Observing A Chaotic World From The Peace And Quiet | WAMC

Observing A Chaotic World From The Peace And Quiet

Mar 31, 2020

Every year, the Carey Institute for Global Good in rural Albany County serves as a refuge for noteworthy writers, journalists, and documentarians from around the globe. The Institute’s Logan Nonfiction Program recently wrapped its first 10-week session of 2020 fellows. 

Logan fellows can work at any open, public building on the Carey Institute campus. On a rare sunny day in winter, this room at the Stonecrop building looked especially inviting.
Credit Jesse King / WAMC

If you wanted to tackle the world’s problems, a 100-acre estate perched amid the Catskill Mountains might not be the first place you’d think to go. Rather, it seems like the ideal hideout to get away from it all — and yet, the Carey Institute in Rensselaerville has long brought the world to its doors through community forums, diplomatic conferences and, since 2015, the Logan Nonfiction Program. 

Program Manager Carly Willsie says the fellowship was founded by award-winning journalist (and the Institute’s Vice-Chair) Josh Friedman. 

After the shift to digital, and when the traditional newsroom models were collapsing...He saw that there was this huge need to support longform investigative journalists, and we happen to have this amazing campus that kind of provided the perfect setting for a residency," explains Willsie. 

Since then, the program has provided food, lodging, and professional workshops for more than 150 journalists tackling subjects ranging from World War II to the U.S. prison system.

A look inside the historic Huyck House a the Carey Institute.
Credit Jesse King / WAMC

The latest session found fellows in every step of the writing process. Cuban journalist Julio Batista Rodriguez has been gathering research on seven coastal towns threatened by climate change in southwest Cuba. Due to rising sea levels, he says the villages, all rural fishing communities, must either move inland or slip underwater within the next half century.  

“The [Cuban] government must provide these people with new ways of life, economic support and psychological support. Because this is a huge change for these communities — they live just in front of the sea, they work in the sea," he notes. 

Columbia University professor Judith Matloff, meanwhile, used the fellowship to finish her book “How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need.” A longtime conflict reporter, Matloff says the key to staying calm in any emergency is preparation. 

“The basis of the training that I do, as well as what is the basis of the book: if you prepare for the worst case scenario, if you can go there mentally, plan to mitigate that or to prepare for it — A.) it’s a lot less scary, and B.) you’re gonna cope with it a lot better," she explains. 

Willsie says the Institute receives grant funding to shelter six endangered journalists a year, and Matloff recently led a workshop to help the fellows navigate any tense situations surrounding their projects.

Matloff says HarperCollins pushed up her guide’s release date to May 19 amid the coronavirus pandemic, making the retreat all the more important. She spent a lot of time clearing her head with hikes at nearby E.N. Huyck Preserve. 

The Carey Institute, which also operates as a brewery and popular wedding venue, is surrounded by mountains and hiking trails.
Credit Jesse King / WAMC

“So for two hours I kind of do the writing in my head, I come back, I work. If I need to be alone I’ll have my food in my room. And then the other fellows are just absolutely extraordinary. We talk about our work over meals, so there’s this sense of communion, and you’re also with extraordinarily intelligent people," says Matloff. "I really cannot imagine a more perfect environment for a project like this, it’s been an absolute gift.” 

Willsie says over 20 books have resulted from the program, and listeners may recognize past fellows, including “American Prison” author Shane Bauer, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and filmmaker Jacqueline Olive, whose award-winning documentary “Always In Season” premiered on PBS in February. In light of the success, and as the number of its applicants rises, Willsie says the fellowship is widening its lens. 

“We are expanding our support of documentary filmmakers, so we anticipate more filmmakers coming to campus within the next year as well," she notes. "We’ll definitely continue our focus on professional development and bringing visiting speakers and workshop leaders here as well.” 

This piece is the first in a series on the Carey Institute's Logan Nonfiction Program. You can read more about the latest fellows below. Given the coronavirus pandemic, the Carey Institute postponed the arrival of its second round of candidates, which had been set for March 23.