SACRAMENTO–California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) proudly announced at the weekend the addition to his legislative staff of award-winning author and journalist Mark Arax, a Fresno native who will serve as his Senior Policy Director.
“I am excited to see how policy can be advanced when we apply a reporter’s perspective and tenacity to researching the challenges we face and ways in which we can better address them,” Florez said. “Mark has made his life’s work a force for positive change, and I believe the Senate and the State will benefit greatly from his talents.”
“For me, this is a real opportunity to continue to do what I’ve been doing all my adult life: search out the nooks and crannies of California and find the hidden stories about our institutions, our farmers and farm workers, our food safety and air quality,” said Arax. “Instead of reporting to newspaper readers, I’ll be reporting to the political leaders of the Senate majority. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Florez and Senator Steinberg, two Valley boys like me, and their fine staffs. I see it as another great avenue to bring about important change.”
Arax noted that he and Sen. Florez had worked together in the best traditions of a hard-digging journalist and reform-minded lawmaker, saying, “From air quality to the treatment of farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley, Senator Florez read my dispatches and drafted historic new laws. Sadly, this partnership of sorts between a journalist in the field and a lawmaker in the state capital is getting lost as newspapers shrink and fold.”
Arax, 51, is considered one of the nation’s finest journalists and authors. For twenty years, his stories at the Los Angles Times exposed human rights abuses and official cover-up in California prisons and helped change state laws that govern air quality and the treatment of farm workers in the field.
The Nation magazine hailed his prison stories in the 1990s as one of the great journalistic achievemen’s of the decade. Fellow writers from PEN and Sigma Delta Chi have singled out the poetry of his prose in award-winning stories on the boy runners from McFarland, California and the death of an indigenous farm worker named Hilario Guzman.
Arax’s three books have garnered high praise from critics for their literary and investigative qualities. His first book, “In My Fathers Name,” is a stirring memoir that weaves together the history of his Armenian family and hometown of Fresno with his decades-long search to find the men who murdered his father in 1972.
His second book, the bestselling “The King of California,” tells the epic story of the Boswell farming family and the building of a secret American empire in the heart of California. Named one of the top ten books of the year by the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, “The King of California” won a 2004 California Book Award and the 2005 William Saroyan International Writing Prize.
His third book, a collection of stories called “West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State,” will hit the bookstores in April 2009 and is already being compared to the great works of California literature. A recent starred review in Publishers Weekly said that Arax takes measure of California with “a sure and supple hand…his swift and penetrating essays taking their place alongside Joan Didion and William Saroyan’s great social portraits.” It is Arax’s personal connection to the land, the review noted, that "pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces."
A top graduate of Fresno State and Columbia University, Mark left the Los Angeles Times in 2007 after the paper’s managing editor decided to censor his story on the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The editorr said Arax could not write the story because he is an Armenian. After a public fight, Arax left the paper. He is teaching literary nonfiction part-time at Claremont McKenna.