For many Californians – and many people around the nation – Diana Marcum has emerged as one of the key voices talking about the state’s punishing drought. A writer for the Los Angeles Times, Marcum covers California’s Central Valley, where the impacts of the drought have been acutely felt.

She partnered with photographer Michael Robinson Chavez to produce the series of stories. She wrote them “late at night at her dining-room table, fueled by Diet Coke and a copy of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” a gift from her editor.”

Recently, Marcum earned a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.

Louise Kiernan () interviews Marcum for Nieman Storyboard.

On her unexpected path to a Pulitzer:

“My parents died when I was young. I didn’t get through college. I didn’t have any of the right credentials,” she says. “But I could write. People seemed to think I could write.”

On how Marcum found the stories:

“I cover the Central Valley. I live here, and where the drought was hitting wasn’t the city. It was out in the little towns and the farms, way far off the road. You can’t just go around and knock on doors. It’s pretty hard to just find the doors. This was an area where life is hard and people are incredibly resilient and there’s just these stories of just trying to make your way in the world. Little stories that fascinate me. I mean they’re not little stories, but they’re little-told stories.

I had already been driving around and going to all these little places because we were thinking about doing a series of stories on people who were hungry in the middle of the bread basket. And then we started seeing the drought hit. And remember, these stories were written about a year before anybody was paying attention to the drought. So that was how it started. We just started talking to people and seeing where the drought was hitting and it was in pockets. Like you could even go to a town, and you could talk to the first people you saw and they’d say, “Oh we’ve been fine, we all found jobs, we’re still farming.” But it’s because of California’s weird water rights, right? You could go three blocks away and there was a whole neighborhood of people out of work. So you had to really, really look.”

A must read.


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Q&A: UC’s Doug Parker on California’s drought

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