Today I talked to Ted Conover, author of Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge (Knopf, 2022)

In May 2017, Conover went to Colorado to explore firsthand a rural way of life that is about living cheaply, on your own land—and keeping clear of the mainstream. The failed subdivisions of the enormous San Luis Valley make this possible. Five-acre lots on the high prairie can be had for five thousand dollars, sometimes less.

Conover volunteered for a local group trying to prevent homelessness during the bitter winters. He encountered an unexpected diversity: veterans with PTSD, families homeschooling, addicts young and old, gay people, people of color, lovers of guns and marijuana, people with social anxiety—most of them spurning charity and aiming, and sometimes failing, to be self-sufficient. And more than a few predicting they’ll be the last ones standing when society collapses.

Conover bought his own five acres and immersed himself for parts of four years in the often contentious culture of the far margins. He found many who dislike the government but depend on its subsidies; who love their space but nevertheless find themselves in each other’s business; who are generous but wary of thieves; who endure squalor but appreciate beauty. In their struggles to survive and get along, they tell us about an America riven by difference where the edges speak more and more loudly to the mainstream.

Ted Conover is the author of several books, including Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and National Geographic. He is a professor at, and the former director of, New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Daniel Moran earned his B.A. and M.A. in English from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in History from Drew University. The author of Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Publishers, Her Readers, he teaches research and writing at Rutgers and co-hosts the podcast Fifteen-Minute Film Fanatics, found at https://fifteenminutefilm.podb… and on Twitter @15MinFilm.

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