socially innovative startups (aka “hacking capitalism”).

Her long-form magazine stories have won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and a Deadline Club Award. Support for her projects has come from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, where she was a 2016 literary arts fellow. 

Bruder is also the author of Burning Book (Simon & Schuster), a narrative non-fiction exploration of the annual Burning Man festival that the Los Angeles Times called “quietly poetic.” 

Bruder earned her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College, where she won the school's Laura Ayres Snyder Poetry Prize and an Alpha Delta Phi/David P. Patchel Memorial Fund grant to study censorship in South Africa. She went on to receive a master’s degree at the Columbia Journalism School as co-valedictorian of her class, winning a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship.

Bruder has been teaching at the journalism school since 2008.