Diana Marcum cast a profession, and a life, by giving a voice to Californians whom many individuals didn’t take time to note. Her favourite topics had been strivers and oddballs, the dispossessed and the individuals who dared to be delighted within the face of life’s struggles.
The veteran journalist chronicled drought and starvation and deep nervousness from the Central Valley, which she made her dwelling for greater than 20 years. In even the darkest tales, she often managed to ship a ray of sunshine.
Marcum, a former Los Angeles Occasions reporter who received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for function writing, died Wednesday evening, in keeping with her good friend Janet Sluis. Marcum had a glioblastoma faraway from her mind in early July, however fell right into a coma shortly after surgical procedure at Fresno Group Regional Medical Heart and by no means absolutely recovered. She was 60.
The lifelong Californian left The Occasions late in 2022 and went in on the acquisition of a second dwelling in Portugal’s Azores — a world away from Fresno — the place she had deliberate to put in writing what would have been the third of her journey memoirs.
Kevin Merida, The Occasions’ government editor, described Marcum as “a rare author, with a robust, resonant voice and beautiful observational abilities.” He recalled a day-long tour of Central Valley farms, houses and companies that the reporter took him on when he began his job two years in the past and the way there was “such respect and real affection for her at each cease we made.”
Carlos Lozano, a Occasions editor who was instrumental in bringing Marcum to the newspaper in 2011, mentioned: “She had an enormous coronary heart. She empathized with folks. She liked to speak and to actually pay attention. That humanity got here throughout in each story.”
Marcum could be the primary to say that she didn’t match the usual journalism mildew.
Born in Sonoma County on Feb. 2, 1963, Marcum and her youthful brother had been raised by adoptive dad and mom within the San Bernardino County group of Loma Linda. She had a fascination with writing, and newspapers, from a younger age.
By the fourth grade, she would later recall, she instructed her household she wished to turn into a reporter for the Los Angeles Occasions. (Although younger Diana additionally mused about being an English professor or maybe toiling over her newest novel in a tiny Paris garret.)
Extra prosaic pursuits turned a necessity when each of her dad and mom died of most cancers throughout her highschool years. She rapidly went to work — cobbling collectively waitressing and different odd jobs, together with giving dance classes — whereas attending lessons at Crafton Hills School in Yucaipa.
“Once I met her, she was decided to work and preserve her brother out of the foster care system, which she succeeded in doing,” mentioned Sluis, a pricey good friend since group faculty days. “Diana had the angle that life was quick, and that she wouldn’t ever actually plan for the long run.”
Marcum retained her ambition to be a author and freelanced for Southern California newspapers when she may.
“I didn’t get by way of faculty. I didn’t have any of the best credentials,” she instructed an interviewer from the Nieman Basis, which granted her one in all its prestigious journalism fellowships for 2018. “However I may write. Folks appeared to suppose I may write.”
Marcum’s distinctive voice — spare and witty — made her irresistible to editors. She first landed a employees writing job on the San Bernardino Solar, then moved to the Desert Solar in Palm Springs. On the Fresno Bee, editors gave her ever-wider latitude as an enterprise reporter and a columnist.
Her items ran the gamut, from dispatches on Barack Obama’s first inauguration to a profile of a gaggle of ice-cream-loving nuns and an ode to a taco truck that turned the glue for one small mountain city.
Whereas she initially anxious about her lack of formal schooling, Marcum’s view developed. “I got here to see that there are benefits to having come up my very own approach,” she instructed the Portuguese American Journal. “As a result of I’ll by no means be writing about ‘them.’ I’m a ‘them.’ I’ll at all times be writing about ‘us.’”
Her work quickly attracted the eye within the metropolis to the south, the place journalists acknowledged a compatriot who delivered deft profiles, whereas making no secret that she had little urge for food for the crime, fires and scandals which can be mainstays of the information.
“She was a pure function author. The way in which she wrote was simply so beautiful and easy and evocative,” mentioned Steve Chawkins, himself an acclaimed author and editor at The Occasions.
Weary of the each day journalism grind, Marcum took a buyout from the Bee and set off for the Azores, the Portuguese islands that had captured her fancy after she met the islands’ many Central Valley expatriates. She returned from the archipelago useless broke however with the uncooked materials for her first e-book.
Lozano, then serving as state editor on the Los Angeles newspaper, rapidly put her to work on a sequence of freelance items. Her stressed eye captured the total pageant — from the darkish secrets and techniques of the Central Valley’s canals, to the aching lack of seven troopers who had all graduated from Clovis Excessive College, to the intricate dance of Portuguese bullfighters. Whereas nonetheless a freelancer, she made the entrance web page of The Occasions 14 occasions in only one yr.
Lozano pressed to present the rising star a full-time job. However with newspapers within the midst of a protracted hiring droop, the recruitment stalled.
When the editor lastly known as in 2011 to inform Marcum she had gotten a job on the paper, she laughed.
“She thought I used to be kidding, as a result of she had given up all hope,” recalled Lozano. “However then I instructed her I wasn’t joking.”
The tales that might win her the Pulitzer Prize had been basic Marcum. She didn’t suggest a big “challenge” on the California drought — and demand months of time to do the work — however merely started speaking to folks in communities resembling Huron, Terra Bella, Madera and Stratford.
Marcum and photographer Michael Robinson Chavez discovered the catastrophe struck haphazardly, partially due to uneven allocations from struggling water districts. That meant inexperienced crops and contented house owners operated simply throughout the way in which from desiccated fields and emptied farm camps.
The reporter would ease into her conversations together with her topics, in order that they didn’t really feel like interviews, the way in which she engaged with Francisco Galvez, who was struggling to search out work across the Fresno County city of Huron.
“It felt like they had been simply taking pictures the breeze,” recalled Robinson Chavez, whose aching black-and-white pictures anchored the sequence. “Nevertheless it wasn’t small discuss. It was his ache. His agony. His seemingly stoic exterior vanished rapidly as he spoke with Diana.”
Marcum laid out the 35-year-old Galvez’s desperation for work in plain prose, He wanted to feed his youngsters and put sneakers on their toes. “For the reason that days of the Mud Bowl,” she wrote, “these have been the locations the place hassle hits first and cash doesn’t final.”
The tales echoed John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the basic novel that one in all her editors, Kari Howard, had given her when she started criss-crossing the sprawling valley seeking the story.
Marcum described how California’s nice agricultural underbelly withered below cloudless skies, with huge stretches of farmland slowly sagging on high of overdrawn aquifers. City wells cracked, whereas pipes spit solely mud and yellow water.
The tales learn like tone poems, introducing readers to the small-time pistachio grower who lovingly named, and cried over, his dying bushes; a grocery retailer proprietor who measured the devastation in a rising pile of IOUs; and Galvez and a fellow area hand raking nonexistent weeds, a pantomime to persuade their boss they’d sufficient work to maintain them employed.
Steve Clow, now an assistant managing editor at The Occasions, helped focus the tales, which then moved on to Howard for sprucing. Marcum would later describe how she and Howard, who edited the Column One function, turned so melded they acted like they shared the identical mind. The duo agreed that the tales had been much less concerning the drought than about “folks exhibiting hope and resilience and character throughout a tough time.”
Their relationship deepened when Howard was recognized with most cancers in 2018. The reporter wrote a narrative about her cross-country street journey to go to her good friend in 2021. (Although the deeply personal Howard went unnamed.) “She was dying. She instructed me I wanted to just accept that truth earlier than I received there so we may get on with having fun with our go to,” Marcum wrote.
The piece described America’s lovely, tortured panorama, within the time of COVID-19, whereas her automobile stereo hinted at larger questions. “Maybe a greater world is drawing close to,” crooned Jackson Browne, “simply as simply, it may all disappear.” Marcum was devastated when Howard died, at 59, early final yr.
In her closing months at The Occasions, Marcum had turn into, if something, extra defiant within the face of more and more noxious politics and the worldwide pandemic. She instructed fellow reporters she wished to create a novel beat — centered on pleasure.
One piece described a group backyard in Woodlake that epitomized a Chinese language proverb: “If you need 100 years of prosperity, develop folks.”
One other story painted the scene of a Cambodian evening market. A 3rd sketched a onetime social employee who walked all 4,121 streets in Santa Cruz County seeking one thing elusive. Among the many small wonders the employee found: “spiraling vines of untamed cucumber dripping down fences and the way they’d bounce again like a spring if she pulled them.”
Her 11 years on the paper led to December, with a farewell notice telling her colleagues she would miss “all the colourful issues to come back” at The Occasions, however wished to pursue “different initiatives.”
Her first journey to the Azores had spawned her critically admired 2018 memoir, “The Tenth Island: Discovering Pleasure, Magnificence, and Sudden Love within the Azores.” She had a contract to put in writing one other e-book on life within the archipelago, 1,000 miles southwest of Portugal.
Marcum had traveled broadly however mentioned the distant islands and their folks had taken a grip on her soul. She described how she liked the languid days, lively volcanoes and considerable distance from the bigger world. And Marcum embraced the Portuguese idea of saudade.
“It’s an indescribable longing,” she instructed the Portuguese American Journal. “It’s a craving for one thing that’s simply out of attain — misplaced previously or one thing you simply can’t even identify. It has one thing to do with life and dying and the sensation you get gazing on the sea.”
She joined together with her associate, former Fresno Bee photographer Mark Crosse, and her good friend Sluis to purchase a house on the island of Terceira. The couple had arrived there in mid-June. However their dream escape ended after solely a few weeks, when Marcum collapsed.
Her travels already had confirmed Marcum’s view that the great in life deserved equal footing with the dangerous.
“I’m immune to giving over each sliver of consideration to the ‘essential’ stuff,” she instructed PEN America in 2018. “It’s not simply that life goes on. It’s that it thrums round and beneath and regardless of something and all the pieces.”
Occasions researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.