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Eric Schlosser | Biography

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Ambitions in Playwriting

Renowned American investigative journalist Eric Schlosser got his start in New York City, where he was born in 1959. As a student he considered careers in playwriting and academia. While attending Princeton University, he wrote plays for a school club and took a class in literary journalism.

Schlosser later studied British history at England's University of Oxford. Intrigued by the rise and fall of the British and American empires, Schlosser wrote the play Americans, based on his research at Oxford. Written in 1985, the play was produced in 2003 at the Arcola Theatre in London. When Schlosser first returned to the United States, he struggled to succeed as a playwright and in 1992 moved back to New York City to read scripts for Tribeca Productions.

Career in Magazine Reporting

While working as a script reader, Schlosser pitched journalism pieces to The Atlantic and later became a full-time journalist. His second assignment for the magazine, a story called "Reefer Madness," later developed into a book on American "black markets," or underground economies. A piece for The Atlantic on the exploitation of migrant strawberry pickers caught the eye of Rolling Stone editor Will Dana. The Rolling Stone staff had a question for Schlosser: could he write a similar exposé, but about the fast food industry?

At first Schlosser was reluctant to take the assignment, knowing little about fast food. But he found the research fascinating, and Rolling Stone published the two-part article in 1998. Schlosser then spent three years doing research for his first book: Fast Food Nation. The book started an international conversation about what Americans—and people throughout the world—eat. The book spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. With author Charles Wilson, Schlosser adapted Fast Food Nation for young readers in the 2006 children's book Chew on This.

Schlosser's Books: "An Alternative History of the United States"

After Fast Food Nation, Schlosser's books continued exploring the dark side of American capitalism and consumerism. Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (2003) exposes the country's rampant underground economies. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013) reveals the risk of nuclear weapons in America. Gods of Metal (2015) shows another side of the nuclear weapons controversy through a story of Catholic pacifist protesters breaking into a weapons center. And The Great Imprisonment (2018) investigates American prisons: the largest prison system in history. Schlosser has said his books portray "an alternative history of the United States."

Film, Television, and Awards

As directors expressed interest in adapting Fast Food Nation, Schlosser was able to combine his talents in film and journalism. He produced the 2006 dramatized feature film Fast Food Nation with director Richard Linklater. Schlosser also coproduced the documentary Food, Inc., about corporate farming. He has been the executive producer of two documentaries: Food Chains, a film about farmworker exploitation, and Hanna Ranch, a film showing the challenges facing American cattle breeders through the story of Colorado rancher and "eco-cowboy" Kirk Hanna (the rancher called "Hank" in Fast Food Nation).

Schlosser has won the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award and the National Magazine Award for his narrative magazine journalism, and the Gerald Loeb Award for business journalism.

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