The Regulator welcomes Bryant Simon, author of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives, for a reading and book signing. Free.
Simon uses a long-forgotten factory fire in small-town North Carolina to show how cut-rate food and labor have become the new American norm. For decades the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1980s, it had become a post-industrial backwater, a magnet for businesses looking for cheap labor with little or almost no official oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Foods. This factory that had never been inspected caught fire and 25 workers—mostly single mothers, many of whom were black—perished behind locked doors. 80 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, industrial disasters were supposed to have been a thing of the past. After spending several years talking to the survivors of the fire, award-winning historian Bryant Simon has written a vivid, potent, and riveting social autopsy of this place and time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government, and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.
Bryant Simon is a professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of Boardwalk of Dreams, Everything but the Coffee, and The Hamlet Fire (The New Press). His work and commentary have been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and numerous other outlets. He lives in Philadelphia.