Critically Acclaimed Nonfiction Writer
J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Travels from: Austin, TX

“Simply brilliant, both in its granular storytelling and its enormous compassion”  The New York Times Book Review

Jessica Goudeau is a journalist, professor, producer, and advocate. Her first nonfiction book, After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America, won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and a Christopher Award, was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice book, World Magazine’s “Understanding the World” Book of the Year, a Library Journal “Best Social Science Book of the Year,” and one of Chicago Public Library’s “Best Books of 2020.” It was a finalist for the Writer’s League of Texas Nonfiction Book Award, a finalist for the BookTube Prize, shortlisted for the Chautauqua Prize, and longlisted for the Reading the West Narrative Nonfiction Award. Her next nonfiction book for Viking is called We Were Illegal (June 2024,) which is a deep exploration of pivotal moments in Texas history through multiple generations of her own family, and a ruthless reexamination of our national and personal myths.

She has been an as-told-to columnist about displaced people and those living in war zones for Catapult, and has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, among other places. She produced a mini-documentary series called “Ask a Syrian Girl” for Teen Vogue, and “A Line Birds Cannot See,” a short documentary distributed by The New Yorker.

She co-founded a nonprofit for Burmese refugee artisans in Austin that successfully ended after seven years when the last artisan found full-time employment. She has a PhD in US and South American literature from the University of Texas and speaks fluent Portuguese and Spanish. She served as a Mellon Writing Fellow and Interim Writing Center Director at Southwestern University, was a Visiting Professor at Sewanee School of Letters, and currently teaches Creative Nonfiction at Wilkes University.

Jessica's Featured Titles

We Were Illegal: Uncovering a Texas Family’s Mythmaking and Migration

Viking |

An award-winning author’s deep exploration of pivotal moments in Texas history through multiple generations of her own family, and a ruthless reexamination of our national and personal myths

Seven generations of Jessica Goudeau’s family have lived in Texas, and her family’s legacy—a word she heard often growing up—was rooted in faith, right-living, and the hard work that built their great state. It wasn’t until her aunt mentioned a stowaway ancestor and she began to dig more deeply into the story of the land she lives on today in suburban Austin, that Goudeau discovered her family’s far more complicated role in Texas history: from a swindling land grant agent in the earliest days of Anglo settlement that brought slavery to Mexican land, up through her Texas Ranger great-uncle, who helped a sociopathic sheriff cover up mass murder.

Tracking her ancestors’ involvement in pivotal moments from before the Texas Revolution through today, We Were Illegal is at once an intimate and character-driven narrative and an insider’s look at a state that prides itself on its history. It is an act of reckoning and recovery on a personal scale, as well as a reflection of the work we all must do to dismantle the whitewashed narratives that are passed down through families, communities, and textbooks. And it is a story filled with hope—by facing these hypocrisies and long-buried histories, Goudeau explores with us how to move past this fractured time, take accountability for our legacy, and learn to be better, more honest ancestors.

After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America

Viking |

“Simply brilliant, both in its granular storytelling and its enormous compassion” –The New York Times Book Review

The story of two refugee families and their hope and resilience as they fight to survive and belong in America

The welcoming and acceptance of immigrants and refugees have been central to America’s identity for centuries–yet America has periodically turned its back in times of the greatest humanitarian need. After the Last Border is an intimate look at the lives of two women as they struggle for the twenty-first century American dream, having won the “golden ticket” to settle as refugees in Austin, Texas.

Mu Naw, a Christian from Myanmar struggling to put down roots with her family, was accepted after decades in a refugee camp at a time when America was at its most open to displaced families; and Hasna, a Muslim from Syria, agrees to relocate as a last resort for the safety of her family–only to be cruelly separated from her children by a sudden ban on refugees from Muslim countries. Writer and activist Jessica Goudeau tracks the human impacts of America’s ever-shifting refugee policy as both women narrowly escape from their home countries and begin the arduous but lifesaving process of resettling in Austin–a city that would show them the best and worst of what America has to offer.

After the Last Border situates a dramatic, character-driven story within a larger history–the evolution of modern refugee resettlement in the United States, beginning with World War II and ending with current closed-door policies–revealing not just how America’s changing attitudes toward refugees have influenced policies and laws, but also the profound effect on human lives.


How to Be a Better Ancestor

At a time that seems increasingly chaotic and tumultuous, is there anything we can do to make the world better in a lasting way? In this presentation, Jessica Goudeau talks about lessons she learned in her extensive research into her own family’s past: the courageous ancestral pivots of those who came before her, the dark truths that were hidden, and the way she grappled with those legacies. And she explores how to become the kind of ancestors—not just biological family, but other-focused community members—who build lives in the present that look ahead to the future.


I’m With the Banned

As a writer of challenged books, a literary scholar, and a podcaster who focuses on banned works, Goudeau has closely tracked recent trends in censoring art and free speech. In this presentation, she looks at the historical roots of how we suppress information as a society, when we’ve been here before as a nation, and what censorship costs us both culturally and individually. And she moves towards hope: the answer lies in keeping the values of compassion and critical thinking at the center of our engagement in the world.


What It Means to Be a Witness

It feels important to pay attention to traumatic events in the world, but how can we do that without being overwhelmed? In this presentation, Goudeau uses works of art and literature to give practical insight into how activists have maintained a role Walter Benjamin describes as “an Angel of History”—someone who cannot fix, but can witness in a lifelong, sustainable way.


The Power of Empathetic Journalism

In this talk, Goudeau outlines the power of free journalism in a strong democracy, how she uses empathy in her writing about immigration, and why she believes empathetic journalism has never been more important than it is in our contentious, polarized age.


Under the Influence

We live in a time when there’s more and more skepticism on “influencers,” who often have something to sell and something to hide. But did you know that much of US history was shaped by the same kind of agendas? In this fun, engaging presentation filled with colorful characters, Goudeau looks at the lead up to the Texas Revolution to understand how people we would now call “brand ambassadors” or maybe “lobbyists” worked hard to sell a dream that had little to do with the reality of life in Texas—and what we can do now to make sure we’re not making the same mistakes that they did then.


The Myths of Migration

We live in a century defined by migration, in which more people are displaced by war and climate crises than ever in history. Goudeau speaks about her reporting on asylum-seekers, displaced persons, refugees, and economic migrants—as well as her own family’s historical migration across the Southern US—to examine the stories we tell about migration and how they affects the policies that impact real people. And she lays out what we can do to really advocate for vulnerable people in a time when the question of who has the right to cross borders has become more divisive than ever.


The Courage to Say Hard Things

Using literature and history, Goudeau describes her own journey to moral courage: why it is often harder to speak with people we care about than strangers, what it costs to advocate for change, and what can be gained by facing the truth of our own past in order to push for a future that is better for everyone.


How To Humanize

In a world that relies on sympathetic stories to change public opinion, the potential for harm to the real people at the heart of any good work remains high. In this practical, multimedia presentation, advocate and author Jessica Goudeau frames the questions you should be asking before you tell other people’s stories and provides the necessary tools to write engaging, ethically told narratives that transcend stereotypes and tropes.


Craft Lectures on Writing

Topics include: writing personal narratives; ethical representation; how to interview for imagery in nonfiction; how to revise and re-envision; how to shape research or reporting into powerful stories; among many other literary and rhetorical topics.


You Name It

As a scholar, journalist, and advocate, Goudeau loves to learn new things and explore new topics. If you have an idea related to refugees, immigration, and cultural connection, journalism, injustice, history, art and literature, philosophy and national ethics, or other similar topics, she always enjoys the challenge of creating new presentations that both teach and inspire. Bonus points if she gets to read and talk about poetry!

Telling Refugee Stories: A Conversation with Kao Kalia Yang and Jessica Goudeau

2021 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Ceremony

Jessica’s Upcoming Events

Jessica’s Recent Work

Honors, Awards & Recognition

New York Times named We Were Illegal one of the “19 Nonfiction Books to Read This Summer”
Kirkus Starred Review
New York Times
 Editors’ Choice Book Award Winner
Library Journal “Best Social Science Book of the Year”
Chicago Public Library’s “Best Books of 2020”
J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Christopher Award
World Magazine’s “Understanding the World” Book of the Year
Finalist for the Writer’s League of Texas Nonfiction Book Award
Finalist for the BookTube Prize
Shortlisted for the Chautauqua Prize
Longlisted for the Reading the West Narrative Nonfiction Award

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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