David Allen Hill (1977–)

Originally from Hot Springs (Garland County), author David Hill has written magazine articles that have won acclaim, being featured in Esquire, GQ, New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and in various other print and digital publications. His first book, The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice, brought him international praise and was named as a Notable Book for 2020 by the New York Times.

David Allen Hill was born on July 13, 1977, in Hot Springs to James Hill, who was a construction worker, and Pamelia Hill, who managed the Sawmill Depot restaurant and later owned Uncle Reuben’s Restaurant in Hot Springs. David Hill graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1995. He attended the University of Texas in Austin, where he studied philosophy.

For more than ten years, Hill traveled the United States and Canada as a union organizer, working primarily with low-wage service and healthcare workers. He became vice president of the National Writers Union, a labor union that represents freelance writers.

Hill won a Sidney Award for his article “In the Pit with the Fighting Rooster” for The Ringer, a piece involving immigration issues in De Queen (Sevier County). Another article, “The Weight of Guilt” for Grantland, received widespread recognition for its study of bass-fishing cheaters. His online column, “Fading the Vig: A Gambler’s Guide to Life,” has been named to several Best of the Year lists.

On This American Life, a weekly public radio show, Hill’s story “Absolutely Stabulous” centered on his visit to the world championships for the board game Diplomacy, where he had Dennis Ross, an official ambassador and diplomat, as his coach. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” an episode for the public radio program Snap Judgment, told the story of his younger days as a birthday party magician in Hot Springs.

After about five years of research, Hill’s nonfiction book The Vapors was published in 2020. Although it is a true story, many reviews praised the way the book reads like a crime novel. The book focuses on three Hot Springs residents during the 1950s and 1960s when the “Spa City” was a tourist attraction that boasted casino gambling along with its famed therapeutic baths. Much of Hill’s research was done in Hot Springs, examining information about members of his own family along with leaders of national crime syndicates and powerful local officials. These include crime figure Owney Madden, casino boss Dane Harris, and David Hill’s grandmother Hazel Hill.

During his research, Hill gained access to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records after filing a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Much of the dialogue in the book is taken from actual wiretaps and audio surveillance in Hot Springs. In interviews, Hill has said that he believes he was the first person to access these records, and therefore much of the book contains material that very few people have seen before. There have been reports of The Vapors being adapted for television.

Hill—who resides in Nyack, New York, with his wife and three children—frequently returns to Arkansas, offering presentations about the book and his family history. Hill is the host of the Spotify Original podcast Gamblers, where he profiles the lives of professional gamblers.

For additional information:
David Hill. https://www.davidhillonline.com/ (accessed October 4, 2022).

Hill, David. “Absolutely Stabulous.” This American Life, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/531/got-your-back/act-one (accessed October 4, 2022).

———. “Fading the Vig: A Gambler’s Guide to Life.” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/columns/fading-the-vig-a-gamblers-guide-to-life (accessed October 4, 2022).

———. “In the Pit with the Fighting Roosters.” The Ringer, July 10, 2018. https://www.theringer.com/2018/7/10/17538780/cockfighting-ring-arkansas-ice-donald-trump (accessed October 4, 2022).

———. “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Snap Judgment, October 17, 2014. https://www.npr.org/2014/10/17/356941816/sorcerer-s-apprentice (accessed October 4, 2022).

———. The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

———. “The Weight of Guilt: Death, Disgrace, and a Handful of Knockers—Inside the Secret World of Competitive Bass Fishing Cheaters.” Grantland, December 2, 2014. https://grantland.com/features/bass-fishing-cheaters/ (accessed October 4, 2022).

Kendall, Cassidy. “Writer Puts Hot Springs Past, Family in New Book.” Arkansas Online, July 10, 2020. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jul/10/writer-puts-hot-springs-past-family-in-new-book/ (accessed October 4, 2022).

Rowe, Matthew. “A Q&A with David Hill on His New Book ‘The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice.’” Arkansas Times, July 6, 2020. https://arktimes.com/rock-candy/2020/07/06/a-qa-with-david-hill-on-his-new-book-the-vapors-a-southern-family-the-new-york-mob-and-the-rise-and-fall-of-hot-springs-americas-forgotten-capital-of-vice (accessed October 4, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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