In If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now (Harper, Sept.), Ingraham reveals what happened after he and his family moved from the East Coast to rural Minnesota.
This book came out of a Washington Post piece you wrote on the worst place to live in America, based on Department of Agriculture data. Why was Red Lake County considered the worst place to live?
The federal government ranked every county in America by physical characteristics of scenery and climate. The idea was people want to live in places with access to water, that are nice and hilly, and get lots of sun. When you put those statistics into a blender, Red Lake County, Minn., comes out on the bottom.
What was the response?
People in Minnesota were shocked that the so-called worst place to live could be in their beautiful, cherished state. I’ve reported on gun violence and abortion, so I’m used to getting very vigorous feedback. What was interesting is that the feedback here was very, very polite. It really lived up to the “Minnesota nice” thing.
What was your initial experience after deciding to move there?
I grew up in Upstate New York, which has a real stereotypical sense of rural desperation. So I pictured finding something like that, a Hillbilly Elegy–esque environment where everybody is on meth. I got out here and it turned out to be this completely different paradigm of rural living. It’s not struggling. People have challenges, but they can meet them. That really struck me. There is a lot more of a sense of collective duty, action, and purpose than on the East Coast. People here really do come together.
You moved halfway across the country and kept your job. Has your new location affected how you write and report?
Yes, it’s absolutely affected some of my stories and how I think and talk about people around the country who aren’t part of my class or race. Back in D.C., I’d write about gun owners and lump them all together into this NRA group. It’s easy to make generalizations from far away. Now I have to think about all the people in town I know who own guns. I have to step back and choose my words more carefully.
You can’t get Prosecco in your new hometown, and there’s no curry anywhere. Have you found a good pizza place yet?
No. Absolutely not. It’s been one of the biggest challenges. Midwestern food is really bad. I’m still okay with making generalizations about that.