Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows is a Fellow at New America. She is the author of Dreaming in Chinese and co-author with James Fallows of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America.
  • Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection

    The Ebbs and Flows of Coastal Maine

    Quoddy Village was built ahead of its time.

  • Allison Osberg / Courtesy of Tides Institute and ...

    Little Town, Big Art

    “The arts” might seem a frill or nicety. In Eastport, Maine, they’ve been at the center of economic and civic plans and have helped the little city “punch above its weight.”

  • Courtesy of Erie County Public Library

    A Waterfront Library

    In Erie, Pennsylvania, a public institution is building on its nautical past to open a world of opportunity for local residents.

  • Taylor Aikins

    'America Is a Dream Country'

    What does it mean to spend years as a Syrian refugee and then land in a brand new life in Erie, Pennsylvania?

  • David Gray / Reuters

    The Education of Ryan Lochte

    What he could learn from America’s public pools

  • Deborah Fallows

    A Carnegie Legacy in Dodge City

    Synergy of arts and civic life in a Kansas town

  • James Fallows / The Atlantic

    Dodge City Postcard

    Notes from the ground, from the sky, and from the people of Dodge City, Kansas

  • Orlin Wagner / AP

    Educating Migrant Children in Dodge City

    “We’re a port of entry 1,000 miles from the border.”

  • Red Demon Football on YouTube

    Dodge City's New Frontier

    A high school in the famed Kansas town is embracing its rapidly changing demographics.

  • Deborah Fallows

    New Pioneers in Southwest Kansas

    Mexican immigrants on the Great Plains try to build new lives, with hope and help.

  • View From the Right Seat

    About to land one week ago, on Runway 14 in Dodge City, Kansas Deborah Fallows

    During our more than 50,000 miles of flight for our American Futures project, I’ve sat in the “right seat” of our Cirrus SR22. That’s the official term for my spot in the plane, and the right seat like the left carries all the fixtures for a full-fledged pilot:  I am equipped with the steering, radio call button, and visual access to all the monitors to fly. I’m not a pilot (a story for another day), but I love being in the right seat.

    By now, I am familiar with all the rhythms and quirks of the plane. I know and see the steps to acceleration and take-off.  I know how the plane engine sounds as we press for speed and altitude. I can anticipate the degree of bumpiness to expect when we fly into big puffy clouds or little thin ones. I recognize the feel of the steep banking to enter the pattern to land and see the shifting colors of the lights on the field signaling the safe altitude for touchdown.

    It is very comforting to know every feel and sound so well, and it is also useful. I could identify the whistling sound when we failed to slam the cockpit door hard enough; it’s not really dangerous to fly with the door just shy of closed, because it’s not going to fly open with all that wind racing across it. I noticed an unusual airy sound when a small protective access plate under one wing had bent and eventually blew off. I know not to be alarmed when we catch sudden drafts, bouncing the plane as we fly over very hot deserts or high hills.

    Me looking at Jim looking at monitors                                                        (Deborah Fallows/The Atlantic)

    I know enough about the screen monitors to study the interesting details, like the altitude, the outside air temperature, the speed, wind direction and velocity, our heading, and miles to destination. I’m always rooting for tailwinds and disappointed when we encounter headwinds going both directions of a trip. That seems to happen more frequently than odds would dictate. But it is thrilling to catch a really strong tailwind, watch the speed increase, and hope for a personal-best record. We normally aim for about 170 knots, about 200 mph, but we have gotten as high as about 220 knots flying east over Iowa, carried by a really strong tailwind. It felt almost like hydroplaning.

    We have our choice of what to listen to through our headsets: the air traffic controllers (ATC) are obligatory when they’re directing us on an instrument flight plan (IFR); they are optional company for us when we’re flying in visual flight conditions (VFR). In busier airspace, even if we don’t need the ATC,  we’ll opt for “flight following,” which means that they  keep an eye on us and occasionally speak with us if other planes come near. I sometimes do the ATC calls.

    We can also listen to Sirius/XM radio. Listening to farm reports over Kansas or truckers’ radio as we fly over I-80 add to the sense of place we feel flying over the land that drowns out the colorless CNN or Fox news. As Jim has described, the controllers are unfailingly unflappable. Mostly, the exchanges are routine and follow strict, scripted language designed for clarity and efficiency. You hear some variations: accents shift to a slow southern drawl as we fly down the east coast. On holidays, some controllers offer greetings. You catch hints of their exasperation when lazy pilots don’t listen well or fail to respond to frequent calls to their tail number.  On the other hand, you hear patience behind controllers’ calls when they’re dealing with student pilots.

    Looking at weather from the right seat                                                        (Deborah Fallows/The Atlantic)

    A few times, our exchanges with ATC have been memorable. Once we were caught over upstate New York in unexpected severe weather. The ATC took us as far as he could before handing us over to the next one. While navigating us around storms, he had asked for the number of “souls on board,” which I learned afterwards was the vernacular for “people on board,” but hearing the phrase for the first time was completely unnerving for me.  Just before hand-off, he wished us good luck. That was kind, but also scary to me. Once we had a failed spark plug, and two separate times a failed alternator while in flight. For the latter, which is serious, the ATC inquired if we were declaring an emergency, which would signal a different set of actions, essentially giving us precedence over all the other planes in the area. (We weren’t.)


  • A Good Start: Bobby's Story

    From A Good Start: Bobby’s Story.

    One of my favorite features of our American Futures project is the occasional serendipity of crossing the path of some surprising, remarkable person. Like Jerrie Mock, the Columbus, Ohio, housewife who was the first woman to fly solo around the world in 1964, in her Cessna 180. Or abolitionist and suffragist Eliza Tibbets, who started the navel orange industry in Riverside, California, from two small seedlings that she nurtured from her dishpan water. Or Joe Max Higgins, the tougher-than-nails sheriff’s son from Arkansas, who brought $5 billion of new heavy industry to the Golden Triangle of Northeast Mississippi.

    Now there is Bobby Q. Narcho, a Tohono O’odham tribal member, who grew up on the reservation, colloquially called “the res,” in Sells, Arizona, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Bobby took naturally to taking pictures and making music and spent a lot of his youth doing that. In what he calls his “breakout project” at the Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a group dedicated to the sustainability of the health and culture of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Bobby caught the eye of his teacher, a professional photographer. He was able to earn a few paychecks through his talent, and invested it in an iPhone.

    With that iPhone, still his only tool, Bobby started making videos for Facebook and Instagram. “Back in the day,” this 24-year-old says, straight-faced, he would share his 15-second videos on Instagram.

    Bobby moved to Ajo, about 70 miles from Sells, to be near his cousin, Victor Garcia, who is also an artist. Now, Bobby has five different jobs and seems to be connected with almost everything going on in Ajo, which isn’t that hard in a town of only 2,300 folks. One connection, Lily Williams at the Desert Senita Health Center, who oversees Bobby’s work at the Edible Ajo Schoolyard project (EASY), encouraged Bobby to join a digital storytelling workshop sponsored by the Center’s Plan4Health grant. The theme was biking, a popular new focus in Ajo, and health. Before I tell you the rest of the story, please—please!—watch Bobby’s three-minute video:

    A Good Start: Bobby's Story from Creative Narrations

    Bobby’s idea was to make a one-shoot short film about his personal story of health and biking, and one that is grounded in his Tohono O’odham traditions.  The story of health, as he describes in the video, comes from the “signs of sickness in his people,” meaning diabetes, and from seeing signs of sickness in himself. (The 28,000 member Tohono O’odham tribe has the highest rate of adult-onset diabetes in the world: about 50 percent.)

  • Deborah Fallows

    Finding Health Care in the Desert

    With the closest hospital 100 miles away, Ajo, Arizona’s Desert Senita Health Center acts as the region’s clinic.

  • Deborah Fallows / The Atlantic

    Farming in the Desert

    A small town in Arizona grows a thriving food scene.

  • Renee Rosensteel

    Language as Art in Pittsburgh

    Exiled writers use words as art and inspire a community.

  • Deb Fallows / The Atlantic

    Listening to Montana

    In Chester, Montana, a world away from city life inspires an artist's music.

  • Currier and Ives / Wikimedia Commona

    How Libraries Are Becoming Modern Makerspaces

    They’ve long served as communal gathering spots, but these civic institutions are becoming gateways to technological tinkering.

  • Courtesy of the Greenville County Library System

    A Public Library Tells the Civic Story of a Town

    Greenville’s public library puts its past and present on full display: mills, racial history, internationalism, public-private collaborations, and culture.

  • Fisher Middle School

    Tech Meets Art in Middle School

    A South Carolina public school gives tech-savvy students a sense of humanity.

  • Deborah Fallows

    Mississippi Students Write About Life in Their Home State

    Inspiring young writers connect with their literary legacy