For awhile, the unofficial motto of the city in which I live was “Houston: It’s Worth It.” But it’s actually so much better—the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the country, a place where people make it up as they go along. I started out writing about travelling with my young family to sacred American spaces (Chimayó in New Mexico, the Holy City of the Wichitas in southwestern Oklahoma, the Little Log Houses of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, the town in Kansas where my first daughter was born). That led to an obsession with medieval pilgrimage, which led to The Book of Wanderings (Little, Brown) in which that first daughter and I retraced a medieval pilgrimage route from southern Germany through the Mediterranean to Jerusalem, and then through the Sinai Desert to Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt the summer after the Arab Spring. Encounters during that journey led me to study Arabic, right around the time of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. When I realized that Houston was resettling Syrian refugees, I started writing about that, which later led to me writing about Congolese refugee farmers in Houston as well. Now I’m at work on my next book, When We Were Strangers, which follows the lives of nine single mother refugees from Syria, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea as they try to make a new home for themselves and their children in Houston, strangers in a strange land.
I am a 2019 MacDowell Fellow and have received grants from Houston Arts Alliance and writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. My longform article, “Waste Land, Promised Land,” originally published in Orion Magazine, recently won the 2018 Excellence in Journalism Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The Book of Wanderings was the winner of the 2016 Memoir Book Award from ASJA and a finalist for the 2015 PEN Southwest Nonfiction Book Award. My longform article, “Holy City of the Wichitas,” originally published in Ecotone, is anthologized in Best American Travel Writing 2012.