Journalist Katherine Boo made it clear from the outset of her talk that she wouldn’t discuss what makes a pretty sentence or how she rose to prominence as a journalist. Her Readings & Conversations presentation, delivered Wednesday evening at The Egyptian Theatre courtesy of The Cabin literary center, was about poverty—specifically, the lessons she’d gleaned from years of reporting on people who are economically disadvantaged.
“I’ve decided to privilege tonight what I see in the so-called field,” Boo said. “The concerns of low-income people have fallen off the political map.”
Though the number of people affected by extreme poverty has been dramatically reduced in the 21st century, she said, their travails remain as acute as ever, from toxic living environments and unsteady employment to inequitable treatment from the police.
Boo, who has been a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, and is now a staff writer for The New Yorker, is the author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a work of longform journalism about people living in Annawadi, a slum at the Mumbai airport. It won her a National Book Award for nonfiction.
Boo said in writing the book, and in her reporting in general, it was important for her to try to build a relationship between her subjects and readers by presenting those she reported on as people with problems, relationships, experiences and wisdom of their own, rather than representatives of India in transition or poverty.
“Empathy is a muscle. The more you can use it, the more it can do,” she said.
Boo’s was the last presentation in the 2017-18 Readings & Conversations season. Here’s who will be in Boise as part of the series starting in October:
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