Maya Rao, "Great American Outpost: Dreamers, Mavericks, and the Making of an Oil Frontier"
Maya Rao, Great American Outpost: Dreamers, Mavericks, and the Making of an Oil Frontier
Thursday, May 31, 7pm
The story of a twenty-first century American frontier--where the free market reigns supreme as profiteers rush to develop a massive new oilfield.
The word was that you could earn $17,000 a month in the Bakken Oilfield of North Dakota. So they flooded in: the profiteers, deadbeats, ex-cons, dreamers, and doers. And so too did Maya Rao, a journalist who embedded herself in the surreal new American frontier.
With an eye for the dark, humorous, and absurd, Rao set out in steel-toed boots to chronicle the largest oil boom since the 1968 discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Businessmen turned up to restart their careers after bankruptcy or fraud allegations from the financial crisis. An ex-con found his niche as a YouTube celebrity exposing the underside of oilfield life. A high-rolling Englishman blew investors' money on $400 shots of cognac as authorities started to catch on that his housing developments were part of a worldwide Ponzi scheme.
Part Barbara Ehrenreich, part Upton Sinclair, this is an on-the-ground narrative of capitalism and industrialization as a rural, insular community transformed into a colony of outsiders hustling for profit-a sobering exploration of twenty-first century America that reads like a frontier novel.
Maya Rao is a staff writer in the Washington D.C. bureau of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Awl, Philadelphia Inquirer, Longreads, and more.