Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains; Kerri Arsenault

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A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for her seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town’s economic, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”

Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

September 1, 2020


About the Author

I am co-director of of The Environmental Storytelling Studio at Brown University (TESS), contributing editor at Orion magazine, book critic, and author of Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains. I am the Democracy Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, a research fellow at the Science History Institute, and a guest lecturer at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich for winter 2022-2023.

Mill Town won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Maine Literary Award for nonfiction. Mill Town was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize for best first book in any genre; the Eric Zencey Prize in Ecological Economics; the New England Society Book Awards; the New England Independent Booksellers Association nonfiction prize; and the Connecticut Book Awards. Mill Town was also long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize and was a New York Times Editors’ Pick. My writing has been published in the Boston Globe, The Paris Review, the New York Review of Books, Freeman’s, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.

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