Stephen G. Bloom is the author of the forthcoming Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls, a swashbuckling Indiana Jones saga that takes readers around the globe on a dazzling adventure to track the world’s most extraordinary gems.
Bloom sought to trace a single pearl, from the moment a diver off the Northern Australian coast scoops up from the seafloor a oyster with a glistening pearl inside — to the instant a woman 10,000 miles away fastens the clasp to a necklace containing the very same pearl. The nonfiction detective saga uses pearls as a metaphor to explore interconnections of global politics, the environment, world finance, and haute couture.
Bloom hired himself out as a pearling deckhand in the Timor Sea, tromped through Philippine jungles to reach one of the world’s great pearling-processing centers, fished for freshwater pearls in rural China, bargained in some of the globe’s great pearl bazaars, and got feted on remote island paradises of the world’s reigning pearl lords.
Pearls, Bloom writes, are not very different from cocaine. Both are white, lightweight, portable, and can be hidden easily. Both are grown in remote farms, patrolled by around-the-clock armed guards. Both are free-traded; their prices based on everyday shifts in supply and demand, which makes for daily ticks up and down on an invisible yet real global stock market. Per gram, high-quality pearls sell for about the same as pure cocaine. Exceptional pearls sell for more. The industries of both are controlled by fewer and fewer producers and distributors, buying out small, family-run farms, consolidating political and economic power. The surviving owners today are men of extraordinary means and influence.
A self-confessed lover of pearls, Bloom is a natural storyteller who weaves a remarkable tale about the world’s oldest and most enduring gems, and the women who have adored them — from Cleopatra, Queen Isabella, and Coco Chanel to Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, and Michelle Obama.
A professor of narrative writing at The University of Iowa, for more than two decades Bloom was an award-winning journalist for the Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, and Sacramento Bee. He was a foreign correspondent in Brazil for the Field News Service. Bloom’s essays have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Washington Post, Smithsonian, London Guardian, Chicago Tribune, Wilson Quarterly, Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, DoubleTake, and Salon. He has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News Tonight, the Diane Rehm Show, Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know Public Radio show, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Bloom has been a writing fellow at the MacDowell Colony and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.
In addition to Tears of Mermaids, Bloom is co-author (with Peter Feldstein) of The Oxford Project, author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, and author of a collection of his nonfiction stories, Inside the Writer’s Mind.
The Oxford Project was named to NPR’s list of Best Books of 2008, and received the coveted Alex Award from the American Library Association. Filmmaker Ken Burns called The Oxford Project, a “powerful, confessional book that draws its strength from the truth that so-called ordinary people, not those with bold-faced names, are actually the heroes of our American drama.” Pulitzer Prize-winner Dale Maharidge praised The Oxford Project as “American documentary work at its finest.” Harvard University’s Nieman Reports wrote, “What we have in this spellbinding and ambitious and eccentric volume is Our Town and Spoon River Anthology updated and revivified. We also have journalism, in words and in images, at its heart-stopping best and its most poignant.”
Postville was named a Best Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Denver Rocky Mountain News. Publisher’s Weekly cited Postville as “a model of sociological reportage and personal journalism…An illuminating meditation on contemporary U.S. culture and what it means to be American.” The New York Times called Postville “riveting…A gripping portrayal of a confounding collision, an adjunct battle in the larger culture war, one that removes the question of diversity from the realm of abstraction and makes it prickly, difficult, and real.” Postville is required reading in more than 150 university and college courses in the United States.
Bloom, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with his wife and son.