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Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper

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"A reminder that even the smallest newspapers can hold the most powerful among us accountable . . . Cullen and his brother are heroic figures."--The New York Times Book Review The perfect holiday gift. From a Pulitzer-winning newspaperman, an unsentimental ode to America's heartland as seen in small-town Iowa--a story of reinvention and resilience, environmental and econom "A reminder that even the smallest newspapers can hold the most powerful among us accountable . . . Cullen and his brother are heroic figures."--The New York Times Book Review The perfect holiday gift. From a Pulitzer-winning newspaperman, an unsentimental ode to America's heartland as seen in small-town Iowa--a story of reinvention and resilience, environmental and economic struggle, and surprising diversity and hope. When The Storm Lake Times, a tiny Iowa twice-weekly, won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on big corporate agri-industry for poisoning the local rivers and lake, it was a coup on many counts: a strike for the well being of a rural community; a triumph for that endangered species, a family-run rural news weekly; and a salute to the special talents of a fierce and formidable native son, Art Cullen. In this candid and timely book, Cullen describes how the rural prairies have changed dramatically over his career, as seen from the vantage point of a farming and meatpacking town of 15,000 in Northwest Iowa. Politics, agriculture, the environment, and immigration are all themes in Storm Lake, a chronicle of a resilient newspaper, as much a survivor as its town. Storm Lake's people are the book's heart: the family that swam the Mekong River to find Storm Lake; the Latina with a baby who wonders if she'll be deported from the only home she has known; the farmer who watches markets in real time and tries to manage within a relentless agriculture supply chain that seeks efficiency for cheaper pork, prepared foods, and ethanol. Storm Lake may be a community in flux, occasionally in crisis (farming isn't for the faint hearted), but one that's not disappearing--in fact, its population is growing with immigrants from Laos, Mexico, and elsewhere. Thirty languages are now spoken there, and soccer is more popular than football. Iowa plays an outsize role in national politics. Iowa introduced Barack Obama and voted bigly for Donald Trump. Is the state leaning blue, red, or purple in the lead-up to 2020? Is it a bellwether for America? A nostalgic mirage from The Music Man, or a harbinger of America's future? Cullen's answer is complicated and honest--but with optimism and the stubbornness that is still the state's, and his, dominant quality.


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"A reminder that even the smallest newspapers can hold the most powerful among us accountable . . . Cullen and his brother are heroic figures."--The New York Times Book Review The perfect holiday gift. From a Pulitzer-winning newspaperman, an unsentimental ode to America's heartland as seen in small-town Iowa--a story of reinvention and resilience, environmental and econom "A reminder that even the smallest newspapers can hold the most powerful among us accountable . . . Cullen and his brother are heroic figures."--The New York Times Book Review The perfect holiday gift. From a Pulitzer-winning newspaperman, an unsentimental ode to America's heartland as seen in small-town Iowa--a story of reinvention and resilience, environmental and economic struggle, and surprising diversity and hope. When The Storm Lake Times, a tiny Iowa twice-weekly, won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on big corporate agri-industry for poisoning the local rivers and lake, it was a coup on many counts: a strike for the well being of a rural community; a triumph for that endangered species, a family-run rural news weekly; and a salute to the special talents of a fierce and formidable native son, Art Cullen. In this candid and timely book, Cullen describes how the rural prairies have changed dramatically over his career, as seen from the vantage point of a farming and meatpacking town of 15,000 in Northwest Iowa. Politics, agriculture, the environment, and immigration are all themes in Storm Lake, a chronicle of a resilient newspaper, as much a survivor as its town. Storm Lake's people are the book's heart: the family that swam the Mekong River to find Storm Lake; the Latina with a baby who wonders if she'll be deported from the only home she has known; the farmer who watches markets in real time and tries to manage within a relentless agriculture supply chain that seeks efficiency for cheaper pork, prepared foods, and ethanol. Storm Lake may be a community in flux, occasionally in crisis (farming isn't for the faint hearted), but one that's not disappearing--in fact, its population is growing with immigrants from Laos, Mexico, and elsewhere. Thirty languages are now spoken there, and soccer is more popular than football. Iowa plays an outsize role in national politics. Iowa introduced Barack Obama and voted bigly for Donald Trump. Is the state leaning blue, red, or purple in the lead-up to 2020? Is it a bellwether for America? A nostalgic mirage from The Music Man, or a harbinger of America's future? Cullen's answer is complicated and honest--but with optimism and the stubbornness that is still the state's, and his, dominant quality.

30 review for Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tom Murray

    “Always be kind to any Cullens you meet,” my Grandma Mary McTigue told me, “There are very few of them and they’re probably related to us.” Full disclosure: Grandma Mary was herself a Cullen. Her little brother, Pat Cullen is Art Cullen’s father. My father’s big sister was Eileen (Murray) Cullen, Art’s mother. I was born and raised in Storm Lake, Iowa, and attended church and school with Art. We even played on the same baseball team. The Murray to Cullen to Flowers trinity was the backbone of ou “Always be kind to any Cullens you meet,” my Grandma Mary McTigue told me, “There are very few of them and they’re probably related to us.” Full disclosure: Grandma Mary was herself a Cullen. Her little brother, Pat Cullen is Art Cullen’s father. My father’s big sister was Eileen (Murray) Cullen, Art’s mother. I was born and raised in Storm Lake, Iowa, and attended church and school with Art. We even played on the same baseball team. The Murray to Cullen to Flowers trinity was the backbone of our Little League championship team, the Eagles. Upon the release of “Storm Lake” Art returned to his alma mater, the University of St. Thomas to read select passages. Afterward he was asked about his reaction to winning the Pulitzer Prize. Art confessed that he was surprised. I too was surprised—that Art hadn’t won newspaper’s most prestigious award much earlier, and much more frequently throughout his storied career at the Storm Lake Times. He’s been reading or writing newspapers all of his life. We both learned to read from the newspaper that Iowa depended on, the Des Moines Register. When I moved to Burlington as an 8th grader, Art envied me for being able to now receive the Burlington Hawkeye and absorb the wisdom of that paper’s editor and fellow Pulitzer Prize winner, John McCormally. My favorite editorialists include Garrison Keillor, Maureen Dowd, and Peggy Noonan; all of whom satisfy my craving for a weekly warm fuzzy. You’re never guaranteed a warm fuzzy from Art who I believe is stronger than each of these, America’s greatest writers, all put together. He is the only writer today who can make me laugh, cry, roll my eyes, curse, and cheer him on, all within 900 words. When I’m done reading Art I have to get up, move around, and figure out how to address my conscience which Art has prodded, poked, and skewered. I am a changed man. As our Aunt Josephine use to say, “I’ve been transformed!” That means I have to stop talking about an issue and roll up my sleeves and go to work on that issue. My review of “Storm Lake” will be very similar to a review of the time that I took Art on his first ride of Arnold Park’s classic, roller coaster, The Legend. We were middle schoolers waiting anxiously in line when we were told that there had been a terrible tragedy—a man had just fallen to his death from the roller coaster at it’s highest peak, the Point of No Return. Neither the longstanding rumors that The Legend had been condemned nor a man’s death kept us from continuing to wait in line until the body could be carried away and we could enjoy our own turn on the teeth shaking, near bone breaking ride. On that first ride after the accident we sat in the best seat with the best view, the first car. As we made our slow ascent to the peak, we saw all of Iowa beneath us: our families, an incredible lake, followed by breathtaking ups and downs, where we also saw our entire lives pass before us. Our ride, like the journey that Art takes you on in “Storm Lake,” eventually slowed to a steady crawl at the end, where we thanked God for saving us, and instantly gained the confidence to take on even bigger challenges in the future—at that time to muster the courage for a ride on the Wild Mouse. Today Art prepares us for the challenge of handing off a safer, healthier world to our children. If you’re from Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, northwest Iowa, or any other community in Iowa you need to read this book of the history of our land with the most fertile soil in the world and how we are squandering this precious gift. If you live anywhere else that requires water to drink, bathe, recreate, or nourish the plants or animals that you eat, you for sure need to read this book. “Storm Lake” is so well crafted that readers from Iowa to Ireland to India will recognize all the characters, as well as elected representatives—some courageous, but often despairingly dimwitted. The book’s major themes of climate change, responsible agriculture, water conservation, and immigration are demystified by Art’s chronicle of one mighty small Iowa town newspaper’s common sense, family value approach to making it all work and still play, and most importantly eat together at the end of the day. At a time when newspaper journalism seems to be on the wane, Art leads the way with a blueprint for the critical role journalists must play in enlightening the electorate and ensuring we work these issues out and maintain our democracy. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I lucked out with the Cullens. Please read “Storm Lake” and then please buy copies for your elected representatives and demand that they read and follow its lead as well.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    It’s different being a reporter. You purposely become inquisitive, friendly, nosy, and even annoying. You know more about the town, the neighbors, the politicians, the local celebrities, than anyone else can without being arrested as a pervert of some kind. You can accost people in bars and knock on doors at will. Art Cullen has accumulated decades of this news gathering and distilled it into a book. Storm Lake, where he lives, is in the northwestern quadrant of Iowa. It is a small town, and his It’s different being a reporter. You purposely become inquisitive, friendly, nosy, and even annoying. You know more about the town, the neighbors, the politicians, the local celebrities, than anyone else can without being arrested as a pervert of some kind. You can accost people in bars and knock on doors at will. Art Cullen has accumulated decades of this news gathering and distilled it into a book. Storm Lake, where he lives, is in the northwestern quadrant of Iowa. It is a small town, and his newspaper only has a few thousand readers. He and his older brother John keep it alive, and Storm Lake keeps them going. It transpires that Iowa is no different than the rest of the country. It has long established families, newcomers, immigrants, and kids, some of whom stay for life and some who can’t wait to leave. Cullen has stories of all kinds to go along with the stereotypes. Thumbnail sketches and longer tales all add up to a vibrant and often really “with it” community. They are embarrassed by their elected officials, welcoming to immigrants, and learning to be respectful of the environment, which is particularly hard in Iowa, which is exploiting the land for corn – to the max. He can’t relate to the bitter white people with their centrally airconditioned houses, boats on the lake and jobs for life. They hate immigrants and how they are stealing jobs, money and livelihoods (they claim). But the school district is desperate for them in order to keep enrollments from falling further. They have given the town multinational groceries and restaurants, graduated scientists and administrators who stay to give back, and added new music to the canon. Cullen delights in their presence. There are Sudanese, Laotians and Mexicans in Storm Lake, Iowa. The Mexicans hail from Storm Lake’s twin city in Mexico, which also raises corn and packs meat. They come north to make decent money for doing similar work, and often go home either to enjoy their “wealth” or because the discrimination is too much to waste a life on. Cullen visits the town and is fairly stunned to find all kinds of people there have lived in Storm Lake, speak English and know the town well. He is welcomed everywhere. They appreciate the link to Storm Lake, even if the locals back in Iowa don’t know about the connection. The state’s biggest celebrity currently is Representative Steve King, whose misogyny and hatred rings forth loud and clear nationally. A local embarrassment, he is unseatable because the Democrats won’t make the effort. The mayor won’t talk to the paper, because he claims it is “fake news”. But the Storm Lake Times and Cullen won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for its series of editorials and stories on agriculture’s environmental damage and the corruption of county officials in actively hiding barrels of cash to fend off environmental challenges to its stewardship (or lack thereof). Big Ag acts just like Big Tobacco. The lake itself has gone from 17 feet deep to two, thanks to farmers planting right to its edge, running underground streams of perforated tiles to take topsoil quietly into the lake (20 tons per acre during heavy rains) and poisoning everything with pesticides and chemical fertilizers to keep the monoculture yield up. I will not forget a story on the news last year, in which a reporter asked local Iowa farmers about all their topsoil ending up in the Mississippi delta, poisoning the fish and the shrimp and creating a death zone bereft of oxygen, the size of New Jersey. One farmer didn’t even bother leaning out of his pickup, saying “Not my problem.” It’s not all hugs and kisses in Iowa, and Cullen tries to be fair. He is a reporter, not a crusader. He is at his best describing the attempts to understand the problem, deal with the consequences and get farmers to co-operate in saving their own land, which has so little topsoil left the rains take whole corn plants right into the rivers and lakes with it. It’s the most dramatic part of the book. His is a family of ink-stained wretches. They’ve all been bitten by the reporting bug, either helping out to keep the Storm Lake Times going, or running off to found their own papers, stopping to get experience at other papers along the way. It’s a seven day a week job, and simply takes over their lives. But the result is a web of connections well beyond anything Facebook is capable of, a depth of knowledge well beyond Twitter, and respect far more genuine than anything Linked In provides. Storm Lake often seems to be written purely for Iowans. Cullen seems to be trying inculcate a sense of pride and worth in his fellow Iowans, making the point that efforts are worthwhile, that life is better there, and that everyone needs to keep at it. I got confused many times as to whether “we” referred to the staff of the paper or Iowans in general, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. It’s a look at the state of the state which most city dwellers can’t picture accurately. David Wineberg

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Paschen

    Wow. This is a beauty of a book, and a real love letter to rural Iowa, warts and all. I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my review on Goodreads. Full disclosure: my husband John and I spent time with Art in 2017 and 2018 while John ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress. John did not win the three-way Democratic primary in June of this year. He did, however, earn the endorsement of Art Cullen and the Storm Lake Times during the primary. We consider Art and John Wow. This is a beauty of a book, and a real love letter to rural Iowa, warts and all. I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my review on Goodreads. Full disclosure: my husband John and I spent time with Art in 2017 and 2018 while John ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress. John did not win the three-way Democratic primary in June of this year. He did, however, earn the endorsement of Art Cullen and the Storm Lake Times during the primary. We consider Art and John and Tom Cullen friends, so this review comes loaded down with bias. My journalism training came from the wonderful professors at Iowa State University, a land grant university where I met open-minded professors willing to take a chance on a girl from Ames. Art Cullen appears to have had similar good fortune in his career, and has found joy in his work and in his marriage to the wonderful, talented Dolores. I will always love Iowa. I will never stop asking questions. My Catholic faith has shaped who I am. I love newspapers, good reporting and politics. In many ways, Art Cullen and I were cut from the same cloth. We also have that ability to drive those who care for us crazy. I guess it is part of our charm. Thanks Art Cullen and everyone who makes the Storm Lake Times one of the best newspapers in the country. I tried to get an online subscription, but your web site has too many hoops to jump through. I will probably end up getting the newspaper mailed to me in Ames, I enjoy it so much. See you real soon, Storm Lake. You make us proud to be Iowans.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    I wish there was a book like this one written for every state in the union. Art Cullen writes Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials for the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, where he was born and has lived most of his life. The result is part history lesson, part how-to-run-a-local-biweekly-newspaper primer, part agricultural seminar, part environmental warning shot, and part plain old people watching. I wrote a column...that Denny didn't like, and he suggested nicely that I should rewrite it or no I wish there was a book like this one written for every state in the union. Art Cullen writes Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials for the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, where he was born and has lived most of his life. The result is part history lesson, part how-to-run-a-local-biweekly-newspaper primer, part agricultural seminar, part environmental warning shot, and part plain old people watching. I wrote a column...that Denny didn't like, and he suggested nicely that I should rewrite it or not run it. I argued. He pulled out a pair of scissors and clipped up the story in front of my face. "It's not running," he said. Lesson learned. That's what "publisher" means on the masthead on page 2. and We have always thought we could feed the world, and that notion animates our state's politics. Hence the Iowa first-in-the-nation primary. If you put all these buddies of mine in a room with their weapons, you would have the Nicaraguan army. They have assault rifles, every caliber of handgun, shotguns small and large, and enough ammo to survive the end of the world. And, yes, even a cannon...They are not afraid of Muslim invasions...They are afraid someone will try to take their guns away. Sounds like Alaska. The chapter on Iowa politics, 'A Purple Hybrid,' features a profile of Steve King (he's northwest Iowa's own white supremist US Congressman) and the whole book reminds me of the Fallows' Our Towns. Storm Lake is the larger American community writ small, an amalgamation of the old white guard and immigrants from Mexico and Thailand and Laos and Cambodia that together, most of the time, are figuring it out. As Cullen says, they have to. As do we all.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Urbandale Library

    Published in 2018, Storm Lake was written by Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorials taking on the big agricultural industry over its pollution of Iowa’s water. Many topics impacting rural Iowa are discussed in the book including but not limited to big agriculture, family farming, water pollution, land use and immigration. This book would be particularly appealing to anyone who enjoys investigative journalism or someone who farms or who has a tradition Published in 2018, Storm Lake was written by Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorials taking on the big agricultural industry over its pollution of Iowa’s water. Many topics impacting rural Iowa are discussed in the book including but not limited to big agriculture, family farming, water pollution, land use and immigration. This book would be particularly appealing to anyone who enjoys investigative journalism or someone who farms or who has a tradition of farming in their family.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve Peifer

    You are tempted when you are three pages in to declare that a GREAT drinking game would be to have to shotgun every time he mentioned the Pulitzer. He calms down about it after a few chapters, and to be fair, if I won one writing for a twice a week paper in Iowa, I would probably staple it to my forehead. I’m guessing that in Storm Lake, Iowa that Cullen is a big deal and people care about his musings. So he wrote this assuming you would be fascinated, instead of trying to earn your interest. I You are tempted when you are three pages in to declare that a GREAT drinking game would be to have to shotgun every time he mentioned the Pulitzer. He calms down about it after a few chapters, and to be fair, if I won one writing for a twice a week paper in Iowa, I would probably staple it to my forehead. I’m guessing that in Storm Lake, Iowa that Cullen is a big deal and people care about his musings. So he wrote this assuming you would be fascinated, instead of trying to earn your interest. I almost never give up on a book, but Cullen telling me his life story almost made me bail. There were some good things that were worth hanging around for, and it’s always fantastic that a good journalist has to become a minor expert on what they cover, so his take on agriculture and the state of community journalism is spot on and fun to read. But this book was like seeing a concert by a band who have a couple great songs but don’t understand pacing and song placement and have to talk before every song. They put their best songs in the middle of the show, so the music never builds to something great. In the same way, the book takes off when he starts writing about the big agricultural business pollution issues, but it is given rather short shrift and by the time he wraps it up, there is a good quarter of the book left to slog through. It needed an editor in the worst way but my guess is that no one tells Cullen anything about writing; he won the Pulitzer after all. It’s a shame; he got in the way of his own story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    dpd

    Art Cullen has been afflicting the comfortable for more than 30 years. I know because I’ve been reading his editorials in the Storm Lake Times since volume 1 number 1. “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper” is Cullen’s first book, a book he wrote after winning the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. If you’re wondering if this book is for you, let me give you a list of audiences who should be reading “Storm Lake.” This book is for you if: * You Art Cullen has been afflicting the comfortable for more than 30 years. I know because I’ve been reading his editorials in the Storm Lake Times since volume 1 number 1. “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper” is Cullen’s first book, a book he wrote after winning the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. If you’re wondering if this book is for you, let me give you a list of audiences who should be reading “Storm Lake.” This book is for you if: * You care about the water you drink, the food you eat, and the planet you inhabit. * You care about corporate influence on your life and the lives of your family, friends and neighbors. * You care about immigration. * You want to hear about a small town that has been transformed by the influx of new residents from all over the world. * You love really good writing....not formulaic writing, but writing that will remind you of the stylized writing of some of the great writers like Twain and Keillor. * You love a good story well told. * You care about family and like reading about others and their family stories. * You love to pull for the underdog. * You care about good journalism and you don’t think that the news media are the “enemy of the people.” Cullen’s book is a gift to America, a gift that will inform you, entertain you, and pull at your heartstrings. If you are afflicted, it will comfort you. Buy it. Read it. Tell your friends about it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Just okay. In parts of the book, he seemed like he was trying to hard to be okay with immigrants coming to his part of the state. I am sure this book will have mass appeal in Storm Lake, Iowa, and the surrounding region. It was just a tad long-winded. Mr. Cullen has an interesting story to tell but I found myself skimming and got bored with it. I had such high hopes for this book too. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul Deaton

    Recommended reading for anyone interested in life and society in Iowa.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mary Anne

    I enjoyed this, primarily because we lived in Storm Lake before moving to Ohio.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joyce Russell

    I loved this book. Thank you, Cindy, for recommending it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christian McNamara

  13. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Smith

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary A

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ken Schaefer

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jean

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Davydov

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nic Hartmann

  23. 5 out of 5

    Greg Olson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Ablett

  25. 5 out of 5

    Phil

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary Kenyon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mike Flam

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gillian

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  30. 4 out of 5

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