Maya Rao: Great American Outpost

May 1, 2018

North Dakota is home to fewer than a million people but boasts a billion dollar budget surplus thanks to the Bakken oil fields, which contain the largest oil deposit in the United States. The 2006 discovery of these oil reserves coupled with the rapid development of fracking technology meant that this sparsely populated state suddenly became a land of great opportunity.

When journalist Maya Rao first arrived in North Dakota in 2012, the oil boom was in full swing. Rao, a correspondent for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wanted to tell the story of the region with more nuance than other reporters had, so she got a job at the Wild Bison Travel Center truck stop off highway 85 in western North Dakota. 

"One of the things I thought was missing was just being able to read about something that was happening in more of an organic and firsthand way," Rao says. "It was pretty common to see news reporters who didn't have a lot of time there."

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Rao about her new book Great American Outpost: Dreamers, Mavericks, and the Making of an Oil Frontier and about her experiences living and working in this rapidly changing community.

"I want people to look at this as a microcosm of capitalism and industrialization in 21st century America," Rao says. "It is an American story but it's also kind of a timeless human story. There's something bigger about the economic cycles that we keep finding ourselves in."

Rao will be reading from Great American Outpost at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City on Tuesday, May 1 at 7pm.