Christopher Ali, author of Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity is an associate professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. His work focuses on broadband policy and deployment, with special emphasis on broadband in rural areas.
Get to know Christopher in this Q&A and then see him at the Festival in March discussing his work in a FREE virtual event, The Critical Role of Local Journalism on March 17 at 10 AM ET.
What motivated you to become an author?
I’ve always loved reading and writing and wrote many short stories as a kid. Being a professor is the best of all worlds—reading, writing, and research!
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
I am constantly inspired by the world around me, so to get the juices flowing I have to leave the house. I do my best work in liminal spaces—coffee shops, bars, art galleries, airports, planes, trains, and hotels. Something about being with people but alone with my thoughts, books, and laptop is when I am at my most creative.
What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
As part of the research for my book, my hound dog, Tuna, and I drove 3,600 miles across the Midwest to learn about how broadband was lived in everyday life in rural communities. That trip, and the writing that it inspired, was by far my favorite part about writing Farm Fresh Broadband.
Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?
My editor gave me some advice early on in my writing of Farm Fresh: read more fiction. She was worried that I was reading so much policy that my book was starting to read like a policy document. This is something I have taken to heart, and whenever I get stuck, I reach for fiction.
What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers?
That broadband is neither a luxury nor a consumer good, but a basic utility and necessity in modern life and that the best way to connect this country is to go local.
What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?
Karl Ove Knausgård is probably my favorite writer. I just finished one of his early books, A Time for Everything, and loved it. I also just finished China Mieville’s The City & the City and enjoyed it so much that I bought three more of his books, including his PhD dissertation, Between equal rights: A Marxist theory of international law, which I am really excited to start.
What are you working on next?
I’m in the very early stages of developing a new book project on broadband as a human right during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m calling it The Great Digital Migration: How COVID forced us online and exposed the gaps in our digital worlds.