Bowe, John

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Bowe, John


Education: Columbia University, M.F.A.


Home—New York, NY, and Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. E-mail—[email protected]


Journalist and writer.


J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, the Sydney Hillman Award for journalists, 2004, for writers and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good; Richard J. Margolis Award, 2004, dedicated to journalism that combines social concern and humor.


(Editor, with Marisa Bowe and Sabin Streeter) Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2000, also published as Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.

With Julian Schnabel, coauthored the screenplay for the film Basquiat. Also author of Web log Nobodies. Contributor to periodicals, including the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, GQ, American Prospect, and McSweeney's.


John Bowe is a journalist and author. He is editor with Marisa Bowe and Sabin Streeter of Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium. The book features more than 150 people in both common and unusual occupations talking about their lives and work. Paul R. Dempsey wrote in a Library Journal article that the interviews are "detailed and intensely readable."

The book stems from the Web site and its assignments over several years for forty interviewers throughout the country to interview workers from various fields, from a Wal-Mart greeter to an Elvis Presley interpreter, from a UPS driver to a medicine woman. The edited interviews, some of which first appeared as articles on the Web site, offer seamless monologues that provide a look into working life at the turn of the millennium. Workers discuss everything from modern aspects of working, such as the increasingly hectic work pace, to age-old attitudes about jobs and workers' hopes, goals, and disappointments.

"Nonfiction and fiction lovers, employed and unemployed alike, will enjoy this book and its captivating real-life characters," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Jane S. Drabkin wrote in the School Library Journal that readers who think that they may want to read only a few of the interviews "may find that it's hard to stop."

Bowe's 2007 book, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, was called a "well-written treatise on the very real problem of modern American slavery" by a contributor to Publishers Weekly. In his book, the author reveals the shocking reality behind the outsourcing, corporate chicanery, immigration fraud, and sleights of hand that are behind forced labor. According to the author, it is both the corporate giants and the consumers themselves that allow this slavery to continue in the United States, as American consumers from all walks of life notice nothing but the everyday low price at the checkout counter.

The author conducted thorough and often dangerous research for his book and obtained many exclusive interviews and eyewitness accounts. "Bowe is a master storyteller whose work is finely tuned and fearless," noted Russ Juskalian in a review in USA Today. "When the time is appropriate, he goes so far as to question his own assumptions, ideals and practices without holding back."

Bowe focuses on three illegal workplaces where workers are virtually or literally enslaved. For example, in Immokalee, Florida, the author writes about illegal immigrants who, either severely underpaid or sometimes not paid at all, pick produce for mass U.S. consumption. According to the author, these operations are connected by a chain of various subcontractors and divisions under companies such as PepsiCo and Tropicana. Bowe details how stockholders and politicians reap enormous benefits while the workers suffer. As one example, he points to a father of six who has a child suffering from leukemia. The man entered America for a better life only to become the unpaid employee of a cruel labor contractor nicknamed "El Diablo," who holds his workers in virtual involuntary servitude.

In another example, the author writes about the John Pickle Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which makes pressure tanks for power plants and other companies. Watching their business encroached on by foreign competition and hindered by governmental regulations, the company heads decide to partner with an Indian and Kuwaiti firm to import workers from India. Coming to America for a supposed "training program," fifty-three workers arrive only to have their documents seized and are then confined to a factory building by the company. Furthermore, they are fed unsafe food, verbally abused, and forced to work six days a week. In addition, the company laid off American workers and paid the Indians three dollars an hour.

The author's final example of slavery in the U.S. takes place in Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific where the author sometimes lives. Exempted from immigration controls, tariffs, and federal income tax, the island is a home to garment companies that work their primarily female work force sixty hours a week for 3.05 dollars per hour. In addition, many of the women are so desperate to get out that they trade sex on the weekends for the promise of green cards. The garments, which are sold to companies such as the Gap and Target, are allowed to be labeled "Made in America."

"Bowe argues that spiritual descendants of the Roman torturers exist in modern employers who exploit migrants and frighten them into silence with threats of deportation, harm to their families back at home or other punishments," wrote Janice Harayda on the One Minute Book Reviews Web site. Noting that the author writes "in the muckraking tradition of Upton Sinclair," Jeff Conant went on to comment in his review in Orion: "Beyond simply narrating both the grisly and the banal details of what forced labor looks like—which Nobodies does with great reportorial detail and clarity—the book offers as well a clear analysis of the structural factors that allow slavery to persist, demonstrating how our global economic system both depends on and perpetuates it."



Bowe, John, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.


Booklist, September 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, p. 29.

Harvard Business Review, November, 2000, review of Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium, p. 194.

Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Paula R. Dempsey, review of Gig, p. 140; October 1, 2007, Robert Perret, review of Nobodies, p. 82.

Mother Jones, September-October, 2007, Marc Herman, review of Nobodies, p. 81.

Orion, March/April, 2008, Jeff Conant, review of Nobodies, pp. 73-74.

Personnel Psychology, winter, 2001, Michael J. Zichar, review of Gig, p. 975.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2000, review of Gig, p. 80; December 31, 2007, review of Nobodies, p. 28.

School Library Journal, January, 2001, Jane S. Drabkin, review of Gig, p. 162; December 1, 2001, review of Gig, p. 50.

US Weekly, July 24, 2000, George Blooston, review of Gig, p. 48.

USA Today, September 17, 2007, Russ Juskalian, "Slavery's Alive and Well Today," p. 29.


Carnegie Council, (June 23, 2008), brief profile of author.

Cup of Joe Powell, (October 9, 2007), Joe Powell, review of Nobodies.

John Bowe Home Page, (June 23, 2008).

Nobodies, (June 23, 2008).

One Minute Book Reviews, (January 22, 2008), Janice Harayda, "John Bowe Exposes Abuses of Migrant Workers in Florida, Oklahoma and Elsewhere in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy."

Random House, (June 23, 2008), brief profile of author.

Richard J. Margolis Award Web site, (June 23, 2008), profile of author.

Treehugger, (September 18, 2007), Jeremy Elton Jacquot, "The TH Interview: John Bowe, Author of Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy."

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